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The Spirit and Guardian of the Forest – Wood-Spirit (“Leshiy”)

Victor Korol'kov Leshiy

Victor Korol’kov. Leshiy

Some notion of the spirits of the woods exists in many European nations, and they are preserved as part of the folk tradition.

For a primitive man it was typical to deify everything that surrounded him: water, woods, sun, wind. Everything around him was inhabited by spirits that often resembled human beings. Wood-spirit (“Leshiy”) is the spirit of the forest.

How a Wood-Spirit Looks

The look of a wood-spirit was changeable, sly and similar to a forest dweller. A wood-spirit could be a giant and a dwarf, could look like a normal man with unkempt beard and gnarled hands, or could take a mythical look of a creature with green hair. People’s imagination with regards to how a wood-spirit looked had no boundaries.

Leshiy could transform into any forest plant or animal, usually into a bear or wolf, which in the Russian consciousness has always evoked emotions of fear but respect.

Old Russian Settlements in the Woods

Imagine a pre-Christian settlement of farmers on the territory of the Great Russian Plain. In the middle of a dense forest, inhabited by different animals, there is a settlement enclosed by a wooden fence.

Around the settlement there is a forest, which supplied the residents with everything they needed: building materials, materials for creating plows and harrows. People collected mushrooms and berriesin the forest, hunted, cut trees for firewood.

People could not survive without the forest. Forest drew them in; it was important and necessary, but also hostile.

A Leshiy and People

In Russian mythological consciousness, going into the woods presents you with many dangers: encountering a bear, the risk of getting lost when the trees with their branches and roots prevent the traveler from moving forward, luring him into the thicket. And all these bad things are done by a wood-spirit – the spirit of the forest.

That is why people tried to bribe a wood-spirit, and when they entered the forest, they tried to be quiet, respectful: the forest doesn’t like noise.

Today, thanks to fairytales and Soviet cartoons the image of a wood-spirit has become not that scary. A wood-spirit today is a likeable character. But even these days, if someone got lost in the forest, people say: “ Leshiy is luring in.”

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To discover Russia with Alexey Gureev

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