To the early Slavs, forests and swamps were omnipresent. Around farms and villages as well as on the mountains, the woods were inescapable. And in the shadows of those trees, spirits lurked.
Most spirits in Slavic mythology aren’t depicted in a positive light. Tales of demons in the shadows of the night spread all across the Slavic tribes and nations, and one of the most frightening tales told was that of bies.
Bies is an evil and malicious spirit from Slavic mythology. He is the personification of all evil forces nature can muster.
The word “bies” or “bes” is close to a Lithuanian word for dreadful – “baisus”.
Other origins of the name can be found in old Proto-Slavic “bĕsъ”, which means “causing fear and terror”.
Polish word “zbiesiony”, describing someone under an influence of evil, is derived from the word “bies”.
The appearance of a fiend and its habitat
The devil was said to have many forms. One of them was a form of a shaggy beast with horns, hooves and a tail. Bies was allegedly lame and limped on one leg. This ties to a legend, where the creature got in a fight with one of the deities, after he was thrown down from heavens and injured his leg.
Later on, Christians adapted this story into their own mythology, turning the primordial Slav demon into an angel who was thrown from heavens to the ground.
Other sources depict Bies as a horned hairy being, with wings and a tail, wearing a dark cloak and smelling of smoke.
Legends claim that this demon was powerful enough to take control of a person’s mind, being able to subjugate their will completely, which lead to the victim’s eventual insanity. This is where the word “zbiesiony” comes from, as the person that was under the influence of Bies was referred to as “zbiesiony”. At this time in history, it was common to attribute all mental disorders to an unnatural cause and being possessed by Bies was an easy explanation.
One of his other skills was an ability to cause blindness.
Ever so often, Biesy (the plural form of Bies) could be found at remote crossroads, where they were waiting, taking the form a common animal, to ambush clueless travellers. If one happend to stumble upon an animal on a crossroads which happend to produce unusual sounds, like a dog meowing or a cat crowing, the best course of action would be to turn on ones heels and run away, as this would be a clue that the animal in question was in actuality a ferocious demon.
Biesy were said to live in prehistoric forests, deep in caves or swamps far away from human settlements. There are also sources that claim the favourite habitat of these devils were deep, abyssal canyons. If one happened to get lost and ventured too close to the demon’s domain, chilling shrieks and malicious giggles would be ones last warning before a certain and horrific death.
Biesy were also said to guard riches underground and even to this day, some old castle treasures are rumored to be guarded by these long-serving devils.
Conclusion - The Christian influence
The superstitious faith in demons, which was so natural to humans, especially in medieval times, resisted the purge of folklore the Christian Church oftentimes enforced and the idea of a Bies, although slightly modified, survived. In Christianity, Bies assumed the form of all the explainable evil in the world and became the foremost scapegoat for people’s misfortunes.
This was the ninth episode of Slavic Saturday. There are many other creatures I am ready to cover for you, my lovely fans. If you missed our previous episodes then you can find them here. I hope to see you all return next Saturday!