Rusalky and the Green Holidays
Rusalky, the beautiful and, at times, dangerous Ukrainian water nymphs, are most active during the Green Holidays. The Green Holidays (Zeleni Sviata / Зелені Свята, in Ukrainian) take place around Pentecost time. This is a captivating old Ukrainian tradition filled with many customs and rituals. One of the customs is to decorate your home with freshly gathered field flowers and herbs. Hence, the name of the holidays.
Ukrainian folklore depicts rusalky as both alluring and dangerous water spirits with the power to harm those who cross them. If you are concerned about encountering a rusalka or want to protect yourself from her, there are a few steps you may follow.
In case they do exist…
One of the simplest ways to protect yourself from a rusalka is to avoid rivers, ponds and so on. Particularly it is relevant during the summer solstice when they are most active. If you must be near a body of water, be cautious of your surroundings. Do not approach any alluring figures or walk towards strange voices you may hear.
If you do find yourself near a body of water where rusalky may reside, it’s important to show them respect. Make them an offering of food, drink, or flowers. You may leave them on the river bank. Also, avoid any actions that may be seen as disrespectful to rusalky.
Amulets and Charms:
They say that some amulets and charms can protect against the harmful effects of rusalky. These may include carrying a piece of silver or a twig of wormwood. Both are potent protection against their evil powers.
Prayer and Blessings:
If you are concerned about encountering a rusalka or believe that you may have already been harmed by one, you might choose to seek the guidance and protection of a religious figure. In Ukrainian tradition, a priest’s prayers and blessings are often used to protect against malevolent spirits and other supernatural forces.
Know the right answer:
They say rusalky entertain themselves by asking passer-bys some riddles. Knowing the right answer to the riddle is a matter of life or death.
When ambushing a young woman, the rusalka asks her, ‘Wormwood or parsley?’
If the latter replies, ‘Wormwood!’ the rusalka will run away with the words, ‘Begone you!’
In the case of men [rusalka will say]: ‘Begone you! You are not mine!’
In reply to a word, ‘Parsley!’ the rusalka says: ‘You are my darling!’ and then tickles [her or him to death].A Collection of Ukrainian Spells by Petro Yefymenko (page 169).
At Sova Books, we published several books which mention Rusalky to a greater or lesser degree. These are:
A Collection of Ukrainian Spells (Petro Yefymenko) contains four spells you can use to ward off ruralky.
In Notes on Ukrainian Demonology (Vasyl Myloradovych) a whole chapter is about these Ukrainian demonological creatures.
And finally, The Witches of Kyiv and Other Gothic Tales (Orest Somov). This collection of short stories includes “Rusalka”, an emotional story of a betrayal, broken heart and grief. Here, Orest Somov relies on numerous Ukrainian beliefs about rusalky to build a “believable” character of the water nymph.