The Forest Lord
The Leshii, male Russian forest guardians, weep when trees are cut down. Leshii is both singular and plural: they comprise a distinct category of spirits. There is more than one Leshii under the dominion of Musail, the Forest Tsar. Different Leshii have dominion over different parts of the forest; each has his own territory so to speak.
This explains the migrations of forest animals, especially unexpected ones: Leshii gamble at cards with each other, wagering with animals as their stake. When one Leshii loses to another, animals are transferred from one part of the forest to another.
The Leshii are mischievous, sometimes dangerous trickster spirits. Woodcutters, in particular, are targets: the Leshii hide their axes or cause accidents. The Leshii gets people lost in the woods by using ventriloquism or mimicking familiar voices or sounds to lure ‘intruders’ deeper into his forest.
Leshii are usually found in the company of bears and wolves. Wolves are their very favorite animals. In Slavic areas, wolves were once considered rulers of the forest, the true local kings of beasts. The Leshii, like Faunus, mediates between wolves and domestic herds. Like Faunus, the Leshii doesn’t speak or at least not like a human. He makes forest noises instead, echoing the sounds of animals, birds or the rustling of trees. Sometimes the Leshii is described as singing although never with human words. Many people describe encountering the Leshii or witnessing them in the forest. Those with actual encounters with the Leshii were often struck at least temporarily mute.
The Leshii sometimes leaves the forest looking for people. He is among those spirits accused of replacing children with changelings. The Leshii also allegedly carries off (and marries) women, although notably he prefers unattached women or those trapped in unhappy unions. Sometimes women are stolen to serve as midwives, wet-nurses, or nannies for his other women.
Legends suggest that if those kidnapped by the Leshii refrain from eating his food, they can escape his domain. Those who escape are described as looking wild and distraught; some have lost powers of speech (others allegedly have lost their minds) however still others exhibit new magical powers and knowledge, becoming exceptionally skilled shamans and magical practitioners, gifts bestowed by the Leshii.
Not all encounters with the Leshii are unhappy. Allegedly if you encounter him but get him to laugh, you’ll be safe. Sometimes the Leshii befriends people; allegedly they must then make a pact to never wear a cross or take communion. Whether this is because the Leshii is the devil or whether this is because he is an exclusively Pagan spirit who reserves his favors for fellow-travelers is subject to interpretation. The Leshii, a beast master, sometimes offers spirit-familiars (animal allies) to people he loves.
The Leshii may preside over a realm of death. Ancient Pagan Slavs once buried their dead in groves. Until the 19th century, Russians often buried suicides and unbaptized babies in the forest. According to legend, souls of those who die without last rites wander in the forest under the care and supervision of the Leshii. (See also: Berchta.)
Favored people: The Leshii insists on allegiance to Paganism. Unlike other spirits who may don the masks of saints in order to accommodate devotees, the Leshii brooks no compromise. Allegedly hunters seeking his protection and gifts must remove their crosses, swear allegiance to the Leshii and no longer swallow the host but bring it to the Leshii as proof it wasn’t consumed.
Manifestation: Allegedly, the Leshii casts no shadow and leaves no footprints. He commonly manifests in various forms:
• The Leshii manifests as a man. The clue to his true identity is that something is wrong with his appearance for instance, his clothes are on backwards or his shoes are on the wrong feet.
• Sometimes he appears as a man whose size dizzyingly shifts from tiny to large.
• He manifests with goat’s horns and hooves, sometimes with black fur and wings.
• Other frequent manifestations include pigs, rabbits, ravens, roosters, wolves, burning fir trees and mushrooms, especially amanita muscaria
However, the Leshii is a master shape-shifter who can assume the guise of specific people. This is one way he lures people into the forest: You think you’re following someone you know who eventually disappears; morphs into another form or is revealed as really the Leshii.
Mount: Leshii ride storm winds.
Plant/fungus: Amanita muscaria (fly agaric; toadstool)
Animals: All of them, but each Leshii is allegedly accompanied by a huge white wolf.
Altar: Tree stumps and fallen logs serve as altars; leave offerings there or wrap food in a clean cloth, tie it up with a red ribbon and leave at a forest crossroads.
Offerings: He likes simple, traditional Rus sian food offerings like blinis or kasha plus salted bread; cookies; candy; hard boiled eggs with shells dyed red (onion peel in the boiling water may turn the trick as will other natural dyes). He is propitiated with really good jokes. (He decides if they’re good.) The Leshii is a passionate cardplayer and gambler. In Northern Siberia, hunters allegedly earned the Leshii’s alliance with gifts of playing cards with the suit of clubs removed.
See also: Faunus; Gran Bois; Leshovikha; Persephone
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.