In Russian mythology and folklore, Sirin and Alkonost are mythological creatures with the head of a woman and the body of a bird. Sirin symbolizes sorrow, suffering and despair, while Alkonost happiness and hope. There are other bird creatures in Slavic mythology, including Gamayun (bird of prophecy), Obida (bird of misfortune), Firebird or Zhar-Ptitsa (bird of paradise), and Finist (bird of war).
Both chimeras have unusually beautiful voices. Although she sang to the saints foretelling future bliss, Sirin’s song was dangerous for humans. Hearing it, they’d forget about everything, try to pursue it, and eventually die. Hearing Alkonost’s exquisite, hypnotizing songs made people want to listen to nothing else.
Although the origins of these myths are not clear, they are thought to have their origins in Greek mythology. Sirin is most likely based on the Greek myth of the sirens, whose singing enticed sailors, causing their ships to perish in the sea. Alkonost is probably based on the Greek goddess Alcyone, daughter of Aeolus, who was changed into a kingfisher.
If the two seem similar and difficult to distinguish, that is because their myths have been bound together and many distinguishing characteristics forgotten over time.
Sirin is depicted as big, strong, multi-colored bird with large breasts, a beautiful female face, and a crown on her head. Sirin stupefied mortals and carried them away to the realm of death. Later, however, (under the influence of Christianity) Sirin became endowed with magical protective functions. She personified beauty, happiness, and the joy of living. Misfortune and troubles became tied to another bird-woman called Obida, a swan maiden.
Alkonost is depicted with both wings and hands, which hold a flower. Alkonost laid her eggs on the shore and then rolled them into the sea. She ruled the winds and weather, and could regulate the weather to her liking. According to Slavic folklore, the weather was calm for seven days until her eggs fully hatched, and then a thunderstorm set in and the sea became rough and untravelable.
There is a Slavic legend about the creation of the world that says that among the boundless water that existed in the very beginning, there was a tall mighty tree. Two birds, Sirin and Alkonost, made a nest on that tree and began new life on Earth. This tree has come to be known as the tree of life, a symbol of all that is alive. The two birds that guard it stand for well-being, family happiness, and a continuation of the family line.