The Leshy is a male woodland spirit in Slavic mythology who protects wild animals and forests. He is humanoid in shape, has a manly appearance and, on some accounts, is described as having a wife (leshachikha/leszachka) and children (leshonki/leszonky). He is roughly analogous to the Woodwose of Western Europe and the Basajaun of the Basque Country.
Name forms and etymology
The Leshy is known by a variety of names and spellings including Lesiy, Leshii, Leszi, Lesovik, etc.
Main name forms:
- Lleshi (Albanian: Lleshi),
- Leshy (Czech: Leši, Polish: Leszy, Russian and Ukrainian: Ле́ший, Belarusian: Лешы, Serbian: Лешиј)
- Lesovik (Russian: Лесови́к, Ukrainian: Лісовик, Belarusian: Лесавік, Serbian: Лесовик)
- Lesovy (Czech: Lesovij, Russian: Лесово́й, Serbian: Лесовој)
- Lesny muzhik/ded (Czech: Lesní mužík, Slovak: Lesný mužík, Belarusian: Лясны дзед), (Polish: Leśny dziad) meaning "forest man" or "old forest man"
- Leshak (Russian: Леша́к, Serbian: Лешак)
- Lesun (Russian: Лесу́н, Belarusian: Лясун)
A Leshy usually appears as a tall man, but he is able to change his size from that of a blade of grass to a very tall tree. He has hair and a beard of living grass and vines, and is sometimes depicted with a tail, hooves, and horns. He has pale white skin that contrasts with his bright green eyes. A Leshy has a close bond with the gray wolf, and is often seen in the company of bears as well. He is the Forest Lord and carries a club to express that he is the master of wood. He has blue blood, which gives his cheeks a blue tinge. Legend describes him as having a red scarf and his left shoe on his right foot. He also is known to have no shadow.
Leshy protects the animals and birds in the forest and tells them when to migrate. He can shapeshift into many different forms. As a human, he looks like a peasant with glowing eyes, and his shoes are on backwards.
A person who befriends a leshy can learn the secrets of magic. Farmers and shepherds would make pacts with the leshy to protect their crops and sheep. The leshy has many tricks, including leading peasants astray, making them sick, or tickling them to death. They are also known to hide the axes of woodcutters. A person gets lost in the woods when a leshy crosses their path. To find the way out, you have to turn your clothes inside out and wear shoes on opposite feet.
Leshies are terribly mischievous beings: they have horrible cries, and can imitate voices of people familiar to wanderers and lure them back to their caves, where the leshies will tickle them to death; they also remove signs from their posts. Leshies aren't evil: although they enjoy misguiding humans and kidnapping young women, they are also known to keep grazing cattle from wandering too far into the forests and getting lost. Sometimes cow herders will make pacts with a leshy by handing him their crosses from around their necks and sharing communion with him after Christian church gatherings; these pacts are said to give the cowherds special powers.
Sometimes more than one leshy inhabits a forest, and then they will fight for their territory, knocking down trees and scaring animals. It is believed that the cries of Eurasian bitterns were once thought to be the Leshy's snore, as he was also linked to the swamp and the marshes. Similar accounts were also made for the Vodyanoy.