Friday, 1 May 2020

Lesnik


The most commonly used Serbian word for forest is "šuma". I love this word. Serbian word "šum" means rustling, which is the sound of deciduous forests. This makes forest "the shushing place". 

But this is not the only Serbian word for forest... 

Another word used for forest, but more specifically for mountain forest, and mountain in general is "gora". Like this one on Mt Tara:



I talked about this word a lot when I talked about words for sun, fire and warmth in Serbian and Irish languages

Yet another word used for forest is "dubrava". This word which means "oak forest" comes from Proto-Slavic root "*dǫbъ" (oak). This is a very common toponym found all over Central Europe wherever Slavs live or have once lived...



Oak was the holy tree of the Slavs. It is still considered a holy tree in Serbia, where people in villages still hold masses under ancient oaks called "zapis", like this one from South Eastern Serbia, also marked with a "Celtic" :) cross...



The holy status of oaks can be seen from the fact that when a young oak is cut in Serbia to be used for Yule log, it is addressed and treated as living god...



I talked about Serbian Yule log rituals in my post "Badnjak".

To Serbs, and other Slavs, oak was an extremely important tree. Its hard, durable, water resistant wood was used for building houses, boats, kitchen utensils, tools, furniture, carts...You could say that in the past, Slavic culture was built around oak...



I talked about this in my post "Oaks".

Balkans Slavs also ate acorns until the mid 20th c. Most lowland people only during "hungry years", but some mountain populations regularly. Forests of sweet acorn oaks called "sladun" (sweat oak) "medun" (honey oak) were planted and maintained on village boundaries...



These "sacred" oak forests, cultivated as a source of acorns, for people and pigs, were called "gaj" (cultivated forest), "zabran" (forbidden forest), "lug" (light forest, as oak forests are very airy and bright) and "zabel, zabela"... 

I talked about these cultivated forests in my post "Pelasgos".

Knowing the importance oak held in Serbian culture, I was surprised to discover that one other tree was maybe venerated even more: hazel. 



When village holy oak suddenly died, people planted hazel in its place and prayed to it for protection. Why? 

More about Serbian hazel lore can be found in my post "Hazel".

Well, the last word for forest used in Serbia is: "les" or "lijes". This is a Slavic wide word, found in all Slavic languages. Now interestingly, the word for hazel in Slavic languages is "leska". Now this can mean that "leska" literally just means "tree", or that "les" literally just means "hazels"...You will see why this confusion is very important...

And this handsome guy is Lesnik, Leshy, Leśniczy, Lasowik...a tutelary deity of the forests in Slavic mythology. 



His name basically means "Of the forest"...Except this depiction of Lesnik from 1906 is wrong...It depicts him in a wrong forest...Fir, Pine forest...Not hazel forest...

In Slavic languages "bor" means pine but also a conifer forest...So the forest spirit on the picture above should better be called by his other name: Boruta, Borowy, Боровой (of conifer forest) or even Svyatobor (Holy pine, holy forest) also known as Svyatibog (Holy god)...Interestingly "Bor" is in Serbian also used with the meaning "god", instead of "bog", like in phrases "Bora mi" (instead of Boga mi, meaning May god be my witness)...

Now here is the interesting bit :) 

Few years ago I wrote a post about post ice age floral repopulation of Europe




In it I talked about how different tree species migrated back into Europe at different times. 

At the end of the Ice Age, the only trees left in Europe were conifers...



At that time, fir, conifer meant tree, as there were no other trees, and it meant forest, as the only forest left were fir, conifer forests...By the way did you know that "forest" comes from Proto-Germanic *furhiþą (forest, wooded country), from Proto-Germanic *furhō (fir, pine).

Now add to Germanic "fir" (fir, conifer, forest) Slavic "bor" (pine, conifer forest, forest spirit, god)...

How old is this linguistic and cultural root? Could it be that this comes to us from the time when the only trees left around were fir, pine, conifers? From about 12000 years ago? 

Interestingly, after the weather got warmer, the first trees that really moved in, in a big way, and took over were birches...That must have been some site...Dark fir forests and white birch forests...It still is...




But then in the yet warmer early Boreal period (7000 - 5500 BC) hazel and pine expanded into the birch woodlands to such a degree that palynologists refer to the resulting ecology as the hazel-pine forest. Now this is interesting...

We still have fir forests and now pine forests are joining them. 



But hazel forest are takin over to the point when hazel became dominant tree species in Europe...


Is this when "bor" (pine, tree, conifer forest, forest,  Borovoi-forest spirit) became "les" (hazel, tree, deciduous forest, forest, Lesnik-forest spirit)?

Is this the time when the confusion between les (hazel, tree) and les (forest) was created in Slavic languages? About 7000 years ago?

This was all happening before first Oak (dub) even bothered looking up north...But when they did finally decide to move up north, they truly took over...The age of oaks began...

Now if we look at the chronology, we have Fir (Jela), Birch (Breza), Pine (Bor), Hazel (Les-ka) then Oak (Dub)...All Slavic holy trees...All very difficult trees to spread by themselves because of big heavy nuts, acorns, cones... All edible...

Now in my post about post ice age floral repopulation of Europe I asked whether people helped oaks to move up north after the last Ice age? They just spread too quickly...And we know that people used acorns as food...They are very nutritious and very easy to store. I talked about human consumption of acorns in the posts linked from this page. But did they help fir, birch, pine, hazel too? 



Was this Garden of Eden, the endless forest of edible trees and berries full of wild animals, birds, fish...planted by men or god? Or both? I talked about this in my post "Christmas trees from Garden of Eden"

To be devil's advocate, I tried to think if the links fir-tree-forest-forest god, oak-tree-forest, hazel-tree-forest-forest god could have been forged in recent time too. And the two out of three of these links could:

1. fir-tree-forest-forest god could have been forged in Scandinavia and Northern Russia where fir is still the predominant tree species. Considering that only Slavs have the forest spirit, the link was probably forged by them and then transmitted to their Germanic neighbours
2. oak-tree-forest could have been forged in vast oak forests of Central Europe by Central European Slavs

But the link hazel-tree-forest-forest god, could only have been forged at the time when hazel forests covered most of Europe...And the last time that was the case was during early Boreal period (7000 - 5500 BC)...

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