Mermaids aside, Russia has been in the cryptozoology news lately thanks to a show about their Bigfoot counterpart, the Menk. But he isn’t the only cryptid lurking in the frozen north. Russians believe in mermaids that they call the Rusalky. Let’s take a look.
The earliest mention of these strange watery creatures comes from none other than the explorer, Henry Hudson. As he and his crew navigated the Arctic waters around Russia on June 15, 1608, two of his crew reported seeing a mermaid surface near them. Here’s his account:
“One of our companie looking overboard saw a mermaid, and calling up some of the companie to see her, one more came up, and by that time she was close to the ship’s side, looking earnestly upon the men; a little after, a Sea came and overturned her; From the Navill upward, her backe and breasts were like a woman’s … her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long haire hanging down behind, of colour blacke; in her going down they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a Porposse, and speckled like a Macrell. Their names that saw her were Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner.”
(He wasn’t a terrible speller; that’s 17th century spelling.)
According to Russian legend, Rusalky (Rusalka is the singular form) have no pupils in their eyes. Their hair must always be kept wet or else they will die. If they do get in a situation where their hair is drying out, they can use their magical comb to summon water to wet their hair.
Despite the strange eyes, they are supposed to be beautiful (although in some accounts they are described as ugly). It is believed that these creatures are actually the ghosts of young women who died an untimely and unnatural death near water. It was thought that children who died and hadn’t been baptized could also become Rusalky.
These watery women had a dark side, though. They did try to lure men into the water to drown them. Sometimes they enchanted their victim and married him. Folklore said that if you put ferns in your hair you would be safe swimming with them. Other stories said only a witch was safe swimming with them.
Though half fish, and in yet other tales, half bird, these creatures liked to grow legs and walk among humankind. This occurred especially during the first week of Summer. You could find them in trees which they liked to climb, or dancing around like a fairy.
It was said that the grass grew taller wherever they walked. Adding to their dangerous persona, they had a couple more ways to kill a person. It was said if you hear them laughing on land, you could drop dead. Or, if you danced with one of them, you were cursed to dance until you died.
Though very attractive to human men, the creatures they usually married were darker and even more dangerous than the Rusalky themselves.
Their Mates: the Wodjanoj (Vodianoi)
Like the Rusalky, the Wodjanoj are also believed to be ghosts of men who died unnatural deaths. They lost out in the appearance category because their bodies are all covered with ugly scales and slime. Their homely faces are bedecked with long green beards.
These guys are also prone to being vicious and think nothing of drowning humans they don’t like, or kidnapping them to be their slaves. On the plus side, they take their brides to live in underwater castles which they’ve made from the remains of sunken ships.
No matter how awful the Wodjanoj may be, they had a calming effect on the Rusalky who went from being a wild child to a more docile creature.
Rusalky weren’t doomed forever to be watery creatures. If their untimely deaths were properly avenged, their soul would be released to go onto its just reward.
Well that’s a whale of a tale, isn’t it? It’s interesting how all these different cultures have different versions of a basically similar creature. But we still need definitive proof as to whether they exist or not. So I’ll keep looking and see you back here next Mermaid Monday!