A Slavic Rusalka (Rusalki – plural). Many people, even those who are not closely familiar with Slavic lore, have heard about this fascinating magical creature. A beautiful woman who lives in lakes and rivers. But is there any difference between a Slavic Rusalka and a mermaid?
I would say quite a bit.
So, let’s dive straight into the story of a Slavic Rusalka (Mermaid).
Who is Rusalka?
In Slavic mythology, a Rusalka is a magical being who lives in lakes, ponds and rivers, a spirit of nature associated with water. However, some legends and fairy tales have it that a Rusalka can leave her water kingdom and travel on land.
In the pagan world, a Rusalka was considered a kind spirit, who protected the travelers, helping them find their way to land. In the northern regions of Russia, people believed that if, at the beginning of Spring, Rusalki come out to play on a rye field, the land would produce a great harvest.
With time and the shifting toward Christianity, the image of Rusalka changed as well. No longer a spirit of nature, it was considered a dangerous spirit, a type of water nezhit (undead), who lured a person with their songs and dragged them into water, drowning them.
How Do They Look?
Here is the biggest difference between a Slavic Rusalka and mermaids we got used to seeing in movies and cartoons.
You heard me. Not everywhere, but in most Slavic regions, a Rusalka was described as a beautiful, young maiden with pale skin and long hair, which she loved to comb. Since Rusalki can easily live on land, they had two legs like regular people. There was nothing “fishy” about their looks. Just like any young girls, they loved playing on open fields and climb trees under the moonlight.
Southern Slavs would disagree with this description, though. They believed that a Rusalka could live only underwater, and the fishtail came with the territory.
How Can You Become a Rusalka?
Well… you probably don’t want to do it. Why? Because you’d have to die.
Young women who died before being wed or died young, unnatural deaths, were turning into Rusalki. This is why some legends describe a Rusalka as a young woman with a pale, almost greenish complexion and long hair with a slightly green tint to it.
Not all Rusalki are the same. There are a few different types.
The best known types are Mavka (Mavki – plural) and Lobasta (Lobasti – plural).
Mavki were mischievous and playful creatures, who were especially dangerous for men. They showed up naked and seduced them with their youth and beauty, playing with them until they forgot everyone and everything they cared about and blindly followed a Mavka to their underwater kingdom.
Lobasti lived in the reeds along the riversides, swamps and lakes, and they were considered the most evil and dangerous type of Rusalki. Unlike the other types of Rusalka, Lobasta was a true nezhit (undead) and was described as ugly, old hags with sharp claws and messy, slimy hair.
What to do if you meet a Rusalka.
If you are a man, no matter which type of Rusalka you meet, I suggest you run and don’t look back. However, if running is not an option, here is what you can do:
1. Do not look them in the eye. Avert your gaze and look anywhere but at them.
2. You can buy your way out by throwing at them jewelry or some items of clothing that they may find attractive.
3. Some seasons are considered more Rusalka-friendly. For example, the Rusalka’s Week in April, or May and June when rye is in bloom. During these months, just stay away from water and don’t wander alone in a forest.
4. If you were unlucky enough to meet a Lobasta, keep in mind that they are not afraid of iron or silver, but weapons made of these materials still can hurt them.
If you’d like to visit the underwater kingdom populated with Rusalki, Mavki and even a really mean Lobasta, read The Shadow Deception, the second book of the Shadow Enforcers series, and see what Cole Adams had to do to survive this unpleasant encounter.
Enter the Salamanderverse, where magic and ancient myths are real, and things are not what they appear to be. If you haven't done it yet, you can download "The Burns Path”, a prequel to the Fire Salamander Chronicles Urban Fantasy series, for FREE on my website. The events of this 49,000-word novella occur before the Burns Fire, and it can be read as a standalone novel.