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Slavic Folklore: Lesnik – Leshy

Slavic Folklore: Lesnik – Leshy

Lesnik (Leshy) is a Slavic forest spirit similar to Greek satyrs. He is loud, friendly towards shepherds, and depicted as either a humanoid with horns and hoofs or as an old man.

Slavic peoples of the pre-Christian era were deeply connected with the nature. The belief that the nature is inhabited by spirits and demons was so strong that traces of those beliefs are still present nowadays. All scientists dealing with Slavic mythology agree that the forest had an important role in Slavic folklore (as elsewhere).

Similarly to Germanic beliefs, groves were extremely important in Slavic folklore, as they were believed to be inhabited by spirits, demons, and ancestral souls. Many Slavic peoples still practice planting a tree next to a grave. This habit has roots in the belief that ancestral souls live within the tree.

One of the best known Slavic forest spirits is Lesnik (South Slavs) or Leshy (East and West Slavs). The term stems from the old Slavic word les (forest).

Southern Slavic Koleda processions included masked people called Lesnici (plural form of Lesnik). There were usually two of them, and they would wear sheep skins with fleece facing outwards. They wore masks depicting a horned animal. These people’s role in the procession was to make noise. They were also to make sexual insinuations towards Snashka (Snashka is a man dressed as a woman during the Koleda procession).

Eastern Slavic Leshy likes loud laughter, singing, and yelling. He has a humanoid shape, with a pointed head, but no beard or mustache. He can take the shape of a naked old man or a horned and hoofed animal. He is the master of all forest animals and friendly towards shepherds. His wife is called Lehachika, Lesoviha, or Leshiha.

Obviously, Lesnik – Leshy is similar to Greek satyr and has almost identical attributes. Lesnik is found in nearly all Slavic folklores, is generally believed to inhabit forests, and is often depicted with goat hooves and horns. In Western Slavic tradition, Lesnik is depicted as an animal dressed in white fur, who often takes women to his cottage covered in fur. He often forces them to dance kolo around him.

Elsewhere, Leshy is depicted as a peasant wearing sheep skin. Although humanoid, he has goat horns, ears, and legs. His skin is covered with thick fleece, and he yells upon approaching. He is fond of kidnapping women. Leshy loves shepherds and takes care of the livestock. Sometimes, he can take human form, but he doesn’t have eyebrows and eyelashes. Occasionally, he is depicted as one-eyed.