Bonus Field Guide: Rusalki

Rusalki are Slavic water spirits, similar in nature and action to sirens or kelpies—they are alluring, but potentially very dangerous, due to their compulsion to lead people into the river and drag them down to the bottom.

While there are folkloric comparisons to nymphs and mermaids, these can be a little misleading, because a rusalka is basically a ghost. Typically young, and always female, she is the left-behind spirit of a girl who died violently at the hands of someone else, or through suicide, and must fulfill the rest of her alloted time on earth. While the rusalki are beautiful and translucent-skinned, with long, pale hair and pleasing voices, they can easily be identified by their milky, pupil-less eyes and their perpetually wet hair.

They are typically most dangerous during early June, when they leave the water at night to climb birch trees and join each other in circle dances, and during the June celebration of the Green Week, swimming is forbidden in Russian villages, as the rusalki would like nothing better than to add to their collection of drowning victims. Children make particularly easy targets and it behooves Russian mothers to keep a close watch on their offspring.

In order to banish the wandering rusalki back to the water, village girls will typically construct and decorate an effigy woman of straw or birch branches, which will be thrown into the river as a reminder that the rusalki are not wanted on land and must remain in the water until next year.

5 thoughts on “Bonus Field Guide: Rusalki

  1. Rusalki. What a cool name. Sounds like something you have with pasta. I was thinking, for the next prompt we could use a line or a verse from a song, or a line from a movie. I visited your journal, but it’s very quiet over there. I knocked, but you must have been sleeping. Welcome home, Simon.

  2. Haha 😀 It does kind of sound like a food item–and the idea of using a line or a movie quote is a nice one. I’ll bring it up with the sisters.

    Yes, that journal tends to be a little lacking in action, so it’s especially good that I have my involvement here to keep me on my toes 😉

  3. I’ve always been drawn to rusalki. A rusalka is such a romantic, tragic and powerfully scary being, it’s strange they haven’t entered the Urban Fantasy genre much, if at all. I really enjoyed C J Cherryh’s Rusalka trilogy and any mention of these ghostly water beings catch my attention. I have an urban mermaid story in the works but perhaps I should be considering Rusalki too! Hmm… (wanders off to think and scribble ideas down in notebook..)

  4. Oh, I love them! And it’s funny, but I’ve had a rusalki story on the back-burner for a long time now, but it never seems like the right time to work on it. I think maybe I just haven’t figured out exactly what I want to say yet–there are so many complex ideas surrounding the folklore and I never want to leave anything out 🙂

  5. I’m off to the library for more Russian legends books! If I was a painter, I know I’d paint various versions of these creatures. Beautiful and lethal, what better subject matter?

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