In Slavic mythology, a rusalka (plural: rusalki) is something akin to the Celtic mermaids or the Greek sirens. In short, rusalki are beautiful young women who dwell in bodies of water and enjoy enticing men. The concept of rusalki originated from a Slavic pagan tradition where the young women were symbols of fertility.
Origins of Rusalki
While the pagan water nymph occurred naturally, the mermaid rusalka has quite varied origin stories. Typically, they involved young women dying violent deaths. Sometimes it is murder, sometimes it is a suicide, but usually it is a death by drowning. Stories of rusalka often revolve around women betrayed by a husband or lover. Some rusalki are young women who jumped into a lake or river because she was pregnant out of wedlock. Other origin stories say a rusalka is any young woman who dies a virgin, regardless of whether the death was violent or natural. Still other myths say that babies who die before being baptized are reborn as water sprites. This version ties in with the idea that babies born out of wedlock were supposedly drowned. Finally, some myths claim that a rusalka is any unclean soul, in other words, anyone who killed himself or herself by jumping into the lake or river.