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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
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The Leshy is known by a variety of names and spellings including Lesiy, Leshii, Leszi, Lesovik, etc.
Main name forms:
- 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.
Modern cultural depictions
- A leshy is a demon or spirit in the Dictionnaire Infernal. There he is a Slavic forest being, similar in nature to the Polevik sprites.
- The Wood Demon [Леший] (1889), a four-act comedy by Anton Chekhov
- In the fictional Shin'a'in culture of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books, they use the word leshy'a to refer to spirits or ghosts.
- A family of leshii appear in Josepha Sherman's 1989 novel The Shining Falcon.
- In Sierra's 1993 role-playing game Quest for Glory IV, the hero encounters a leshy in the forest who offers game clues as rewards for solving riddles.
- In the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI, the leshy is a monster that appears as a giant, vaguely humanoid and mobile tree.
- In the fifth-season episode "Fallen Idols" of CW television series Supernatural, a Leshii is portrayed as an eastern-European forest demi-god that feeds on people who are fans of the form he takes, and as such he takes the forms of Gandhi, James Dean, Abraham Lincoln, and Paris Hilton (with the actual actress playing as herself), hiding in a wax museum, with the "Paris Hilton" form and final fight location (a wax museum) referencing to both Jared Padalecki and Hilton in their roles in House of Wax.
- The leshy has been featured in song, including
- A Dutch experimental–psychedelic rock band called Lunar Leshy & The Zamphire derived its name from the creature.
- The corpse of a leshy is the object of a mission in the MMORPG City of Villains.
- The leshy is described in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game terms in Dragon No. 119.
- In Linda Medley's graphic novel Castle Waiting it is suggested that Pindar's father was a leshy.
- There's an illustrated book of the poem 'The Leshy' by John Soltys.
- James Branch Cabell makes references to the Leshy. "Yes, it is perturbing to be assured I am only a garment which is sometimes worn by that Horvendile who is of the Leshy." Is from the book, 'The Cream of the Jest'. Also in the Book,'Figures of Earth', the protagonist meets a character called 'Grandfather Death' at the end of his life. This character is described as one of the Leshy.
- The Ents in The Lord of the Rings by J.J.R. Tolkien bear a strong resemblance to some conceptualizations of Leshy.
- In the MMORPG Ragnarok Online Leshy, transliterated as Leshij or Les are wandering creatures of similar form and function and are found in the Moskovia forest area of Dremuci.
- In Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo's comic miniseries Hellboy: Darkness Calls, a benevolent leshy appears first as a peasant, and then as a gigantic demon-like who sends his wolves to help Hellboy escape Baba Yaga, and gives him one night of sleep in his forest.
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