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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    Myths for inspiration

     

    Below you will find bitesized myths and legends from all European countries. Check back every week for a new one!

     

    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 untill the 1930's.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    The Devil Boruta (Polish)

    For those of you wondering who the guy on the left-hand side of the header is, on top of the barrel of beer: well, he's Boruta. He's a demon from Polish mythology. He is actually a translation of Boruta from the Slavic mythology from before Christianization. In Polish mythology he is basically the god of drink, gamble and other evil ways, often depicted as a dwarf in, on or around a barrel of beer.

    Boruta is normally associated with the town of Łęczyca, where he hides in the cellars of Łęczyca castle. During his earthly life, it is said, he was a nobleman, usually bribing and corrupting other noblemen.

    And, as you can see by the tiny image above, he is depicted on the 10 zloty stamp!

    Source: wikipedia.org 

    Koschei the Deathless (Slavic)

    Dwelling deep within the Kaukasus mountains, brandishing an enormous club with which to frighten everyone seeking his lost treasure, Koschei the Deathless is one the Slavics most prominent mythological figures. He is normally represented as a wizened, hideous old man, usually a giant. But in other respresentations he is a skeletal figure with coarse, black hair. He cannot die, unless someone digs up the chest in which is a hare, which ate a duck, which holds an egg, which holds a needle in which the soul of Koschei is held. The chest is hidden under an oak tree on the island of Buyan. If the needle is broken, Koschei will die. Alternatively, Koschei can be weakened by denying him food or water. Drinking water again, he would regain his strength.
    In contemporary culture, especially Russian and Ukranian culture, Koschei is very popular. Like Baba Yaga he is a 'stock'-figure who makes an appearance when storytellers need him. In Western culture he appears in Hell Boy and Mercedes Lackey's novel 'FireBird'.


    Baba Yaga (Slavic)

    One of the most interesting and elusive of Slavic mythological creatures is, without a doubt, the illustrious Baba Yaga. Celebrated the world over in movies, books and video games, the evil hag has been the food for many imaginative illustrator or writer. She lives in a small, wooden hut that rests on chicken legs in a dark forest and flies around on a broomstick, luring children, presumably to eat them. She is mostly portrayed as being evil, tricking the protagonist in Russian fairy tales. From time to time, she also appears as a benevolent spirit, giving guidance to the lost.

    As illusive is she is herself, her hut may be just as famous. It rests on chicken legs and does not have windows or doors. In some stories the old hag flies out through the chimney on her broomstick. In others the protagonist says the magic words 'Turn your back to the forest and your front to me' upon which the hut turns and shows its door. Within dwell invisible servants who serve Baba Yaga. She, in turn, kills anyone who inquires about these servants.

    The idea of a hut standing on chicken legs is not as far-fetched as it may sound. Archeological digs in North-Eastern Europe have shown huts without windows or doors standing on long poles, keeping food off the ground and out of reach of animals.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    Domovoi (Slavic)

    A strange and hairy house spirit, always male, donning the appearance of their past or present owners, is the Slavic Domovoi. It is a benign spirit who is angered only when the owners do not take care of the house. Normally, it helps with household chores and field work in exchange for cookies and milk. They usually live under the threshold or the stove, although they also stalk the house and, with the appearance of their master, tend to confuse the other inhabitants or the neighbours.

    When angered by poor upkeep of the house the Domovoi is known to smash dishes, rattle windows, leave muddy footprints and low, long moaning. If the inhabitants are able to find the source of its discontent, they can rectify the situation and thus pacify the Domovoi. If they, however, do not rectify the situations the Domovoi will grow increasingly unhappy and has even been known to harm the inhabitants.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    Nakki (Baltic)


    Lurking in ancient brooks and canals, brooding in the dark waters, is the evil spirit Nakki (Neck in English or Nix in German). Existing both in male and female form, they are said to be extremely beautiful from the front, although hairy and hideous from the back. They hide mostly underwater, in pools, wells, lakes, under docks or bridges, waiting for some unsuspecting child to lean over the bridge railing or see his or hers reflection in the dark water. It is sometimes implied that the female version of the Nakki has three breasts, or, in its male form, has a skin covered in fish scales.

    Although the nakki is purely Baltic or even Finnish, many other cultures have similar creatures, like the Rhine Maidens in German mythology or the Knuckers in Sussex, England. In West-Frisian culture, there exists the Bullebak (big bully) who is said to drag children under water if they play to close to the waters edge.

    Source: wikipedia.org

     

     

    Ukko (Baltic)

    Every pantheon needs its leader and for the Baltic region, Ukko would be it. He appears most frequently in Estonian mythology, but is also well-known in Finland. In most, if not all, stories he makes his appearance not so much as a human character, but more of natural phenomana, like thunderstorms, torrents, great floods and the like.

    He shares a lot of similarities with Thor or Odin (or Wodan in German mythology) among which the hammer with which he creates lightning while riding his chariot across the sky to create thunder. But he is also known as the god of success and good harvests, while in certain areas, he is known as the god for hunting. His name means, in modern Finnish, Old Man. In most stories he is married to Akka (meaning 'Old Woman') who is the protector of trees and nature and can be translated into Mother Earth.                                          Source: wikipedia.org

     

    Hiisi (Baltic)


    Most commonly known in Finland, the Hiisi are a horrific, malicious sort of spirit that hide out in crevasses, forests, hills or other rough terrain. Originally the Hiisi were obnoxious race led by their king by he same name. They were either very small or very large, often going by in noisy processions, attacking humans and destroying their farms and towns, although they usually did not venture into populated areas. In many  pagan Baltic beliefs human cultivation was holy, as opposed to holy forests, trees or other natural elements.


    Later, around medieval times, they slowly turned into a sort of goblin-like creaturs, creating mischief whereever they went. Piles of stones left on mountain ridges, the so-called cairns (in Gaelic) or hiidenkiuas (in Finnish) are said to be left by Hiisi.


    Source: wikipedia.org


    Medusa (Greek)

    From the immense spectrum of Greek myths, legends and creatures, we have decided to go with one of the most inspirational, evil and interesting, Medusa.

    Although her origins fluctuate depending on the text you read, she has been one third of evil triplets born from an unholy union between the sea god Phorcys and his sister. The three sisters were called the Gorgons and lived on a far-off island somewhere in the Aegiaen Sea. In another, later, story she was a beautiful maiden, a priestess of Athena's temple who was seduced by Poseidon, the god of the seas. Athena, mad with rage, turned her beautiful hair into snakes and her face so horrible to behold that it turned every person that saw it, into stone.

    In all versions she is beheaded by Perseus with the help of a mirrored shield (and winged sandals). Scores of mythological creatures and legendary heroes were turned to stone using Medusa's severed head, among which Atlas and King Polydectus who forced Perseus' mother to wed him.

    In later centuries, the myth of Medusa was often used as reference in many psychological or cultural phenomena, most notably in many feminist contexts. In literature and art, Medusa remains a source of inspiration as seen in the piece above by Arnold Bocklin (1871).


    Source: wikipedia.org


    Zmaj (Slavic)

     

    In contradiction to the Ala of last week, the Zmaj is a wise and highly respected creature. Shaped much like a dragon and also able to breathe fire, they often inhabit great castles and are said to own enormous riches. They are said to be enormously intelligent and are able to live to very old age, bringing with it an enormous wealth of wisdom. Although not always peaceful, they are never outright evil and usually have men's best interest in mind.

     

    Sometimes they come down from their great castles to claim a human bride with whom they can produce offspring. Many of the Slavic legendary heroes of history have been said to spawn from dragons, like Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević who was a general of Bosnian descent who fought for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

     

    Although the Zmaj is usually benevolent, he also has an evil twin. A species of dragon who lives in caves and other remote and hard-to-reach places. It also breathes fire and owns enormous riches, but has multiple heads and comes out only to hurt and destroy humankind.

     

    Source: wikipedia.org

    Ala (Bulgaria)

    A dark and evil spirit, known for its voracity and lust for destruction, the Ala terrorize farmers and other country folk by bringing thunder and hail to their fields, destroying crops or physically take them away. Other than that, it is believed they can eclipse both the sun and moon, by eating parts of it, thus bringing about the end of the world.

    Although not of particular form or shape, they are described as black winds, a serpent, a dragon or a distinctly human like creature. They are said to live in lakes, ponds, remote places in the mountains, big trees or even in the clouds themselves.

    And although they often plague humanity, they do have some natural enemies. Among these are eagles, who can chase them away from the fields and meadows, before they can do their evil. In other myths they are defeated by friendly dragons and in a later, Christian, story they have been defeated by St. Elijah in the shape of a dragon.

     

    Source: wikipedia.org

    Zâne (Romanian)

    In stark contrast to the evil and horrific creatures that usually walk the night in Romanian folklore and fairy tales, stand the Zane (or Zana in singular). These creatures are almost always female, usually depicted in fairy-like appearance. They are the ones who flutter through the air, giving beauty and good luck to the little childeren. In ancient times they were said to be the ones giving life to foetuses and to bestow upon the new person a host of talents, like dancing, singing, writing, kindness and luck. They usually live around the forest and protect the little childeren lost therein.

    One dark footnote would be that Zane cannot not be angered, since they have the power to do good as well as to perform tasks of unspeakeable evil.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    Vodyanoy (Slovakia)

    It's skin a palish green, dressen in a vagrant's dirty clothes and sporting a large, tangled beard from which drops the water of the pond in which it dwells, the Vodyanoy is the water spirit of the Czech and Slovak people. When coming to close to a pond or lake, the Vodyanoy will jump up and drag it's helpless victim to their watery grave, keeping their souls in a jar as a rarity.

    But drowning isn't they only pass-time of this unpleasant creature. When angered, it has been known to break dams and flood lands or drown cattle. To this end many farmers, bee-keepers and fishermen make sacrifices to this creature, leaving a pinch of tobacco in the water and saying a little prayer by the water's edge.

    Source: wikipedia.org


    Turul (Hungary)

    With an impressive wingspan, soaring high above, overlooking the Hungarian landscape is the great falcon-like creature known as the Turul. Usually represented with a crown, as a symbol of the link to Atilla the Hun. In many stories the Turul is seen carrying the flaming sword of this legendary leader of the Huns.

    The Turul is said to sit on top of the Tree of Life in the Hungarian Upper World, surrounded by the souls of unborn childeren who also have the shape of birds. From there it overlooks our world and shapes the destiny of the Hun and Magyar people. In one myth a king of the Hungarian tribes dreamt that he was attacked by birds and the Turul came to save him, eventually leading him into the land that would later become Hungary. In another myth a woman was impregnated by the mighty falcon and water streamed from her like a river, signifying that her child was going to be the father of a long and prosperous lineage.

    There are many statues of the Turul all over Eastern Europe. In Hungary alone, there are more around 195, but also some can be found in the Ukraine, Romania, Austria and other regions where Hungarian influence has been present.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    Kikimora (Poland)

    Known throughout the Slavic region, although sometimes under different names, is the house spirit known as Kikimora. Making sure the house is tidy and neat, she looks after the chickens at night and the rest of the housework. If the housework is not done, she will haunt and whistle at the childeren of the household all night long. On any other night she is said to spin flax from dusk until dawn. She lives either behind the stove or in the cellar.

    Although her pursuits seems quite innocent and helpful, she also has a darker and more macabre agenda. She is said to originate from the souls of unbaptized childeren or aborted fetuses, teaming up to haunt the unfortunate mothers and drag her all the way to Hell.

    In modern times, Kikimora palustris, has been named after this particular myth. It is a small spider with a black head and a translucent, beige body.

    Source: wikipedia.org


    The Strix (Italian)

    Today a family of the owl species, their name was taken from the pre-Roman myth of Strix (or Stryx). The first mention of them is in an ancient story from a Greek author in ancient times. He describes a metamorphosis of two sons as a punishment for their cannibalism. They were doomed to cry in the night, devoid of food and drink, apparently nurturing themselves on the blood or flesh of human beings.
    Other than the vampire or zombie myths of popular culture, these were not reanimated corpses filled with the power of evil, but human beings who morphed into these flying, nocturnal beings.

    The legend of the Strix was carried over Southern Europe by the Romans and because of this many different versions are around, most notably the Romanian 'Strigoi', who is usually a human witch  with two hearts who can transform herself into a whole range of creatures, including bats, cats, several insects and of course, a night owl.

    Around the 1700's, when scholars were catalogueing natural bird species they used the term Strix to describe the 'earless owl', although there were many owl species without ear tufts. Later scholars adopted the term to create the family of earless owls and subcategorize the separate species, making for example the Ural Owl Strix uralensis.

    Source: wikipedia.org (mythology) and wikipedia.org (biology)


    The White Woman of Jihlava (Austria)

    Not far from the Austrian village of Jihlava, a lonely mountain road winds up an sloping hill upon which stands a lonely tree. The inhabitants of Tyrnau see a white ghost wandering the hill. Legend has it that the ghost is the spiritual remains of a blonde woman who was cursed many centuries ago and haunts the ancient tree. She can only be saved if the descendants of her childeren come to save her. But this must a priest and as a baby, he has to sleep in a cradle made of the wood of the tree which she haunts.

    In the past, some of the inhabitants have tried to raise her from the tree by reading the Gospel on the night of the Feast of the Three Kings. Unfortunately, they were unsuccesfull and to this day the spirit haunts the top of the hill and its lonely tree.

    Source: Mythen und Bräuche des Volkes in Österreich. Theodor Vernaleken, Wien 1859. S. 138


    the Barbegazi from Switzerland

    Living high up in the Swiss and French Alps are the benign, shy creatures called the Barbegazi. Looking like a cross between dwarves and the Yeti, they are small, bearded men covered in white fur. Their enormous feet allow them to ski down the mountainsides or trod the snowy paths in winter. In the summertime they tend to stay in the elaborate caves and tunnel system they built under the mountains. Entrances to these caves are usually shielded by a curtain of icicles.

    In their everyday lives they take care of the mountain they were born on. They tend to the environment, making sure nature takes it's course and keeping pollution away from the fragile ecosystem. Besides this admirable passtime, they spend their days frollocking in the snow or skiing down heavy avalanches.

    Being naturally shy and secretive creatures, combined with the fact they live on high altitudes and come out only in low temperatures, makes them difficult for humans to detect. Sightings are rare, although they do come out every once in a while when a human is in trouble on one of Switzerland's snowy slopes. They can mostly be heard with their low-pitched warning cries when an avalanche is approaching.

    Source: wikipedia.org and mythicalrealm.com


    The Norwegian Jottun

    One of the most famous creatures of Norwegian folklore, the predicessors of the trolls, were the Jottun. They were big, enormous giants, deformed and hideous, sporting claws and fangs and some of them multiple heads. Their name derives from the old Norse word for man-eater.

    They stem from the Norwegian folktales about the beginning of the world where they were killed by Odin, Vili and Ve. Only one of their kind, Bergelmir, survived who is said to be the forefather of the existing Jottun. Although horrible to behold, they were the bearers of great wisdom for they were very old and seen many things. They inhabit Jottunheimr, one of the nine planes of Norwegian Mythology, and only sometimes come down to 'Midgard' (earth). They usually intermingle and even marry other mythological creatures.

    In later episodes of Norwegian folklore throughout the centuries, their role was more and more taken over by the Trolls who were much more mischievous and lacked their inherit wisdom.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    The Swedish Radande

    Many versions of Radande's or Tree Folk are known throughout the mythological world. Also known as Alfs, they bear similarities with the Roman hamadryads. They are bound to a particular tree from which they can only stray a few yards. Their entire life is dedicated to the life and natural progress of their tree. Although they can take humanoid shapes, the features of the tree is always resembled either in their clothing or in their faces.
    Radande's usually inhabit trees that are in a witches circle (a ring of mushrooms) or next to a well or a small pond. They are said to give the tree magical and medicinal powers that people can use. Although most of the Radande's die when the tree is cut down, some of them will linger and haunt those who cut down the tree. 

    Source: wikipedia.org

    The Danish Valravn

    Hovering over a deserted battlefield, scowering all the decaying bodies of the fallen soldiers, the Danish Valravn looks for the fallen king to eat his heart and thus gain the knowledge of the king. As it ate the heart, it would turn into a knight and commit horrible acts. It would lead people astray with fancy words and use other-worldy magic.

    One explanation is that the Valravn originate from common ravens who consume the blood of the dead. In another explanation the Valravn is a lost soul, flying by night in search of the blood of a child to free it from it's trapped existence.

    It appears in many traditional songs detailing great battles and a few Danish fairytales, in one of which the Valravn makes a deal with a young woman to claim her first born. He pecks the heart out of the young baby and subsequently turns into a knight.

    Source: wikipedia.org


    The Merseburg Incantations (Germany)

    In the Cathedral Library of Merseburg, Germany, lie two original scrolls with powerful spells. Both of them tell a story before detailling the actual spells. Written in Old High German (around 750 BC), they hail the ancient gods, once to release the trapped army from the invading enemy, and once to heal a crippled horse. The spells have been studied by many scholars and interested parties, among which were the Brothers Grimm who found the experience very imposing and appreciated the documents as ´a treasure such as the most famous libraries of the world have nothing to compare with.´

    The first incantation describes an army left behind and attacked by the enemy. It ends with the spell which will free the army. The second one describes Baldur (Wodan´s horse) getting injured while walking in a forest. Wodan heals the hurt horse by recounting the magic spell. The scroll is accompanied with a drawing of Wodan and several other pagan gods, among which Frija.

    The Merseburg Incantations offer us a valuable insight into German pagan life in the early Middle Ages. They have been on display multiple times, the most recent being in 2004.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    Black Shuck or the Spectre Hound (England)

    Dating back to before the Vikings ever landed at the English coast, the stories of a great big, black dog roaming the countryside roads, moors, dark forests and graveyards were already plentifull. It's name probably derived from the old English word Scucca, which means 'demon'. It has long, black shaggy hair and enormous eyes 'the size of saucers', either green or red. Its height varies from that of a normal dog to that of a horse and sometimes appeared headless or on a shroud of mist.

    Although Black Shuck itself does not seem to be very aggressive, it heralds doom to anyone who comes across it or their families. It is said to have terrified it's victims into insanity, but never actually harming them. From the first soft pad-pad sounds of it's paws, it is said he stalks his victims for some time before making it's presence known.

    Although sighted and documented many times, the most famous adaption of the Black Shuck myth must be 'Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, inspired during a golfing trip at Norfolk, where the hound has reportedly been sighted the most. An old Norfolk saying goes: "And a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring, And its wild bark thrill'd around, His eyes had the glow of the fires below, Twas the form of the Spectre Hound!"

    Source: wikipedia.org

    The Scottish Glaistig

    A dark and mysterious creature from Scottish mythology is the Glaistig. Typically female, either old and ugly or young and beautiful and usually seen around lakesides or the banks of streams with the one thing in common that their lower body is that of a goat, not unlike that of a satyr.
    A rather macabre version of the story is that they would trap or lure unsuspected travelers through song or dance and subsequently drink their blood.
    A more benign version tells them as being the protectors of cattle, herders or the childeren of the farmers, celebrated by the villagers by pouring hot milk in a hollowed stone for her to drink. In these tellings the spirit is usually known as the 'Green Lady'.
    There are multiple origins of the Glaistig, one being that of an elderly woman who wished to live in the spirit world and who took it upon herself to look after the cattle of a nearby farmer until the farmer upset her with his rude treatment. She presumably leapt over the water and drowned when her hoof got tied up in the rigging of a ship.

    Source: wikipedia.org

    The Irish Banshee (bean sidhe)

    The 'moaning woman' is a macabre and frightening sort of natural spirit. She appears typically before a death in the family, sometimes being seen washing the clothes of those about to die. Most of the times she appears as a frightening old hag, but has also been known to appear as a beautiful young woman with long, fair hair. The type of moaning varies from place to place. In Leinster her moaning sounds like shattering glass, whereas in Kerry it's pleasant low singing. The myth of the banshees established itself into real life to the point where, at a funeral or in front of a procession, a woman from the village would be crying out or moaning.

    Source: wikipedia.org


    Antillia (off the coast of Portugal)

    In a time of dark and unexplored islands, hitherto unheard-of creatures, menacing seas and the watery plane stretching out before them, the Spanish and Portugese told of an island which was the most Western place on Earth. It lay approximately 2500 miles west of the Portugese coast, between Lisbon and Japan.

    Reportedly, it had seven cities and was inhabited by Portugese who fled Porto during the Moorish invasion. Tales of enormous riches drew many explorers to sail westward and to discover the Azores, Madeira and the Canaries. When in 1492 explorers reached the Americas they named the first islands they found the 'Antillians' which later became the Dutch and Spanish Antilles.

    Source: wikipedia.org


    The Woodwose of France
    .

    Covered entirely with hair, taller than any living man, and wildly savage, the French Woodwose stalked the outstretched forests of former Gaul! Although being a giant carrying a gigantic club, he wasn't particularly evil. He was basicly a hermit who only attacked to defend himself (and in some tales his clan).

    The oldest accounts of the Woodwose come from around 400 B.C. when the Latin priest St. Augustine writes a worried account of Woodwose coming to attempt indecency with Gaul women. Later accounts describe Woodwose to play an important part of pagan rituals, being called Orkus or Ogre. In the Renaissance the Woodwose were depicted as a normal man gone mad which is very close to the Jewish story of Nebuchadnezzar II who went wild and grew hair all over his body.

    Source: wikipedia.org

     

    The Goat Riders of Belgium

    In the late 1700's the meadows and moors of the Belgium part of Limburg was plagued by a ruthless band of brigands known only as the 'Bokkenrijders' or Goat Riders. Sacking and plundering mainly churches and monasteries they were said to have made a pact with the devil which allowed them to ride on the back of male goats whose hoofs never touched the ground. After an extensive witch hunt around 400 people were heard and some of them condemned to the gallows, although now most of those were believed to be innocent. To this day the existence of the Goat Riders is in doubt since no trace of them was ever found, but the legend still persists.

    Source: wikipedia.org

     

    Witte Wieven (Dutch)

    Dating back to pre-Christian Netherlands, the 'witte wieven' or white ladies were said to be the spiritual remains of elderly women. Seemingly, they did not have any good or bad inclinations. They would either help the ones that happened upon them or offer bad advice. Earliest stories describe them as being practical jokers or pranksters. Under Christian doctrine they were mostly dismissed as shrouds of mists hanging low over the meadows or moors.

    Source: wikipedia.org