The Slavic peoples are spread across Eastern-Europe, from Russia to Serbia. Slavic influence on history is impossible to quantify. Their origins lie in mysterious ancient tribes encountered by the Romans. Sources of the time call them barbarians who once ruled a distant kingdom but fled to Europe after it was somehow destroyed. Their religions seemed exotic – telling of mythical creatures and legendary figures. Most would be forgotten by time. But in coming centuries a handful of these ancient beliefs were absorbed into Slavic folklore. Today some of the world’s darkest legends are Slavic, telling of hideous monsters deadly spirits and people from Belarus. From ancient spirits to soviet mysteries here are ten dark Slavic legends.
Deep in the woods lives a terrible figure known as Baba Yaga. She has the appearance of an elderly hag, covered in warts and scars with a hump-back and hooks for hands. Her teeth shine as if they are made of iron. Her nose is long and crooked as if it has been broken multiple times. Just the sight of her can cause a person to faint. Baba Yaga is not quite a witch and not quite a boogey man – but something in-between. Nor is she entirely evil. Some say if you ask a Baba Yaga a question about your future she will predict the answer for you. But attempting to encounter her is a bad idea.
Surrounded by thick woodland, she resides in a wooden shack supported by giant chicken legs. Around it is a fence lined with human skulls as a warning to stay away. Baba Yaga survives on human flesh, preferring to kill and eat visitors before they can ask her a question. You see, for every question she is asked, she ages one year. Few survive encounters with Baba Yaga. Children are her preferred food and she once had a handful of her own. But after consuming them she developed an ever burning taste for young flesh. And so Baba Yaga spends her days wandering the forests, waiting for young children to cross her path. Her story is the most well known of all Slavic legends and there is good reason for this, clearly.
The White Lady of Krakow
Two centuries ago a priest in the city of Krakow was awoken in the middle of the night. By carriage he was taken to a large mansion in the outskirts of the city. On arriving he was led to a small room at the top of a tower. What he saw inside was a young woman wearing a white dress and what looked like a corpse covered by a cloth. He was told to perform last rights on the woman, which he found odd as she was not the one who was dead. But as a public servant he performed the last rites anyway.
As soon as he was finished the body under the cloth stood up, grasping and axe and used it to behead the woman. The priest quickly realized the figure was not a dead body, but an executioner, and he had just taken part in a murder. The killing was organized by her father, disapproving of her choice of husband. He buried her in the basement that same night and each night since she has returned to walk the corridors and climb the towers of her home. You’d be surprised how many Slavic legends tell of white lady ghosts. It seems like every city in Eastern Europe has it’s own, from St Petersburg to Sarajevo.
Countless generations ago there was a man who fell in love with a woman much younger than him. They seemed like the perfect march and planned to marry. But her father did not approve of the age gap and refused to give his blessing. Heartbroken, the man left their town. Years later he returned but he was not the same. Something terrible had happened to him during his years in the wilderness. And now he was back with a vengeance.
Stalking his former lover, it wasn’t long before he took her life, sinking his teeth into her neck and draining her of blood. By the time her corpse was found he has disappeared, and ever since he has terrorized similar villages across the Balkans. His name is Sava Savanović, the most notorious vampire in Serbian history. Quite how he became a vampire is unknown but it was a death sentence for his many victims.
In the Czech republic is a 13th century castle surrounded by mystery. It was a serious fortification for the time, with a location strategically chosen in part to deter invasion by neighboring kingdoms. But it was also built to seal shut what locals believed was a gateway to hell. Within the deepest depths of the castle is a seemingly bottomless pit. Before it’s construction strange winged creatures were known to emerge from the pit. The half bat/ half human monsters would fly into the surrounding countryside, free to terrorize local peasants. After generations of death and terror Houska castle was built to contain the problem. But the pit wasn’t actually sealed.
It was left open for multiple purposes. The first of such was criminal justice. Local prisoners sentenced to death would routinely be brought to the pit and thrown in, on the understanding that anyone to return from the pit alive would be given a full pardon. But only one man ever returned and he wasn’t exactly thrown in. The pit is too deep and dark to see the bottom of it,even when a lit torch was dropped in. It was simply consumed by the darkness. To investigate, one prisoner was offered a full pardon in return for being lowered into the hole by rope. It seemed like an easy path to freedom so he agreed. But just minutes into being lowered into the pit he began to scream in terror.
By the time he was pulled out, the prisoner had aged 30 years. His hair was now white and his mind gone. He was granted a full pardon but for the rest of his life was essentially a vegetable, unable to even speak. From then, throwing prisoners into the pit was outlawed as it seemed more likely that it really was an entrance to hell or at least some kind of demonic underworld. Eventually the pit was sealed up completely – as it remains today, covered in stone. But stories from before it was sealed remain. They tell of monstrous creatures that would by night fly out of the pit and drag human victims back with them before sunrise. Victims that would never be seen again.
Lurking below the waters of remote lakes and rivers is a strange being known as Vodyanoy. Vodyanoy is somewhat human like, but with the head of a giant frog. It is covered u=in dark scaled, green algae and mud – with webbed hands and glowing red eyes. It is a malicious creature known to deliberately destroy dams so that he can watch small towns be flooded and destroyed. Vodyanoy is king of the underwater world. It is under his orders that sirens lure sailors to their premature deaths. But death is often the best outcome of an encounter with the Vodyanoy. Among other things he is notorious for hiding under the surface of lakes, waiting for someone to approach.
When an unsuspecting human got close to the surface he would suddenly emerge from below. In the blink of an eye he would drag the human underwater. Underwater, he would transform them, granting immortality so they could serve him forever. In his underwater kingdom they remain in slavery, thousands of years later. The one redeeming feature is that by winter, lakes and rivers would freeze over, trapping Vodyanoy. But come summer no one in need of fresh water was safe from the beast.
Somewhere in Eastern-Europe is an insane doctor driven mad by the death of his children. In his madness he now spends his days attempting to bring them back to the grave, believing fresh organs from other children might be the secret. Young children walking through dark alleyways and streets are at risk of falling victim to him. Suddenly blacking out, they awake in a dank underground lab. Almost immediately they learn some kind of operation has been done on them, before blacking out again. This time they reawaken on the street they were abducted from.
He is known as “the collector” – the man who seals fresh organs and stores them in jars, hoping that one of them might somehow bring his children back to life. But with each victim he changes location, leaving authorities with no sign of who or where he is. It’s not just slavic legends that tell of mysterious figures kidnapping strangers and stealing their organs. Many urban legends across the world tell similar stories. It’s one of the more creepy themes of modern society globally.
Similar to a vampire in nature is a life form even more dangerous. They are born to human parents but deformed, with two sets of teeth and two hearts. In ancient times their second set of teeth was seen as the mark of evil. While still babies they would be abandoned in the forest. With luck they would die before growing stronger. But with two hearts and a natural aggression they didn’t die easily. More often they would survive on the blood of small animals. In time they would require more blood from larger prey until only human blood will satisfy them.
They hunt by night, transforming into an owl to stalk lone travelers, swooping down on them at the perfect moment. The next morning what was left of the traveler would be identified… if it was still recognizable. These monsters are known as Strzyga. There is just one way to kill a Strzyga: behead it and bury the skull separately from the rest of the corpse. Attempt any other means and it will only return.
One of the oldest creatures described in Slavic legends is Domovoy, the house spirit. Only the oldest of houses have a Domovoy and for most that do he is not a threat. Domovoy is the protector of his home, keeping our other spirits and diseases. But if he sees you as the threat to his home, Domovoy will try to drive you out of it or even kill you. Lying on top of your body as you sleep he will cause you to have nightmares or possibly suffocate you. Each Domovoy takes on a different appearance when revealing itself to humans. Some look like old men. Some appear as small gnomes. But all are dark shadowy figures.
They have the power to predict future events, being heard laughing if good fortune is in your future. But if tragedy is in your future he will blow out candles or lamps. Some houses also have a female spirit known to leave wet footprints on the ground. She must be respected even above Domovoy as her wrath is far worse.
Slavic legends often have similar themes. One of such themes is that wherever ancient Slavic tribes went they were fearful of woods and forests. All kinds of deadly creatures were to be found in the forests, but one forest beast is more mysterious than any other: the Leshy. Leshy are guardians of the forest and as humans are the greatest threat to forests, they do not take kindle to us entering their world. With the ability to transform into any living plant or living creature, they lure woodsman deep into the forest and don’t allow them to leave. They can even imitate the voices of those you love in order to further deceive victims.
Anyone who encounters a Leshy while carrying an axe will soon have it buried into their skull. In their natural form they are somewhat human like but as tall as the trees around them and with long green hair. They are so large that they could easily be mistaken for a tree. But their bright eyes glowing green are a give away. As protectors of the forest they can command wolves and bears to do their bidding. But the further away from the center of forest a Leshy is, the less power they have. They actually grow smaller the further away they move. Yet even at their smallest size the Leshy must be feared.
The Black Volga
This one is more of a Soviet urban legend so maybe it doesn’t belong on a list of Slavic legends but Russia is a Slavic nation so I feel it’s fitting. Also the legend is just too good not to include. In the days of the cold war, Eastern Europe was almost entirely isolated from the outside world. Soviet states had their own entertainment, intellectual movements, and industries. The Soviet auto mobile industry produced moving symbols of Soviet authority. Among the most iconic soviet cars was the black Volga, a luxury limousine driven by powerful officials of the state.
The mere sight of a black Volga could cause panic, partly from the possibility it was driven by Soviet secret police, but more to do with a dark legend. In the 1960s the Volga was at the height of it’s prestige and it was at this time stories emerged of a maniac using his Volga to kidnap children. The car would appear as if from nowhere and within 24 hours the first child to see it would disappear. By dawn the child would be dead, their corpse drained of blood as if a vampire had consumed them. Some said it was driven by vampires. Others say the driver was Satan himself or just a deranged murderer.