Rusalka

Merbeing of Eastern Europe and Russia.

Etymology: Russian, "mermaid." Plural, Rusalki.

Variant names: Chertovka ("she-devil"), Khitka ("abductor"), Loskotukha ("tickler"), Nemodilky (Czech), Samovila (Bulgarian), Shutovka ("she-joker"),Vila (Slavonic).

Physical description: Pale, slender, and cadaverous. Sometimes appears as a fair maiden with green or garlanded hair. Beautiful and sirenlike in southeastern Europe; unkempt and unattractive in Northern Europe and the Saratov Region of Russia. Uncombed or disheveled green hair.

Green eyes. Magnificent white breasts. Winged.

Behavior: Nocturnal. Lives in the forest during the summer and in the water the rest of the year. Frolics in willow and birch trees, sings, and dances a circle dance in the moonlight. Cries and laughs shrilly. Sometimes wears a covering of green leaves. Seizes and drowns passing humans, sometimes tickling them to death. Leads cattle astray. Said to be the spirit of a drowned woman. Dislikes absinthe.

Habitat: Rivers and streams; forests.

Distribution: Danube, Dnieper, and Volga River systems in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Significant sighting: The Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev was said to have told his friends Guy de Maupassant and Gustave Flaubert a story of meeting a female water being. It happened in his youth, perhaps in the 1830s or 1840s, in the dense forests around the Desna River, Ukraine, where he used to hunt. He was taking a relaxing swim when a hand touched his shoulder. He turned and saw a monkeylike woman with long, tousled hair whose breasts floated in the water. It chased him to the shore, cackling and touching his legs and back. Turgenev ran off without retrieving his clothes or gun.

Possible explanation: The remnant of a belief in the Mokosh', the Old Slavic goddess of fertility and protectress of women.

Sources: Guy de Maupassant, The Complete Short Stories (London: Cassell, 1970), vol. 3, pp. 192-195; New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (London: Hamlyn, 1968), pp. 292-293; Natalie (Moyle) Kononenko, "Mermaids (Rusalki) and Russian Beliefs about Women," in Anna Lisa Crone and Catherine V. Chvany, eds., New Studies in Russian Language and Literature (Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 1987), pp. 221-223; Linda J. Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief (Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1989), pp. 75-81; Dmitri Bayanov, In the Footsteps ofthe Russian Snowman (Moscow: Crypto-Logos, 1996), pp. 167-176; Philippa Rappoport, "If It Dries Out, It's No Good: Women, Hair, and Rusalki Beliefs," SEEFA Journal 4, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 55-64, on line at http://www.virginia.edu/~slavic/seefa/

RUSALKA.HTM.

466 RUGARU

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