Yin Shu

Variations: Tien-schu, Tin-schu, Tyn-schu, Yn-schu

yin-shu

In Siberia, mammoth fossils were seen as the remains of giant mole-like creatures that lived and moved underground. These subterannean monsters tore up riverbanks as they tunneled, but died in broad daylight.

In China, numerous sources, including the treatise Ly-Ki, tell of the Yin Shu, the “Hidden Rodent” or “Hidden Mouse” that dwells in dark caves. The yin shu grows from the size of a buffalo to as big as an elephant in Manchurian manuscripts, but otherwise looks mouselike. It has a no tail (or a short tail), is dark in color, and has short legs, a short neck, and small eyes. Yin shu are dim-witted, slow, and extremely powerful, digging out caves in areas with the roots of the fu-kia plant. They have shown up when rivers flooded plains, and die instantly when exposed to sunlight.

Until recently, mammoth bones in drugstores were labeled as yin shu.

References

Buel, J. W. (1887) Sea and Land. Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia.

Laufer, B. and Pelliot, P. (1913) Arabic and Chinese Trade in Walrus and Narwhal Ivory. T’Oung Pao, Second Series, v. 14, no. 3, pp. 315-370.

Pouchet, F. A. (1865) L’Univers. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, Paris.

Vodyanoi

Variations: Vodianoi, Vodyanik, Vodnik, Vodeni Moz, Deduska Vodyanoy (Water-Grandfather), Vodianoi-chert (Water Devil), Vodianikha (female), Topielec (Drowner, Polish), Vodyany-ye (pl.); Bolotnyi (potentially)

Vodyanoi

The malevolent and murderous Vodyanoi, from voda or “water”, is the Slavic water spirit. It frequents lakes, ponds, rivers, and other bodies of water, but it especially prefers mill-ponds. Their homes range from the humble dwellings of sand and slimy logs of Olonets to underwater palaces of crystal, decorated with gold and silver taken from shipwrecks, and illuminated by a magic stone shining brighter than the sun. The palaces are primarily known from Kaluga, Orel, Riazan, and Tula. The female vodyanyoi is also known as the vodianikha, although a rusalka or a drowned woman will also be taken as a bride. Variants of the vodyanoi are known in Belarus, Poland, and Yugoslavia.

A vodyanoi varies wildly in appearance. It can be roughly human in appearance, with big paws, horns, tail, and eyes like burning coals; it can be a huge man covered with grass and moss, with shaggy white fur, or with scales; it can be black with huge red eyes and a long nose, or bluish and slimy, bloated and crowned with reeds. Sometimes it appears in the form of a human, as an old man with green hair and beard that turned white with the waning moon, as a white-bearded peasant in a red shirt, as a naked woman with enormous breasts combing her dripping hair while seated on a log, or in the form of guardsmen and children. It can be half fish and half human, or appear as a huge moss-covered fish, a swan, or even a bouquet of red flowers on the water. In Smolensk the vodyanoi is humpbacked and has the feet and tail of a cow, while in Vologda it is a log with little wings flying over the water. A vodyanoi out of the water and in human guise can be identified by the water oozing out of its coat.

The vodyany-ye are immortal, but grow younger or older with the moon. They are weak on land, but virtually invincible in the water, and they dislike going out of the water beyond the bank or mill-wheel; some vodyany-ye refuse to emerge from water beyond the waist. They like to ride livestock until they die of exhaustion. Their presence in the market is an omen; if a vodyanoi buys corn at high prices, the harvest will fail, but a vodyanoi buying cheaply foretells bountiful crops.

They rest in their palaces during the day, and come out in the evening splashing the water with their paws, making a noise that can be heard over great distances. Vodyany-ye hate humans and lurk in the water after sunset, dragging people in when the opportunity arises. Those they drown become their slaves, or if attractive enough their wives. They take offense to anyone attempting to retrieve the bodies of the drowned, seeing them as their rightful property. Recovered bodies with bruises and marks on them were seen as bearing the scars of battle with a vodyanoi. In some places the presence of a vodyanoi became a serious threat. One mill-pond in Olonets held a vodyanoi family that required a constant source of corpses to eat. The inhabitants of the area learned to avoid the pond, and the family was eventually forced to relocate.

A vodyanoi sees mill-dams as an insult, and will destroy them to keep the water flowing. Horses smeared with honey, hobbled, and drowned with millstones make good placatory offerings. Drunk passers-by can also be pushed into mill-ponds to earn the vodyanoi’s trust.

As with other evil spirits, a vodyanoi can be exorcised; in fact, in some areas such as Tula, the vodyanoi is indistinguishable from the devil. Shooting a vodyanoi with buttons has been known to kill them as well. But while a vodyanoi can bear grudges, it can just as soon show gratitude. One vodyanoi who was aided in fighting off a rival promised never to drown anyone.

A vodyanoi is not hostile to fishermen and millers due to their affinity with water. Millers would deposit bread, salt, vodka, black sows, and ram’s heads at the water’s edge as offerings to the vodyanoi, and offer black roosters when building a new mill. Some millers were on such good terms with their local vodyanoi that they dined with them every night. Fishermen, on the other hand, would toss butter or tobacco into the water, saying “here’s some tobacco for you, vodyanoi, give me a fish!” A pleased vodyanoi would drive fish into a fisherman’s net. Finally, beekeepers also kept up good relations with the vodyanoi by offering honey and wax, and in return the water-spirit prevented humidity from damaging the hives.

The bolotnyi, from boloto or “swamp”, is a possible variation of the vodyanoi found in swamps.

References

Aldington, R. and Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1972) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Ivanits, L. J. (1989) Russian Folk Belief. M. E. Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, New York.

MacCulloch, J. A. and Machal, J. (1918) The Mythology of All Races v. III: Celtic and Slavic. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.

Polevik

Variations: Polevoi, Polievik, Poludnitsa, Poludnica

Polevik

The Polevik or Polevoi (from pole, “field”) is the Russian spirit of fields, plains, and noontime.

His appearance varies considerably. In Belozersk District and the northern forest regions he is a man dressed in white. In Iaroslavl Province he is an ugly little old man. In Orel Province he is black as the earth, his head covered with green grass, and he wears no clothing. In Tula Province he looks like a shaggy-furred Leshy. Sometimes his eyes are different colors. His skin and hair mirror the soil and vegetation of the fields, and his height grows and shrinks with the crops.

Unlike some of the other spirits, the polevik can be benevolent or evil. A polevik is primarily seen at noon. He likes to lead peasants astray, losing them in endless yellow golden stalks of grain. He disapproves of laziness, and will strangle drunkards sleeping in the fields. Poleviks are capable of seeing the future, and in Iaroslavl Province their appearance is an ill omen. Poleviks are also accomplished horsemen and will ride horses across the fields at breakneck speed, running over anyone in their path.

The female equivalent of the polevik, sometimes replacing him entirely, is the Poludnitsa, Poludnica, or Midday Spirit (from poluden or polden, “noon”). She can be a tall, beautiful woman in white; in Siberia she is an old curly-haired crone dressed in rags, while she has horses’ hoofs in Moravia. In summer, during harvest time, she walks through the fields, protecting the grain. If she sees someone working at midday she pulls their hair violently, twists their heads, and breaks their bones. Other times she quizzes people on agriculture, inflicting disease upon them if they fail to answer correctly. She enjoys misleading children in cornfields.

Polevik children run around the fields catching birds for their parents to eat. They will smother anyone sleeping on the edges of the field.

While poleviks can be destructive, a happy polevik will aid with the harvest, and crops will always be successful under a polevik’s patronage. To earn a polevik’s good will one must leave an offering of two eggs and an old rooster who can no longer crow, in a ditch when nobody is around. Traditional observances must also be followed, and nobody should work at noon.

With the advent of Christianity, poleviks and poludnitsas became mere bogeys, monsters used to frighten children out of cornfields.

References

Aldington, R. and Ames, D. trans.; Guirand, F. (1972) New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Paul Hamlyn, London.

Dubois, P.; Sabatier, C.; and Sabatier, R. (1992) La Grande Encyclopédie des Lutins. Hoëbeke, Paris.

Ivanits, L. J. (1989) Russian Folk Belief. M. E. Sharpe, Inc., Armonk, New York.

MacCulloch, J. A. and Machal, J. (1918) The Mythology of All Races v. III: Celtic and Slavic. Marshall Jones Company, Boston.