Linnea has a fascination with intriguing and unusual things and is especially interested in their historical and cultural backgrounds.
We've all heard various terrifying tales that have emerged from many mythologies around the world—we have seen scary creatures from all sorts of legends. Slavic mythology doesn't seem to find itself too much in the limelight, however. So, here you will find a few of its more creepy creatures from legend and folklore.
The strzyga is a demon related to a vampire in Slavic mythology, although it has a particular association with Polish folklore. It is a creature born from human parents, but has two hearts, two souls, and—most creepily—two sets of teeth, with the second set barely visible. An infant with its teeth already developed when it was born was believed to be a strzyga, and such creatures were to be driven away from human civilization as soon as possible before it could attack people. Because of this, the supposed strzyga often died at a very young age, but since they had two souls, only one would pass into the afterlife after the body died. The other soul would be reanimated inside the corpse of the strzyga, then it would prey upon the living and drink their blood and eat their flesh.
At night, the strzyga hunted by transforming into an owl and attacking unfortunate travelers or people lost in the darkness. It is most likely related to the ancient Greek and Roman strix, a very similar creature that turned into an owl and liked to eat infants. The only way to kill a strzyga was to cut off its head and bury it away from the body so that it wouldn’t reanimate, although burying the body facedown with a sickle around its neck so it would cut off if the corpse came back to life would work as well.
There are many different names for the mavka, such as nawie, nav’, and niavka, but they all refer to the same creature. They are ghosts or souls of people who died a premature death, usually young women or unchristened babies. In Ukrainian mythology, the mavka take the form of young, beautiful women (like nymphs) with very long hair, but they have no shadows and no reflection in water. They lived in forests and mountain caves that they decorated with rugs woven from flax, and they love to plant flowers in the spring and dance in the fields. Using their beauty, they lure young men into the woods where they would then tickle them to death and chop their heads off.
The creepiest feature about the mavka, though, was the fact that they were not supposed to have any skin on their back, so people could see their organs if they turned around. This was why their hair was so long, and if you met a mavka, then they would ask you for a hairbrush or comb so they could brush their hair. If you did not have one, then the mavka would get angry and kill you, but if you did, then they would simply brush their hair and leave you alone.
Likho is the Russian word for bad luck, rather than the name of a creature that isn’t repeated anywhere else, but this sums up the likho itself pretty well. It can appear as either a woman in black or, more commonly, an evil male goblin-like creature with only one eye. The likho is more a subject of fairy tales rather than major folklore, often with a moral to the story. Sometimes the stories mirror The Odyssey, with the hero fooling the likho like Odysseus overcoming the cyclops Polyphemus, while others are not so lucky. Jumping onto its victim’s neck and clinging to them, strangling them. Usually the people in the story cannot get the likho off and end up jumping into a river or some other body of water as a last resort to try and drown their attacker, but end up drowning themselves while the likho swims away freely.
One other common tale with the likho involves a person cheating the creature and then running away to escape its vengeance. However, they stumble across something valuable, usually gold or money, and grab it out of their own greed. The object ends up sticking to their hand, unable to come off, and the likho cuts off their hand as punishment.
The bannik resembles typical Slavic house spirits in a way, but instead of being a spirit of a household, he is a protective spirit of a bathhouse. The Slavic bathhouse, known as a banya, was more closely related to a sauna and was a very important place in ancient beliefs, as it was where women would give birth and where a bride would be purified before her wedding. Because of this it was very important to keep the bannik pleased, and people would thank the spirit and leave him gifts of soap, water, and fir branches. The third bath was always left open for the bannik to use, and he often invited other forest spirits and demons to bathe with him. Because of this, no Christian imagery was allowed to be hung in the bath and people removed crosses before entering, as such things could offend the bannik’s guests and if he was angered then the bannik would pour boiling water over the offender’s head or strangle them.
There were also supernatural abilities associated with the bannik; he could predict the future. People would go to the bathhouse to ask about their future and did it by asking the bannik with their exposed back facing the open door. If their future looked good then the bannik would stroke their back with a warm, soft hand, if bad then the bannik’s hand would feel cold, or he would pinch the person or strike their back with his claws.
Commonly translated as a mermaid, rusalka were not originally evil creatures, but as time passed they became darker. When women drowned, whether by accident or purposefully (suicide or murder), they would become rusalka after they died and haunt the water where they had met their end. Rusalka lured young, unsuspecting men closer to them with their beauty and voice, and then drowned them. The creepiest part of the legend is that she would laugh as she did this and entangle her victims in her long hair so they could not escape.
There was even a week in early June when rusalka were said to be at their strongest, known as Green Week. They were said to be so powerful that they could actually leave their water prisons to go climb trees and swing from them at night. Peasants often left offerings in the trees because of this and swimming was strictly forbidden during this time.
Another water spirit who likes to drown unfortunate swimmers, the vodyanoy is a little different because he happens to be male. He is often called “grandfather” because he looks like an old man, except his appearance is more horrifying as his hair and beard are green, a froglike face with puffed up cheeks, and webbed hands. He is covered in muck from the river and wears a hat made of reeds, although he is known to be able to change his form. Making the sign of the cross before swimming was believed to be protection for the vodyanoy, as he liked to drown people after noon or if anyone went swimming after the sun went down and then keep them as his slaves. When he was angry, he would break dams and water mills and drown livestock, so many people needed to appease him and keep him happy, not just fishermen.
The drekavac is a rather horrifying creature, evident from the fact that its name means “the screamer/yeller,” and is born from the souls of dead, unbaptized babies. There isn’t any consistent description of what the drekavac is supposed to look like, though. Some say it resembles a bird, while other tales say it looks like a dog (a fox screaming at night could be the basis for the legend), or a very thin child with a disproportionately large head. But all accounts say that no matter what form it takes it still has a loud, horrible scream that is said to be a cry for baptism. However it occasionally bears similarities to the western banshee, as the cry of a drekavac has also been said to be a premonition of death to whoever hears it.
It is said that one can protect themselves from the drekavac by getting a dog, as the creature is terrified of them. It also hates light, so it only comes out during the night or when it is very foggy. Among more rural areas, the drekavac is used like the bogeyman to scare children into obedience, also similar to a banshee. The children could hear the sound of some animal in the distance (a fox once again comes to mind) and believe that the drekavac really does exist, so they would not wander too far from their homes in case the creature would come and get them.
Raisa on August 11, 2020:
Since the Russians aren't Slavic, and did not even call themselves "Rus'yans" until the 18th century, there is no sense in mentioning them in Slavic mythology. These stories are from the Indigenous people of Eastern Europe. Calling any of this rich lore Russian, is like assigning the ancient stories of First Nations people, to English and French invaders.
Jennet Humphrey on January 23, 2020:
I am from Poland and I think that it's very kind of you to have written an interesting article about Slavic mythology. You're right about Slavic mythology being underestimated. I wonder if you have ever heard of Polanica or Połanica. The creature takes form of a ghastly woman clothed in a white, shattered dress. She would prowl fields in summer during the harvest time. Then she would kill careless village people who remain in the fields despite scorching heat. It's believed that a woman who died before her wedding day may turn into Polanica. The tale of Połanica discouraged people from working in scorching sun. Additionally, it is said that Połanica tends to haunt and then kill children who get lost in the fields as well. Thus, parents would use this myth as a cautionary tale to prevent their children from wandering too far while their parents were busy working in the fields.
Leonis on November 02, 2018:
I am polish and I am writing a fiction book who is polish and meets these creatures, if I ever get famous, I'm definitely giving you credits
Theophanes Avery from New England on May 15, 2018:
Oh I love this! How gruesome and strange! I didn't know about any of these creatures but each is absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing!
Taiec on September 28, 2017:
Drekavac and Banshee relation may be no coincidence. Balkans were inhabited by Celtic people.
Lin (author) from USA on November 14, 2015:
Thank you very much Greensleeves! I'm glad you liked the article and think it is worth looking at. The similarities between cultures and mythologies are always interesting :)
Thanks again, Linnea
Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on November 14, 2015:
This is a really interesting article Linnea, and very well laid out, with each of the 'creatures' clearly described. It is interesting to see how many of these myths bear features in common with other myths such as vampirism (no reflections, turning into another creature at night etc) Visually attractive (despite the subject matter!) I am sure many would enjoy this article and its curious collection of legends which most of us have never heard of, so I will share the hub with my followers.
I see you've only recently joined HubPages. I wish you well. It can take time, but after briefly glancing at your subject matter and style, I think you should be able to develop a following, and attract many more positive comments as time goes on. Best wishes, Alun