Don’t Go Looking For Evil, You May Find The Likho
The likho is a creature found in Slavic mythology and is believed to be the personification of evil and misfortune. There are various stories about this terrifying creature, usually ending with something bad happening to the person who encounters the likho. In some of these tales, there are valuable lessons that may be picked up by those who listen to them.
The Origin of the Likho
The likho is known also as licho or liho and is found in the fairy tales of several Eastern Slavic countries. This creature is often described as an elderly woman dressed entirely in black or as a male goblin-like creature. Some have described the likho as being a giant who is taller than the trees. The most distinct feature of the likho is that it has one eye, like the cyclops in Greek mythology, hence its epithet ‘One-Eyed’.
One-eyed likho is an embodiment of evil fate and misfortune in Slavic mythology. ( axis-of-devil / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Warding Off a Servant of Death
In ancient times, the likho was believed to be a servant of Death. During pre-Christian times villages would conduct a certain ritual during times of epidemic. A feminine-like idol with one eye would be built and then used to kindle a sacrificial fire. It was hoped that by destroying an effigy of this servant of Death in the fire, the epidemic also would be dispelled. It was only sometime later on that the likho was considered to be the embodiment of bad luck and evil.
Death by Drowning
While the likho is not a major character in Slavic mythology, like the witch Baba Yaga, it is the main character in a number of different fairy tales. In one of these stories, for instance, the likho would jump onto its victim’s neck. The creature would cling onto the unfortunate victim tightly riding on their backs. It would be impossible for the person to free themselves from the likho’s grip. In desperation the person would wade into a river or some other body of water hoping to drown the likho. Instead of getting rid of or killing the creature, however, the victim loses their own life. The likho then moves on to search for its next victim. Incidentally, the rusalka and vodyanoy, two water spirits in Slavic folklore are believed to use drowning as a means to kill their victims. In times past people who died mysteriously as a result of drowning may be said to be the victims of such supernatural beings.
Baba Yaga as depicted by Ivan Bilibin. (Bilibin / Public Domain )
Facing the Likho
Unlike the rusalka and vodyanoy, however, the likho does not directly cause its victim to drown. It is rather the result of its victim’s failed plan to get rid of the creature. Additionally, the likho has other means of killing its victims. In one tale two good men a tailor and a blacksmith set out on a quest to seek out evil, which neither of them has met before. One night the two men arrive at the hut of an old hag and sought shelter with her. Unbeknownst to them they had come face to face with the likho. The hag told the two men that she would eat them. Having prepared her stove, the likho slaughters the tailor cooks him and devours him.
Likho disguised as old hag. ( marcofinelli / Adobe)
The Blacksmith Bargains for Release
The likho then prepares to eat the blacksmith, who reveals his profession and offers to forge the creature anything that she may want. The likho thinks for a while and asks the blacksmith to forge a new eye for her as she has only one. The blacksmith agrees on the condition that the likho allows herself to be bound. The reason for this was that the new eye had to be hammered in place and any sudden movement could result in a mishap. Once the likho was securely bound to a chair, the blacksmith got hold of a red-hot poker and pierced the likho’s one eye.
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The blacksmith with a red-hot poker. ( Chudakov / Adobe)
The creature howls in pain and manages to snap the ropes that bound her. Before the blacksmith is able to escape his exit is barred and is forced to spend the night in the hut. The likho had sheep living with her and in the morning, she drove them out into the pastures. In order to ensure that the blacksmith did not slip out with the animals the likho felt each sheep as it passed her. Fortunately, the blacksmith was wearing a sheepskin coat. He inverted the garment thereby safely creeping past the likho.
Similar Tale – The Odyssey
The tale is strangely reminiscent of an episode in the Odyssey, where Odysseus uses his wits in a similar fashion to escape from the cyclops Polyphemus. Like the Greek tale, the Slavic one does not end with the blacksmith’s escape. Having left the likho’s hut, the blacksmith makes his way through the forest where he finds a golden axe stuck in the stump of a tree. He attempted to remove it, but the axe would not budge. Worse still he found that he could not remove his hand from the axe. Soon he heard the likho approaching. In some versions of the story the likho catches the blacksmith and kills him. In others he amputates his own hand and inanely escapes from the likho.
Odysseus and his comrades blinding Polyphemus. ( Gmihail / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
What is the Moral of the Story?
While it was the hubris of Odysseus that led him to reveal his identity to Polyphemus after escaping from the cyclops, it was the blacksmith’s greed that led to the loss of his hand/life. Another moral of this story is that one ought not to look for evil/misfortune unnecessary, as expressed by the Russian proverb that translates literally as ‘Don’t wake the likho up when it is quiet’.
“Don’t wake the likho up when it is quiet.” ( Fotokvadrat / Adobe)
Top image: The likho is said to only have one eye and look like a goblin. Photo source: Andrey Kiselev / Adobe.
By Wu Mingren
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Available at: https://russianuniverse.org/2015/03/24/russian-saying-21/