Knee deep in research I lost my way between dusty manuscripts but I am excited to have discovered a forgotten Spring legend tied to a Romanian tradition.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, for if it wouldn’t have happened it wouldn’t have been told…
Legend says that the Sun, bewildered by the livelihood of Spring with its slow onset, elevated by the burst of energy that seemed to take over the world… everywhere but where he lived… the Sun himself, sick and tired of the long hibernation forced upon him in the company of Winter, a guest that seemed never to plan on leaving… the Sun decided to run away. Towards South. Towards Spring. Towards heat.
And to escape through the gates of Heaven he even had a plan. A well thought plan. A plan fabricated during the long, cold, boring nights spent in the company of Winter.
The Sun placed nine crones, one on each one of the nine stallions that were pulling his carriage! He did so knowing very well that the crones will be ‘more wicked than Lucifer itself’ and so they will drive the horses till they will give their last breath running.
The Sun and his suite drove like the wind through the gates of Heaven and off they went! The pull from their chase even stirred the robes of Saint Toader, the Heavenly guardian of the Sun. Now Saint Toader, stiff as he was after the long winter, a little bit sore in the joints too, caught sight of the fleeting group one second too late. Saint Toader ran to the Heaven’s stables as fast as his robe and his age allowed him, grabbed nine strong stallions placing on them nine seniors with beard as white as his and hands as gnarly as his own… and after he seated himself in his carriage they took off, chasing after the Sun.
Saint Toader and his team searched and searched for eight long days but alas, they lost track of the Sun. Perhaps because the crones were indeed as evil as the fame preceding them said they will be. And they had driven the horses so forcefully that even the skies shook and blizzards and snow storms fell onto Earth. A calamity after another.
The seniors riding ahead of Saint Toader’s carriage, gentle as they were, could not keep up with the crones.
Until the ninth day when one of the seniors caught sight of the Sun and together with the others finally caught up – determined as they were to get the Sun to follow his celestial path again. The one intended for him by God.
And in the day when Saint Toader and his nine seniors found the Sun the Earth, with all its creatures, came to life! In Spring.
And this is why during March, we celebrate in Romania:
starting with the 1st of March, for 9 days, we celebrate the 9 Crones, Babele, starting with Dochia. These days are renowned for their fickle weather.
on the 10th of March begin the 9 days we celebrate the Seniors, Mosii – days that always have a milder weather. And from these nine days stands out:
the 17th of March – the day of Alexii.
17 March – the Spring Legend of Alexii and another Romanian tradition – Alexiile
Legend says that humankind suffered terribly at the cost of insects, both crawling and winged. So God, in His good heart, caught them all and placed them in a box. Then he called Alexie, his trusted man, and gave him the box to throw into the sea.
But Alexie, true to his nature, could not resist the temptation and took one peek. He thought that just one will be enough. Quick. And no one will ever know.
Quick. And all the bugs scattered all over Earth again.
For his punishment Alexie was turned into a heron and made to gather bugs between 17 March and 14 September.
Did you know that it is around 17th of March when migrating herons and storks return?
The Romanian fishermen also say that it is Alexie who brings the fish to the surface again, from the depths of the waters where they love to hibernate. They also say that if you eat an uncooked fish, just a tiny one mind you, on this day of Alexie you will have a rich catch each day for the next year.
Well, I don’t fish, but I certainly remember the fickle days of March from my childhood. I only discovered now that the Sun ran away to warmer lands and it was his chariot and his stallions who shook the last of the snow from the late Winter clouds… A spring legend and a Romanian tradition to treasure.
Have a blessed Spring and good luck fishing 😉
And I mounted on my saddle. What I said it wasn’t babble.
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They blamed it on the March wind, curious and playful, throwing off the girls’ scarfs so tightly wrapped all winter long, deceitful in its scented games, innocent in appearance, a trickster of a djinn. The red mark left on the maidens’ cheeks by the spring wind was a sure tell-tale. Some older women got it too. And there was not cure, known or unknown.
What was there to do? No one liked a blotchy face when the birds sang again of life and love and the flowers bloomed and your heart went mad with joy once more. Someone must have gotten the idea from an old tale or a word lost in a whisper, over the fire.
Some legends say that the red-white thread was first spun by Old Dokia,Baba Dochia, as she took her sheep grazing up the mountain.
But who really cares where a cure originated when it works? It started in the valley, I believe, and it spread like gossip to the forest and up the mountains and even to the land over the forest and even further away…
And girls and older women together began to tie a red silky string around their neck. Thin enough to go unnoticed, yet strong to do the trick. To protect their smooth, white skin freshly sprung from a long winter against the March breeze, called the martisor. And it worked.
And soon boys used it too. Girls and boys were gifted with this special thread on the 1st of March, before the sun showed its face up on the sky. Soon they started to wear where it showed . For it had a red thread too, to protect their milky skin and sparkly eyes against the evil-eye.
The two threads twisted together, red and white or red and black, symbolized the unity of opposing forces: summer-winter, heat-cold, fertility-barrenness, light-dark.
Or so the story of the 1st of March, Martisor, says.
They were wearing it, maiden and wives, lasses and ladies, boys too, pinned to their chest, above the heart or around their wrists. A thread of white and red twisted together and tied in a bow. They would wear it from the 1st of March till the day they knew that Spring had won its battle against Winter: when the cuckoo sang again and the cherries bloomed, when the storks returned to their old nests and the swallows showed their fine tails in spirited flight again. When the snowdrops peaked from underneath the snow.
Then… they would tie the Martisor thread to a white rose or a blossomed tree, bearer of fruit, for good luck. The brave one would even throw it towards the directions where the migrating birds arrived from, whispering: “take my dark days and bring me bright ones.”
Later, some attached a silver coin to the silky white-red thread as a gift. Those who could afford such. The coin symbolized the sun and the Martisor became a symbol of light and of fire. With the silver coin they would buy red wine, bread and fresh, soft, white cheese so that the girls who wore the silky thread would keep their ivory skin and have beautiful cheeks as red as wine.
Why the 1st of March? 1 Martie?
You see, the Geto-Dacian tribes who inhabited during the 4th century BC the territory we now today as Romania, celebrated the New Year on the 1st of March. Their calendar had only two seasons, winter and summer. The Martisor was therefore offered for good luck on the first day of the New Year, together with heartfelt wishes for health, happiness and love.
As are my wishes to you… La Multi Ani de Martisor!
PS. Here is my childhood collection of “Martisoare”. In Romania, we would offer them to friends on the 1st of March. Not all were made of glass. They can be fashioned out of anything.
A strong sense of the place, a memorable, relatable character, a journey of initiation we are eager to follow – are the markings of retellable Romanian fairy tales.
Romanian folk tales are filled with active characters involved in amazing journeys. Perhaps an influence of the millennial transhumance and of a local history forged in battles, seen through the Romanian metaphysical view on religion, what better way to explain the connection between the sacred and the profane but through stories?
Romanian folklore sees the sacred and the profane as two parts that, united, create this world. Thus the journey the main character of a mythical story or a folk tales follows is seen as a bridge connecting the two, a way of communication, of connecting the sacred with the profane. But at the same time this journey, by reaching the sacred, allows the character to achieve a higher level of knowledge and understanding of the world he lives in, the profane.
Going back to my Romanian roots I read my childhood’s fairytales with one though in my mind. That the material read influences not only the style and the form, but also the thoughts and the ideas behind one’s work (and actions). By observing various characters from Romanian fairy tales I drew a mind map of the various journeys of initiation, with examples.
The journey of initiation as depicted in Romanian fairy tales
1. The quest of finding one’s fate, even going to the netherworld
Youth without Age and Life without Death, Tinerete Fara de Batranete si Viata Fara de Moarte, is the story of a young prince who goes in search of that what was promised to him before he was born, a youthful state of life that lasts forever. During his adventure he discovers a land far away, where time passes at a different pace. Surprisingly this fairy tale does not have a happy ending.
The journey of finding what was promised, of finding one’s fate, or the journey to the underworld often includes a forbidden place, a room or an object that has the power to suddenly undo the happiness found. The world that the main character left behind, ruled by normal time, is different than the new world he discovered. Often, there is no exact border between the two. While time cannot physically affect them in the world they discovered at the end of their quest of initiation, we must remember that the main character was born in a world guided by normal time and therefore time can still affect him psychologically (they becomes homesick).
2. The journey of finding a beloved that went (suddenly) missing or of leaving a beloved behind in order to find something lost
The Enchanted Pig, Porcul cel Fermecat, is the story of the youngest princess (of three), the one who marries a pig because that was her fate. Following wrong advice, one night she gets rid of the pig’s skin and this throws her into her journey. Turns out the pig skin was only spell put over a handsome prince that now she must search for all over the world, “until she will wear out three pairs of iron shoes and a steel staff”in order to undo the spell and find happiness again.
Often in Romanian fairy tales a character appears to have a different shape, wear an animal skin that is suddenly lost due to the main character’s mistrust. The transformation that the secondary charter goes through, often from that of an animal to a human appearance, can represent the hero’s confusion, his or hers lack of experience in dealing with intimate relationships. It is the journey of initiation the hero must take (in this case of finding something lost, the animal skin) that will eventually allow him/ her to mature enough so that on his / her return a relationship can be pursued.
During this type of journey the character can be forced to leave the loved one behind due to a mistake. The journey he is about to undertake will help solve the problems, or redeem the sin that was committed and was the catalyst of he journey. On the other hand, the hero that undergoes such a journey shows exceptional qualities, as anyone else showing less class would not have been able to undergo such a quest. The loved one that is left behind or must be found, often waiting in anguish, is not having happier days either until the hero’s victory.
3. The trip to solve a problem, fix a wrong doing, or of proving oneself
Ileana Simziana or The Princess Who Would be a Prince tells the story of three princesses who try to prove themselves in the eyes of their elderly father, the king. It is the youngest one who emerges victorious from the different quests she has to undergo.
Through the journey the hero finds himself on a higher level, gaining the experience needed to live in a world he knew nothing about at the beginning of the story. Often it is the youngest one or the smallest one (of three brothers of sisters) who emerges victorious. The journey also allows the main character to finally perceive the reality just the way it is, without the initial pink cloud of an ideology based on the ignorance of youth or of a sheltered existence. In other occasions this journey of initiation starts out of indifference to the place of birth or because the character is banished.
4. The ride of humility, of forgiveness or of teaching a lesson
Junior the Brave and the Golden Apples, Praslea cel Voinic si Merele de Aur tells us the story of how the youngest son of an emperor who goes to find and punish the intruder who would steal the golden apples from the king’s orchard. During the quest he discovers the cunning jealousy of his older brothers as well as a monster with great powers. Luckily, a beautiful fairy comes to his rescue.
Often, a hero found high on the social scale has to undergo a journey of initiation that will force him or her to leave below the social standard received through birth, thus learning a valuable lesson on self-sufficiency, humility and compassion.
5. The voyage as a pretext that will lead to lessons learned or other journeys.
Emperor Aleodor, Aleodor Imparat, is the story of an emperor’s son who accidentally passes the border to a forbidden land, that of Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-rabbit. To redeem himself he has to undergo a series of tasks. He doesn’t mind proving his innocence and escaping the beast, but the outcome is not what he bargained for – still a happy ending.
The initial journey is often an every day activity, such as a stroll, hunt, or a trade. The result, on the other hand, is that of the main character meeting a fairy, a witch, a spirit, a beast, entering a forbidden space or having a terrible dream that will later lead to him pursuing more adventures. Although it begins as an involuntary activity, this journey of initiation proves that the spiritual and the sacred surpass the godless and the worldly side of life.
The journey of initiation will often allow the character access to the sacred. In Romanian folklore, life consists of seen and the unseen combined, much like the world we live in, crated by God as a unity. The journey of initiation allows the character to travel between the two worlds, the seen and the unseen. These worlds, although different, are governed by the same moral laws. What differ is often the way the physical body interacts and reacts, often to the passing of the time.
The journey of initiation in Romanian fairy tales and its connection with time
One other element connected with the journey of initiation is the time that seems removed from the normal timeline of the character’s everyday life. No matter where the character arrives, in a magical valley, over seven mountains and seven seas, in an enchanting kingdom, time passes different.
In Romanian folk culture there are various sacred tradition throughout the year, connected with the seasons, with observing of various saints, with agriculture or human life stages and each tradition is preceded by a series of customs. These customs have to be performed in a certain order, at a certain time. By doing so we mark the sacred time in the year that we celebrate.
Through the prism of the the end result – the finding of what “rightfully” belonged to the main character, the braking of the spell, the removing of the obstacle, the knowledge and experience gathered – the journey of initiation is similar to the traditions of the Romanian folk culture, marking a sacred time in the life of the character, the time he spent in his quest. The character fought to obtain something and by doing so he gained access to a sacred time in a different land, away from the time frame and the borders of the era and the country where he was born. By traveling to a far way, enchanted land, the main character passed not only a border between worlds, but he traveled in time, not in the past or the future, but in a parallel time, governed by different laws. There is often little difference between the two worlds and there is no visible border either, the exact moment of passing is often unnoticed. Only by observing the various rules that govern the two world can we tell them apart.
The journey of initiation in Romanian fairy tales is extraordinary and it often spans over the entire length of the folktale. But is this journey mesmerizing though the various tasks the hero goes through and the challenges he faces or because he finally gains that much needed knowledge and sees the life and the world around him for what it actually is?
Life is a journey of initiation in itself and it is in how we address its problems and on how we emerge from its various challenges that makes it retellable and relatable, much like fairy-tales.
Romanian folklore is a rich source of fairy-tales and traditions filled with wisdom and symbolism and bearing witness to a millennial culture, such as Dragobete, the Romanian version of Valentine’s Day, Ziua Indragostitilor and celebrated not on 14 February, but on 24 February.
Dragobete, origin and signification
A few theories explain the origin of this celebration and the etymology of its name. Some say it derives from “dragubete”=”dragu” (meaning dear, beloved in Romanian) + “-bete” (a Slavonic suffix meaning gathering). Some say it coincides with the Christian celebration of The First Finding of the Honorable Head of Prophet John the Baptist, named in Slavonic Glavo-Obretenia and adopted during the Middle Ages by Romanians under various names, such as Bragobete, later Dragobete. Some see in Dragobete an old Dacian tradition taking place during this specific time of the year, beginning of spring, by using the connection with two Dacian words: ‘trago” (tap, goat) and “pede” (picioare, feet). And the Dacians inherited their legends from the Thracians, Indo-European tribes mentioned as far back as the legends of Iliad and Odyssey, 600 -800 years before the times of Saint Valentine.
Perhaps the best connection with Valentine’s Day is by associating Dragobete with a character from Romanian mythology, patron of love and good cheer. He was the son of Baba Dochia, a figure that marks the return of spring, described as a demigod with special powers, young and good looking, and kind hearted. And with spring comes the renewal of nature and love. This explains why Dragobete is celebrated on this day, as 24 February was considered the beginning of the new agricultural season.
Based on the popular tradition surrounding this specific date in Romania, 24 February, birds and animals all find their mates and build nests, as it is a celebration of fertility and nature’s rebirth. I is said that if girls and boys enjoy a day of jokes and fun together then they will enjoy of a year full of love, for sure. For Dragobete protects love and those who share it on this day.
Dragobete is also a symbol for spring and new beginning, for changing of seasons from winter that we leave behind, to spring, ahead of us, a change from long night to shorter ones and longer days, filled with sunshine.
Romanian folklore presents Dragobete as a handsome young man with hair as black as ebony and eyes as green as the spring leaves, who would play his whistle and make the girls fall for him. He is the one responsible for teaching humankind how to love. As a reward, Virgin Mary turned him into a plant, Navalnic, Impetuous or hart’s-tongue fern. Other folk tales speak of Dragobete as teasing Virgin Mary and making her lose her path in the forest, thus she changed him into the same plant.
Up to today, this plant is said to bring young maidens good luck in love if they wear it tucked in their bosom in a silk bag. Although modern times swapped the plant for a banknote.
Popular tradition speaks of young girls and boys meeting outside the village church and heading for the woods to gather spring flowers. If raspberry flowers were in sight, it was a good sign. They were soon picked while the girls would sing:
“Flower of raspberry, Born in February, Make the whole world like me And take away all that’s beastly”
Romanian country song for Dragobete
Afterwards, the boys and girls light up fires and sit around and talk. At noon, the girls sprint for the village, each followed by a boy the boy who liked her the most. If the boy catches the girl and if she also likes him, they kiss in front of everybody, thus becoming engaged for one year, on Dragobete, by showing their attachment for each other in front of everybody.
I don’t know what happens if two boys chase a girl. But all young adults were urged to take part in this ceremony for, as tradition also says, participating in Dragobete will protect you from any illness during the coming year. I would say enough for any elderly villager…
Want to have luck in love? Here’s what you should do on Dragobete, on 24 February
Wash your hair with snow. Gather fresh, unspoiled snow, melt it and wash your hair and your face to stay beautiful all year round and for the boys to notice you first. The Dragobete snow is said to be perfect for love charms.
Kiss your loved one on Dragobete or at least make sure you get to see the one you fancy and you two will be together forever or at least you will increase your chances of ending up together.
Be merry and joyful on Dragobete day and you will stay like this the entire year.
In some parts of Romania the common belief says that stepping on your partner’s foot on Dragobete will establish your dominance in the relationship. At least during the year ahead.
You can pick or buy crocuses, violets or snowdrops to hang them above the icons in your home – it will keep you young as well as chase away any bad thoughts or envy held against you. These flowers, once dry, can be thrown on a moving water on 24 June, on Sanziene Day (or Dragaica, a night when all magic is possible), to attract all bad luck down the river with them.
Clean your house on Dragobete day for a fruitful year and to guarantee your husband’s love. But, if you are a boy don’t dig or work the ground or Dragobete might punish you because you don’t have fun.
Boys and all men should not tease the girls or be nasty towards them on Dragobete, or they will set themselves for an unlucky spring.
Plant basil so it will grow until Saint George, the day after Easter, when it’s the perfect time to replant it in the garden. The basil planted on Dragobete is perfect for spells, charms, and cures, for it is said it hold special powers. Besides, the Dragobete basil is the one girls can use in various rituals throughput the year to help them foresee their chosen one.
Try to spot a hoopoe on Dragobete and you will have good luck all year. But if you spot a pair of birds, you will have good luck in love.
If you drink cherry tea on Dragobete you will know love all year round.
A Dragobete spell from Ardeal region of Romania:
Old women would go in the forest to pick hart’s-tongue fern. Before they pull it from the ground they whisper the name of the girl they collect for and drop honey, flour and some sugar at the plant’s root. Picked only this way can the fern be used for magic spells that are supposed to make a certain boy love the girl it was picked for.
What you should NOT do on Dragobete, on 24February, to avoid any bad luck
Because it is a celebration of love and rebirth, don’t buy or sacrifice any animals on this day.
Don’t sew, wash or iron, but you can clean your home.
What makes Dragobete or Valentine’s day so special ,lasting the test of time?
Is it the nostalgic feeling all tradition carries, the romance that puts a spring in our step, no matter how much we deny its importance during the rest of the year?
Or is it simpler then that. It is the need for hope and the feeling of belonging, to know that our existence carries some sort of meaning for someone else? Someone we care for too.
How many Saint Valentine are there?
The Saint Valentine we all know so well was a 3rd century Roman saint venerated by Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, and Lutheran Church on the 14th of February.
Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Valentin, Bishop of Umbria, on the 30th of July. Saint Valentine of Umbria was born in 175 AD in Interamna (today Terni, in Umbria Italy), and performed numerous miracles, healing the sick. When he was almost one hundred years old he was arrested in the middle of the night (to avoid protests from people of Terni), tortured and decapitated in Rome during the ruling of Marc Aureliu.
I’m Gonna Love Me Again, Best Original Song from Rocketman, composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin adds an Oscar to the long list of accolades – Golden Globe Award, Critics’ Choice Award, Satellite Award, Golden Derby Awards, and plenty more!
What an Oscar experience 2020 has been! With Parasite, winner of Best Foreign Language film, also winning Best Picture, Best Director (Bong Joon-ho), and Best Original Screenplay.
Perhaps Renée Zellweger, 2020 Oscar winner of Best Actress for her role in Judy (celebrating the life of legendary performer Judy Garland), said it best, thanking her “emigrants folks who came here with nothing but each other, and believed in the American Dream, how about this.” “Our heroes unite us. The best among us who inspire us to find the best in ourselves… when we look at our heroes we agree, and that matters… we agree on our teachers and we agree on our courageous… men and women in uniform who serve… when we celebrate our heroes we are reminded of who we are.”
Have you noticed that Renée climbed to the podium to receive the Oscar to the first notes of Over the Rainbow? (“Somewhere over the rainbow, Way up high, And the dreams that you dream of…”).
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and are provided for educational purposes and personal use only.
The #MusicMonday meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You can pick a song that you really like and share it on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog feature on Mischenko’s lovely blog, ReadRantRockandroll .