An Ancient Door, Corvin Castle, Romania

ancient door, Corvin Castle, Romania

The visit to the ancient door of Corvin Castle, Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle in Romania takes us through a short history of knocking on doors and a look at some magnificent coat of arms.

Most doors shield a home from the outside world, and for that reason are both an invitation and a restrain, a question and a warning.

A short history of door knocking

Why do we knock on a door? Because it’s polite or because we’re weary of what we might discover on the other side if we enter unannounced? Any toddler or teen parent would agree on the importance of knocking on a door 🙂

Door knocking obviously follows the use door bells and door knockers…

Door knockers originate in Ancient Greece. Greeks were rather picky and didn’t like unannounced visitors entering their homes so they expected their guests to knock first. Wealthy Greeks had slaves chained to a heavy ring attached to the door, slaves meant to greet the guests. But Greece is a rather hot country and Greeks have always been renowned for their siesta hours… thus, in the event the door-slave had fallen asleep, the guest would jiggle and strike the knocker to awake the slave or rouse the home owner.

So the Romans, besides the art, philosophy, science, math skills, and trade inherited from the Greeks, continued using the door knocker and, obviously, it spread across the Roman empire, a habit that lasted until the 15th century. And as blacksmiths developed their skills, so did the door-knocker’s designs.

Three doors in Corvin Castle, Romania

Corvin Castle (Hunyadi Castle or Hunedoara Castle) as we know it today, was built and rebuilt over centuries, the first significant construction here being a small, oval fortress with towers built sometime between 1299 1399, although the site had been occupied since the a beginning of the Bronze Age.

By 1409, Voicu Hunedoara, or Romanian birth, was granted rights to the fortress and surrounding lands through the Donation Act of King Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary & Croatia. Voicu’s son, Ioan de Hunedoara (Iancu Hunedoara, János Hunyadi or John of Hunedoara) inherited the estate and improved on the existing fortress, making it stronger to withstand the Ottoman’s attacks. His son, the revered Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, inherited the castle after his death and improved it further inspired by the Italian Renaissance, until the end of the 15th century.

On 13 April 1854, Corvin Castle was struck by lightning, severely damaged and abandoned until 1869.

Elements of the original fortress’ construction remain to this day.

All these doors below are part of the fortress built by Iancu de Hunedoara in approx. 1442 and they are on the ground level.

The first two doors are facing the castle’s courtyard that has been in constant use since the original stone fortress was constructed in the 14th century. Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

On the first door you will want to notice three elements:

  • the jamb columns on either side of the door, creating a small recess for the door;
  • the tympanum, the semi-circular / triangular decorative wall surface above the door, displaying the coat of arms;
  • the two pinnacles (small spires) siting atop two buttresses on each side of the tympanum.
An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Romania, John Hunyadi and Matthias Corvinus coat of arms
Evidence of Gothic stone door frames from the original fortress can still be seen today.

The door leads to the circular stairway.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara Romania, Coat of Arms of Hunyadis
Detail of the Entrance to the spiral staircase tower of the Corvin Castle representing the coat of arms of John Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus (the Hunyadis)

The use of a quarter shield is important as in Hungarian heraldic usage the quarter shield was only used by kings.

The raven (corbie) with the ring, profile, is for the House of Hunyadi (quadrant 1)
The white lion with the crown and the rampant lion with the crown are variants of the coat of arms of King Matthias Corvinus, his son (quadrant 2 and 3). The top right lion has a lion passant, tongue naissant from the crown, while the bottom left lion is rampant and holds the crown.

The presence of the two angels holding the coat of arms is also meaningful.

And this is why we looked at this door 🙂 the Hunyadi and King Matthias Corvinus coat of arms.
Below is the Hunyadi coat of arms on a shield (raven with ring and rampant lion holding the crown) with a helmet on top. On the right side is an image of John Hunyadi as appeared in the Thuróczi Chronicle, Budapest, 1488.

The azure behind the crow represent the righteous soul of János Hunyadi., the red lion represents the hero himself who defended the crown and offered it up to the king. There are a few legends surrounding the Hunyadi coat of arms, a raven with a ring in its beak, an image that understandably stimulated the imagination of many, and a story for another time as are the legends that surround Corvin Castle, some about Vlad the Impaler too… But more about this next time.

Looking at Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms were first used on seals and to establish identity in battles – that’s when they first made they appearance during the Middle Ages.The use of heraldic display in architecture reflects the social differences in medieval society, with the first heraldic display in Transylvania dating from beginning of the 14th century. Here, the first heraldic symbols appeared on the tombs of well-to-do aristocracy as well as on the churches they built and sponsored.

An Ancient Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania, coat of arms Iancu de Hunedoara, Raven with a ring
A different version of the Hunyadi coat of arms on a secondary door of Crovin Castle.

The ancient door of Corvin Castle

One spots this door on entering the Corvin Castle. It is the door to the dungeon and to the torture chambers and it is 500 years old. It is said to be the only wooden door to have survived the great fire of 13 April 1854.

An Ancient 500 years old Door Corvin Castle, Castelul Hunedoara, Romania
The 500 years old door of Corvin Castle
a 500 years, original wooden old door, Castelul Hunedoara, Hunyadi Castle
The oldest, original wooden door of Corvin Castle

We will return to Corvin Castle soon…

Happy to join Norm’s Thursday Doors with this post 🙂

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Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

wood doors, symbols in carved wood, Village Museum Bucharest

Hand carving wooden doors, porches and window frames with millennial symbols is an art practiced by few, and acknowledged by fewer, yet the homes of Dimitrie Gusti Village Museum in Bucharest are a testimony of its everlasting beauty. What stories do they tell us, spanning centuries? Do we pay attention?

Ashes to ashes, like human flesh, and just as warm to touch, wood and wood carvings have a short lifespan, although carved wooden spears dated to Middle Paleolithic, 300,000 to 30,000 years ago, have been discovered.

Perhaps the first wood carvers were the builders. Or a father who carved a small toy dog to fit the small hands of his son, or a lover who carved a flower out of wood, on which he lay a kiss in the midst of winter. A persistent hand worker with a dream, as wood, as a material, is softer than marble, cracks easier, and is much loved by (many) insects…

I think wood carving began an art when carpenters topped lifting the wood with their bodies, and lifted it with their imagination…

123 households with 60 000 objects from all over Romania, 380 establishments spread over 14 ha of land, not to count the 250 000 archive documents, this is the National Muzeum of Village Dimitrie Gusti in Bucharest, a perfect example of vernacular architecture.

Join me 🙂

Bellow is a Romanian shepherds house from Valea Doftanei Commune, on the curvature of the Carpathian Mountains, where the shepherding tradition goes back to the 14th century. Worth noticing are the frontal, long stoop and the central entrance parlor. The house stands on a foundation built from river stones, hand-picked. You can see the cellar and its door on the left, underneath the ‘day room’. The house is made of fir trees, abundant in the area.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

On a closer look, what makes this house so special, except for once having been a home?

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

Have the engraved pillars been chosen by chance or the wood artists strolled through the woods until a ray of sun filtered by foliage danced on his face, catching his eye? Had he approached the tree with reverence? Had he run his calloused hands along its ancient trunk, feeling the life inside, asking for permission? Had the design came to him in that moment? Had he drew it on the trunk, in a whisper of apology? Asking for the forest’s blessing? I like to believe he did.

Next, a sleigh for storing and transporting wood during winter, with a door fashioned from twigs and a roof of straws. Child’s play:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, sleigh for wood

Brownie points if you guess what the image below is. And, yes, it has a door:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a water well

It has been transported to the Village Museum all the way from the north of the country, from Breaza, from a hamlet situated at a height of 1 200m together with an entire household that belonged to a family of huțulii (huțanii, hutsuls), an ethnic group living in the very NW of Romania with Dacians origins

this…

is…

a…

water well.

Because the homes were far and few in between, to keep the wild animals off the households, as well as out of the water wells, both were fitted with a tall fence. A secondary reason was to keep the water clean, as cats do get everywhere… Notice the cross on top, a Christian symbol meant to bless the water… And the slant in the roof meant to aid the snow slide off during the heavy blanketed winters of the North of Romania.

But an artists at heart is such no matter where he was born and to tell a story all he needs are his two hands…

Like in this tell-tale blue of a house with blue doors, blue window frames, underneath the blue sky reflecting the blue waters… from Dobrogea, a fisherman land and home to Danube Delta:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a home from Danube Delta

A few more doors and households from the Village Museum:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, franghia, triunghiuri, ochiul, soarele, rozeta, steaua, crucea

Love and respect for tradition is what blows life in a carving made in wood.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest

Even the pen house (above) has a story to tell, a blessing to keep it safe – from beasts, the seen ones from forests, and unseen, from folktales.

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest - the rope, the rosette, the sun

And a blessing for the cellar:

village museum, muzeul satului, usa beciului

It happened the way it was meant. He had learned the wood carving skill from his father, who had grasped it from his own father, and so on.
But the stories he whispered into the wood, those came from songs, from childhood games and rhymes, from the mountains he’d climbed with the sheep, the streams he drank from, the clouds overhead and the stars, the sun and the birds.
From prayers, said and unsaid.
They were symbols for protection, and symbols to remind him, and his own, of their family. Their history. Their past. For nothing comes out of nothing and no meaningful future is there, without a past.

Between the symbols found in Romanian architecture of the village art are: the circle, the rope, the cross, the star, the sun (purifying the spirit) or the rosette, the moon (as a feminine symbol, assuring the fertility of the home), the tree of life (symbolizing Christ and immortality), the snake, the fir branch, the fir tree, flowers in a vase, wheat or rye, leaves, the horse, the lark, the dove (symbol for soul, taking off towards the Heavens), as well as the human silhouette (alone or in a group), the hand (a barrier against wicked forces), the eye (God’s all-seeing, protector eye), the cross (Christianity, remembering the death and resurrection of Christ).

The rooster, usually placed on top of houses but also carved on gates, is there for protection, remembering the rooster sacrificed when the establishment was built, and buried in the foundation – to ensure its durability.

The snake might derive from the popular belief that each home has its own protective spirit, called the home’s snake. It is said that one should not kill a snake near a home, as to not attract the spirits’ wrath… Now I know that a snake has so many negative connotations, but in the Book of Numbers the copper serpent, Nehushtan, is an archetype of Jesus Christ, offering immortal life to those who believed in Him. The serpent also symbolizes wisdom and prudence.

If you happen to see a Romanian county home and wish to spot any of these symbols, do look at the pillars of gates and wells, search around the gates, doors and windows, as well as above, pay attention to the porches, and on the front side of the roofs.

For a wood carving is a novel.

How many symbols can you recognize?

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope and geometrical symbols around a window
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, rope, cross, tree of life
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest: rope, cross, the tree of life on the pillar of a gate
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a horse's head
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, a horse’s head on a barn (they would come in pairs)

Below, on gate pillars we can see the rope, the star, the rosette (the sun), geometrical motifs, the star, the circle, the tree of life:

Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope, the circle, the eye, the cross - round the entrance into an outside underground storage space.
Wooden Doors and Symbols, Village Museum Bucharest, the rope, the circle, the eye, the cross – round the entrance into an outside underground storage space.
rope symbol carved in wood in Romanian folk art
Romanian symbols in folk art a blue window of a home in the Danube Delta, flowers (water lily) carved in wood as well as birds (swallows).
Romanian symbols in folk art a blue window of a home in the Danube Delta, flowers (water lily) carved in wood as well as birds (swallows).
Wood carved detail on a porch from Village Museum, Bucharest
Symbols carved in wood in the upper beam of a porch: cope detail, cross, infinity column.
Symbols carved in wood in the upper beam of a porch: cope detail, cross, infinity column.

Happy to join Norm’s Thursday Doors with this post 🙂

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The Night You Went Away, a poem

amazing dogs from history, dogs who changed it

When all’s asleep and night is calm,

And cats on windows, birds in trees and even owls rest,

A dog wakes up. He’s heard

The call of that one bird.

The birds that sings

But once.

The Night You Went Away, a poem

And in the middle of the night, when mice and hens, the rooster too,

All share that one slow rhythm, of dreams and peace,

A dog gets up and moves along; he wants just one more pat

Before his master leaves.

For the lone bird had sung.

Just once.

The Night You Went Away, a poem
My beloved dog Tara. Patricia Furstenberg

His master sleeps, his breath so soft, as quiet as the night.

He knows, more than he feels, his dog is by his side.

And in his slumber state he strokes his dog, once more, the last.

Then breathes all out, hand slides away and… just like that, he’s gone.

And birds and hens, the mice, the trees

Still sleep the night’s deep sleep.

The dog barks once; he jumps from bed

And whines and licks the hand,

Last time so kind, so warm, yet never to pet again.

The Night You Went Away, a poem

And with the first rays of new day, when world’s aroused with hope,

The house where his master lived is all awake, in mourn.

The hens cluck, busy; eggs are done! The rooster calls the time.

And birds sing sweetly, the cat meows, she stretches, looks around.

Yet no one’s there to pick the eggs, to feed the cat, to smile.

“He’s gone,” barks dog. “He went last night.”

“He’s gone,” his soft whine cries.

“The bird had sung. I heard.”

amazing dogs from history, dogs who changed it

They came at lunch time, with a van.

Mom’s lost, everyone sobs.

They took him with and yet… the dog still sits and waits.

He’s waiting by the gate

In hope

That if the one bird comes to sing once more,

His master will return.

~~~~~

© Patricia Furstenberg, 2018

Thank you for reading. You can read a few haiku about dogs too: about an Airedale Terrier, a German Pointer, a St. Bernard, a Rottweiler Dog, or a Dachshund Dog

You can discover more of my poetry through Amazon.

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The Butterfly Effect, Battle of Kosovo and Vlad the Impaler

battle kosovo vlad impaler

It is fascinating to consider the butterfly effect, how one small change can have a big impact on the future, especially with regards to the outcome of the Battle of Kosovo and the life choices of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III, or Vlad Dracula.

I often ask myself, if history would have taken another turn, would Vlad III have made different life choices? Which ones?

One such turning point was the Battle of Kosovo that took place on 15 June 1389.

The Battle of Kosovo

The Battle of Kosovo took place on the Kosovo field, polje, (Field of the Blackbirds), in the territory ruled by Vuk Branković, between the defending Serbian army led by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović (actually a coalition of Serbs, Albanians, Croatians, Bosnians, and Romanians – soldiers sent by Voievode Mircea the Elder who ruled Walachia at that time) and the invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Murad I the Sovereign (also a coalition, as a small contingent of the Serbian army was already supporting the Turks, who in turn, were supporting the Serbian ruler in power).

The Butterfly Effect, Battle of Kosovo and Vlad the Impaler
Location of Kosovo in SE Europe

Both leaders were killed in action (and so was Vuk Branković) and the bulk of both armies were wiped out in this battle. As with any great battle, there are numerous accounts describing the forces, the attacks, as well as who exactly and how killed Murad I.

Who emerged victorious from this battle? The new Ottoman sultan…

It is said that Murad I’s son Bayezid strangled his younger brother Yakub Çelebi when he got news of their father’s death during the battle, thus securing himself the throne of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps Bayezid’s name sounds familiar to you; he built one of the largest armies in the world at that time and unsuccessfully besieged Constantinople.

The outcome of the battle?

  • the Serbs were left with too few men to effectively defend their lands who became Ottoman vassals in the following years, although in the aftermath of the battle Serbian rulers might not have seen the outcome as a defeat, but as a victory;
  • Prince Lazar’s daughter, Olivera Despina, marries the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I right after this battle (she was not the only Serbian princess to marry a Sultan);
  • the Ottoman Empire straightened its position in the South-East Europe;
  • a crumbling Byzantine Empire was now completely encircled by the Ottoman Empire;
  • the Bulgarian kingdom fell in the year 1393, greatly endangering the safety of the Romanian Principalities at the North;
  • the stronger Ottoman Empire seized the Danube ports, now greatly endangering the independence of Wallachia (Walachia). Bayezid was also angry that the Romanians have supported the Serbs during the Kosovo Battle…);
  • a new epoch of Ottoman menace and threat begins for the whole of South-East Europe and the political landscape of this region is forever altered.

Following the butterfly effect, let’s move further to:

Vlad the Impaler and the Romanian Principalities during the 15th century

The Butterfly Effect, Battle of Kosovo and Vlad the Impaler, Walachia 14th century and KIngdom of Hungary
Walachia and the Kingdom of Hungary at the end of the 14th century.
  • the Romanian Principalities at this time were: Moldavia (in NE), Walachia (in south, above the Danube River), and Transylvania (in NW, although at this stage it was still part of the Hungarian Kingdom);
  • with Murad I dead during the Battle of Kosovo, Beyazıd the Thunderbolt took over the ruling of the Ottoman Empire;
  • Walachia was ruled by Mircea the Elder, father of Vlad II and paternal grandfather to Vlad the Impaler. Mircea the Elder had close relations with Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary (1387–1437);
  • Two things happen next: Mircea the Elder supported the Bulgarian Kingdom in their fight against the Ottomans (Bulgarians were Mircea’s neighbors in the south), a decision that brought him in conflict with the Ottoman Empire (famous Battle of Rovine, 10 October 1394, comes to mind), AND Mircea the Elder sent his son Vlad II to the court of the Hungarian King, as it was custom;
  • 1395: the first confirmed invasion of Ottoman Empire into Țara Bârsei, Burzenland (SE Transylvania) via the Bran Pass, with the Turks coming so close to the Hungarian Kingdom;
  • with the Ottoman Empire on the rise, Sigismund of Luxembourg founded the Order of the Dragon in 1408. Fashioned after the military orders of the Crusades, its purpose was to defend Christianity particularly against the Ottoman Empire;
  • Vlad II, showing great battle skills and courage, was invited by Sigismund of Luxembourg to join the Order of the Dragon in 1431 and later recognized by the Hungarian King as the lawful Voivode of Wallachia;
  • Sigismund of Luxembourg died in 1437 and Vlad II was left without the Hungarian support against the Ottoman Empire. Thus, Vlad II had to to pay homage to Murad II (grandson of Bayezid, now ruling the Ottoman Empire) and, to prove his loyalty he was ‘asked’ to send his two sons, Vlad III (~ age 11) and Radu (~ age 5) as hostages to the Ottoman court of Edirne. Vlad III and Radu were schooled and lived following the Islam laws for over five years.

It was here and now that Vlad III met Mehmed II the Conqueror (the one sultan who finally takes Constantinople on May 29, 1453). Vlad III and Mehmed II crossed swords many times afterwards.
What Vlad III had to put up with as a young boy held captive at the Ottoman court is a story for another time

The Butterfly Effect, Battle of Kosovo and Vlad the Impaler, Walachia under Mircea the Elder, 1390
Wallachia under Mircea the Elder, c. 1390

Back to the Battle of Kosovo, 15 June 1389

This specific date, 15 June on the Julian calendar or 28 June on the Gregorian calendar is a Serbian national and religious holiday, St. Vitus’ day.

Might be hard to believe, but notable events happened on that day throughout the history of Serbia, one of them being the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914.

Yes, the Battle of Kosovo took place about 40 years before Vlad III was born and 1 000 km away, but its outcome affected not only the entire dynamics of the South-Eastern Europe, including the lives of millions of Serbs, Hungarians, Romanians, Czechs, Bulgarians, Turks, Greeks, Albanians, but the dynamics inside the immediate family of Vlad III.

The Legend of Miloš Obilić

Is not sure if Miloš Obilić, the Serbian knight who walked straight into the tent of Sultan Murad I and kill him, really existed or not. But the force released in the aftermath of the Battle Kosovo gave birth to many legends, like the real one about Vlad the Impaler.

It is said that Obilić had super powers, he was the son of a fairy or of dragon and his unnatural powers came from drinking the milk of a mare. His nickname was Kobilic or Kobilovic, and in Serbian kobila means mare. His horse was named Zdral and his fiance was none other but the daughter of the Serbian ruler Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović.

Modern historian bring forward contradictory opinions on Vlad the Impaler. Some see him as a hero who fought his entire life to defend the independence of his country, Walachia, and the Christendom. Others see him as a psychopath who killed and tortured out of sadistic pleasure.

What is certain is that this Romanian prince entered the pages of literature through numerous writings that were published during his life, but especially the chronicles that appeared after his death, as well as the works of Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu and Bram Stoker. Perhaps all due to his unique personality features, nevertheless carved by his rich family roots, unusual and unfortunate upbringing as well as the historical circumstances that mapped his entire life.

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Therapy through Books. Bibliotherapy. Reading to stay Happy

Therapy through Books. Bibliotherapy. Reading to stay Happy

I turned to books and reading, as well as writing, many times over in my life, yet only lately have I thought about the idea of therapy through books and reading to stay happy.

Yet I am not the only one, nor am I the first, as since ancient times people have noticed the amazing healing power of art. As if by magic, negative emotions, whoosh, evaporate to be replaced with a state of peace and harmony.

Catharsis. Coined by Aristotle in Poetics to describe the effects of tragedy on the spectator, that of freeing the soul from suffering.

Bibliotherapy (book therapy, poetry therapy or therapeutic storytelling) uses creative arts as therapy. It involves storytelling, the reading of poetry or specific texts with the purpose of healing. It works by utilizing an individual’s relationship with the content of a text as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression.

You see, the concept that books, library therapy, bibliotherapy or reading can be used to stay happy started a few thousand years ago.

Therapy through Books Bibliotherapy Reading to stay Happy
Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul

The inscribed marble above reads Psyches Iatreion, Healing Place of the Soul, and is found in the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Patmos, in the wall over the entrance to the Monastery’s Library. The inscription goes millenniums back. The same phrase was inscribed above the entrance of the sacred library of the tomb of Ramses II at Thebes. A similar one decorated the vast library of Alexandria, the largest and most significant library of the ancient world.

A very quick look at books, reading and their use as therapy throughout the centuries

Fast forward a few hundred years and we find the majority of Medieval people (men, women and children, rich and poor) to be illiterate, yet storytelling prevailed as people loved to hear stories, enjoyed listening to historical, religious or local folktales being read to them or simply recounted. It taught them lessons and morals, it connected them with their ancestors.

Worth remembering is that while most women living between the Dark Ages and the Age of Enlightenment could not write or sign their names, many could read, to some extent.

Then Gutenberg came, developing a press that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper. Printing was easier, faster.

Therapy through Books Bibliotherapy Reading to stay Happy
The Magdalen Reading (1438) – Rogier van der Weyden

And humanity dipped its foot in the Renaissance, freighted with famous writers, treasured texts, and a general curiosity about humankind. The Renaissance Man. Highly skilled writers (who were readers too) emerged, yet none was just a writer if one wanted to make a living.

The Enlightenment brought along the development of the educational systems in Europe that continued into the French Revolution, so literacy and learning were gradually provided to rich and poor alike. But bear in mind that historians measured the literacy rate during the 17th and 18th century centuries by people’s ability to sign their names.

The increase in literacy rate was mostly influenced by the fact that most schools and colleges were organized by clergy, missionaries, or other religious organizations, as literacy was thought to be the key to understanding the word of God. The reason which motivated religions to help to increase the literacy rate among the general public was because the bible was being printed in more languages. By 1714 the proportion of women able to read was approximately 25%, and it rose again to 40% by 1750, with literacy rates raising more quickly in predominantly Protestant Northern Europe than predominately Catholic southern Europe.

It was the Kingdom of Prussia who introduced a modern public educational system that will reach the vast majority of population, a system copied across Europe and the United States in the 19th century.

19th century medics and nurses working England’s psychiatric hospitals used to read to patients anything from novels and travel journals to the Bible. This was because works of fiction lend a helping hand to the readers (listeners) by giving them the opportunity to escape into another universe, to identify with a favorite characters (outside their own skin) and to be inspired by them.

World War II veterans were also recommended books to help them cope with post-traumatic stress.

Therapy through Books Bibliotherapy  Reading to stay Happy
When Books Went to War cover.

Today, reading clubs are a real help to psychiatric institutions in improving the care for the elderly or for young people with disabilities or behavioral disorders.

What is the connection between books, therapy, bibliotherapy and that happy feeling?

A research done by the University of Sussex and quoted by The Telegraph showed that only six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress level with up to 68 %. Keeping an active mind proved protective against the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.

Simply turning the pages of a book and immersing oneself in reading gives the brain a state of relaxation similar to that produced by meditation, providing our health system with the same benefits as those of achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner calm. It has been found that people who read regularly sleep better, have lower stress levels, a higher self-esteem and are less predisposed to depression than those who do not have this habit.

Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?

Reading is often associated only with relaxing activities, with spending time in a pleasant way. But, in reality, reading is a very complex activity.

The University of Liverpool conducted a study between reading and increasing the quality of life and found that reading is not only good for our health, but can make us happier and more empathetic. In addition, many of participants in the study confessed that certain books inspired them to make those changes in their lives that they had long wanted to make.

Psychologist Becca Levy, an associate professor at Yale University, published a study in the Social Science & Medicine journal on the benefits of reading observed over twelve years. The conclusion is impressive: people who read regularly live 23 months longer than those who do not. Although it is not yet clear how reading can actually increase life expectancy, Dr. Levy and other scientists who participated in the study believe that it is due to the cognitive benefits of this activity – from the simultaneous integration of several brain regions and increased ability to concentrate , to the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.

Could there be more to paging through a book than the joys of reading?
Carturesti Bookshop in Bucharest (one of them 🙂 )

How is all this possible?

Keith Oatley, a writer and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, has led an extensive research on the psychology of fiction. “We started to show how identification with fictional characters appears, how literature can improve social skills, how it can move us emotionally and can quickly cause changes in the process of self-knowledge,” says Keith Oatley. After years of research and study on large groups of subjects, the Canadian psychologist concluded that reading fiction is “a simulation, but not on a computer, one that takes place in our minds – a simulation of our interaction with others, with the society, which implies the possibility to imagine our future under different variants.”

So, even if we do not realize this, when we read we experience hypothetical life situations that prepare us for the real ones. The advantage is that in the realm of fiction we do it without danger and without pain.

And so is writing.

I will leave you with Proust’s words:

“In reading, friendship is restored immediately to its original purity. With books there is no forced sociability. If we pass the evening with those friends—books—it’s because we really want to. When we leave them, we do so with regret and, when we have left them, there are none of those thoughts that spoil friendship: “What did they think of us?”—“Did we make a mistake and say something tactless?”—“Did they like us?”—nor is there the anxiety of being forgotten because of displacement by someone else. All such agitating thoughts expire as we enter the pure and calm friendship of reading.”

Marcel Proust

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Garlic in Romanian Folklore

Garlic in Romanian Folklore

Garlic is deeply rooted in Romanian cuisine but also in Romanian folklore where it is include in numerous rituals mostly due to its heath benefits; it is almost considered magical.

Give me Garlic on Sântandrei, Saint Andrei – 30 November

Sântandrei is a major celebration that involves lots of garlic. Saint Andrei is also the Patron Saint of Romania, observed on the 30th of November.

In case you didn’t know already… garlic is believed to have healing and protective powers. For this reason alone Romanian folktales call it ai (usturoi is named so when used in culinary situations), or the wild garlic, samuraslă.

So on Saint Andrei it is advised to hang garlic, ai, at window, doors, on the eaves of the house, and don’t forget the stables to protect the horses and the cattle against any evil spirits, strigoi and moroi. But do hang the garlic strings so that they form a cross.

In Romanian folklore it is said that God Himself named the garlic ai, because it is a sacred plant.

MUILLA, ALLIUM and an anagram

The flowers from the Muilla genus, although lilies, have flowers quite similar to those of Allium, the onion genus. Just judge by yourselves:

But garlic, aiul, although considered sacred, due to its religious connotations, as well as having magical powers cannot be eaten all year round. For example it is advised not to eat garlic ahead of 29 August (29 Gustar) when Christianity observes the Beheading of John the Baptist, and before 14 September (14 Rapciune), The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

In Romanian folklore garlic has a head and a cross

In Romanian folklore the garlic, usturoi, is seen as a human been, with a head (cap de usturoi, as we call the garlic bulb), a cross, it is dressed in clothes (the many layers of skin one must peel), and the garlic cloves are called catei (puppies).

If you clean the garlic and throw its skin in the fire, make sure they don’t fall on the ground. It would be a shame, the garlic is from God.

Romanian saying

Interesting is that Hindu and Islamic traditions also mention garlic in a reverence way.

Garlic in Romanian Folklore

The Romanian Legend of How Garlic Got its Name

Legend says that Saint Peter wished to rise to the sky, to Heavens. But a magpie was watching him and whenever he tried, the magpie would announce rascal Satan.

Now, before this string of events humans had perfectly flat feet. Yet whenever the magpie would chirps to announce Satan that Saint Peter wishes to rise to Heavens, the horned scoundrel would jump right away and catch Saint Peter by his feet, digging into them with his bony, sharp fingers and pulling out bits of meat.

Saint Peter, in agony, would have called ‘ai‘ towards Heavens, instead of ‘ouch’. And God would answer: ‘quiet, Peter, for ai would also be good for something’.

And since then humans have a curvature in the soles of their feet.

In parts of rural Romania snowdrops are nicknamed little garlic and seen as sacred and mysterious, much like the garlic itself.

Garlic in Romanian Folklore
Garlic in Romanian Folklore

Călușarii and the Garlic on the Flag

Călușarii are the members of a Romanian secret society who practice a ritual acrobatic dances with mystical connotations known as the căluș (little horse, pony). Romanian historian and writer Mircea Eliade, described the Călușari for “their ability to create the impression of flying in the air” believed to represented the galloping of a horse and the dancing of the fairies – their patron saint being “Queen of the Fairies” Doamna Zînelor.

Fascinating is the Călușarii‘s flag: the pole is three meters tall and at one end there is tied a white cloth, preferably hand stitched, garlic and mug-wort (for their healing powers). The pole is held by only one of the dancers and can never touch the ground during the dance. The dancers also tie garlic and mug-wort at their waist.

Garlic Spells

Romanian Folktales often mention local fairies, good or bad. To increase their power they performed various practices at certain times of the year, such as dancing naked on the field on the night of Saint George, 23 April, to absorb earth’ energy and later pour it into their own fields.

Only that no mortal can see them.

Unless they perform this spell.

You must catch a snake, cut his head with a silver coin and stick a garlic in his mouth. The the snake’s head thus prepared you must bury it under your door’s frame.

If you eat that garlic or take it with you , then only will you be able to see the fairies dancing naked on the night of Saint George.

No wonder that vampires are afraid of garlic.

Garlic in Romanian Folklore
Garlic in Romanian Folklore

Garlic’s strange powers

It is said that if you wish to attract a snake… you should rub a clove of garlic on your shoes or legs. Snakes love its pungent scent.

Please, do wear a head of garlic tied to your belt or as a decoration on your hat 😉 on Pentecost Day, Rusalii or Cincizecime, celebrated by Christianity on 31st May, for protection against the mean Ielele (charmstresses, women of forests and waters with magic powers living in Romanian woods).

Westerners, mostly, do believe that garlic warns off vampires – that’s why you see them wearing fashionable garlic necklaces or discover that they asked house decorators for advice on modern garlic decor items to hang above the entrance door or around the chimney.

Something I wouldn’t advice anyone to follow – is the recipe requiring garlic and a strong liquor for the woman who wants to have a baby… Place nine cloves of garlic in half a liter of liquor. Let it sit for nine days in a warm place, preferably near a source of heat. And then, start drinking it…

Did you know that, when garlic is crushed, it releases allicin (an organosulfur compound), similar to penicillin? If only Outlander’s Claire Fraser would have known this…

If basil inspires love and frankincense scares the devil, then the garlic is the best shield against vampires and diseases. These three powerful weapons united under the power of God almighty form a defense shield that no enemy can penetrate. Armed with these three shields no soul must be ever scared, but know that at midnight he can walk alone anywhere, over the fields or through the forests, and no matter what enemy he will encounter, it will not have the power to harm him.

Patricia Furstenberg, High Country (Work in progress)

And if you do love garlic in your food, know that it will protect you against blood-sucking… mosquitoes.

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My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

my top heroes from Romanian folktales

Thinking of the heroes from Romanian folktales, and any tales, they achieve so much more than rescuing the princess or defeating the dragon who endangers an entire kingdom. Heroes give readers hope and hope is the seed of dreams, of adventures and achievements.

Only four centuries ago, during a time when books would slowly, very slowly become accessible due to printing, yet reading was still a skill of the lucky few, written stories were cherished, their readers esteemed, and the entire experience treasured in group gatherings, artisanal sittings or during feasts. Stories were further narrated, enjoyed and treasured, past on to descendants, and the storybooks, if owned, were even kept next to religious icons and even protected by curses against possible thieves.

Be it religious accounts, mystical or magical tales, secular adventures, enigmatic predictions, parables or humorous accounts, stories have left their mark on people’s mindset, on their imagination.

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

Făt-Frumos, Beautiful-Son

Ask any Romanian 🙂 and Făt-Frumos, Beautiful Son, is the one Romanian folktale hero that’s on everyone’s lips. Well, he is a character quite hard to forget, handsome (as if it needed be said), smart, possessing great physical and spiritual strength, performing good deeds left and right, always keeping his word while going through some really queer adventures.

Usually the youngest son of a king, Beautiful Son always succeeds where his older brothers failed. I guess he is a bit like Superman or Spiderman – the underdog who eventually goes through tests and obstacles that surpass ordinary men’s power, fighting monsters – dragons – and other malicious characters – hags, witches, or even prejudiced, unreasonable kings, always emerging victorious.

He does have an aid, and this is one of my favorite parts as it is a magic horse, a Marvelous Horse, a Magic Horse, who looks old and shabby, but is given a second chance.

I am not sure I am cut to be the type of hero Beautiful Son is, having to overcome Frost’s dilemma as to which road to travel: “If you turn right, you will be in sorrow; if you turn left, you will be in sorrow as well“, and ending up traveling through deserts and snowy places on this land, but on the other land too.

Isn’t this what we love about heroes, the second chance they are offered and they offer to others?

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

For a child, a hero is the ticket to an adventure he / she can take from the safety of their own bed. But if we look at folk heroes closely, as adults, we can see that they encompass the history of the nation who birthed them. Romania has known centuries of harsh attacks from north, south, east and west (mongols, Turks, Austro-Hungarians, Russians, Nazis) – and Romanians always fought back, always forced to decide between two equally unfortunate choices: ally with your enemies or fight them.

Have you read the story of Emperor Aleodor yet?

Ileana Cosânzeana

Ileana Cosânzeana (or Ileana Simziana, Chira Chiralina) is the main heroine of Romanian mythological fairy tales, the female correspondent of Beautiful-Son, usually his love ideal. She is depicted as beautiful and kind – perhaps the other way around, her kind spirit shining through, therefor everyone finds her lovely?

According to folktales she is kidnapped by a dragon and locked in a tower or taken to the Other Land, the Netherworld. The heroine is saved by Făt-Frumos and most of the times the two have to defeat the dragon/ or the witch together. Thus, the fairy tale ends, most of the time with a wedding. And they both live happily ever after.

Worth mentioning is that the dragon is always in love with Ileana. It is interesting to notice that Ileana and her abductors never have children. In Romanian fairy tales a child can only be the result of a relationship based on love and consensual marriage.

Now, as Iana Sânziana (and many argue that the two are not the same character) she is the daughter of the Son from which she runs away for he loves her so, perhaps with too much ardor. She hides herself on a secluded island. In another version of the myth she is the Moon and thus God separates the Moon from the Sun.

The Romanian myth of the Sun and the Moon goes like this

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

The sun is presented as a young man who, wanting to get married, travels for nine years, on nine paths to find his chosen one. Finally, the sun finds the youngest of nine sisters and her name was Ileana Sinzeana, later nicknamed
‘The lady of flowers
Of carnations,
The sister of the Sun,
The foam of milk. ‘
He wishes to marry her and travels through Heaven and Hell, accompanied by “old man Adam” and “mother Jehovah” (Eve), who try to persuade him to give up his intention. Back to earth, the young man again asks the girl to accept him as her husband, and she, as in the fairy tale, asks him to build her “A brass bridge, To not pay attention to it” (perhaps invisible) over the Black Sea (bordering Romania), at the end of which she knew there was a monastery where they can celebrate their marriage.
But when the two reach the bridge, Ileana Sânziana throws herself into the sea, turning into the white foam that “the saints from heaven” in their palms took.

You might want to read about the legend of Dochia too.

Greuceanu

This hero we encounter in only one Romanian myth. The Sun and the Moon are stolen by three vicious dragons, balauri, and their wives. Greuceanu defeats them all and returns daylight to humankind. This is a precious motif of initiation symbolizing a new beginning for humans, the chance of a rebirth.

Prâslea cel Voinic, Young-One the Robust

The youngest of the brothers, again, proves to be the bravest and the smartest one. He is also the one who has to save the honor of the family by making up for his older brother’s faults – necessary for his success. But it isn’t only bravery that Prâslea has and his brothers don’t, but social skills too. In Romanian folklore Prâslea finds the thief of the King’s golden apples.

When I was young I found this story mesmerizing as Prâslea had to stay awake an entire night to catch the thief. He even fashions some spikes for himself that were supposed to impale him awake from his slumber.

Harap Alb, White Warrior

Harap Alb may be only a 19th century story told by Ion Creanga and based on Romanian folktales, but the theme of this fairy tale is still the struggle of good against evil, ending with the victory of good. The main character follows the same heroic adventure, a path of moral and ethical maturation sprinkled with various trials and obstacles. The world in which the action takes place is still a miraculous one, dominated by stereotypes and exaggerations.

It is the same reflection of reality, but in an embellished, fabulous way, which does distract the reader and thus the characters can and will react in ways that will not make sense nor be possible in the real world.

Harap might translate to moor, or Arab, but the character is the youngest son of a King and is depicted as having blond hair.

My favorite part as a child were some of Harap Alb’s helpers, his buddies: Frost-one, Thirsty-one, Hungry-one, Good-sight-one, Birdy-Widy-Lenghtly-One, one more colorful than the next.

Harap-Alb by Natsuki Otani

Why do we love a good hero? Because they create order out of chaos? Because they show us that it can be done, any obstacle surmounted if we set our mind to it?

Folk tales remind us of a time when everyday life was passing at a slower pace, when people listening and let their imaginations unfold, when simple fables held the answer the world’s ultimate questions and dark forests still withheld secrets.

Today we rush through each day and fly over forests to spy on its last secrets. But perhaps at night, when we hear the last wolves howl, or a branch knocks in the window stopping us from our fast pace, sending shivers down our necks, our souls remember what was passed on from generation to generation until it was embodied in our DNA. Story-time.

I hope you enjoyed My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales. Which are your favorite fairytale heroes and heroines?

hope readers books Pat Furstenberg
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