Danube Virtual Museum

Rusalke

Rusalke are mythical creatures. Stories about them were present in Eastern Serbia for a long time. These creatures were very similar to villas - young, beautiful women with a long "rus" (reddish) disengaged hair. They had purely human form, without any animal attributes or "wings". Similar to fairies, they had secret meetings where they danced and sang, spellbinding anyone who saw them, especially passer-bys, who would lose their minds. If a person saw rusalke dancing, he or she would suffer severe consequences.

Unlike villas that were found throughout nature, rusalke were connected to the aquatic environment - sources, rivers, streams and lakes. They came out of the water on the Tuesday preceding the Pentecost, getting into contact with people until the following Tuesday. Their activities were most intense on Thursday and in the Trojica/Trinity week, also known as Rusalke week. After that, they "dispersed" until the following Trojica/Trinity. They gathered in forest clearings or near rivers with lush grass.

It was believed that rusalke were very dangerous Slavic mythological beings who were always trying to hurt people, especially women. They sought to lure the victim to the water and then drown him or her. Therefore, people avoided swimming during the Rusalke week. Having rusalke present everywhere during that week, people followed other restrictions as well – they were not allowed to sleep during the day, nor to climb trees; women were forbidden to wash laundry, spin wool, do gardening. It was dangerous to sheer sheep, out of fear of going crazy – these people were thought to have a disease called “rusa”. It was not even allowed to work in a vineyard, as hail would cause damage. Nor was it allowed to plant tomatoes and peppers because the flower would fall off. If someone violated the ban, rusalke would obsess them and make them sick or crazy, and people would say "rusalke caught him". As the works had to be done despite the prohibitions, using apotropaic things to protect against severe consequences was common. According to popular belief, rusalke would flee from wormwood plant, and so during the "rusalske" week, people placed it around the house or carried it with them.

Rites, such as Kraljice, as well as Rusalje, were dedicated to rusalke (often identified with rusalke). The rite Rusalja or Padalica was held until the 1960s in the village Duboka at Zvižd (photographs and film footage of this rite have been preserved).

Litеrаture:

Dušаn Bаndić, Nаrоdnа rеligiја Srbа u 100 pојmоvа, Bеоgrаd 2004; Slоbоdаn Zеčеvić, Мitskа bićа srpskih prеdаnjа, Bеоgrаd 1981.

(Text: Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade)