Rusalkas also have a strong connection with the soul and water being mythology. This wraps up my three part series about mermaids and souls, part of the discussion of materials in Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales From Around the World.
In Slavic mythology, a rusalka (plural: rusalki or rusalky) was a female ghost, water nymph, succubus or mermaid-like demon that dwelled in a waterway.
According to most traditions, the rusalki were fish-women, who lived at the bottom of rivers. In the middle of the night, they would walk out to the bank and dance in meadows. If they saw handsome men, they would fascinate them with songs and dancing, mesmerize them, then lead the man away to the river floor to his death.
The stories about rusalki have parallels with those of Hylas and the Nymphs, the Germanic Nix, the Irish Banshee, the Scottish Bean Nighe and the Romanian Iele. See Slavic fairies for similar creatures.
From Russian Water Spirits by W.R.S. Ralston
Besides the full-grown Rusalkas there are little ones, having the appearance of seven-year-old girls. These are supposed, by the Russian peasants, to be the ghosts of still-born children, or such as have died before there was time to baptize them. Such children the Rusalkas are in the habit of stealing after death, taking them from their graves, or even from the cottages in which they lie, and carrying them off to their subaqueous dwellings. Every Whitsuntide, for seven successive years, the souls of these children fly about, asking to be christened. If any person who hears one of them lamenting will exclaim, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” the soul of that child will be saved, and will go straight to heaven. A religious service, annually performed on the first Monday of the “Peter’s Fast,” in behalf of an unbaptized child will be equally efficacious. But if the stray soul, during seven years, neither hears the baptismal formula pronounced, nor feels the effect of the divine service, it becomes enrolled for ever in the ranks of the Rusalkas. The same fate befalls those babes whom their mothers have cursed before they were born, or in the interval between their birth and their baptism. Such small Rusalkas, who abound among the Little-Russian Mavki, are evidently akin to our own fairies. Like them they make the grass grow richly where they dance, they float on the water in egg-shells, and some of them are sadly troubled by doubts about a future state. At least it is believed in the Government of Astrakhan that the sea Rusalkas come to the surface and ask mariners, “Is the end of the world near at hand?” Besides the children of whom mention has been made, women who kill themselves, and all those who are drowned, choked, or strangled, and who do not obtain Christian burial, are liable to become Rusalkas. During the Rusalka week the relatives of drowned or strangled persons go out to their graves, taking with them pancakes, and spirits, and red eggs. The eggs are broken, and the spirits poured over the graves, after which the remnants are left for the Rusalkas, these lines being sung:—
Do not destroy the soul,
Do not cause it to be choked,
And we will make obeisance to thee.
Rusalka by Ivan Bilibin