Rusalkas are not that different from mermaids. The main difference in the appearance is that they actually have legs! Appearing entirely female, the Rusalka was originally a term used by Slavic pagans for fertility wights (a term for a spirit, ghost, or other supernatural being) that passed water to their crops and fields to nourish them. The rusalki live inside rivers or lakes (not seas like mermaids) but come out many times a year, especially in summer, to dance and walk around nearby woods. This benevolent portrayal changed in the 19th century, when the myth changed to reflect a more cynical, malevolent world view: the Rusalka of this time was thought to be ‘unclean’ by definition, thought to have arisen by a woman drowning in a body of water, either by way of suicide or murder.
What do we know about them? They sleep all day long and only emerge at night, the true realm of spirits, demons and “unclear” forces. Legends say that one may see them combing their hair or crafting flower garlands with their beauties mostly uncovered as they usually go about naked or poorly dressed in white gowns with no belt; their long hair, always unbraided and wild is sometimes green because of the weeds to which she has been long exposed. Also, their pale skin may be greenish. When rusalki are not busy dancing or combing their hair, their favorite pastime is attracting men who happen to be passing by just to drown them: with their looks and their sweet voices they call them closer and the unfortunate men can’t help following them to their watery grave. But don’t you girls think you are safe: women may become victims of their homicidal intents. However, if you are lucky enough, they may just grab you and tickle you pitilessly, that’s why rusalki are also known as “ticklers”.
I was growing up in a small village, deep in the forest of northern Poland. The winters were long, and cold. Summers mild but rainy- which was the reason why everything was growing so well. The forest was so thick, that even in the middle of the summer there were parts of the ground that never saw light. Around us were many rivers, lakes and ponds. My grandfather and his brothers loved to fish together. I always heard stories of their adventures, sometimes I was a part of them. I remember this one so well, maybe because hearing something like this from four grown men, left a different impact on the impossibility of this story.
The people in Easter and Central Europe seem to be way more superstitious than the rest of the World. I was growing up being told to avoid thickest part of the forest, because whoever gets lost in these parts never comes back. I wasn’t allowed to swim in any body of water before the St. John the Baptist celebration- I would be dragged to the bottom of the given body of water by villas, if I would disobey the warning. When I would go for night fishing with my grandpa I would hear the same story- to never follow lights that are appearing at night, because it’s the rusalkas and vodniks luring poor bastards for their inevitable end. As a kid, with already wild imagination these stories were the food for my soul! I was always getting in trouble for my love of adventures... But this one day, after a two-day fishing escapade my granddaddy and my uncles all looked so scared when telling the story of what happened, that even my brave little heart was uneasy.
They were fishing at a lake. I remember this place, there’s no sign of civilization miles from it... They say they heard music one night. The four of them remembered walking towards the music, thinking it was one of them listening to the radio near the lake- they all were getting closer and closer- and they couldn’t stop walking. They say that as soon as they saw a beautiful girl swimming in the water something felt wrong. (I remember being like: oh really?! No kidding!) The rest of their description was hazy. They say there were more girls coming and dancing and singing, and they just couldn’t move- whenever one of them tried to walk back, they would open their eyes and be in the same spot. They all woke up in their camp, exhausted. When they came home, they looked hunted. I remember my grandma laughing her butt off when they finished their story. Telling them that they are lucky that the rusalkas didn’t find them more exciting and they are only tired... I honestly thought that they just had too much fun, drinking before going to bed- I really did, but grandpa didn’t go fishing to this place again and he was weirdly exhausted for the next week. He and his brothers never spoke much about this event again.