Myth of the Week

Rusalka (Slavic)

Chances are you know óf the Rusalka albeit not by this name or even identified as a Slavic myth! She is an evil water nymph usually represented as a beautiful young woman who appears in or around pools, small lakes and other waterways. She will tempt young farmers or fishermen to come and enter the water with her and then drown them.

Their providence is somewhat of a mystery, but connaisseurs seem to agree on the idea that they came from young women who drowned themselves after being jilted by a lover. 

Rusalka are usually represented as young, scantilly clad women with an extremely pale, almost translucent skin and green, glowing eyes. They are most dangerous in the first weeks of June. Sallant detail: in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine it was forbidden to swim during this week and the Rusalka week (early June) was still celebrated in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine when the spirits are ritually banished, right up until the 1930's.

Source: wikipedia.org

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    Entries in background (2)

    Tuesday
    May062014

    Small introduction to European Dragons...

    ...because a long introduction to European Dragons would be way too long for this page.

    Dragons have been a standard feature in most European mythologies. From Germany to Portugal and Ireland to Slovenia, every folklore has some myths and stories about other-worldly flying lizards that breathe fire and guard treasures. They have been around since the Greek antiquity and through Roman conquests reached the far corners of Europe.

    European dragons, as opposed to many Chinese dragons, are usually hostile. The only exception is the red dragon of Welsh folklore. The famous Red Dragon of Pendragon, represents the Welsh people while the White Dragon in the same folklore represents the invading Saxons. In time, the Red Dragon made its way into the flag of Wales as a depiction of the bravery of the Welsh people.

    Dragons originated somewhere during the Greek antiquity period and where represented as serpent-like with wings. It is believed that the dragon in Greek mythology was 'borrowed' from Babylon where evil was represented as a flying serpent with 'seven heads and ten horns'.

    After Rome came up as the predominant culture in Europe, they told stories of dragons, wrote books about them and started gossip about the dragons. After the decline of the Roman empire, the dragons remained lodged in the collective minds of the peoples they had ruled and started to evolve.

    There a several types of distinguishable dragons:

    the Germanic dragon (which involves the Nordic myths as well) where dragons are usually other-worldly creatures.

    the Slavic dragon which haunts towns and villages to demand tribute which it stores in grand caves.

    the Iberian dragon which features largely in (Christian) mythology and is represented yearly at several festivals.

    the Celtic dragon which, as discussed before, is the only benevolent dragon.

    Although these seem to have come from the same origin, over 2000 years or more they have developed their own unique trades and characteristics. Of these we will soon learn more as we delve into the exciting world of European dragons! Check back soon for the next installment!

    Next up: Dragons in the Middle Ages.

    Thursday
    Feb062014

    Fauns, Satyrs and Pan: how the devil got his hooves.

    A question recently posted to me was: what is the difference between Fauns and Satyrs and why do they all look like Pan, the Roman god of music, gambling and male fertility? Well, here is the answer.

    Around 400 BC, when Rome was just becoming a city, they looked at ancient Greece for a lot of their cultural identity. Ancient Greece's cultural domination of southern Europe was waning and Rome, as we now know, was going to be the next best thing. Therefore, many of the ancient Greek myths and gods morphed into the more contemporary Roman gods. 

    That's what happened to the Satyr. Originally a Greek mythological creature, satyrs were companions of the Greek god Dionysus (of wine, play and general party). They were originally depicted as hairy dwarf-like creatures who carried a shepherd's crook. They were care-free and played the flute but also associated with shepherd, flocks, hunters and everything wild.

    The Romans took the Satyr (not entirely subconscienciously) and transformed it into the Faun. The Faun itself was actually a transformation of the gods Faunus and Fauna who had the upper body of a man, but the lower body of a donkey or goat. They are associated with woodlands, forests and other remote places and usually try to trick humans. They had less to do with male fertility than the Satyr, but were wiser.

    And then there is Pan. The god Pan is rumoured to be the son of Zeus and a nymph. He is therefore... Greek, originally. He has goat's legs and a flute and is associated with the wild, wine and fertility.

    How, exactly, the three got mixed up is not known (at least not by me), but mixed up they got. Many painters and writers even mix them up and the three names nowadays are almost synonymous.

    As a final thought, when Christianity came into play and started imposing ethics and norms on the common people, there was no more place for fun-loving Mr. Pan. Except... for being the bad guy! All that wine and sexuality, he was a perfect candidate. And so Pan, in modern times, morphed into the fallen angel Lucifer, kicked out of Heaven by the archangel Michael and now ruling the fiery underworld.

    He is the why the devil got his hooves!