Rusalka - Ana Milojković Omi
Rusalkas are female water demons. They are usually imagined as beautiful girls, with long, red, unbraided hair. They did not wear any clothes. A girl who drowns becomes a rusalka, and in some regions it is considered that the rusalkas are girls who drowned before their wedding or who did not have a funeral. They used to dwell in the vicinity of rivers and only during the Rusal week – Pentecost week.
      Rusalkas used to live under water, in castles. They were in the dominion of Water Spirit. They had their czarina, who led them on the road to the ground and who rode in the golden carriage. She used to call upon the other rusalkas with a horn. The queen’s name was Diva, Divka, Divšina and Dana. She was emperor’s daughter who was drowned by her stepmother. They only get out of water during Rusal week and they stay only for one week. They were devoted to music, singing and dancing. They are meanspirited towards other people, and they particularly dislike women. If someone saw a rusalka, he could become deaf or fall into a dancing fit, which was considerd the worst punishment one could get from the rusalkas. During this fit, tiredness would lead to death. This exaltation with music and dancing lasted as long as the rusalkas were on the ground. Written documents from the 14th century testify about these events. Also, rusalkas were considered to bring many incurable diseases. During the Rusal week people used to stick to certain prohibitions so as not to offend rusalkas or come in touch with them and by that provoke a punishment. It was forbiden to climb trees, because rusalkas were considered to dwell in tree crowns while on ground. It was forbiden to work in wineyards  or perform any kind of agriculture-related work. Rusalkas came during Rusal week to give the necessary humidity to the fields, so that the above mentioned work could hinder rusalkas. This was particularly the case with Wednesday of the Rusal week. People believed that, where rusalkas  danced their circuit dance, everything grew more exuberantly than elsewhere. Women were forbiden to do the washing or throw the water in any other way because that could insult rusalkas and they would drown these women. Sleeping on the floor was also forbiden. This prohibition has to do with a belief that the soul leaves the body during sleep, so then rusalka or some other spirit could inhabit the body. Then these people would become possessed and a rusalka would speak through them. People were not supposed to shear sheep because they would go crazy and the people in question would get a disease called rusa. It was also said that beople ’’got rusalija’’ if they got sick from other diseases during the Rusal week. If people planted paprika or tomato during the Rusal week, it was believed that it would not grow.
       If someone had to transgress the prohibitons, wormwood was considered to be an efficient medium against the actions of rusalkas. In that case, the person would carry with him wormwood  that rusalkas were afraid of. Also, if a person ate garlic he was considered immune to the actions of the rusalkas. In some regions people ate wormwood every day during the Rusal week. Furthermore,  a magic circle made with a knife could also be used as protection.  If someone saw rusalkas and did not have wormwood with him he could make a circle with a knife on the ground, and rusalkas would not cross it. They were also believed to be afraid of knife.
      Rusalkas came on Tuesday, which started the Rusal week, and left the following Tuesday.  People made ceremonies to welcome and banish rusalkas. It was customary for women to participate in these ceremonies and for this purpose they identified themselves with the rusalkas. Ceremonies during the Rusal week were called rusalje and kranjice. The Wednesday of the Rusal week was called crooked Wednesday (kriva sreda). It was believed that anything planted that week will grow to be crooked and dwarf-like. The Thursday of the week was called green Thursday (zeleni četvrtak). It was strictly solemnized and people were not allowed to do anything that day. In Christianity, Rusal week was transformed into a holiday called Pentecost (Duhovi), more precisely rusalije were renamed into Pentecost. Pentecost is a holiday with a lot of pagan heritage, but it does not last a whole week. Rusal week (Pentecost) stands for a synthesis of Crhistianity and paganism. The celebration of rusalija in Serbia was first described by the Archbishop of Ohrid, Dimitrije Homitijan, when he forbid it.
      According to where they lived, fairies are divided into sea fairies and hill fairies, and rusalkas as water demons or fairies got their name from the slavic ruslo – river. Also, they had red hair, and such paople are even now said to have rusa hair in Serbian. As women are considered to be blond or brunette according to their hair, rusalkas could be mythical creatures of rusa hair.
      Since women were the only ones in charge of the agricultural work in the matriarchate, they were also the only ones responsible for the fruitfulness of the crop. That is why rusalkas, traditionally, left their water hiding-places and inspected the crops and aspersed them with humidity in order to improve them. Beliefs that plants grew better where rusalkas danced testify about this.

Nikola Milošević

Translated by Zoran Božinović