Louis Herbert Gray.

The Mythology of all races .. (Volume 3) online

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the waves; they like to sit on the mill-wheel, splashing each
other, and then they dive deep, crying, "Kuku." In late spring
especially they come out of the water, and run about the
neighbouring woods and thickets, clapping their hands and
turning somersaults upon the grass, while their laughter re-
sounds far and wide in the forests. In the evening they like
to rock upon slender branches, enticing unwary wanderers;
and if they succeed in leading any one astray, they tickle him
to death, or draw him down into the depths of the stream.

The Rusalky are extremely fond of music and singing; and
their fine voices lure swimmers to deep places, where they
drown. The water-nymphs also divert themselves by dancing
in the pale moonlight, and they inveigle shepherds to play with
them, the places where they dance being marked by circles
in which the grass is particularly luxuriant and green. Fond of
spinning, they hang their yam on trees; and after washing
the linen which they weave, they spread it on the banks to
dry. If a man treads on such linen, he becomes weak and lame.

It is during Whitsuntide that the Rusalky display their
greatest activity, and then, for fear of them, people do not stay
outdoors by night more than is necessary, do not bathe in
rivers, do not clap their hands, and avoid all work in the fields
that might anger the water-nymphs, while on the banks of
rivers and brooks lads and lasses place bread, cheese, butter,
and other kinds of food for them.


THE Greek historian Procopius ^^ testifies to the ancient
Slavic worship of beings similar to the Greek nymphs,
and he also tells us that the Slavs offered sacrifices to them.
The most common designation of these beings is "Fairy"
(Vila), and they are frequently mentioned in the ancient writ-
ten traditions of the Russians, the Southern Slavs, and the
Czechs, although their worship flourished most among the
Southern Slavs, where they were made to unite many features
of other fabled beings.

The signification of the word Vila " (Bulgarian Samovila,
Samodiva) has not yet been explained in a satisfactory manner,
but it seems to come from the root vel ("perish") and to be
cognate with Lithuanian veles ("spirits of the deceased").

According to popular tradition the fairies are souls of the
departed, and Serbian legends declare that originally they
were proud maidens who incurred the curse of God. The Bul-
garians believe that the Samovily are girls who have died
unbaptized, and among the Slovaks there is a wide-spread
story that the fairies are souls of brides who died after their
betrothal, and finding no rest, are doomed to roam about at
night. The Poles think that the Wili are souls of beautiful
young girls who are condemned to atone for their frivolous
life by floating in the air midway between sky and earth;
they do good to those who have favoured them during their
lifetime, but evil to those who have offended them.

A close relationship is held to exist between the fairies and
the souls of the deceased, as is evidenced by the belief that

VILY 257

they may often be seen dancing by moonlight near the graves
of those who have died a violent death. The festivals for the
Rusalky, which are meant to recall the memory of the souls
of the deceased, are, at the same time, festivals of the Vily,
in whose honour all sorts of ceremonies are performed; and
young people of both sexes betake themselves to the meadows,
picking flowers, making them into bouquets, and singing songs
about the fairies.

The Vily are believed to have lived originally in close con-
tact and friendship with human beings. In the happy days of
yore, when the fields produced wheat and other sorts of cereals
without the help of man, when people lived In peace and con-
tentedness and mutual goodwill, the fairies helped them to
garner their harvests, to mow their grass, to feed their cattle,
and to build their houses; they taught them how to plough,
to sow, to drain meadows, and even how to bury the dead.
But so soon as men had departed from their old virtues, when
the shepherds had thrown away their flutes and drums and
songs, and had taken whips into their hands and commenced
to crack them in their pastures, cursing and swearing, and
when, finally, the first reports of guns were heard, and nations
began to make war against each other, the Vily left the country
and went to foreign lands. That is why only very few chance
to see them dancing in the fields, or sitting upon a bare rock
or a deserted cliff^, weeping and singing melancholy songs.

In like manner the Slovenians believe that the fairies were
kind and well disposed toward human beings, telling them what
times were particularly suitable for ploughing, sowing, and har-
vesting. They themselves also took good care of the crops,
tearing out weeds and cockles; and In return for all this they
asked for some food, which they ate during the night. So long
as their anger was not aroused, they would appear every sum-
mer; but when mankind commenced to lead a sinful life, and
when whistling and shouting and cracking of whips began to
Increase In the fields, the Vily disappeared, never to return


until a better day has dawned. The belief that a Vila may
become a man's sister also points to the existence of close rela-
tions between them and human beings; and it is a popular con-
viction that not only every young lad and, indeed, every honest
man has a fairy for his sister who helps him in case of need, but
even some animals, such as stags, roes, and chamois, for whom
the Vily have a special liking, may possess such supernatural
kindred. The fairies will aid their brothers in danger, will bless
their property, and will bestow all sorts of presents upon them.
In numerous folk-tales Vily are married to young men. They
are dutiful wives and excellent housekeepers, but their hus-
bands must not remind them of their descent, or they will
disappear forever, though they still continue to keep secret
watch over the welfare of their children.

The Vily are pictured as beautiful women, eternally young,
with pale cheeks, and dressed in white. Their long hair is
usually fair or golden, and their life and strength are believed
to depend upon it, so that if a fairy loses a single hair, she will
die. The Slovenians, however, assert that a Vila will show
herself in her true shape to any one who succeeds in cutting
off her hair. Their bodies are as slender as the stem of a pine,
and as light as those of birds; and they are frequently provided
with wings. A man who robs a fairy of her pinions will bind
her to himself; but so soon as she has regained possession of
them, she will disappear. The eyes of the Vily flash Hke
lightning, and their voices are so fine and sweet that to hear
them once is to remember them forever. Men are often fa-
scinated by their beauty; he who once chances to see a Vila,
will yearn for her from the depths of his soul, and his longing
will kill him at last.

The fairies like to ride horses and stags, and they have the
power of transforming themselves into horses, wolves, snakes,
falcons, or swans. They live in the clouds, on forest-clad
mountains, and in the waters. The first kind sit among the
clouds, sleeping, singing, and dancing. They may cause winds

VILY 259

and storms, and have eagles for their helpers; now and then,
transforming themselves into birds, they float down to the
earth to prophesy the future and to protect mankind against
disaster. They also live in the stars, while the Vily of the
forests dwell on high mountains, in caves, and in ravines, be-
sides having magnificent castles for their abodes. Roaming
about the woods on horseback or on stags, the fairies of the
forests chase the deer with arrows; they kill men who defy
them; and they like to perch on trees with which they are
inseparably united. The Water-Vily live in rivers, lakes,
springs, and wells, although for the most part they stay outside
the water. When, on moonlit nights, they leave their abodes,
the waters rise and foam; and the fairies, dancing on the banks,
drown young men who happen to be bathing there. If they
perceive a man on the opposite bank, they grow in size so as
to be able to step across the stream. They bathe their children
in the water, or throw things in to poison it; and whoever
quenches his thirst there must die, just as they will punish any
one who drinks of their springs without their permission.

The fairies are fond of singing and dancing; and enticing
young lads and shepherds or singers to dance with them, they
distribute happiness or misfortune among them. Places where
the fairies have been dancing may be recognized from afar,
being distinguished by thick, deep, green grass (fairy-rings);
and if any one presumes to step inside, he must expect punish-
ment. Their voices are so wonderfully sweet that a man might
listen to them for many days without eating or drinking; but
no one knows what language they use in singing, and only
those who enjoy their friendship can understand them. They
are remarkable for their strength and bravery; and when
fighting with each other, as they often do, the forest resounds
with din and clamour, while the ground shakes. They have
the power of foretelling the future and of curing diseases.
When free, they give birth to children, but are apt to foist
them upon mortal women; such offspring are remarkable for


their excellent memory and wonderful cleverness. On the other
hand, they kidnap children, feeding them with honey and
instructing them in all kinds of knowledge.

Though the fairies are, on the whole, good-natured and
charitable beings, they may also do evil to people; and accord-
ingly they may be classed as white (beneficent) or black (malef-
icent) fairies, the latter sending cruel maladies upon people, or
wounding their feet, hands, or hearts with arrows.

Many kinds of offerings are still dedicated to the Vily.
In Croatia young girls place fruits of the field, or flowers, or
silk ribbons upon stones in caves as offerings to them; and
in Bulgaria gay ribbons are hung on trees, or little cakes are
placed near wells.

The Judy of Macedonia and of the Rhodope Mountains
strongly resemble these Samovily. They are female beings with
long tresses, snake-like and disgusting bodies, and vile natures,
living in rivers and lakes. If they see a man in the water, they
will undo their hair, and throwing it around him, will drown
him. They may be seen sitting on the banks, combing their
hair, or dancing on meadows; and they destroy those whom
they induce to dance with them.


LesnI Zenka

As in so many mythologies, the wood-nymphs of
Slavic belief have both kindly and dangerous
qualities, and their love, like that of divine beings
generally, is apt to be dangerous to mortals. Origi-
nally the Lesni Zenka and similar Slavic minor god-
desses may have corresponded to the Lettish forest-
goddess Meschamaat. After a picture by N. Ales.
For other idealizations by this artist see Plates

K\ ^■


' 'f/V -s'"'* 6 /^^ >-^v V^iii /


THE Russians call a silvan spirit Lesiy, Lesovik (cf. Russian
/(fjw, "forest, wood"), and such a being shows himself
either in human or in animal guise. When he appears in the
former shape, he is an old man with long hair and beard, with
flashing green eyes, and with his body covered by a thick coat
of hair. His stature depends on the height of the tree, etc.,
which he inhabits: in the forests he may attain the size of
high trees; in the fields he is no taller than grass. In the
woods the Lesiye frequently appear to travellers as ordinary
people or as their friends; but at other times they take the
shapes of bears, wolves, hares, etc. They live in deep woods
and in fields; forests, fields, and meadows are the realm over
which they rule. Usually there is only one Lesiy in each wood;
but if there are several, a "silvan czar" is their lord. Some
Lesiye remain alone by themselves in forest solitudes and
in caves, while others are fond of society and build in the
woods spacious dwellings where they live with their wives
and children.

The principal business of the silvan spirits is to guard the
forest. They do not allow people to whistle or to shout there;
they drive away thieves, frightening them by their cries and
playing pranks upon them. The deer and the birds enjoy
their protection; but their favourite is the bear, with whom
they feast and revel.

When the Lesiy walks through the forest to look after his
property, a rustling of the trees accompanies him; he roams
through the wood, rocks upon the boughs, whistles, laughs,


claps his hands, cracks his whip, neighs like a horse, lows like
a cow, barks like a dog, and mews like a cat. The echo is
his work; and since a strong wind constantly blows around
him, no man has ever seen his footsteps either in sand or in

He is of a mocking and teasing disposition, and is fond of
misleading those who have lost their way, removing boundary-
stones and signposts, or taking the shape of a wanderer's
friend to confuse him and lure him into thickets and morasses.
He also entices girls and children into his copses, where he
keeps them until, long afterward, they escape with their
honour lost; and he likewise substitutes his own offspring for
human children, such a changeling being ugly, stupid, and
voracious, but strong as a horse. If a man suddenly falls ill
while in the forest, he believes that this affliction has been
sent upon him by the Lesiy; to recover his health he wraps a
slice of salted bread in linen and lays it in the woods as a
present for the silvan spirit.

Shepherds and huntsmen gain the Lesiy's favour by presents.
The former make him an offering in the shape of a cow and
thus secure his protection for their flocks; while the latter
place a piece of salted bread on the stump of a tree and leave
for him the first game which they take. Moreover, the recita-
tion of certain formulae secures his services, and there are
many ways to obviate the danger of being led astray by him,
as by turning one's garments inside out, putting the right
shoe on the left foot, bending down to look between one's
legs, etc.

Nymphs and dryads likewise show themselves in the woods,
and are pictured as beautiful girls, wearing a white or green
gown, and with golden or green hair. In the evening, when
stillness reigns in nature, they divert themselves by dancing
and singing; and they also dance at noon, when it is dan-
gerous to approach their circles, since they dance or tickle
to death those who allow themselves to be attracted by their


songs. They are most perilous to young lads, whereas they
often feel pity for girls and richly reward them.

The dryads punish children who shout in the woods while
gathering mushrooms; but, on the other hand, if they are
courteously asked, they show where these fungi grow in abund-
ance. The forest where they live usually contains a magic
well whose waters cure all diseases. Sometimes they marry
country lads, but they will not permit themselves to be insulted
or reminded of their descent.

Woods and mountains are the home of "Wild Women"
(Bohemian Divozenky, Lusatian Dziwje Zony, Polish Dziwo-
zony, Slovenian Divje Devojke, Bulgarian Divi-te Zeni), good-
looking beings with large, square heads, long, thick hair
(ruddy or black in colour), hairy bodies, and long fingers.
They lived in underground burrows and had households like
mankind. They either gathered ears in the fields or picked
them from the sheaves, and having ground the grain on a
stone, they baked bread which spread its odour throughout
the wood. Besides bread they ate the root of the liquorice and
caught game and fish. They were fond of combing hemp,
which they wove into frocks and shirts.

The "Wild Women" knew the secret forces of nature, and

from plants and roots they prepared unguents with which

they anointed themselves, thus becoming light and invisible.

They were fond of music and singing; and storms were believed

to be caused by their wild frolicking. Lads and lasses were

invited to dance with them and afterward reaped rich rewards.

They maintained a friendly intercourse with human beings,

frequently entering their villages and borrowing kneading-

troughs and other necessaries. Those who did not forget to

reserve some dish for them were well repaid, for the "Wild

Women" kept their houses in order, swept their rooms and

courtyards, cleared their firesides of ashes, and took care of

their children; in the fields they reaped the corn, and gathering

up the grain, tied it into sheaves ; for the women they not only
III— 18


spun hemp, but also gave them crops that never diminished.
Many stories are told about their marriages with country lads.
They were model wives and housekeepers, but they vanished
if any one called them "Wild Women," and uncleared firesides
or unscrubbed kneading-troughs were also apt to drive them

They were dangerous to any person whom they might meet
alone in the forest, turning him round and round until he lost
his way. They lay in wait especially for women who had just
become mothers and substituted their own offspring for the
human children, these changelings, called Divous ("Wild
Brats") or Premiefi ("Changelings"), being ugly, squalling,
and unshapely. The "Wild Women" did much harm to avari-
cious and greedy persons, dragging their corn along the fields,
bewitching their cows, and afflicting their children with whoop-
ing-cough, or even killing them. It was during Midsummer
Night that they were most powerful.

The Lusatian Serbs believe that the Dziwje Zony ("Wild
Women") are white beings who reveal themselves at noon or
at evening. They like to spin hemp; and if a girl spins or
combs it for them, they reward her by leaves that become

In Polish superstition the Dziwozony are superhuman
females with cold and callous hearts and filled with passionate
sensuality. They are tall in stature, their faces are thin, and
their hair is long and dishevelled. They fling their breasts
over their shoulders, since otherwise they would be hindered
in running; and their garments are always disarranged. Groups
of them go about woods and fields, and if they chance upon
human beings, they tickle the adults to death, but take the
young folk with them to be their lovers and playmates. For
this reason young people never go to the woods alone, but only
in groups. In the belief of the Slovenians the Divje Devojke,
or Dekle, dwell in the forests; at harvest-time they come down
to the fields to reap the corn, and the "Wild Men" bind it


into sheaves, the farmers' wives bringing them food in return.
Where they came from no one can tell, and the cracking of
whips has driven them away at last. The Divja Zena is a
woman of tall figure, with an enormously large head and long
black hair, but very short feet; she dwells in mountain caves.
If a woman does not nurse her child properly, the "Wild
Woman" comes and either substitutes a changeling for it or
carries it away.


The Bulgarian Diva-ta Zena lives in the woods and Is covered
with a thick coat of hair; she throws her long breasts over
her shoulders and thus nurses her children. She is strong and
savage, and her enunciation is defective.

More rarely mention is made of "Wild Men." They live in
forests, and their entire bodies are covered with hair or moss,
while a tuft of ferns adorns their heads. If they catch a young
girl, they take her to wife; and If she runs away from them,
they tear her child to pieces. They appear to lonely wanderers
and, accompanied by terrible gusts of wind, they frighten
them and lead them into morasses. The "Wild Men" like to
tease gamekeepers and forest-rangers by Imitating the hewing,
sawing, and felling of trees; and they chase deer in the woods,
hooting horribly all the while. In Slovenian tradition the
Divji Moz ("Wild Man") lived In a deep forest cave and was
possessed of terrible strength. The peasants of the neighbour-
hood who wished to avoid being harmed by him had to carry
food to the cottage that was nearest his cave; but he was well
disposed toward the peasants who cooked their meals in his
hut and advised them how to set to work.

Besides these silvan spirits there are similar beings of various
names. The ancient Czechs were familiar with Jeze and
Jezenky ("Lamias"), who were said to have the faces of
women, the bodies of sows, and the legs of horses. People
still believe In Jezinky who, living In caves, put out the eyes
of human beings after lulling them to sleep, and who kidnap
small children, whom they feed on dainty morsels in their


caverns. The ancient Poles, too, knew of them and still tell
stories of Jendzyna, who figures in popular fairy-tales as
Jaga-baba, Jezibaba, Jendzibaba, etc.

In Moravia the "Wild Beings" are small and ungainly,
live in fields, and may transform themselves into all sorts of
animals. Since their own children are ugly, they steal those of
mankind and treat them very well; but the changelings whom
they foist on human beings are hideous and bald, with huge
heads and stomachs; they neither grow nor talk, but eat a
great deal, whining and whimpering constantly. The Slovaks
have their Zruty, or Ozruti, who are wild and gigantic beings,
living in the wildernesses of the Tatra Mountains.


IN the fields there appears, usually at the time of harvest,
the Poludnica, or Polednica ("Midday Spirit"). According
to Bohemian tradition she has the appearance of an airy,
white lady, or of an old woman who wanders about the fields
at noon and haunts the dwellings of men. She also floats,
amid violent gusts of wind, high up in the air; and whomsoever
she touches will die a sudden death. Sometimes she is slight
and slim like a girl twelve years old and has a whip in her
hand with which she strikes any one who crosses her path,
such a man being doomed to meet an early death.

She is peculiarly fond of ambushing women who have re-
cently borne children and who go out into the street at midday.
If a mother leaves her child alone in the fields at harvest-time,
it may be stolen by a Poludnica, whence crying children are
hushed by the threat that this spirit will come and carry them

In Moravia the Poludnica is represented as an old woman
clad in a white gown and said to have horses' hoofs, an ugly
face, slanting eyes, and dishevelled hair.

In Polish belief the Poludnica (Poludniowka, Przypotudnica)
manifests herself in the shape of a tall woman, dressed in a
white robe reaching to her feet, and carrying a sharp sickle
in her hand. During the summer she stays either in the fields
or in the woods, giving chase to the people who work there.
Frequently she propounds hard questions to them, and if
they are unable to answer, she sends grievous maladies upon
them. Sometimes she appears, during a storm, in cottages;


and various natural phenomena, such as the fata morgana,
are ascribed to her by the peasants. When she leaves the
fields or the forests, she is accompanied by seven great black
dogs; and women and children are her favourite victims.
Among the Lusatian Serbs the Pripotdnica (Prezpotdnica)
is the subject of many stories, being represented either as a
tall old woman dressed in a white gown and carrying a sickle
in her hand, or else as a young female. Coming out of the
woods at midday, she appears to those who may be working
there; and any person whom she meets in the fields at that
time of the day must talk with her for fully an hour about one
and the same thing, those who fail to do this either forfeiting
their heads or having some illness sent upon them. Frequently
she herself puts questions to them, e. g. concerning the growing
of fiax and hemp, and punishes those who are unable to answer.
Her most usual victims, however, are young women who either
have children at home or are still in childbed. At noon she
guards the com from, thieves and punishes children who tread
upon the ears.

The Russians believe that the Poludnica has the shape of
a tall and beautiful girl dressed in a white gown. She not only
lures small children into the corn, but walking about the
fields at harvest-time, she seizes the heads of those whom she
finds working there at midday, and twisting their necks, causes
them violent pain. The Siberian Russians picture her as an

Online LibraryLouis Herbert GrayThe Mythology of all races .. (Volume 3) → online text (page 21 of 29)