Forests tend to be naturally spooky places.
They are dense with trees letting in little light
and offering plenty of spots for predatory animals to hide
while stalking their prey
–prey that sometimes include humans.
But life also thrives there.
For the Slavic people, there’s one spirit that rules it all
a lord of the woods—the Leshy.
The leshy is a shape-shifting creature
that may appear human
but also takes on the form of the animals and plants he protects.
He was once believed to lead travelers to their deaths
but could also insure a successful hunt.
He kidnapped young women
but kept cattle from getting lost in the woods.
He was feared, but also revered.
The Leshy isn’t just some high level boss in a video
but an important, mischievous, powerful spirit
that can trace its history back to
ancient religious and cultural beliefs.
I’m Dr.Emily Zarka.
And this is Monstrum.
If you’ve ever been in the woods,
you know how scary they can be
and how easy it can be to get lost.
In one 19th century text
the Leshy is directly connected to the dangers of the forest.
And no forest was safe.
While Slavic folklore claimed each forest had its own Leshy
there could be more than one.
Territorial disputes between Leshy were said to be the cause of harsh storms,
boulders falling, or crashing trees—
supernatural explanations for real events.
Most often a Leshy appears in its imposingly tall human guise
with long claws and shaggy hair,
sometimes with horns and cloven feet.
He can grow higher than the tree-tops
or small enough to hide behind a blade of grass.
The Leshy’s appearance is often inspired
by the vegetation of the forest,
with bark-like skin and a green beard or hair
which makes sense given that his name
comes from the Russian word meaning forest.
Leshy translates to “wood spirit” or “wood demon”.
I had the opportunity to talk to one of my favorite authors, Katherine Arden,
我有幸联系我最喜欢的作家 Katherine Arden
who’s done a ton of research
about Slavic folklore for her Winternight trilogy.
A Leshy may take on a human from
and even disguise itself as someone its victim knows.
But it can inadvertently reveal its true nature
through small mistakes in their transformation
And since he can take the shape of anything in his domain
a Leshy may appear as anything
from bears and wolves to domestic cattle, birds, a tree
从巨熊 野狼到驯良的牲口 野鸟 大树
even a whirlwind of leaves.
A Leshy can also alter its voice.
He might call out to his victims in a voice they recognize
or whistle like the wind blowing through the trees.
Animal sounds, the rustle of leaves, and laughter
或野兽嘶嚎 或风吹叶鸣 或放声大笑
are also part of his verbal repertoire
which he would then use to confuse and tempt victims.
He was feared because he possessed the ability
to lead people and animals astray
forcing them to die from exhaustion trying to find their way home
or misleading them to fall into a ravine or swamp.
Leshy were said to be great gamblers,
playing cards against one another and other spirit demons
frequently betting the resources of their particular woods.
When huge populations of squirrels suddenly migrated
across the Ural Mountains in the 19 century
some people attributed it to a Siberian leshy
driving its losses to their“European kin”
The leshy received sacrifices and offerings from the people
in order to secure his favor and aid in their survival.
As the master and guardian of the forest,
a huntsman’s success or a woodcutter’s bounty
was believed to be dependent on the will of the leshy.
Even herdsmen relied on this creature.
Because of this relationship the herdsmen were seen as intermediaries
between the human world and the world of the leshy—the spirit world.
You could avoid offending the leshy by respecting the forest,
not only in terms of taking resources,
but in general modes of deference like not whistling or swearing,
and not intentionally harming plants.
Hunting on certain festival days was also
forbidden to avoid the leshy’s wrath.
Laying out the traditional meal for greeting important guests,
bread with salt,
on a tree stump might keep you safe from the leshy.
This seems pretty minor but it was,
and in some Slavic countries still is,
a very important gesture.
Bread was synonymous with food.
If a household didn’t have it,
they didn’t have the resources to eat.
And salt was a rare commodity
so sharing it expressed hospitality.
So although Slavic folklore describes them as
antagonistic towards humans by nature,
you can win one over with a little respect.
They can actually seem pretty reasonable in a lot of ways.
Unfortunately, we can’t know the exact origins of the legend
since there is no record of any Slavic mythology,
which was honestly a shock to me
Many scholars agree that nothing about
the original Slavic gods, creation myths,
or stories of their afterlife has survived history.
The earliest records of the Slavs dates
back to only the 6th century.
Around that time,
the Slavs migrated into other territories
and developed into different cultures.
But one of the things they kept in common is their folklore
-including stories of the leshy.
It’s likely oral tradition played
a huge role in this story’s early creation.
In fact, “Slavs” comes from the proto-Slavic slovo ,
meaning that the people called themselves
However, it’s speculated
that the Leshy was later heavily influenced by Christianity.
What was once simply a guardian of the forest
became a more devilish figure.
This explains some leshy traits like the cloven hooves,
which are often associated with evil
deities in Christian stories.
And even in some variations of the monster,
a leshy is created from the marriage of the
Devil and a witch or they can be descendants of Satan’s army.
A hunter or herdsmen could secure safety and success
by creating a pact with the creature,
an act that required renouncing Christianity.
In some stories, leshiis were said to appear in military uniform,
which may have been inspired by real fugitive soldiers
hiding in the woods.
In other cases the leshy is said to approach
humans around a campfire, asking for food.
The forest did historically serve as
a place of shelter for outliers of society.
Perhaps the leshy asking for food is an exaggeration
of such individuals looking for assistance.
Most of what we can study about Slavic spirits now
comes from materials recorded in the nineteenth century
when urbanization and advances in science and education
当城市小有规模 教育逐渐普及 科学迅猛发展时
made belief in the supernatural tenuous.
Nevertheless, an 1850’s Russian study
found that many peasants claimed to have encountered a leshy personally.
The power of Slavic folklore lasted a long time,
and it can tell us a lot about how the Slavs saw the world around them.
The leshy has become less popular over time,
perhaps because the lessons he teaches are no longer as relevant,
as the forests have been cleared and
rural Slavic life became less common.
While the rituals associated with this
guardian and demon of the forest dwindle,
the idea of him does appear in popular culture now and again
Despite what they may tell you,
the leshy is both a guardian and an avenger.
Since I know you’ve spent some time over in Russia
and you’ve done a lot of work with some of these
native language texts
Do you still think,
or have you encountered people who still believe in the leshy
通过接触其自身的国家 史料 名胜从而了解莱西
Neither good nor evil,
this forest-dwelling shapeshifter was scary
because it could be lurking around every corner.
The leshy represents a deep respect for the forest
and acknowledges the danger humans encountered there,
especially when it was largely untamed.
It was something that could only be avoided with caution, awareness,
关于这事 你可得再谨慎点 反应也得再快点
and a sincere appreciation of your surroundings.
The moral of the story?
Be nice to nature.
You never know when a giant forest spirit will come for you.
Forests tend to be naturally spooky places.