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LATEST in the The Legendary Past ‘Myth’ series and written by the Emerita Professor of Russian at the University of Durham and an authority on Russian folklore and ethnography, this is a marvellous little book of the lesser demi-gods and spirit-beings, wood demons, water nymphs and spirits of the dead that populated the familiar universe of the Russian peasantry.

Russia is particularly rich with the symbols of mystic thought which are woven into traditional embroideries and the carvings that decorate peasant houses – or did before they were sidled away by some fat cat city art dealer.

The coming of Christianity to the state of Kievan Rus at the end of the 10th century had an enormous impact on the development of Russian civilisation and despite the abandonment of the pagan gods both Christian and pagan practices and beliefs co-existed for centuries.

Some survive in strength today, like a belief by the peoples of the forests of northern Russia in the eyebrowless demonic leshii, the spirits of the forest who cast no shadow and leave no footprint, who steal unbaptised babies left unattended by mothers working in fields near the forest’s edge, and who entice away little children with nuts and exotic fruits given to them by an old man who looks just like grandad.. In Archangel province it was said that the leshii danced with his wife.

Fine use of engravings of folk pictures, lithographs, drawings and photography indicate a world far beyond the centres of civilisation.