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Likho is an embodiment of evil, fate and misfortune in Slavic mythology, a creature with one eye, often depicted as an old, skinny woman in black or as an evil male goblin of forests. Rather than being included in the major canon of the Slavic belief system, the Likho is traditionally found in skazky, or tales of fantasy and adventure equivalent to Western fairy tales.
There are several basic versions of tales how a person meets with Likho, with different morals of the tale:
A person eventually cheats Likho as in the Odyssey.
A person cheats Likho, runs away (with Likho chasing him), sees a valuable thing, grabs it out of greed, the person's hand sticks to it and they have to cut off their hand.
Likho cheats a person and rides on his neck. The person wants to drown Likho, jumps into a river, drowns himself, but Likho floats out, to chase other victims.
Likho is received or passed to another person with a gift.
Within the framework of superstitions, Likho was supposed to come and eat a person. In particular, this was used to scare small children. In Ukrainian folklore it is sometime being portrayed as type of a bad spirit that can cling to one's neck.
- Likho is not a real proper name, but a noun meaning bad luck in modern Russian and the odd number.
- Several proverbs utilize this term such as the Russian "Не буди лихо, пока оно тихо", meaning "Don't wake likho while it is quiet", "let the sleeping dogs lie" and the Polish "Cicho! Licho nie śpi", translated as "Quiet! Evil does not sleep" and "Licho wie", literally "Licho [only] knows", used to mean that a given piece of information is known by no one. In old Russian the root meant "excessive", "too much", "remaining" and "odd number" (contrasted with chetno in the chetno i likho game) with pejorative connotations, similar to the unlucky 'odd man out'. Compare to Russian lishniy - one in excess. The word is likely to be related to Indo-European leikw meaning something to remain, to leave. The derived adjective likhoy can be used to describe someone who is a bit too daring or brave.
- In the Czech/Bohemian dialect, lichý means odd (number), idle, vain.
- In Polish, lichy means shoddy, poor, flimsy.
- In Belarusian language, ліхі means bad, evil (like in prayer), odd (side of clothing). In Ukrainian language it is type of bad luck or incident.