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HORROR SPECIAL:
LEGENDS OF SLAVIC FOLKLORE

Thought vampires were cute like Edward Cullen and mermaids were sweet like Ariel? Think again.

Ghost stories are usually kept for campfire scenarios and children’s sleepovers. But (cue Cady Heron’s Mean Girls narrative voice) Halloween is the one occasion a year where adults can revel in the dark and satanic, and dress up in costume, and no one can say anything about it. We probably won’t be dressing up this year for a party, but we will indulge in some spooky stories and horror films (don’t let anyone tell you you can’t dress up for this). And, as KOIBIRD is discovering the Eastern Bloc this season, it makes sense to explore the legendary folklore across Eastern Europe. From vampires and mermaids, to witches and woman-killers, we consider the four most popular Slavic folklore legends and how they translate to modern popular culture.

KOSCHEI

ORIGIN: RUSSIA, UKRAINE
WHEN: PRESUMED 12TH CENTURY
(A VERY LOOSE) ADAPTATION: VOLDEMORT
Described on Wikipedia as the ‘the immortal archetypal antagonist in Russian folklore’, Koschei is the guy you tell your boyfriend not to worry about. No, he doesn’t have a six-pack or a six-figure salary, but he is a relentless immortal soul that’s out to steal you from your boyfriend. But not really to make you his woman, more to make you his next victim. A lot like Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall and Christian Bale’s in American Psycho, he embodies himself as an attractive ‘good guy’, in order to lure women. Where Koschei differs to this modern counterpart is that in most adaptations, he’s under a spell that ensures his immortality. He hides his soul inside obscure objects and animals so that it can never be founded and defeated. A sort of Russian version of Voldemort’s Horcrux, but even scarier.

BABA YAGA

ORIGIN: RUSSIA, BELARUS, POLAND
WHEN: 19TH CENTURY
(A VERY LOOSE) ADAPTATION: GRIMM’S TALES HANSEL & GRETEL, THE SANDERSON SISTERS
Sadly witches in old Slavic folklore don’t look like some from our favourite films (see Cher, Susan Sarandon or Michelle Pfeiffer in The Witches of Eastwick). Instead they live in the woods in huts that stand on chicken legs, and spend their days trying to steal,cook and eat children. One of the most famous of Eastern European folklore characters is the Slavic Baba Yaga, who is usually portrayed as an old ferocious woman, or trio of sisters with the same name, with a nose so big it touches the ceiling when she sleeps. The legend Baba Yaga is unfortunately much like that of many women in an era where being unmarried and childless made you an evil witch. Ironically, Baba Yaga’s mode of transport is a broom, mop or pestle - which could be read as an almost literal rejection of domesticity. It’s not groundbreaking for us to claim the witch as a feminist icon, but still we question, is Baba Yaga a demonic child eater or actually just an independent woman? I guess we’ll never know.

Strigoi

ORIGIN: ISTRIA REGION, TRANSYLVANIA
WHEN: 16TH CENTURY
(A VERY LOOSE) ADAPTATION: DRACULA, EDWARD CULLEN
Strigoi, despite the unusual name, is most certainly a mythical creature you’ve heard of. They rise from the dead at night to trouble, kill and feed off the living. In short, they’re vampires. And just like all the toxic people in your life (an annoying best friend, ex or boss), they suck the life out of you. But Strigoi actually sucks the blood out of your veins. And despite how you saw it in Twilight, it’s really not sexy.

RUSALKA

ORIGIN: POLAND, RUSSIA, UKRAINE
WHEN: 19TH CENTURY
(A VERY LOOSE) ADAPTION: THE LITTLE MERMAID
Rusalka is less like Disney’s Ariel and more like the Sirens told in Greek mythology. She’s a female entity or succubus that lures men to the seas with her beauty, dancing and singing, where she will drown them. Depictions vary - sometimes she appears on land in forests, occasionally she will drown her victims by tickling them to death (imagine!), and in other representations she will drown them by entangling them in her long red hair at the bottom of the sea. Regardless, she’s a more than just your average man-eater. Where the story parallels that of The Little Mermaid is mainly just from the Rusalka’s beautiful mermaid form, whose singing captures the heart of men on land. Full disclosure: Rusalka is A LOT darker than Ariel. The way to kill her? Let her beautifullong red hair dry. God forbid!

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