Category Archives: Myth and Legend

Rusalka (Lady In White) – Ruthenia

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Rusalka

A Rusalka is a water spirit/nymph that originates in ancient pagan Slavic folklore. This myth is so compelling and eerie that Czech composer, Antonín Leopold Dvořák, created his opera, Rusalka, in her honor. Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém (Song to the Moon), is a world renowned aria.

In Russian and Ukrainian, Rusalka literally means mermaid, though these dark spirits are not like the Mermaids of Norse myth. For one, Ruslaki (plural), hang around lakes and rivers, not in the ocean. Also, they appear human mostly and do not have fishtails. Maybe you could say they are fresh water Mermaids. Ancient lore colors them as undead creatures with an appetite for luring men and children to their deaths. Like a siren, a Rusalka enchants men with her exquisite singing voice, luring him to the waters in which she hunts and lives, then she drowns him. It is said that the Rusalka also love children so much, that they will drown them as well, in order to keep them forever. In some cultures, the Rusalka myth is used to frighten children into staying away from potentially dangerous waters.

Of course, as is common with most pagan myths, with the coming of Christianity the Rusalka got a “lore-ish make over.” Rusalka kept their “undead” personage, but they became more like ghosts. They are said to be the eternally damned soul of a woman who committed suicide (usually in the body of water she haunts). Normally, the suicide was due to a betrayal by a lover. So yes, the Rusalka still hunt for men, luring them to their deaths at the bottom of their respective graves within the lake or river. These tormented souls roam the waters edges seeking their revenge upon unfaithful men. Because the ghost is usually to be seen in a long flowing white gown, the Rusalka have been nicknamed, “Lady in White.” Supposedly, Rožmberk castle, has their own resident “Lady in White/Rusalka.” She is said to haunt the castle and river outside it. The Castle sits alongside the River Vltava. A daughter of Duke Oldřich II, Perchta of the House of Rožmberk is believed to be this said ghost, as she had committed suicide there back in the 1400s.

In the hit TV series, Supernatural, a Rusalka/Lady in White makes her debut in the pilot episode. See clip: https://youtu.be/19ZETMYTr8Y

Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém (Song to the Moon) – Rusalka – Antonín Leopold Dvořák https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoPTh_q7GYs

Ole Lukøje (The Sandman) – Denmark

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Ole lukje

Ole Lukøje, or the Sandman, is a Norse folklore/legend about a magical/fey creature that comes to blow sand in a child’s eyes to make them sleepy. At least that is what I was told when I was little. Some stories say that Ole Lukøje has two umbrellas. One is for good children, filled with pictures and dreams; the other for naughty children, that is empty and has no dreams at all. If you want nice fun dreams, you must sleep without a fuss or Ole Lukøje will give you the naughty umbrella. 🙂

Cloud Spirit – America

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Hopi Could Spirit

Water. One thing that is certain cross culturally is that water is essential to all living organisms on this planet. For this reason, it is not surprising that many legends and deities evolve around the Earths most precious resource. Water. Naturally deities and spirits are, or were, especially prominent among dominantly agrarian societies and cultures. Cloud spirits are especially revered among most Native American tribes. They are the ones who control rain. A happy and benevolent spirit will bestow plenty of rain and usually ensure a good harvest, wheres as displeased spirit will withhold rain and may cause a drought and famine.

A Navajo friend of mine once told me that one way to anger a water/cloud spirit is to displace water. He said one should leave water where it is and only take as you need. Storing and transporting water is against the nature and natural order. Because water returns to the Earth, always, and given again by the rain clouds, moving it takes it from its place. Once removed, it can not return or be given again. Drought will eventually ensue. Pretty much, this ideology explains what happens when you upset the balance of nature. It destroys the ecosystem. Wisdom and pure logic can be found in folklore and traditions.

Asparas – India

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Asparas

In Hindu folklore an Aspara is a celestial nymph (cloud/rain/water spirit). We see them mentioned in the “Mahabharata,” The world’s most longest epic poem known. They are sometimes depicted as court dancer or musicians of the Hindu Deities. The myth is they are so enchanting and beautiful to behold that not mortal can withstand their seducing powers. There are two well known Asparas, Tilottama and Urvashi.

TILOTTAMA:

Sunda and Upasunda were two demon brothers. They were cursed to die at each other’s hands but they loved each other too much that they can’t inflict any pain on the other. Tired of the destruction they had caused on earth, Brahma approached Vishwakarma, the heavenly architect, to find a solution. They decided to create a woman so beautiful that nobody could take their eyes off her. Accordingly, Vishwakarma created the exquistly beautiful Tilottama, seeing whom even Shiva could not remove his gaze. Brahma then instructed her to meet the demons. Tilottama appeared before the demons and seeing her, both brothers fell for her charms. They both wanted to marry her and thus, a fierce enmity followed. They took up arms against each other and died fighting. Unfortunately, Tilottama’s charms kept captivating one and all. So Brahma gave curse that nobody would be able to cast his eyes on her for too long.

URVASHI:

Pururava is a son of Budha and Ilaa. As a son of a mortal (Ilaa) and an immortal (Budha), he is a mortal. He is a grandson of Soma (Moon) and the first king of lunar dynasty.

Heavenly nymph (Apsara) Urvashi had to come down to earth as a punishment to some offense to gods Mitra and Varuna. On earth she met Pururava who fell in love with her. Urvashi agreed to live with Pururava provided he met certain conditions. Urvashi had a couple of pet rams that should always remain by her side and she should never see Pururava naked.

Gods in the heaven of Indra and Gandharvas, heavenly musicians and close associates of apsaras, the heavenly dancers were anxious to have Urvashi back in heaven. So gandharvas went disguised as robbers and stole Urvashi’s rams. Pururava was naked in bed so at first he did not respond for the fear that Urvashi will see him undressed. Later he roused himself and went in search of robbers. Gandharvas brought a flash of lightening and Urvashi saw Pururava naked so the charm was broken and Urvashi went back to heaven.

Pururava distraught with grief at the loss of Urvashi roamed the earth. Once he saw Urvashi at Kurukshetra bathing with four other apsaras. Urvashi told him she was pregnant and asked him to come back. Urvashi gave him a son on the second trip and spent a night with him. This sequence was repeated. She spent a night with him each year and bore him four more sons.

Gilgamesh – Mesopotamia

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Gilgamesh and Enkidu

HISTORY

The epic of Gilgamesh was written down on clay tablets in cuneiform script at least 1300 years before Homer wrote the Iliad and  The Odessey. However the tablet was not discovered until 1845, among 25,000 tablets discovered at the library of Ashurbanipal, the last great King of Assyria (who lived between 668 – 627 BCE). In 1862 a cuneiform expert revealed an Assyrian version of the great flood, which is all to similar to the flood in the Bible. Oral traditional stories originated in Ancient Sumer and were first written down in 2100 BCE. Between 1600 and 1000 BCE, the epic had been inscribed in Akkadian (Babylonian), Hittite, and Hurrian. All versions kept the Sumerian names of the characters and Gods.

Gilgamesh apparently was a real king of Uruk, in southern Mesopotamia, sometime between 2700 and 2500 BCE. At that point Sumer had city-states, irrigation, laws, and various forms of literature. The writings of the time reveal that the people valued justice, freedom, and compassion. The strong walls of Uruk are attributed to Gilgamesh, and he may well have ventured into the wilderness in order to bring timber to his region, for wood was valuable building material that this region lacked. The Sumerian view of the gods as unpredictable and frightening reflects the unpredictable and disturbing nature of the world in which they lived.

Gilgamesh is the earliest major recorded work of literature, and Gilgamesh is the first human hero in literature. The epic has universal appeal among Western cultures because it reaffirms the similarities in human nature and human value across time and space. The epic reveals the importance of friendship, love, pride, honor, adventure, accomplishment, and also the fear of death and the wish for immortality. It speaks as clearly to us as it spoke to those who lived when it was written, almost 4,000 years ago.

Gilgamesh learns that the only type of immortality that he or any other mortal can achieve is lasting fame through perfoming great deeds and constructing lasting monuments. He also learns that life is precious and should be enjoyed to the fullest. What Gilgamesh discovers during his long and arduous journey, we too must learn in the course of our own lives. Like Gilgamesh, we must fight the despair of failure and death. Like Gilgamesh, we must choose what we will value in life and the freedom to make those choices.

GILGAMESH: A SHORT ANIMATION

Snegurochka – Russia

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Snegurochka

SNEGUROCHKA (THE SNOW MAIDEN)

Deep in the forests of Northern Russia, in an isba (log hut), lived an old wood cutter and his wife. Times were hard, for winter had set in and deep snow covered the ground.

The wood cutter and his wife were both kind and hardworking but they were also sad and lonely, for they were childless and there was no-one to care for them or to help them through the cold winter.

The days passed slowly, with hard work their only comfort. There was wood to chop and food to find.

Then one day, whilst clearing an area so they could chop some more wood, they began to pile together heaps of snow. Remembering the games they used to play in their childhood, the old couple began to shape the snow into human form. By the time they had finished they were nearly frozen but the image of the young girl they had created was so beautiful, it was beyond description.

“See wife,” said the old man, “our daughter Snegurochka.” (Snow maiden.) The old woman smiled but as her husband turned away, there were tears in her eyes.

In the forest the twigs crackled and snapped, for watching the old couple was none other than Father Frost, an old winter god that lived deep in the forest glades.

Father Frost felt pity for the old couple and, at that moment, he decided to create for them a daughter in his own spirit. He scratched his long white beard and pondered for a while before raising the great staff he carried into the air. A frizzle of magic ripped through the forest.

The old couple turned to admire once more their handiwork and were astonished to see, standing in their garden, the most beautiful pale maiden with long flaxen hair.

She was dressed in a long, light blue robe, its collar and cuffs trimmed with soft fur; her robe was covered in shimmering snowflakes. On her head was a hat of fur and snowflakes that looked a little like a crown and which sparkled like an icy flame. Her shoulders were covered with a cape of dark blue and on her feet she wore embroidered boots.

The old couple blinked in wonder and disbelief, for there in front of them was their longed for child. Snegurochka hesitantly came towards them and their hearts leapt with joy as the young maid said, “If it pleases you, I have come to be your daughter and will care for you as my mother and father.”

The old woman grasped the snow maiden’s pale hand and with great joy led her towards the isba. As she followed the couple Snegurochka felt the trees and the beasts of the winter forest bid her a happy life.

Snegurochka helped with the chores and cared well for the couple. They could not believe their luck at having such a kind and beautiful child.

Despite this her parents worried about her, she was so quiet and pale; sometimes she seemed so frail as to be lifeless. However, there was always fire in her bright blue eyes and her smile could light up the forest.

The snow maiden loved the trees and the creatures of the forest. In her mortal form, she was a dutiful daughter to her new parents, never complaining or moaning but there was a distance in her eyes.

Two happy months passed and it was time for the winter celebrations. The town streets, a few miles away, were alive with strollers and entertainers.

Happy groups of people sometimes passed through the forest on their way to town. Snegurochka watched the people through a frozen window pane of the isba. Concerned, the old woman suggested that Snegurochka should join the celebrations, for it must be very dull living all the time with an old couple, but Snegurochka assured them she was very happy.

Then one day, as she was looking out of the icy window, she saw Misgir, the son of a nobleman, and his fiancée Coupava, in the glade where they lived. She saw them lark about and play in the snow. She also observed the very special bond that existed between the young couple, a bond that she had never known.

Later that day, as she was out walking in the forest, Father Frost came to her and warned her that she must never form such a friendship with a human or disaster would befall her. Nevertheless poor Snegurochka could not stop thinking of the strange bond between the two young people.

Wanting to understand more, she could resist no longer. The old woman, helped her put on her little cape, and she went out to join the people walking towards the town.

It was not long before somebody saw the beautiful young lady standing on the edge of the town and Snegurochka was bid welcome. She saw Misgir and Coupava in the crowd and went to talk to them but a jealous Coupava pulled Misgir roughly away. Despite this, the crowd was captivated by her beauty and innocence.

From then on Snegurochka came to town quite often.

One day, as she enjoyed the bustle of the throngs of people, she heard strains of the most charming music. It was the songs of a young shepherd boy. He was named Lel. Snegurochka moved closer to hear more. Lel saw the young maiden watching him play his flute and thought her very beautiful. He fell deeply in love with Snegurochka and they soon became inseparable.

The weeks passed and spring was approaching. Father Frost was alarmed. He warned Snegurochka to keep away from the bright rays of the sun god which could kill her. She must always, he said, stay in the shade.

As spring approached the people left their homes more often.

Whenever the young girls came out to stroll and to sing, Lel would run to Snegurochka’s isba, tap on the window and say, “Beautiful Snegurochka, do come and join us”.
Once she appeared, he never left her side. They would dance in the shade of the trees but Snegurochka knew there was still something missing, she knew she did not feel the way the humans did.

The more she thought of Lel, the more pale and weak she became but, despite this, she sought out Mother Spring in the forest and asked if she could feel the special bond the humans felt. Mother Spring said she would grant her wish but, if she followed this path, she would surely perish. Snegurochka went sadly home.

Father Frost continued to watch her from a distance for he knew what would soon happen to her.

For a while she stayed away from the forest walks, the town and Lel. Then, one beautiful morning, Lel came to Snegurochka’s little window and pleaded with her to come out with him, just once, just for a moment. For a long while Snegurochka refused to listen but, finally, her heart could no longer resist. She realised she could hide away forever or enjoy, if only briefly, what it was like to be really human.

She walked with Lel to the edge of the birch forest.

“Lel, play your flute for me!” she asked.
Her heart felt warm. She stood before Lel, there was so little life left in her, her pale face looked bloodless and her arms and legs tingled. The young man played his flute. She listened to the song and felt love for the first time. Tears rolled down from her eyes.

However, she was a creature of ice and snow and could not survive the warmth she felt in her heart. With the faintest sigh, she began to melt.

As they stepped from the forest into the rays of the sun, Lel went to hold Snegurochka but, as he did so, her feet melted beneath her; she fell onto the damp earth and suddenly vanished. There was nothing left but an icy mist, drifting upward into the blue sky.

As the snow maiden faded away, spring spread over the land: the frost retreated and the small flowers of the fields began to bloom. Everyone was cheered by the return of spring. Everyone that is except, the young shepherd who felt desolate and cold, despite the warmth of the sun.

As for the old couple, they felt their loss deeply but, in their hearts, they had always known the magic could not last. They were just thankful for the beautiful snow maiden who had brought such warmth and joy to their lives and given them hope in the depths of winter.

But what of the snow maiden? Well, it is said that, as she melted away, her spirit was caught by Father Frost who retreated to far lands with the advance of Mother Spring. He took the spirit of his daughter across the stars to the frozen lands of the north, where she again took the form of a beautiful young woman. Here she plays all through the summer – on the frozen seas.

But, each year in winter, on the first day of the New Year, Father Frost and the Snow Maiden return to Russia in their troika (sleigh). And they continue to work their magic, as they did long ago for the woodcutter and his wife, for those who are good and kind, particularly the children, bringing them small gifts and helping to make their dreams come true.