In Slavic mythology, a rusalka (plural: rusalki, or rusalky) is the spirit of a girl who has drowned or died violently before her time in or near one of Russia’s many rivers. During the cold Winter months, rusalki live deep in the water and even survive under the ice. When Summer sunshine warms the waters, the rusalki climb the branches of overhanging trees and go to spend a kind of Summer holiday in the forest spent dancing in the meadows by day and swinging on branches of birch and willow by moonlight.

While a rusalka’s dwelling place is the body of water in which she died, she is able to come out of the water, usually at night. It is then that she will climb a tree and sit there singing songs, sit on a dock and comb her hair, or join other rusalki in dancing circles within the field.

While some accounts report that rusalki eyes shine like green fire, others describe them with extremely pale and translucent skin, and no visible pupils. Their hair is either green or golden, and perpetually wet. Rusalki cannot live long on dry land, but with her comb she was always safe, for it gave her the power to conjure water whenever she required it. However, if ever she lost the comb and was unable to find a water source, her hair would dry out and her life come to an end.

There are two species of rusalki: northern and southern. Both are dangerous to humans who venture near the water, but the two species use very different methods of destroying them. The rusalki of the gloomy northern rivers, who look like the naked corpses of drowned women, snatch any innocent wayfarer and drag him down into the depths. There, they bully and torture him before putting him out of his misery. But the southern rusalki, who resemble beautiful girls clad in gossamer garments of water vapour, entice mortal children with baskets of fruit and mortal men to join them by singing with irresistible sweetness. The man who hears a rusalki’s song wades into the depths and drowns with a smile on his lips.

Both types of rusalki are extremely mischievous during their Summer holidays. They may ruin the harvest with torrential rain, tear up fishermen’s nets, damage such constructions as dams and watermills, and steal the garments which women are making for their families.

Anyone who ventures near Russian rivers should protect himself against rusalki by carrying a few leaves of wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) in an amulet. Wormwood also protects any article which rusalki might steal, damage, or destroy. In cases of severe infestation, one should scatter a quantity of the leaves upon the surface of the river.
— Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were, by Michael Page.




[Artwork: Rusalka, by Katrina Sesum.]

THE DARK SIDE OF MYTH & FOLKLORE: RUSALKA

In Slavic mythology, a rusalka was a female spirit that dwelt in waterways. In most traditions, the rusalki were mermaids who lured men into rivers with the beauty of their songs, much like the Greek sirens. Other times, the rusalki were ghosts of young girls who drowned or otherwise died young. Sometimes, rusalki were said to have glowing green eyes, very pale, almost transcluent skin, and long wet hair.

In Slavic mythology, a rusalka (plural: rusalki or rusalky) was a female ghost, water nymph, succubus or mermaid-like demon that dwelled in a waterway. According to most traditions, the rusalki were fish-like women, who lived at the bottom of rivers. In the middle of the night, they would walk out to the bank and dance in meadows. If they saw handsome men, they would intrigue them with songs and dancing, mesmerizing them, then lead the men away to the river floor and to his death. 

Artwork by Howard Pyle, 1910. 

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Mythology/Folklore: Rusalka

A rusalka is a female ghost, succubus, or mermaid-like demon that dwell in the bottom of the river. 

While her primary dwelling place was the body of water in which she died, the Rusalka could come out of the water at night, climb a tree, and sit there singing songs, sit on a dock and comb her hair, or join other Rusalki in circle dances.

In the middle of the night, they walk out to the bank and dance in the meadows. If they see a handsome man, they will fascinate them with songs and dancing, mesmerize them, and then lead them away to the river floor to their death. 

The Russians also believe in a species of water and wood-maids, called Rusalki. They are of a beautiful form, with long green hair; they swing and balance themselves on the branches of trees—bathe in lakes and rivers—play on the surface of the water—and wring their locks on the green meads at the water’s-edge. It is chiefly at Whitsuntide that they appear, and the people then singing and dancing, weave garlands for them, which they cast into the stream. [x]

Regina patrona- 1/? Nymphæ of Waters

And then there are long looms of stone on which the Nymphai weave tissues of ocean-purple that ravish the gazing eye. There are streams there too that flow perpetually; and there are two entrances into it, a northern entrance that mortals may descend by and a southern one that belongs to the gods; by this no human being may enter; it is the pathway of the immortals.

Mitologia słowiańska cz. I

Demony wodne, czyli

nigdy nie rozmawiaj z

nieznajomą

 

Mamy demony wodne rzeczne, jeziorne i morskie. Wedle A. Szyjewskiego, wodne niewiasty chętnie wychodziły na brzeg, by znaleźć przyjemność w okrutnym torturowaniu przechodzących ludzi (najczęściej urodziwych młodzieńców). Splatały taneczne kręgi i zraszały wodą rośliny. Demony wodne męskie sprawowały władzę i pieczę nad rybami (czasami mogły przybrać ich postać), a jako wiry wciągały nieostrożnych pływaków pod wodę. W odróżnieniu do swych diabolicznych koleżanek, rezydowały raczej na dnie zbiorników wodnych. Najróżnorodniejsze ze wszystkich demonów przyrodniczych: mogły przybrać kształty człowiecze (ludzi dorosłych, chudych, wysokich lub małych dzieci), zwierzęce (kot, owca, baran, kudłaty czarny albo szary pies, ptak, żaba), teratologiczne (ryb-potwór, twór człekozwierzęcy, człowiek o bydlęcych nogach, syrena) lub były istotami bezpostaciowymi.

DEMONY WODNE

(wg. Religii Słowian, A. Szyjewskiego)

baby wodne, beregynie, brodarice, chlapy, cioty, gudelki, judy, kazytki, kupałki, lemuzyny, łaskotuchy, maki, martwice, mawki, nejki, ondyny, pokutnice, poternata, rusalije, rusali, rusałki, stichije, stije, śpiewnice, tanecznice, topielnice, utopicielki, wiłki, wiły, wodianichy, wodniane, wyniwki, założnyje, wodne panny, bestermany, hastermany, jaroszki, jędry, łabosty, markuny, martwiece, mumacze, płynniki, potopelnyky, potopielce, potopłennyki, rarki, topcy, utopilniki, utoplaszki, vodni, vodni muže, wirniki, wodianyje, wodnicy


„Rusałki wg wierzeń ludowych spędzały zimę w wodzie, a na wiosnę pojawiały się w lasach i gajach. Uważano, że są to dusze przedwcześnie zmarłych dziewcząt. Miały posiadać długie, rozpuszczone włosy, głowę zdobiły wiankami z kwiatów. Lubiły muzykę, śpiewy oraz pląsy odbywane przy księżycu na leśnych igrowiszczach. Lubiły też gwizdać, klaskać w dłonie, huśtać się na nisko zawieszonych gałęziach drzew. Lubiły wreszcie zwodzić ludzi zbłąkanych w lesie. Schwytanych zadręczały na śmierć łaskotaniem. U źródeł, pod drzewami i na głazach lud składał im również ofiary z jadła.”

 

Słownik starożytności słowiańskich. Encyklopedyczny zarys kultury

Słowian od czasów najdawniejszych, pod red. W. Kowalenki,

G. Labudy i T. Lehra – Spławińskiego, 1961  

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Rusałki (water nymphs)

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Syrena (mermaid)

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