To speak of Russia is to speak of the country with the largest geographical extension in the world, which has been the scene of a great number of important events throughout the ages.
It is therefore a country with a long history, which has its own myths, legends and customs. That is why throughout this article we are going to talk about a small selection of the most famous Russian myths, tales and legends .
10 interesting Russian legends
Below we show you a series of ten legends, myths and stories from Russia, some of which are also shared by other Slavic peoples.
1. The legend of the Matrioshka
The legend says that once upon a time there was a humble carpenter named Serguei who needed wood to work . One day when he was having difficulty finding a good piece of wood, he found a perfect log which he took home.
Serguei didn’t know what to do with it, until one day the idea of making a doll came to his mind. He made it with so much love and so beautiful that after finishing it he didn’t want to sell it, and he gave it the name of Matrioshka. The young man greeted his creation every day, but one day, in a surprising way, it greeted him back.
Little by little they established communication and a good relationship, but one day the doll indicated her sadness because all the creatures had children, except her. The carpenter told her that if she wanted her, she should take the wood out of her interior, which she accepted.
Serguei made a smaller copy, which he called Trioska. But over time Trioska also wanted to have children, so with some of her wood she made another smaller version: Oska . The situation was repeated with her, so Serguei would make one more doll, this time with a moustache and with a masculine look so that she didn’t have a maternal instinct. He would name the latter Ka. Then, he put each of the dolls inside its parent. Days later, however, to Serguei’s despair, Matrioshka and all his offspring left and disappeared without a trace.
2. Baba Yaga
One of the best known creatures in Russian and Slavic legends is the witch Baba Yaga, an old woman (although other versions consider her a goddess) who inhabits the forests. The legend says that this being, which is said to feed on children, has iron teeth with which it can easily tear the flesh .
However, some of their representations are not always negative. It is said that he guards the waters of life and death, and lives in a house which moves with enormous duck legs and in whose palisade numerous human skulls can be seen. He also rejuvenates himself every time he drinks a tea made of blue roses, rewarding those who bring them to him. She is considered the representative of the limit between life and death .
3. The ghost of Zhuzha
A relatively recent Russian legend, centred on Moscow, tells of love and death.
The legend tells us about Z huzha, a woman who had been in love with a millionaire for years . One day, while walking through Kuznetski Most, she heard a child delivering newspapers shouting that her beloved had taken his own life. Just as she got out of her carriage and went to get more information, she was run over and died.
However, the days passed and the boy who sold the newspapers was found dead and strangled with a woman’s stocking, the one Zhuzha was wearing on the day of her death. Soon those who had published the millionaire’s alleged death also died. Since then, there have been several testimonies of the ghost that haunts Kuznetski Most in Moscow. It is said about those who see her that she will possibly have the loss of a close male person.
4. The Legend of the Snow Lady
Like many other peoples facing freezing temperatures, the Russians also have a legend that refers to the cold. In their case it also refers to infidelity and betrayal. This is the legend of Sgroya.
This apparently young and attractive woman is an angry spirit who hates the male gender because of the deception suffered by her partner, although in other versions she is a deity who punishes acts of infidelity.
Sgroya appears on the roads offering her attentions to the men who cross her path, seducing them. If she accepts his invitations and kisses him, she will turn into an ice floe and lead her victim to death by freezing, or else make him go mad.
5. The legend of the city of Kitezh
Some Russian legends tell us about the invasion they suffered in ancient times by the Mongols. Specifically, one of them refers to the disappearance of the city of Kitezh.
According to the legend, Prince Vladimir founded two cities, one called Maly Kitezh and another that would be named Bolshói Kitezh . However, the Mongols invaded the first of them, making prisoners during the process which ended up confessing how to get to the second.
Once they arrived in the vicinity, they saw that this city had no walls or defensive structures, so they attacked immediately. The desperate citizens were praying for their salvation. However, before the assailants arrived in the city, this was swallowed up by the waters, diving into Lake Svetloyar and saving it from attack, as well as making it invisible. Since then it is said that only the purest can find this city.
6. Prince Ivan and Koschei the Immortal
Legend has it that Prince Ivan Tsarevitch promised his parents, before he died, that he would find a husband for his three sisters. These are sought by the Eagle, the Hawk and the Raven, with whom they end up marrying and going to live.
As time passed, the prince, alone, decided to undertake a journey in order to visit his sisters and brothers-in-law. On his way he meets the remains of an annihilated army, which had fallen to the power of the warrior Marya Morevna . The prince met this woman, falling in love and eventually getting married and going to live in her home.
However, eventually a war broke out in which Marya Morevna decided to participate, leaving the prince at home with a warning not to open his closet as there was a secret in it that must remain there. However, the prince, curious, decided to open the closet. In it he found a chained man named Koschei, who asked him for water. After giving it to him, he suddenly broke his chains and magically vanished, after which he kidnapped the prince’s wife .
The prince decides to go in search of her, passing by the houses of his sisters and brothers-in-law on his way and leaving behind various objects. He found Koschei Castle and took his beloved, but was caught by the sorcerer and his fast horse. He took Marya Morevna again, forgiving the prince as he had quenched his thirst while in chains. The prince repeated the rescue twice more, being always caught by the sorcerer, and on the occasion he ended up dismembering him and throwing him into the sea.
However, Ivan’s brothers-in-law noticed that the silver objects he left them became dark, so they came to him and later managed to bring him back to life thanks to the waters of life and death. The prince then went to Baba Yaga to give him a faster horse than Koschei’s, to which the witch decided that if he managed to watch his mares for three days he would give them, although otherwise he would kill them. He managed, with the help of several animals (which had promised to help him if he didn’t eat them), to do his job despite the fact that the witch had rigged it. However she wanted to kill him anyway, something that made Ivan steal the horse and run away.
Having obtained the horse, Ivan rescues his wife and during the escape kills Koschei with a kick from his horse. After that he dismembers the body and sets fire to the pieces. Once free, the couple could return to their home and live happily.
7. The seven giants of the Urals
One of the considered natural wonders of Russia is Man-Pupu-Nyor, which also has its own legend.
Legend has it that the Mansi people lived in those mountains . The leader of the village had two sons, one of whom was a girl who fell in love with one of the giants of the area, named Torev. He asked her young father for his hand, but the father refused.
Furious, the giant called five brothers and together with them tried to kidnap the young girl and began to attack the village. The inhabitants fled, asking the spirits for help. The next day the other of the leader’s sons commanded a group of warriors to confront them, the young man carrying a magic sword given by the spirits and a shield.
The young man lifted the blade, and from it came a light that turned the six giants to stone, but against its use implied that its bearer would do so as well. This explains why there are seven mounds observable in the Urals .
8. The Legend of the Ghost Bride
It is likely that many of the readers of this article have seen Tim Burton’s film “The Dead Bride”. What many may not know is that its story is based largely on a Russian legend or tale. And this in turn is based on the murders of Jewish women on their way to their wedding already dressed in the wedding dress, as well as the fact that there was a tradition of burying the dead in the clothes they had died in (so these murdered women were buried in their wedding dresses).
Legend has it that one day a young man who was going to get married would travel with a friend to the village where his future wife was, and find a branch that looked like a finger. The young man and his friend, playing, placed the engagement ring on the branch and later took their vows and rehearsed the wedding dances. Suddenly the earth moved, revealing that the branch at the bottom was a finger, part of a corpse in wedding dress.
This corpse looked at them expectantly and, noting that they had celebrated the wedding, said that she wanted to claim her rights as a wife . Both fled to the future wife’s village, going to the rabbis to ask them if the marriage was valid. While the rabbis were debating, the dead woman came to them and claimed her husband again.
The man’s living girlfriend also arrived, who then found out about the situation and cried over the possible loss of her partner and children. Shortly thereafter the rabbis came out, determining that the wedding was valid, but also that the dead could not claim the living. It was now the dead bride who wept and sobbed over her inability to form a family.
But the living bride, feeling sorry for herself, came and hugged her, promising her that she would live her dream and have many children who would be hers and her husband’s. This reassured the spirit, which ended up resting in peace and happy at the same time that the couple was able to remarry and eventually have children, to whom they would tell the story of the spirit.
9. Buyan Island
The idea of an earthly paradise is not exclusive to one or two religions but is shared by a large number of them, including Russians and other Slavs
In this regard, one of the best-known legends is that of Buyan Island. This island serves as a refuge from the sun and the winds, as well as from travelers . We can also find on this island the healing waters generated by the Alaturi stone and the maiden Zarya, who sews up the wounds.
On the island also keeps his soul Koschei the Immortal , who separated his soul from his body and placed it in a needle inside an egg which is inside a dish that is inside a rabbit, which in turn is in a trunk that is buried in the remains of a tree. If someone gets hold of such an egg or needle, they have almost absolute power over the wizard, for if he were damaged Koschei would die.
10. The Legend of Sadko
One of the Russian legends that refer to a historical period even before the creation of Kiev is Sadko’s Byline, an ancient Russian epic and generally transmitted in verse.
The story tells us how a young guslar (a musician who plays the gusli, an old traditional Russian instrument) from Novgorod made his living playing, something he did with great skill. However, there came a time when other musicians arrived in the area and little by little Sadko started to lose customers, to the point that he was no longer hired. One day, saddened by his poverty and the fact that no one would hire him, he started playing on the shores of Lake Ilmen .
After going to the Ilmen several times to play, one day the god of the waters of the lake appeared to him. He told him that he had heard him play and wanted to help him in his difficult situation. He suggested that the next time he went to the city and was called to work, he should make sure that there were fish in the lake with gold fins , and bet with the merchants that these existed. The young man did so, and to everyone’s surprise when the young man and those who had bet against him set sail in a boat to fish, they found that, in fact, by gathering the nets they managed to catch a large quantity of golden fish.
With the fish and the profits from the bet, the young man soon became a merchant of great wealth. However, one night when he returned by boat, the young man played his music again. The waters were choppy, furious and about to sink the ship. Sadko thought that the god of the waters wanted him to share his profits (thanks to him they were earned), so he threw several barrels with wealth without any effect. The sailors replied that perhaps the god wanted a human sacrifice , and after drawing lots on several occasions it was always Sadko’s turn.
The young man threw himself into the water and met the god, who wanted me to play for him in his palace. There, Sadko’s music made the giant dance with great frenzy. But one day an old man arrived at the palace while the young man was playing, and indicated to him that the power of the god’s dance was causing great swells . Sadko decided to stop playing to avoid it, breaking the strings as a way of justifying himself.
After that he asked the god to return to his land, to which the god eventually gave in. In some versions the god of the lake tries to offer him a wife to stay, to which as the old man warned him, he can escape by choosing the last and youngest of his daughters, with whom he did not consummate and after which the deity released him from his service.
- Warner, E. (2005). Russian myths. Akal Publishing.