13 Jun 2021

RANDOM Times •

To survive, you must tell stories…(“,)

Leshy: the Slavic God of the forest

3 min read

Leshy, literally He-of-the-forest is a tutelary deity of the forests in Slavic mythology.
He was depicted a tall, elderly man with a face covered with branches, while in other source his appearance was similar to a typical looking man (mostly he wore a forest ranger uniform and carried a gun or thick staff).
According to some sources, though he often has the appearance of a man, his eyebrows, eyelashes, and right ear are missing, his head is somewhat pointed, and he lacks a hat and belt. In his native forest the leshy is as tall as the trees, but, the moment he steps beyond, he shrinks to the size of grass.
He is sometimes portrayed with horns and surrounded by packs of wolves and bears, and he has hair and a beard made from living grass and vines.
In any case, he is said to have the ability to shapeshift into any form, animal or plant. When he is in human form, he looks like a common peasant, except that his eyes glow and his shoes are on backwards. In some tales, he appears to visitors as a large talking mushroom. Not by chance, in myth and art, Leshy is often associated with the psychotropic mushroom Amanita Muscaria. This may connect him in some way to Shamanic mind-altering techniques.

Records say that his approach towards people was rather malicious (leading travelers astray, abducting young women and forcing them to become his wives, playing pranks on children), but not everytime: if he was in a benevolent mood he appreciated and helped them who took care of the forest, could guide lost children home and, as a demon who reigned a forest fauna, protected villagers and hunters from wolves or bears.
In some accounts, Leshy is described as having a wife (Leshachikha, Leszachka, Lesovikha and also, sometimes, the Kikimora of the swamp) and children (leshonki, leszonky).
He is seldom seen, but his voice can be heard in the forest laughing, whistling, or singing.
He is the protector of all animals and birds in the forest and mass migration of animals supposedly happens at his instruction.
It seems that farmers and shepherds would make pacts with him to protect their crops and sheep, but he is also known to hide the axes of woodcutters.
In fact, he is fond of trees and is said to be heard weeping when one is cut down.

However, in his evil version, he became a terribly mischievous being that could imitate voices of people familiar to wanderers and lure them back to his caves, where he would tickle them to death.
Upon entering a forest, one always uttered a protective spell or prayer lest they run into him.
But, should one ever encounter Leshy, one must thwart him immediately by turning all your clothes inside out, including the collar of one’s horse, and placing your shoes on the opposite feet. Other remedies include the sign of the cross but, in the worst extremity, setting the forest ablaze behind you should grow him so concerned with putting out the fire that he will forget why his mischief fell upon you.

Images from web – Google Research