The early Slavonic races passed down an extensive demonology
embedded in a polytheistic religious system. It included
reference to spirits of nature. According to folklorist F. S.
‘‘In the vile, also known as Samovile, Samodivi, and Vilivrjaci,
we have near relations to the forest and field spirits or the wood
and moss-folk of Middle Germany, France and Bavaria, the
‘wild people’ of Hesse, Eifel, Salzburg and the Tyrol, the woodwomen
and woodmen of Bohemia, the Tyrolese Fanggen,
Fanken, Norkel and Happy Ladies, the Roumanish Orken, Euguane,
and Dialen, the Danish Ellekoner, the Swedish Skogsnufvaz,
and the Russian Ljesje, while in certain respects they
have affinity with the Teutonic Valkyries.’’
The vila were, however, more like divine beings, constantly
watching over and controlling the destiny of mortals. They
were prayed to or exorcised on all occasions. In short, their origin
was shamanistic.
Nineteenth-century American writer and folklorist Charles
Godfrey Leland remarked of this unseen spirit world, ‘‘We can
still find the vila as set forth in old ballads, the incarnation of
beauty and power, the benevolent friend of sufferers, the geniuses
of heroes, the dwellers by rock and river and greenwood
tree. But they are implacable in their wrath to all who deceive
them, or who break a promise. Nay, they inflict terrible punishment
even on those who disturb their rings, or the dances
which they make by midsummer moonlight. Hence the proverb
applied to any man who suddenly fell ill, ‘he stepped on a
fairy ring.’ ’’
There were three varieties of nature spirits among the
southern Slavs the Zracne vile, or aerial spirits, which were evilly
disposed to human beings and inflicted serious injuries upon
them; will-’o-the-wisps, which led people astray by night; the
pozemne vile, companionable spirits who gave sage counsel to
humankind and dwelled in the earth; and the podovne vile, or
water spirits, kindly to people on shore but somewhat treacherous
in their own element.
Another water spirit was the likho, the Slavonic Polyphemus,
a dreaded and terrible monster. The leshy was a wood demon,
Norka was the frightful lord of the lower world, and Koschei was
a kind of ogre whose specialty was the abduction of princesses.
The witch was frequently mentioned in Slavonic folktales,
especially among the southern Slavs. She was called vjestica
(masculine viestae), meaning originally ‘‘the knowing one’’ or
‘‘the well-informed one.’’ In Dalmatia and elsewhere among
the southern Slavs the witch was called krstaca, ‘‘the crossed,’’
in allusion to the idea that she was of the horned race of hell.
It was said that it enraged the witches so much to be called by
this word that when they heard that anyone had used it they
went to his house by night and tore him into four pieces, which
they cast to the four winds of heaven, and drove away all his cattle
and stock. Therefore, the shrewd farmers of the country
called the witch hmana zena, or ‘‘common woman.’’
There were many forms of Slavonic witches, however, and
the vjestica differed from the macionica and the latter from the
zlokobnica, or ‘‘evil-meeter,’’ whom it was unlucky to encounter
in the morning and who possessed the evil eye.
One Serbian authority related that he had often heard that
‘‘every female Wallach [Slav] as soon as she is forty years old,
abandons the ‘God be with us,’ and becomes a witch (vjestica)
or at least a zlokobnica or macionica. A real witch has the mark
of a cross under her nose, a zlokobnica has some hairs of a beard,
and a macionica may be known by a forehead full of dark folds
with blood-spots in her face.’’
In southern Slavonian countries on St. George’s Day, the
peasants adorned the horns of the cattle with garlands to protect
them from witches. They attached great importance to a
seventh or a twelfth child, believing that children born in that
order were the great protectors of the world against witchcraft.
But children of that order were thought to be in great danger
on St. John’s Eve, for then the witches, having the most power,
attacked them with stakes or the stumps of saplings, which is
why the peasantry carefully removed everything of the kind
from the ground in the autumn.
The Slavs believed that on St. George’s Day the witches
climbed into the steeples of churches to get the grease from the
axle of the bell, which, for some reason, they greatly prized.
The krstnik, or wizards, notoriously attracted female vila,
who in most instances desired to be their mistresses, just as female
salamanders desired to mate with men. (See the Curiosa
of Heinrich Kornmann, 1666.) The man who gained the love
of a vila was supposed to be extremely lucky.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Slavs
Transformation stories were also fairly common in Slavonic
folklore, which indicates that this was a form of magic practiced
by the witches of those countries. (See also Seventh Son)