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Rusalka: The Slavic Mermaid Explained

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In Slavic folklore and mythology, Rusalka is a female entity that often holds malicious inclinations towards people and is predominantly associated with water. On the other hand, in Slavic paganism, they were seen as benevolent spirits that guided the hero. Rusalki were also believed to represent universal beauty which made them feared and respected in the Slavic culture. According to some sources, rusalki were the daughters of Veles.

What was the role of Rusalki in Slavic mythology and folklore? Were the Rusalki evil or good?

Find answers to these and more questions on the HermesHub YT channel.

Konstantin Makovsky, Rusalki, 1879.

According to Dmitry Zelenin, young women, who either committed suicide by drowning due to an unhappy marriage, or who were violently drowned against their will, must live out their designated time on Earth as the rusalki.

Their very roots were archaic and Hubbs tells us the following:

“Every incarnation of the water nymph suggests the archaic image of the bird-headed transformational goddess who accompanies humanity from the period of the hunt to that of horticulture, herding – and warfare. She is the goddess who creates parthenogenetically by bringing moisture to the earth from below and above, unaided by male consorts. She is one yet multiple, chooses her mate like the shamanic Mistress of Animals, and confers power (military or otherwise) on the male, whom, like the Great Goddess of the Neolithic, she then destroys. She is virginal like Artemis, and yet the giver of life and death.”

According to Vladimir Propp, the original “rusalka” was an epithet used by pagan Slavic peoples, who linked them with fertility and did not consider rusalki evil before the 19th century. They came out of the water in the spring to transfer life-giving moisture to the fields and thus helped nurture the crops.

Animals that were connected to the rusalki were the snake and the deer. As a goddess of the moon, rain, and sun, Rusalka symbolized rebirth and renewal as the snake sheds her skin and the deer sheds his antlers.

If you want to learn more about the Rusalka be sure to watch the video:

Rusalki: The Slavic Nymph, from the HermesHub YouTube channel.