Friday, 4 May 2012

Cry Me A River - Spirits of Inland Waterways

OK, I promised you a mythical creatures post every month, and I missed April. I know, I know! If you'll stop tossing rotten fruit for just a moment I can explain - I was busy with the A to Z Blogging Challenge! If you missed the series of posts I wrote for the Challenge on Somebody Has To Say It, you can check them out here

So this is our fourth mythological creatures post, and today we're looking at water creatures of the rivers and lakes. Previous posts in the mythical creatures series can be found here (on dragons, fantastical horses, mythical creatures of the sky and saltwater spirits - Part 1 and Part 2). 


This one comes to us from Slavic mythology. Believed to be the souls of murdered young women who died in or near lakes, they haunt the waterside until their murder is avenged but aren't always violent. 

An alternative myth is that rusalka are the souls of girls who suicide, either girls jilted by their lovers, or unmarried pregnant women. Sometimes rusalka were babies, believed to be the souls of unbaptised children born out of wedlock and consequently drowned by their mothers. Baby rusalki wander the forest searching for someone to baptise them so they can rest, but aren't necessarily benign and may attack a human. I can't think of any way to look at this myth that isn't tragic!  

The rusalka lives in the body of water where she died, but may come out at night. They were known to sit in trees and comb out their hair while singing songs, or to dance with other rusalki.  They would keep their comb with them, as they could not survive long out of water, but a rusalka's comb gave her the power to summon water when needed.

Rusalki are described as having translucent skin. Some myths give them eyes of green fire, while in others their eyes have no pupils. Their hair is green or golden and always dripping wet. In some legends, if her hair were to dry, she would die. 

Rusalki may (but not necessarily) entice men or children to drown to their deaths. Men were often enticed by singing, similar to sirens and mermaids, while children were attracted by baskets of fruit. Men drawn by rusalki could die in a number of ways - by drowning in her arms, by hearing her laugh, or, bizarrely, by being tickled to death! Apparently a good laugh can be the death of you...


The name comes from the Latin word for wave, which to me is beautiful. Sometimes it's 'ondine' instead of 'undine', and they were water elementals, although they also appear in European mythology as fairy creatures. As elementals, undines are soulless, but they may gain a soul by marrying a man and bearing his child.This has made them a common feature of romantic and tragic literature.

Undines are usually found in forest pools and waterfalls. Like many other water spirits, they have beautiful voices - one almost begins to think it is a pre-requisite for the job!

There is a German folktale in which Ondine is a water nymph who curses her cheating husband to stop breathing if he ever sleeps again. Interestingly, this tale is the origin for 'Ondine's Curse', the historical name for congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, in which sufferers lose control of their breathing while sleeping. It is typically fatal if untreated. Something to file away for your next trivia night...


Naiads are a type of nymph bound to fountains, wells, springs, brooks, rivers, marshes, ponds and lagoons. There were a number of different types of naiad, with different names depending on the nature of the body of water she inhabited. If a naiad's water home dried up, she would die with it. 

Naiads were known to be jealous and in some myths are regarded as dangerous because they would lure men underwater using their beauty. A man foolish enough to venture into a naiad's embrace was never seen again. This is becoming something of a trend, isn't it? One naiad, betrayed by her husband, blinded him in revenge. What can I say? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...

However, in Greek mythology, naiads were considered friendly spirits who could foretell the future and helped sailors survive storms. Now that's a little more positive!


We looked at the Each Uisge in my previous post Beasties of the Deep. Kelpies are that monster's inland cousins, haunting the river and lochs of Scotland.  

A kelpie appears as a beautiful horse, usually black although sometimes it is said to be white. In some tales, it is green with a black mane and tail. Although it appears nothing more than a lost pony, beware its constantly dripping mane! This is your warning all is not well...

Kelpies are known to transform into beautiful women to lure men to their deaths, or into handsome men to lure women to their deaths. In their human form, they are often wet or have water weeds in their hair. The horse form is most often used to lure children into the water, where it will drown and eat them. It encourages the child to ride on its back. A kelpie's skin is cold as death and, once mounted, the waterhorse's skin becomes sticky and the victim cannot escape. The kelpie then dives to the bottom of the river to devour its victim, except for the heart or liver.

There is the Scottish tale of nine children trapped on a kelpie's back while a tenth keeps his distance. Normally, nine children wouldn't fit on one horse, but part of the magic of the kelpie is it can 'stretch' to accommodate any number of riders. the kelpie chased the elusive tenth child, but he escaped. In another variation, the boy strokes the waterhorse's nose, and when his hand becomes stuck, he cuts his own hand off! Resourceful but gruesome... such is the stuff Scotsmen are made of...

I'm entered in the Best Australian Blogs 2012 Competition for both Flight of the Dragon and Somebody Has To Say It. If you like this blog, or Somebody Has To Say It, I'd be eternally grateful if you'd be so good as to stop by and vote for me here.

You can find other posts in mythical creatures series here - Dragons, Fantastical Horses, Creatures of the Sky, Mythical Creatures of the Sea - Part 1 and Part 2

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven't already. If you're finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.

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Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!


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