The Fascinating World of Ukrainian Demonology

S
H
A
R
E

The Allure of Ukrainian Demonology 

Ukrainian demonology is a fascinating yet unexplored subject. It delves into the world of dark spirits, evil forces, and supernatural beings that have been a part of Ukrainian folklore and culture for centuries. 

The origins of Ukrainian demonology go back to ancient Slavic mythology and pagan beliefs. There, the spirits are an essential part of the natural world. For example, believers associate most demons with natural phenomena like storms, lightning, and thunder. The most prominent representatives of these demons are vodianyk (water spirit) and lisovyk (forest spirit). Even the most ordinary chort (demon) attracted many beliefs associated with nature. For instance, the Ukrainians believe that a whirlwind happens when chorty get married.

Infographics, entitled "Ukrainian Demonology"; on the black background there are three circles, entitled World of the Living, World of the Dead, and The Demonic World, and which include definision of some relevant characters.

A book on Ukrainian demons and spirits

Book cover of Notes on Ukrainian Demonology with a devil in forest
“Notes on Ukrainian Demonology” book cover.

The subject of Ukrainian demonology has intrigued scholars and enthusiasts alike. One of such enthusiast was Vasyl Myloradovych (1846–1911). A professional magistrate and amateur folklorist-ethnographer, he published enlightening materials on the subject. Due to his position and fondness for folklore, Vasyl Myloradovych spent much time with the locals, recording folklore. His articles on the subject reveal many details about the most famous Ukrainian spirits and demons. Perhaps the only drawback is the fact that they focus only on four Ukrainian demonological characters: witches, rusalky, chorty and mertsi. Myloradovych mentions many other characters in passing. Also, although the information presented is valuable and absorbing, it is far from complete. However, in no way is it Myloradovych’s fault. The subject of the Ukrainian world of demons is so rich and diverse that it requires work by a team of scholars and the publication of many volumes. 

Sova Books translated and published Vasyl Myloradovych’s exploration, “Notes on Ukrainian Demonology” in 2021. This publication came out as a contribution to the “Ukrainian Scholar Library” series. Most of the publication is a translation of the author’s original work. However, we took the liberty to add a glossary, index, additional biographical entries, and a diagram of Myloradovych’s demonology beings.

A few Ukrainian demons and spirits

Ukrainians believed demonological creatures to be powerful and unpredictable forces that could bring good or bad fortune. Occasionally, some of the demonological figures could be either benevolent or cause harm to humans.

Lisovyk 

One of the most famous Ukrainian demons is the lisovyk (a forest spirit). The  lisovyk is a protector of the woods and the animals that live within them. However, the lisovyk could also be a trickster and would often lure travellers into the forest; they were never to be seen again. In folklore, the lisovyk is depicted as a tall, thin figure with long hair and a beard and he was believed to be an excellent hunter and tracker.

Upyr

Perhaps one of the most wicked demons in Ukrainian demonology is the upyr, a vampire-like creature that would prey on the living. According to Myloradovych’s “Notes…”, there are two types of upyri (plural). One type of upyri was someone who had died but had come back to life as a ‘blood-sucking’ demon. The other type is the warlocks who willingly turn into upyri and drink people’s blood at night. 

Rusalky 

Rusalky are female water spirits in Ukrainian folklore. Generally, they are depicted as beautiful young women with long hair and fair complexion. They are enchanting and alluring. They can be dangerous and lure people, especially men, into the water. Also, they are playful and question passers-by in riddles. If the latter fail to give the correct answer, the rusalky tickle them to death. For more on rusalky, read our article “Are you protected against Ukrainian rusalky this year?”.

Vodianyk

The vodianyk is a water spirit. It is similar to other water spirits found in different cultures around the world. The vodianyk is a male creature. The vodianyk is said to lure people into the water and drown them. However, they can also be benevolent towards those who please them or show them respect. The portrayal of vodianyk can vary in different regions of Ukraine, and some stories might depict them in a more positive or more negative light.

Chort

The word “chort” in Ukrainian culture is synonymous with “devil” or “demon”. Folklore often portrays these creatures as malevolent beings associated with darkness, temptation, and evil. Generally, chorty are small, black, horned creatures with glowing eyes and a wicked smile. In brief, they are famous for their mischievous behaviour, playing pranks on people and leading them astray. In many folktales, chorty make deals or bargains with humans, promising them wealth, power, or other desires in exchange for their souls or something else of value.

Conclusion

In addition to these demons, Ukrainian folklore is home to many other supernatural beings, such as witches, the yarchuk, the pochakun, etc. Again, Vasyl Myloradovych’s book, “Notes on Ukrainian Demonology”, provides brief information on these beings. We plan to publish more translations soon on this fascinating subject.

In conclusion, Ukrainian demons are a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the country and the enduring power of these ancient tales. Whether you believe in them or not, demons continue to captivate and terrify audiences to this day. 

More of our articles on Ukrainian demonology: