While a grew up I thought that the magic and musicality of Romanian folktales was so much better than that of the Grimm’s fairy tales. Because I was sure of their truthfulness.
Although both sources shared the same well-known prologue, “Once upon a time,” the Romanian ones went on with “for if it didn’t happen it couldn’t be told,” thus proving that some truth was at the bottom of the folktale about to unravel, since nothing can be told that didn’t happen…
You might argue that the description is ambiguous, leaving the recipients to decide for themselves whether the story is true or not.
But to wide-eyed children, it was proof enough.
And then it went on, to prove to the grown-ups too, that those times, when the story took place, were extraordinary times, thus such tales must be true… For those were the times when:
“…the poplars fruited apples and the willow tree sprouted wallflowers, when the bears wrestled one another through the strength of their tails.”
And if you don’t believe that such a time existed, it goes on:
“…when wolves and lambs kissed one another; when one would put 99 iron shoes on the flea and then thrust it into the glory of the sky only to return to Earth and tell us stories; when the fly would write on the wall, a bigger liar being the one who doesn’t believe what he is told. “
The Romanian Myths draw from a popular culture that is tightly blended with the history and the sacred and it spills into a rich national culture.
Myths have a powerful significance to the cultures who tell them, for they explain sacred origins, bring forward human archetypes, and are a model for future aspirations. A myth unifies cosmic and social events, explaining them in a way that is in touch with the most fundamental values of a community.
Carried forward through a nation’s folklore, myths enrich its culture in many ways, acting as a catalyst in literature, music, and the arts . Enchanting to children and still shrouded in mystery, myth reveal their meanings, like stepping stones, only as one advances through life. I remember learning about these myths in school. They felt abstract and their charm escaped my younger self. I am happy I revised them recently. I found them fascinating, dripping with insight and wisdom that over-passed the millennia.
The Cosmogonic Myth of Miorita
At the very origin of this myth is the ballad of Miorita that originates in Soveja, a small town in the Romanian Vrancea Mountains (right at the curve of the Carpathians). The eerie, mournful ballad was often sung by local troubadours. Worth mentioning here is that the Romanian populace, developed around strong Christian values and governed by a social structure, was fundamentally rural until the middle of the 18th century, so the myth of Miorita influenced a local and vibrant culture.
The word miorita has its root in mioara, a nick-name for a small, young sheep, an ewe.
Shepherding has been a millennial occupation of Romanians. Humans domesticated sheep since the early Stone Age, about the same time they met the trusted dog. Tradition and rituals are deeply embedded in the mindset of these people.
The sheep in Miorita may symbolize purity and simplicity, but also the complexity of unpretentious things. In Christianity, sheep symbolize purity and goodness. In Miorita, the (young) sheep represent the oracle.
The ballad tells of three shepherds, one from each historical province of Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania), who meet in the Vrancea mountainous area during the transhumance. One of them is approached by a sheep who predicts that the other two will plot against him to steal his sheep. The shepherd accepts his destiny. His only desire is that the sheep tell his mom that he fell in love with a princess and ran with her to a far away kingdom.
The Legend of Traian and Dochia is the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis
The Legend of Traian and Dochis is part of the Romanian myths that try to explain the origin of the local culture and the history of the Romanian people.
In antiquity, the geographical area we know today as Romania was known as Dacia. The geto-dac people lived here. Dacia was at the height of its power during the ruling of Decebal, 87-106.
Dochia was Degebal’s daughter. When the Romans under the ruling of Emperor Trajan attacked Dacia for its valuable gold mines, Trajan fell in love with Dochia and wished to take her with him. He chased her over the hills, eager to catch her. Dochia did not wish to leave her people and asked the gods to remain in her homeland, no matter what. She was instantly turned to stone together with her maidens.
The myth is placed in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, in the Ceahlau Mountain, where there is a group of stones with a strange appearance. Ceahlau Mountain is unique in Romanian culture, being the only mountain with patron saint.
The myth of Dochia represents the pain that Decebal felt at the thought of the Romans conquering his people, as well as his helplessness in front of irreversible life and its events. Just keep in mind that Decebal did not go down without a fight. The Dacs fought the Romans in two wars before they were finally conquered.
As it is often with myths and legends, this specific story might draw from a different one, about a grumpy master mason and his daughter.
The Myth of Master Builder Manole
This myth speaks of the sacrifice that sits at the foundation of each accomplishment or construction. The bigger the sacrifice, the more sacred the result is considered.
The theme of this myth is the sacrifice as a source of new life.
Tradition asks for cats, puppets, coins, or crosses to be built in the foundation of a new home or on its doorstep to protect it from evil spirits. And diggings prove that this tradition is true and widespread.
Prince Neagoe Basarab, ruler of Wallachia at the beginning of the 16th century and his wide Millica Despina were the founders of the Curtea de Arges Monastery. Nine builders under the leadership of Manole worked all day long only to see their work falling to pieces during the night. Needless to say, the Prince was not happy. Manole prayed and prayed until one night he had a dream. Human sacrifice was needed, more exactly a laborer’s female relative, the first one to bring them food at dawn. And so it happens that the first woman to arrive with food was Maole’s wife Ana.
As soon as the sacrifice took place, Manole building his wife into the foundation while she was still alive, making it look like a game, the construction stood and it was soon finished. The most beautiful monastery ever to see the light of the sun. The Prince was ecstatic, but not desiring his master builder to raise another construction as beautiful as that one again, perhaps even more stunning, ordered for the scaffolding to be removed abandoning Manole, who were still standing on the roof. Manole fashioned himself wings out of its of wood he had nearby and tried to fly to safety, only to fall to his death.
The construction of Curtea de Arges Monastery was finished during the ruling of Prince Radu the Black. It is unclear if the myth of Manole speaks of him or his image was distorted. One version of the ballad mentions that Manole and the builders boasted together that they will be able to build an even better monastery, and so they were all left on the roof. The Monastery Curtea de Arges is real, a pearl of byzantine architecture with Moorish arabesques and its two twisting cupolas are famous worldwide.
The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy
This Romanian myth blends culture with social and religious believes as well as the history and beginnings of psychiatry.
Fly-boy is said to be a magnificent young man that visits young maidens in their dreams, similar to the myth of Incubus. In Romanian mythology he is depicted as a handsome youngster with golden hair or as a dragon that shines, his skin covered in precious stones, with a tail made of flames.
The myth of Fly-boy signifies the impossible love, the unanswered love, the burning passion and even remembers of the vampire’s myth – giving the symptoms of the girls he “visits”: weight loss, pale skin.
The Fly-boy is presumed to have been a man whose love was rejected during his lifetime by a woman. He returned to hunt all women, but especially the one who rejected his feelings.
The Romanian folklore and literature are abundant with fabulous characters and archetypes: giants, ogres, sirens, three headed dragons, magic horses, talking wolves, spirits of the forest and of the lake, ghosts, eerie maidens, magic birds, witches and saints, fairy godmothers, handsome princes or clumsy page-boys, good or evil emperors, and many more. Their stories have animated the childhood of many generations and form an unseen golden thread that unites a strong national spirit that prevailed over millennia. The Romanian myths connect its people with an abundant culture, a stormy history and the ever-permanent sacred.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Romanian myths between culture, history and the sacred. You might also be interested in:
I hope you enjoyed the first part of my research to learn why convents were so thought after, why the religious life (and not only) of Medieval women was so tightly connected with them.
A convent’s curriculum
Of a very high standard, a convent’s curriculum covered Latin reading and writing, religion, morals and manners. Painting, weaving, spinning, and embroidery were also taught, with the latest involving deep knowledge of geometry and design, allegories, Bible stories and even Greek mythology – all needed to create those intricate designs.
This implies that history and literature were also part of a convent’s curriculum, besides the knowledge of making and mixing colours. Some convents even studied classical writers and the seven Greek Liberal Arts: grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, dialectic, rhetoric and music. Less prevalent during the Early Middle Ages was transcribing. Much later, though, some convents became renewed for their libraries and their manuscripts were circulated even outside the convent’s walls.
As was expected during a time when men went
to fight wars most of the time and pursue crusades during the remainder of the
time, the need for women skilled in medicine and surgery was on the rise so
convents covered these too.
Music as part of the convent life of medieval women
Promoters of Christianity, convents taught music, chants and choir songs essential to glorifying God. But music was also the means of raising funds for the cloister through donations for benefactor’s weddings or by charming wealthy women in pursuing their intellectual interests.
According to Professor Laurie Stras from Huddersfield University, during the 15th century, 20 percent of the female population of Catholic Europe lived in convents, translating into 50 percent of women of noble birth. Saint Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess, author, and composer, left us 11th-century musical compositions of sacred music in the simple style of the troubadours, some of the most-recorded music of its kind in modern history.
Since convents were often self-sufficient entities, a deep knowledge of the law was needed, some abbesses proving extremely skillful on this matter.
The decline in convent life starts here
By Late Middle Ages, due to the rise in the vernacular and the apparition of castle school (in 8th century due to Charlemagne), court schools, church and village public elementary schools (seeing a rise in the 12th – 13th century), or of religious guilds (in Late Middle Ages) the academic standard of the convents lowered.
As a result, the nuns become less and less skilled in numeracies and math, thusin record-keeping and so many nunneries went into debt.
Convents – their daily rituals
Most convents followed the Rule of the
Benedictine order: daily prayers, readings, and work, the power of a nun’s
prayer often sought after and perceived as equal to that of a monk.
An abbess with absolute authority led the nuns, assisted by a prioress and a few senior nuns, obedientaries. Unlike monks, a nun could not perform a church service, thus the visit of a male priest was required. Expected to show their devotion through their simple attire, the nuns’ veil symbolised their role as “Bride of Christ”.
I hope you enjoyed this close-up in Medieval convent life and the curriculum taught. Return for the last installment of convents, the religious life Medieval women, when we will uncover a few unknown facts, some far from pretty. Why not subscribe to my newsletter?
I am researching again, a task both exhilarating and overwhelming as I have to sieve such fascinating information and only retain the story bits that I need. I want to learn about Medieval women, especially, in the belief that women can write about war as well as take part in it. Mark Twain said: “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” Hmm. So, here’s a bit of my research: Convents, the religious life of Medieval Women.
While most of us live in an era where women
have freedom of speech, the right to education, to own a property, to a fair
and equal wage and a life free from slavery and discrimination, let us remember
that this wasn’t always the case.
After centuries-old prejudice against education for women the beliefs that women were not capable of learning or likely to use an education, medieval women had few choices and little support with regards to their own lives. When the average life expectancy was only 31 years, girls as young as 14 years were considered ripe for marriage, having no say no matter their intellectual or religious aspirations. Still, a few women resisted.
Convents were the first institutions to rise in the Early Middle Ages, mimicking closely the rise of monasticism in the West of Europe, from a desire to enhance celebrations of God and to expand Christianity. They came at the right time to meet the women’s need for education or for furthering their religious aspirations.
Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, dedicated herself to God from an early age. She spent her life in the company of other religious women and is considered the founder of the first convent during the 5th century, the women’s branch of Benedictine Monasticism. Scholastica came from a wealthy family, having the means to support herself while pursuing her religious dreams without the shadow of a forced marriage looming over her youth.
Two centuries later the Canon laws, a set
of ordinances made by the Church leadership, supported
furthering the education for girls and women, directing the abbesses and the
abbots to cultivate a love of reading in their communities and all members of
its religious societies, male and female, to be literate in Latin.
Why join a convent?
During the Middle Ages, girls of seven years
of age were sent by their families to a nunnery to gain an education until the
age of 14 when they were expected to get married. Few girls dedicated their
life to God to pursue a calling, like Christina of Markyate, a 12th century religious
Englishwoman with visionary powers who, having made a vow of virginity in her
youth and determined to resist marriage, fled to the protection of local
hermits. A community of virgins grew around her, while through her spiritual
and managing abilities she became the prioress of a flourishing Benedictine
Some women saw in convent life the only way
of pursuing their learning interests. There were also those who joined a
convent to escape the dreary prospect of death through childbirth backed by
marriage, often denigrated in favour of virginity. A virgin was respected more
like a man than a married woman was.
And convents didn’t disappoint.
Scholarly nuns who rose to the rank of an abbess were treated as equals by men and their social class. Their voice, once silenced in their whisper, was suddenly heard through writings of treaties on logic or rhetoric, through music, even as advisors to popes, kings, and emperors, such as Hildegard of Bingen.
I just gotten used to writing 2019 and, in a flash, it already flew by, taking with it milestones and achievements, forgotten plans and stolen moments with my family. Life is faster, we work harder, have more plans, higher goals, yet we are busier than ever before. I grasp at the meaning of calmness through the chaos that my present day translates to. My heart knows it before my mind, achieving some state of calm through all this chaos is a must. Deep breath now…
Some say we are addicted to stress, that our neural pathways thrive on it, on back to back meetings and the adrenaline rushing through our bodies. But is pushing ourselves actually making us more productive?
Is more, always better?
Perhaps spreading us thinner through juggling numerous projects at a time – ours, a co-workers, the kids’ – is not a measure of how much we can achieve. Perhaps doing less, resisting the urge to focus on other’s business, focusing more on our needs, on what really matters, is the true way forward. Being able to say ‘no’.
Asking ourselves: do I really have time for this? Do I need to add this to my schedule? Am I the one that has to do it? – is just as important as the skill needed to solve that extra issue.
Achieving Calm through all the Chaos in 5 Steps
Prioritize: life before work
Ask yourself, which are the most important people in your life? To me is my family. What manners next? Perhaps work, a hobby. And then? Friends, sport, social life?
These are aspect of your life you need to prioritize at the beginning of each year. Put them in your calendar first: birthdays, anniversaries, school holidays, family gatherings, dates.
Do not worry to leave the leftover time for work – it will still be plenty available!
Create a path through all that clutter
I am not talking about desk clutter, but all the bullet points on your daily ‘to do’ list. For some, an Excel spreadsheet works well, for others, a daily planning stuck on the fridge door will do. Start with that.
There you go, now you know in what order to prioritize your daily tasks. Focus on only one task at a time.
Plan, prioritize, but also make time to breathe – every day.
Know your personal and your career goals
If you make them clear to yourself at the beginning of each year, you would have reduced most of the clutter from your daily planner. They say, if you know your yes’s, then your no’s are easier.
Keeping your goals in mind makes it easier to prioritize on a day to day basis and it makes your decisions a lot easier.
And family time? Sharing daily, joyful moment with your family keeps you connected, thus making it easier to keep your personal goals in sight.
Face it, head-on
Often, solving the top issues, the most stressful ones, and reshuffling the rest can remove most of the daily stress our minds deal with.
Next assess these issues that seem to be constantly moved from one day to the next and ask yourself: will I feel a sense of accomplishment if I finish them? Are they important? If you think yes, then schedule one a day, prioritize it and finish it. If no, then they were just cluttering your daily schedule.
Meditate and Sleep
Maybe not for everyone, and I am the first to admit that I have a problem with both – I find them equally time-consuming. But when I do meditate – I realize that my objectives are clearer, what was a conundrum is clarified, I know how to approach a problem and, in conclusion, I feel less stressed.
Sleeping is a whole other issue. Beneficial for all and it does improve the immune system. And, yes, a good night’s sleep does give us a performance-edge and increases our mind’s agility.
It is easy to allow small worries to become big issues, but achieving that sense of calm through all the daily chaos is doable and can be a positive aspect of your 2020. I hope it will!
And read on. Poetry, in particular, calms the mind. Poetry is as good as gold 🙂