Rusalka; Fertility Water Nymph or Demonic Unclean Spirit?

Rusalka is a mythological creature in Slavic literature. Before the 19th century she was considered a pagan goddess of fertility who came out of the water in spring to provide moisture to the fields for growing crops.  Later she was seen as an unclean spirit of the dead who coerced young women to commit suicide by drowning over a jilted lover or unhappy marriage.  It really included any young woman who died whether by disease, murder, suicide or even accidentally, before their time.  She was seen as woman who had not yet become a mother, and was capricious, even seductive. She would hauntingly lure men down in to the dark waters, to their deaths. Even if the men managed to capture and tame one, they were fickle and eventually would return to their watery lair.

There is one week a year called ‘Rusalia week’ where the Rusalka’s bewitching ability was extremely potent.  She carried within her the growing power of fresh green vegetation that exploded to life in the spring when warmth and water come together. You would see them on or in water combing their long hair. They appeared as a beautiful woman or half woman-half fish, or as a water nymph.  We call them another name. The word ‘Rusalka’ in Russian means ‘Mermaid’ in English.  In the English culture they were ugly loners who maliciously and cruelly led men to their deaths. It is interesting that in the North they are seen as beautiful young women, the further south you travel the more evil and ugly they become. In the moderate zone (Slavic nations) they are mischievous and impish, and in the South (England) they are seen as cruel and ugly hags. Another thing is that in folklore a cross can chase them off, much like a vampire.

At times her haunting had nothing to do with water. Red heads in the Slavic culture have been distrusted as conniving and having supernatural abilities. After a woman became ‘Rusalka’, she lived sometimes in small groups with other females around ponds. Many cultures recognize this creature; in Europe she called a Willie. Remember the old saying “This place gives me the willies”? That is where the saying comes from.   A dancing water nymph could be seen as ‘the devil’s bride’ by early Christians. Some myths say they could not stand out of water, while others said they lived in trees. It changed from region to region and they usually only came out in spring and summer.

So why the interest? I love the show Madam Secretary on CBS. I watched it online to catch up on episodes I missed.  In the episode I was watching a dead Russian leader’s wife called Secretary McCord a ‘Rusalka’. After which she declared, “We are not afraid of her!”  So I wanted to know what they were talking about. With all the world tension going on, I wanted to understand the mythological reference. It turned out to be exotic mermaids, a western myth relayed by frightened fisherman who escaped the ‘Rusalka’s’ grasp. There you have it, so have a good one….



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