Rusalka (mythology)

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Rusalka ( Russian Руса́лка ) is the name of a class of female figures from folk tales, especially from the East Slavic language area . In the course of Romanticism , Rusks were also treated in Eastern European art from the 19th century.

There are different theories for the etymology of the word: On the one hand, a derivation from ruslo (flow). On the other hand via rusalija from Latin Rosalia ( rose festival ), d. H. Pentecost . In folk tales, Rusalken appear exclusively in the so-called Rusalka week, i.e. the week after Pentecost.

Ruscalken in folk tales

Rusks have been the subject of research on Slavic folklore and religion since the 18th century . Rusalka narratives were recorded from the 19th century. In folklore terminology, they can be assigned to the water spirits , the forest spirits , and the field spirits .

In folk tales, Rusalka appear exclusively during the Rusalka week following Pentecost. Their appearance is described very differently from region to region: in western Russia and southern Ukraine they appear as beautiful young girls in wedding dresses , in central Belarus they are ugly, fur-covered old women, and in southern Russia they are tall, lean women with tangled hair and pale faces. The isolated descriptions of Rusalken with fishtail go back to the influence of written traditions. Rusks can occur individually or in groups. They are often described as bathing in water, combing their hair, swinging on branches or dancing in the fields.

Girls and women who suffered premature or “unclean” deaths became Rusalken. For example drowned people, those who died unbaptized, and girls who died during the Rusalka week or shortly before their wedding. It is widely believed that women become rusks if they commit suicide because of their illegitimate pregnancy .

Rusks can also have positive functions, for example helping women with spinning or looking after children who have been left unsupervised in the field by the reapers , but mostly they appear to be harmful. They punish those who disregard the Pentecostal labor ban, steal newborn babies, harm livestock, mislead people, or seduce and drown men. With her independence and uninhibited sexuality, the Rusalka appears to be the exact opposite of the ideal “good” bride. In this respect, Rusalka ideas may also reflect male and female wishes.

In Romania and northern Bulgaria , rusalijki, rusalče and rusalie are the names of disease-causing spirits.

Rusalken in art

Rusałki , 1877. Painting by Witold Pruszkowski .

In the course of Romanticism , Russian, Polish and Ukrainian artists processed elements of regional folk tradition and created works of art that deal with Rusalken. These literary Rusalken differ significantly from those of folk tradition and are more inspired by previous romantic treatment of Western European figures such as Melusine , Loreley and, above all, Undine .

In Russian Romanticism, Rusalka was treated by Alexander Sergejewitsch Pushkin , Nikolai Wassiljewitsch Gogol and Michail Jurjewitsch Lermontow . Pushkin comes Rusalka (1832), an unfinished enlightened -sozialkritisches drama. Pushkin was inspired by Hensler's opera Das Donauweibchen ( translated into Russian as Dneprovskaja rusalka by Nikolaj Stepanovic Krasnopol'skij .) Pushkin's story was later implemented by Alexander Sergejewitsch Dargomyschski with his opera Russalka (1855) . Gogol dealt with Rusalken in three works: First in the stories Mainacht or Die Drowned and Fearful Vengeance of the 1832 cycle Evenings on the Hamlet near Dikanka and later in the horror story Der Vij from 1835. The three stories deal with rivalries, incest and other problems Love relationships. The Rusalka in Lermontov's novel A Hero of Our Time (1840) turns out to be a human but naturally instinctively acting fence .

In Russian realism , the Rusalka is rarely treated. By Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev prose piece dates The meadow of Bezin from the 1852 published cycle A Sportsman's Sketches . Here farm boys exchange stories of supernatural beings who cause psychological damage to people. Turgenev suggests that the peasants' mental health problems are actually caused by their serfdom . In some texts by Anton Pawlowitsch Chekhov , symbolic allusions to the Rusalka motif appear.

Through decadence poetry , the discovery of the unconscious and the reception of Friedrich Nietzsche , the Rusalka theme reached a second climax in Russian symbolism . The poet Konstantin Dmitrijewitsch Balmont and the painter Mikhail Alexandrowitsch Wrubel should be mentioned here in particular . The writer Fjodor Sologub describes in his dark novel The shabby demon ( Melkij bes , 1905) a sensual girl with Rusalka features.

In Russia, the Rusalka motif was used in films such as Alexander Konstantinowitsch Petrov's animated film The Mermaid (1997) and Anna Melikjan's film Alisa, the Meermgirl (2007).

The opera Rusalka (1900) was written by the Bohemian composer Antonín Dvořák .

In Tallinn , the Russalka Memorial was erected in 1903 for the victims of the Russian warship Russalka , which sank in 1893 .


  • Maria Deppermann: Rusalka - mermaid of the Slaves. Approaches to an "unobstructed" motif . In: Irmgard Roebling (Ed.): Sehnsucht und Sirene. Fourteen Treatises on Water Fantasies. Centaurus-Verlagsgesellschaft, Pfaffenweiler 1992, ISBN 3-89085-505-9 , pp. 269-292.
  • Lyudmila Nikolaevna Vinogradova: Rusalka . In: Rolf Wilhelm Brednich (ed.): Encyclopedia of fairy tales . Concise dictionary for historical and comparative narrative research . Volume 11. De Gruyter, Berlin and Boston 2004, ISBN 3-11-017565-7 . Sp. 925-929.

Web links

Commons : Rusalka  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Deppermann 1992, p. 270.
  2. Vinogradova 2004, col. 926.
  3. Vinogradova 2004, col. 926.
  4. Vinogradova 2004, Sp. 925f.
  5. Vinogradova 2004, col. 926.
  6. Deppermann 1992, p. 271.
  7. Vinogradova 2004, Col. 926f.
  8. Deppermann 1992, p. 271.
  9. Vinogradova 2004, col. 927.
  10. Vinogradova 2004, Col. 927f.
  11. Deppermann 1992, p. 272.
  12. Deppermann 1992, pp. 272f.
  13. Deppermann 1992, p. 276.
  14. Deppermann 1992, pp. 280f.
  15. Deppermann 1992, pp. 281-284.
  16. Deppermann 1992, p. 285.