Rusalka. A water nymph in Ukrainian demonology who has the appearance of a long-haired, pretty young girl and represents the soul of a drowned girl or an unbaptized dead child. According to folk belief the rusalky are naked, covered only by their long tresses, or dressed in a shift, or rarely in a full girl's costume. On their heads they wear wreaths of sedge. They live in groups in crystal palaces at the bottom of rivers and emerge from these only in the springtime, on Rosalia or Green Thursday or rusalka Easter. Until Saint Peter's day they play all night long on riverbanks, swing in the branches, run through the grass, dance, and sing rusalka songs. With their singing and charms they attract men, mainly bachelors, and tickle them to death. Their dancing is said to promote the growth of rye. After the first thunder they return to the rivers or rise into the sky. Sometimes rusalky are depicted as playful little children. In some regions not only river but also field and forest rusalky were believed to exist. They are capable of transforming themselves into other anthropomorphic shapes or animals. For protection against them people carry wormwood or lovage or wear a charmed shirt, kerchief, or piece of cloth. In the Chernihiv region, on the eve of Green Thursday a girl in a veil and red costume representing a rusalka was led about the village. The image of the rusalka appears frequently in Ukrainian literature, music, painting, drama, and cinema.
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]
Encyclopedia of Ukraine