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Slavic folklore – The Rusalka

Slavic folklore – The Rusalka

Daughter of a water goblin, Vodnik, and a witch, Jezibaba or Baba Yaga, the Rusalka is a water Nymph or a feminine entity associated with water. In Ukrainian demonology, she is the soul of a young girl that drowned or could be the spirit of an unbaptized child. They live at the bottom of rivers in crystal palaces and come up to the surface only in springtime, on Rosalia or Green Thursday, or rusalka Easter. It is said that until St. Peter’s day, they play all night long on riverbanks and their dancing promotes the growth of rye.


In Ukraine, they are associated with water, but in Belarus, she is linked with forests and fields. Russian beliefs describe her as a pale little girl with green hair and long arms. In Poland, water Rusalka was a young and fair-haired girl, while the forest ones looked like more mature women with long black hair. In both cases, their hair could turn green and their faces would become distorted.

Now known to be malicious to mankind, in the original version they were associated with fertility. Being water spirits, they would come out during Spring to give life to the fields and nurture the crops. By the late 19th century, they became evil creatures whose main purpose was to lure men into the depths of the water. In this version, Rusalka was the soul of a woman who either committed suicide by drowning due to a failed marriage or who was violently drowned while pregnant with an unwanted child. Her restless spirit would be allowed to ascend to heaven only if her death is avenged.


The sad story of the Rusalka

The most common story says she falls in love with a prince and trades her voice to become mortal and be with him. She tries to seduce him with her voice and beauty but fails. Heartbroken, she wants to return to her world, but the only way to do it is by killing the prince. Carrying for him too much, she spares his life, sinks into the depths of the river, and becomes a demon. The prince looks for her, begging for one last kiss, but after he receives his wish, he dies and Rusalka returns to her demon world.

Another version tells that she seeks help from Baba Yaga to become mortal and be with the prince. But Rusalka gets tricked; in the bargain, she loses her immortality and the power to speak. Also, if the prince doesn’t fall in love with her, he will remain alive, even if Rusalka wants him dead. Of course, things go south, the prince is not seduced by her and Rusalka returns to Baba Yaga to gain her immortality back. Baba Yaga agrees to help her under one condition: to kill the prince with a dagger. Rusalka refuses, but in the end, the prince finds his own demise after he kisses the demon nymph.

Popular beliefs

Old beliefs say she’s the most dangerous in early June, during the Rusalka week when they leave the water and sing on the branches of trees. Swimming is strictly forbidden at this time and people would celebrate by doing a ritual of banishment or burial of the rusalki. This ritual was practiced in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine until the 1930s.

It is said that she can change her appearance to match the taste of the man she’s trying to seduce. The Rusalka takes her victims into the depths of the water and entangles their feet with her long red hair. She would either let them drown or tickle them to death while she laughed.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Rusalka, the demon water Nymph – Writing, Reading, Living, but mostly Hiding

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