Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The tragic Rusalka

The Rusalka come from Slavic and Eastern European folklore and mythology.
Image Courtesy: Anna Vinogradova

The Rusalki in my opinion, are tragic figures. They are the spirits of women who have died tragically via suicide or murder. For example women who gave birth out of wedlock, or become pregnant with another man's child may be violently drowned or commit suicide. These unhappy spirits are then damned to return to Earth for a stint as the unhappy and murderous Rusalka.

Image Courtesy: Russian MythologyEncylopaedia.

Once turned into the Rusalki, their primary objective is to lure people into the water and drown them. They predominantly target young men - as revenge for their own unhappy deaths (largely caused by men). The Rusalka will seduce the man in much the similar way to a Greek Siren, using her voice and /or looks. So entranced by their inhuman beauty the men stupidly swim into the haunted waterway where the Rusalki will tangle his feet with her hair and drown him. Often the men would put up a fight, gripping the Rusalki and trying to haul himself to the surface. However it is said that the skin of a Rusalka is slippery, and no one can hold onto one.  There are also reports that the Rusalki will tickle their victim to death, so that the man will ironically die laughing.

Some sources report that a Rusalka can only exist whilst in water, and so a Rusalka appears with always one foot in the water, retaining her connection to the waterway at all time. Though others suggest that as long as the forest surrounds them, they may take form from the trees.

According to the Singing Bones Podcast (great resource by the way!) the Rusalki is described as "beauteous maidens with full and snow-white bosoms, and with long and slender limbs. Their feet are small, their eyes are wild, their faces are fair to see, but their complexion is pale, their expression anxious. Their hair is long and thick and wavy, and green as is the grass. Their dress is either a covering of green leaves, or a long white shift, worn without a girdle. At times they emerge from the waters of the lake or river in which they dwell, and sit upon its banks, combing and plaiting their flowing locks, or they cling to a mill-wheel; and turn round with it amid the splash of the stream. If any one happens to approach, they fling themselves into the waters, and there divert themselves, and try to allure him to join them. Whomsoever they get hold of they tickle to death. Witches alone can bathe with them unhurt.

Punishment of the wayward female is very common theme in Slavic mythology, and so it little surprise that a sinful female would be punished in such a way. It is interesting to note however, that the Rusalka does have a male counterpart, known as the Vodyanoy. This creature however is not suffering some sort of undead torment / punishment like the poor Rusalka. It is a mythological
Image courtesy: Ivan Bilibin 1934
creature in its own right. Vodyanoy is basically naked old man with a froggy face, green beard, and long hair. His unattractive body is covered with black scales coated in algae and mud. He has webbed paws, a fish tail and red burning eyes.

Hmmm, toad man, versus beautiful suffering woman. Don't you love mythology?

I am not sure if the tradition has continued to modern times, but there used to be a dedicated "Rusalka Week." During this week the Rusalka and Vodyanoy were said to be especially active and it was considered unwise to swim or spend much time near water. This used to occur in June.

In some mythologies, the Rusalka's mood also affected farmer's cropping, and so there were particular times of the yea rwhen the farmers and their wives tried to appease the Rusalka to insure a good crop. During these times the Rusalka would dance, but humans should be careful never to get too close to them, lest they turn murderous and vengeful.

I haven't read anything about what happens when the Rusalka complete their term as a water spirit. One hopefully presumes that when the term of their punishment end and their spirit would finally be at rest, and free, but I haven't read anything to suggest it.

On that rather sombre and disappointing note I shall leave you. 
Enjoy your March, whether it be Autumn or Spring in your hemisphere!