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What are Rusalki?

1. September 2009 by Gregg 0 Comments


In the old Slavic myths of Russia and Ukraine, Rusalka (plural: Rusalki) are similar to Sirens in the Greek tales and Mermaids in English sea legends. The Rusalki are female ghosts who live at the bottom of lakes and rivers. During the day they must stay underwater, but after nightfall they are able to leave their watery prison and walk on land, dancing in the moonlight. In most of the legends they would mesmerize the young men who came across them and take them down to the bottom of the river to live with them.

Rusalka are normally depicted with green fire in their eyes, or no pupils at all. They will have golden or even green hair and one of the recurring themes is that when they are on dry land the Rusalka must keep her hair wet or she will die. The Rusalki were frequently viewed as vengeful spirits of young girls who had died under unfortunate circumstances and could move on from the earth if their deaths were avenged.

In early June, the holiday of Semik would be celebrated (this is sometimes known as “Trinity Week” in modern times as it precedes Trinity Sunday). At this time of year, due to the spring, the Rusalki would be at their most dangerous. Swimming was banned every year during this week as the Rusalka were said to drag the swimmers down to their doom and offerings were hung from the trees around the river to appease them.