The Real-World Folklore Behind Witcher Monsters
Andrzej Sapkowski created a fantasy world that has enthralled millions across the globe with his stories about Geralt of Rivia - but have you ever stopped to wonder where all his Witcher monster inspirations came from? After all, it's not like the man came up with each and every fiendish beastie off the top of his head. Stories of all sorts and stripes take inspiration from the works that came before, and Sapkowski is no different.
When filling his mythical Continent with magical monsters, he used names and characteristics from the folklore of old. Leshies, basilisks, kikimora, and many more were all inspired by legends and myths of years gone by. Some of the Witcher monsters bear little resemblance to their namesakes, while others are obvious homages to famous things that go bump in the night. If you feel like having a little bit of a history lesson, scroll on down and learn a bit more about the horrors Geralt has to run down with his silver sword from time to time.
LeshyPhoto: Netflix / Н. Н. Брут / Public Domain
The Witcher Version: A couple of the standout moments from Season 2 of The Witcher involved a leshy. Geralt has come face-to-face with a leshy on more than one occasion, and seeing his close friend, Eskel, turn into one of the woodland beasts proves to be a tough moment for the gruff witcher. The leshies seen in Netflix's The Witcher aren't even the normal sort usually found in the world. According to the official bestiary of the show, the leshy that turns Eskel has a mutation that "allows it to take control of those it wounds."
The Real-World Folklore: The famed leshy of Slavic folklore is less of a tree monster and more of a shape-shifting trickster god. Also known as the "Old Man of the Forest," the leshy defends woodland creatures at all costs. His normal form is that of a giant man with green, fur-like hair. Perhaps most important is that he has his own holiday! If you're interested in paying homage to the "demon-god," the Leshy Feast Day is celebrated on September 27.
BasiliskPhoto: Netflix / Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch / Public Domain
The Witcher Version: Basilisks run rampant all over the Continent. Although they originate from desert areas, their wings and voracious appetites allow them to spread everywhere there is food to be had. They not only have a venomous bite, but toxic breath, as well. Staying away from their mouths, in general, seems to be a good idea. The Oxenfurt Book of Beasts claims "they spawn like weeds and are equally hard to eradicate." Basically, they're mean, serpent-like beasts with bird wings.
The Real-World Folklore: Smithsonian magazine describes an interesting origin for the snake-bird hybrid. According to legend, the basilisk is "a crested snake that hatched from an egg laid by a rooster and incubated by a toad." You know, something that is totally impossible and very weird! Legends of the basilisk go all the way back to the writings of famed Roman historian Pliny the Elder. It also was, according to myth, extremely powerful - in ways that would make those from The Witcher seem quaint in comparison. The basilisk of old was "widely believed to wither landscapes with its breath and kill with a glare." Geralt would've been no match for the basilisks at the end of Season 2 had they been that mighty.
The Witcher Version: With vampires continuing to be all the rage in the years after Twilight set the box office alight, you just knew some form of Dracula-esque baddie would show up in The Witcher sooner or later. Longtime fans may be impatiently waiting for Regis to make his debut in the television series, but the bruxa was a nice consolation prize. Vereena, the bruxa from Season 2, has all kinds of powers. She can shape-shift, she's telepathic, and she can fly. Most treacherous (outside of her many rows of teeth) is the sonic blast she can let loose when her jaw is unhinged.
The Real-World Folklore: In Portuguese folklore, the broxa is a "vampiric, demonic witch" that was created only by witchcraft itself. It is much like the bruxa of The Witcher series in that it is a shape-shifting vampire that flies, but it also has mind-control powers and is prone to divination, as well. Alas, according to the Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, the broxa is "impossible to kill no matter what form it assumes." Thankfully for Geralt and Ciri, this isn't the case when they come across Vereena.
KikimoraPhoto: Netflix / V.I. Denisov / Public Domain
The Witcher Version: This massive, eight-legged monstrosity is Geralt's memorable first kill in the Netflix series. The kikimora from the beginning of the first episode gives Geralt a run for his money, nearly drowning him in a body of water. At the end of the day, a silver sword blade to the brain proves to be too much for the creature. Weirdly enough, according to the official Witcher bestiary, kikimoras only attack humans when it's necessary to "end their starvation." With that many limbs, it seems like killing humans would be pretty easy... but we're not vicious monsters, so what do we know?
The Real-World Folklore: Outside of sharing a name, the kikimoras of The Witcher bear little resemblance to the kikimoras of legend. Traditional kikimoras are but little "house spirits." Generally speaking, they are of the female variety and sometimes have the beak of a duck or chicken. Depending on the behavior of the homeowner and how they keep house, kikimoras can be benevolent or mischievous. How do you get rid of a traditional kikimora? You keep your dang house clean! It's easy to see why Andrzej Sapkowski took the cool name "kikimora" and completely changed the monster. House spirits don't seem like they'd stand much of a chance against Geralt of Rivia.
StrigaPhoto: Netflix / Filip Gutowski / CC-BY-SA 4.0
The Witcher Version: The striga is a cursed, female human who stays out of the daylight and must feast on humans to survive. Though they look extremely deformed and weak, they are quite swift and are capable of leaping great distances that can even catch witchers off-guard. While the cure is easy to explain, it is much easier said than done: If you can keep a striga away from its hidey-hole and make it see the light of day, it will revert back to its human form. Good luck making that happen, though.
The Real-World Folklore: The strzyga of Polish folklore (by way of ancient Greece and Rome) is kind of like a vampire/owl hybrid. Like the Witcher version of the monster, it is a female demon that hunts human prey in the night. The old tales tell of humans born with two hearts and two souls. Once one of the hearts stops beating, the other continues, and the strzyga is born. While the striga from Witcher stories is certainly terrifying, there is something uniquely weird about a beast that turns into an owl-like thing that hunts humans by moonlight.
ChernobogPhoto: Netflix / Maxim Sukharev / CC-BY-SA 4.0
The Witcher Version: Unlike the vast majority of monsters in The Witcher, the chernobog didn't originate from the Conjunction of the Spheres. No, this big, black behemoth is brought into the Continent when Ciri accidentally wipes out a monolith near Cintra. With powerful wings that are somehow able to lift its hefty, thick exoskeleton to flight, the chernobog is somewhat like a smaller, flameless dragon of sorts. Thankfully, its undercarriage is pretty much unguarded and open to attack if you can manage to get a good shot off.
The Real-World Folklore: The Chernobog of Slavic folklore is less of a monster and more of a powerful god. The "black god" is the polar opposite of Belobog, the "white god." That kind of dichotomy means exactly what you'd expect it to: Chernobog is the master of death, misfortune, and destruction. He even takes domain over the winter months, just because they're cold and brutal. The Witcher's chernobog may lack the overall bombast and might of Chernobog, but the name is still pretty cool. Walt Disney and his production team knew what was up when they named the demon from Fantasia Chernabog.