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.
On a closer look, what makes this house so special, except for once having been a home?
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:
Brownie points if you guess what the image below is. And, yes, it has a door:
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…
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:
A few more doors and households from the Village Museum:
Love and respect for tradition is what blows life in a carving made in wood.
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.
And a blessing for the cellar:
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 Numbersthe 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?
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:
Happy to join Norm’sThursday Doors with this post 🙂
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Fairy tales and folklore are abundant in stories about beasts and are wide spread in cultures all over the world, depicting the past and sometimes the present by the use of monsters that, thus, have entered history through the secret door of folk tales….
Such narrative often shares a story that teaches a moral lesson or emphasize the importance of kindness and bravery no matter what. They mostly make use of a mean character, a monster that instills fear. It is through this fear that the message is remembered. Because fear shapes the mind and gives the memory a kick and, sometimes, a beast does not need a hero to be just that, freak.
This is, by no means, a comprehensive list, but one to inspire future reading, writing, and further work as I do intent to update it regularly.
Cerberus, the Hound of Hades in Greek mythology
Is being the son of monsters making one a beast? Cerberus, hound of Hades, certainly looked like one with his 3 heads (or 50, or 100), a serpent tail and extra snakes protruding from his body. Often a symbol for an impossible task (Heracles) and gluttony (Dante).
Medusa, the only mortal of the Gorgon sisters from Greek legends
Medusa is described as a winged human female. She has living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those who gazed into her eye’s will certainly turn to stone, an ability her head retained even after her death and decapitation. Interesting is that it appears there are no records of Medusa turning women to stone. Of course, related to this observation there is a fascinating Freudian interpretation.
Anyone who read ‘The Legends of Olympus’ in childhood, will probably remember that the Minotaur was a fantastic creature, half human, half bull. Because the Minotaur liked to devour people he is locked in a labyrinth built by Daedalus from which the creature could not escape. In order to prevent him from trying to find his way out, King Minos sacrificed seven men and seven women a year to quench the hunger of the monster. Eventually the Minotaur is killed by Theseus who manages to get out of the maze with the help of the invisible thread of the Ariadne (which was in love with him). Alas, Theseus shows no gratitude towards her. One would say his negligence was punished by Gods as Theseus fails to put up the white sail on his return home (something he promised his father to do if he was victorious). Seeing the black sail his father, in desperation, kills himself by drowning in the sea that now carries his name.
The Mermaid and the Siren
In Greek mythology Sirens were believed to combine women and birds in various ways. In early Greek art, Sirens were represented as birds with large women’s heads, bird feathers and scaly feet, ‘Winged maidens, daughters of the Earth.’ Later, sirens are depicted as female figures with legs of birds, with or without wings, often playing a musical instrument especially the harp. Perhaps where the arm movement of a harpist looks like the flapping of a bird’s wings.
According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Sirens were the companions of young Persephone and were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone when she was abducted. Their song is continually calling for her. According to Latin author Hyginus, sirens were fated to live only until the mortals who heard their songs were able to pass them by. The term “siren song” refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad result. By the Middle Ages, the figure of the siren has shifted to the more enduring mermaid. Part female and part fish, literature shows us that not all mermaids are as gentle as Ariel. In Odyssey, Homer frighteningly illustrates how sirens drown those who listen to their song. Greek legends speak of mermaids who love consuming human flesh, being surrounded by decomposed corpses. Far from being a romantic character, a siren would lure you in the depths of her aquatic world, functioning as a character of horror for anyone who fails to follow their charming song.
North European Monsters
Fenris or Hróðvitnir from Norse Mythology
Fenris or Fenriror Hróðvitnir is a monster with a wolf’s appearance encountered in Norse mythology. He is one of the sosn of Loki and of giant Angrboda. Fenris is encaged because of a prophecy announcing that a wolf and his family will one day destroy the world. Eventually, Fenris will fulfill the prophecy by killing Odin, the emperor of the gods, during the Viking Armageddon, Ragnarok. Fenrir appears in the Poetic Edda, a 13th century compilation of Norse poems based on earlier traditional sources.
Kraken or Hafgufa (sea mist)
A mythical cephalopod-monster of Scandinavian sea-tales (“krake” means twisted in Swedish), Kraken it traditionally figured as malign, and better re-imagined embodying the mystery of the ocean.
Hafgufa (Icelandic, haf “sea” + gufa “steam”) is the massive sea monster depicted in the Örvar-Odds saga. It lived in the Greenland Sea and was said to disguise itself as an island or pair of rocks rising from the sea.
“Below the thunders of the upper deep; Far far beneath in the abysmal sea, His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep The Kraken sleepeth (…) There hath he lain for ages, and will lie Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep, Until the latter fire shall heat the deep; Then once by man and angels to be seen, In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.” (The Kraken by Alfred Tennyson, 1830)
Grendel from Boewulf
One of the monsters described in the epic poem Boewulf, Grendel is a descendant of Cain, perhaps humankind’s first killer. Like all of Cain’s descendants Grendel is cursed to have a hideous appearance due to his physical deformities. Never described in detail, Grendel is presented as ‘a creature of darkness, exiled from happiness and accursed of God, the destroyer and devourer of our human kind.’
Dragons have an extensive history, being widespread throughout folktales and legends since ancient times. They are depicted as flying monsters, often so big that they could easily be compared with elephants. Tolkien’s Smaug Dragon (from The Hobbit) is ruthless and greedy, a trait expected to be found in such a beast. As a visual representation of his evil spirit Smaug spits fire to make sure that the mountain and the treasure belong exclusively to him. He can also stir hurricanes with his wings, earthquakes with his tail, while his teeth are like swords, and his breath spits death.
Beast of Bodmin Moor
If you live in Cornwall, watch out for the Beast of Bodmin Moor, a mysterious cat blamed for mutilating local livestock. This could very well be considered as one of the ABCs (Alien, or Anomalous, Big Cats), the British big cats, phantom cats and mystery cats often reported as “panthers”, “pumas”, or “black cats”.
Other European Monsters
The Ogre from Puss in Boots
Do you remember him? The fairy tale is of Italian origin, Il gatto con gli stivali.
While representing the Marquis of Carabas, the cat happens upon a castle inhabited by an ogre who is capable of transforming himself into a number of creatures. The ogre displays his ability by changing into a lion, frightening the cat, who then tricks the ogre into changing into a mouse. The cat then pounces upon the mouse and devours it.
Monster of Ravenna
Most probably an omen regarding the outcome of the 1512 Battle of Ravenna it was fir recorded by diarist Sebastiano di Branca Tedallini on March 8. A child was born to a nun and a friar, and thus he was marked by a horned head, the letters YXV on its chest, and with one leg hairy and cloven-hoofed while the other leg’s midsection grew a human eye.
“The horn [indicates] pride; the wings, mental frivolity and inconstancy; the lack of arms, a lack of good works; the raptor’s foot, rapaciousness, usury, and every sort of avarice; the eye on the knee, a mental orientation solely toward earthly things; the double sex, sodomy. And on account of these vices, Italy is shattered by the sufferings of war, which the King of France has not accomplished by his own power, but only as the scourge of God.” (Johannes Multivallis, 1512)
With time, the description of the Ravenna monster evolved, being tied with the image of Frau Welt and her seductive powers (a beautiful, beguiling woman when viewed the front, while her back is full of pus and hideous vermin). Thus way, the monster of Ravenna and Frau Welt become educational tools during the Middle Ages. Note: do not confuse Frau Welt with Mutter Courage.
A French monster from Provence, the Tarasque looked like a dragon with lion’s head, had an ox’s body with a turtle shell on top. He was tamed by Saint Martha in the Golden Legend.
Monsters from Middle East and Asia
Al, the Afghan monster
With fiery eyes, horns, iron teeth, talons for fingernails & floating appearance, living in damp corners and swamps, comes the Al, a monster from the Afghanistan folklore. Attacking women and children, Al prefers the liver, but eats any corpses.
A futakuchi-onna (二口女, lit. “two-mouthed woman”) is a Japanese mythological monster depicted as having two mouths, basically a woman with a toothy mouth hidden on the backside of her head.
The skeleton woman’ is a Yōkai, a Japanese demon, often depicted as an aged female that carries a lantern decorated with botan flowers and visit the house of a man she loved back when she was still alive. Of course he sees her as the young woman she used to be, but if anyone else catches a glimpse of her they will see her at the skeleton she actually is.
Also from Japanese Folklore comes the story of a a giant skeleton made up of the bones of people who have died from starvation. If Gashadokuro sees you, it will bite your head off and drink the blood that drains out of your decapitated body. Sweet dreams.
An Oni is a kind of, ogre, or troll in Japanese folklore. They are strong and large build, with one or more horns growing out of their heads, wearing loincloths of tiger skin, and carrying a typical iron spiked club. Their skin is usually red, blue or green.
Onis are popular characters in Japanese art, literature (the 14th century fairytale of Momotaro, Peach Boy), and theatre.
The jiangshi is a Chinese hopping vampire known as phi dip chin in Thai, hantu pocong in Malay, and vampir cina in Indonesia. It is depicted as a corpse dressed in clothes from the Qing Dynasty era that moves around by hopping. It kills living creatures to absorb their qi, “life force”, usually at night, while during daytime it rests in a coffin or hides in dark places.
Jiangshifrom originates in the folk practice of “transporting a corpse over a thousand li“. The relatives of a person who died far away from home could not afford vehicles to bring the deceased’s body home for burial, so they would hire a Taoist priest to reanimate the dead person and teach him to “hop” home. The transport happened only at night and would ring bells to notify others in the vicinity of their presence because it was considered bad luck for a living person to set eyes upon a jiangshi.
Have you ever felt watched while out in the forest? It is the hidebehind. This a nocturnal creature from American folklore that preys upon the humans who wander the woods. He is blamed for the disappearances of any loggers who failed to return to camp. It is believed he has the ability to conceal itself, mostly often behind trees, ‘hidebehind‘.
This is a kangaroo-like / dragon-like creature with a goat or horse-like head, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, legs with cloven hooves, and a forked tail. It has been reported to move quickly and is often described as emitting a high-pitched “blood-curdling scream”
According to folklore, the Jersey Devil originates Mother Leeds in 1735. The legend says that Mother Leeds had 12 children and when she fell pregnant with her 13th she cursed the baby. It was a stormy night when the baby was born, a normal child who soon changed his appearance developing hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings, and a forked tail. He flew up the chimney and head for the pine forest.
Yes, there is a NHL hockey team named after this creature – perhaps due to their speed?
Jabberwocky from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
Lewis Carroll’s character is all the more formidable as he goes beyond everything I knew about monsters. It is a new appearance, presented by the author through a playful and absurd poem. The lack of information about the bizarre creature, along with the uncertain and fantastic description increases the fear of the unseen character. Our fear grows as we decipher the language. We learn that Jabberwocky is like a beast galloping towards its prey. He salivates at the thought of snatching someone’s flesh from the bones, devouring with his jaws anyone who gets in his way. The fact that his eyes are on fire makes him terribly frightening, even if only seen in the dark.
The Nothing from The Neverending Story
In order for a monster to be scary, it does not have to look like a beast. The more mysterious it is, the more it overcomes our fears.
The Nothing… By the mere fact that there is nothing in its presence, that is to say, of the unknown, its force is both evil and darkness and it seems unable to be defeated or controlled. The Nothing is all that humanity would never have imagined, namely the supreme evil and the most destructive power shed to mortals. Some even let themselves fall inside willingly because they get too close to the Nothing. The Nothing that exerts an irresistible power of attraction and thus it grows.
The Nothing, what is it? where it comes from? How it became to be just that, Nothing?
Pennywise, Stephen King’s character in IT, is one of the creepiest literary monsters by far. Speaking of coulrophobia. But just as a (giant) spider, Pennywise is the nightmare in itself.
Cryptozoology and its Monsters
Cryptozoology is a pseudoscience and subculture that aims to prove the existence of entities from the folklore record, such as Bigfoot, the Chupacabra, the Loch Ness monster, the Yeti or Mokele-mbembe. Cryptozoologists refer to these entities as cryptids, a term coined by the subculture.
Perhaps our interest and fascination with monsters does not lie in the love of the macabre, but in an evolutionary need to learn about them, their stories, habits, diet and all, in order to recognize them, fight them, and annihilate them as well as what they symbolize.
You were probably expecting some Romanian Folk Monsters too. Coming soon… Meanwhile you might enjoy reading about:
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 (capde 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.
Interesting is that Hindu and Islamic traditions also mention garlic in a reverence way.
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.
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.
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’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.
Once upon a time, in a fortress far away, in the lost town of Iriin, an emperor known by the name of Sehachi (some called him Sachaisa) had twelve vivid dreams in one single night. No one in the emperor’s entourage could explain their meaning, until they heard of a great scholar and philosopher named Mamer, who could interpret such dreams. So they invited Mamer to court. He came, for he was wise enough to know that if the emperor himself invites you, then there is great cause and you must go at once.
In the safety of the royal rooms, the emperor shared his dreams with Mamer.
‘My lord Sehachi,’ said Mamer, ‘these dreams should not worry you, but cause great joy for God had sent them to you and to you only to show you what will happen at the end of days. Yet there is much you can still do to prevent it. But you cannot do it alone.’
The emperor gasped and a tear bloomed in the corner of his eye only to make its way along a deep wrinkle, down the emperor’s cheek until it got lost in his grey beard.
‘Tell it to me,’ said Mamer stretching out his hand as if to receive, ‘the first dream.’
The emperor’s eyes were looking straight into the philosopher’s cobalt ones, as clear s the sky, as deep as the sea.
‘There was a golden pillar that seemed to unite Heaven and earth.’
Mamer listened, his eyes searching the horizons. A ray of sun was shining,emerging between the palm trees lining the imperial gardens.
‘When the last days will arrive,’ he finally spoke, ‘there will be much evil in the world. Justice will seem to have vanished, and so will all good intentions, and heartfelt gestures, peace and understanding. No one will even think good thoughts or utter kind words, but only vile ones. The old people, the only ones still remembering how a good thought sounded like, will be too weak and too scared to say it out loud to the young. To teach them. And all will go to their graves taking their sins with them, without repenting. There will also be famine and the autumn will last through the winter, while the winter will stretch into summer. Yet men will be able to sow during any season and no one will ever remember that there was a time for each seed and an endeavor for each season. Men will sow all year long, yet there will be little to reap. Because the earth, too, will be tired. And during such times children will not respect their parents anymore and will marry whomever they choose. They will no mind the sin and many children will grow not knowing who their fathers are, nor who their ancestors came from, or where their roots spread. And kings and princes will care no more for their people, but will be violent towards the poor. Many will forsake their fate and embrace another. There will be day, yet the sun will get darker and no moon will come out to shine. The days will become short and many signs will show themselves. To everybody. Yet people will have none to turn to for advice for priests will not be recognizable from the uninitiated anymore, nor by looks and neither by speech. Priests will tell lies, and this will contribute to the crumbling of all truth and justice.’
The philosopher returned the king’s hard stare.
‘This is what your first dreams means, Sire.’ Then he said quickly, ‘how was your second dream, o king?’
The king sighed, caught his breath, his right hand over his heart, and said, “ I saw a woman holding a towel in her hand and it reached from heaven to earth.’
Mamer the philosopher thought, looked around the king’s large rooms, with bolted ceilings painted with stars and suns and moons, then said, ‘when the last days will be near the people will forsake their true faith and will think of adopting another one, but no one will think of worshipping God anymore. People will forsake their poor relations, but prefer the company of strangers.’
The king’s eye caught a small brown bird on the windowsill. His youngest daughter liked to leave crumbs there. The bird ate, sang a tune, and flew away.
‘And the third dream?’
‘I saw three kettles boiling over a big fire. One filled with fat, one with water and the third one with oil. Some of the fat was running into the oil, and some of the oil into the fat. But none fell into the water which was boiling by itself.’
A tray with gold rimmed glasses placed on a silver tray engraved with geometrical patterns as well as a wine jug was brought next to the king. Yet the philosopher declined the drink with a tip of his head.
He said further, ‘at the end of the days the men will plant villages in places where such villages had never been dreamed of rising before. At one end of the village a rich man will live, while at the other another rich man will raise his manor, while the poor will live in the middle. And the one rich man will invite the other to feast with him, while both will ignore the poor, even if the poor is their brother. And will be hypocrites, they will all neglect their own relations, hate their parents and brothers and love only the wife’s family, if it has money. Women will leave their husbands and run away with other men. Old women will marry young men and old men will marry young girls, much too young, for shame would have disappeared from among men and there will not be left a single pure woman or man in the world.’
The king looked at his family portraits, adorning the walls of his rooms. Mamer placed his hands in his lap, one on top of the other, and said quietly, ‘and the fourth dream?’
‘I saw an old mare chewing some hay and the foal neighing within its belly.’
The philosopher replied while watching his hands. Or perhaps he observed the thick carpet that felt so soft underfoot.
‘When the end of the day approaches, mothers will act immodestly and allow their daughters to meet with strangers and conduct immoral business. And the fifth dream?’
“I saw a dog lying in a pond and her puppies were barking inside her belly.’
The king’s carpets were dark blue, with gold details that matched the murals.
‘During the last days fathers will still teach their sons properly, but the sons will refuse to listen and will say ‘you have grown old and have lost your senses and you don’t know what you are talking about anymore,’ and the parents will be put to shame and will keep silent.’
The king kept quiet for a long time. The sound of a lute filled the room.
‘And the sixth dream?’
‘I saw a large number of priests standing in dirt up to their necks,’ whispered the king.
‘At the time of the ned of days the priests will still teach God’s word to the people, but they themselves will not follow it anymore but will only plan to enrich themselves, condemning their souls to the everlasting fire.’
The notes were turning and twisting with the leaves.
‘And the seventh dream?’
‘I saw a beautiful horse with two heads, one in the front and one looking at the back. One head fed on grass while the second drank water.’
‘When the end of days will come near, there will be wrong judgement in the world, bribery, and the bishops will appoint ignorant priests because they will be paid to do so and not mind it. A thing which ought never to happen. There will be plenty of priests, but only a handful of good ones among them. The rest will have neither fear of God, nor shame of men and will never think that they will go down to the torments of hell for their sins.’
The first drops of rain hit the leaves.
‘And the eights dream?’
‘I saw a great number of pearls strewn on the face of earth and fire fell from heaven and it burned everything.’
The room filled with the ozone rich scent of rain, overpowering the sweet incenses rising from gold vases placed along the walls. The philosopher filled his lungs, grateful. Then answered.
‘At the end of days all will become smugglers and the rich will make the poor to look like liars and will use treachery to take everything away from the poor. No worrying that by doing so they will lose their souls.’
The leaves of the palm tree seemed to rub one another in the wind, like giant hands.
‘And the ninth dream?’
‘I saw a large number of people working together in one spot,’ said the king, rubbing his own hands, absentminded.
‘At the end of days men will bring their riches to others, for safekeeping. And the keepers will smile and be glad to receive it. But when the owners will come to take back what was rightfully theirs, the keepers will pretend not to know what is being asked of them and they will even swear they speak the truth, not worrying that they will lose their soul for lying.’
A sudden outburst rose the curtains to the ceiling, pushing a vase over, its fall cushioned by carpets. Then the downpour came.
‘And the tenth dream?’
‘I saw lots of women and men sitting on the ground,’ called the king, in an attempt to make himself heard over the gale.
‘When the end of days will be near,’ answered Mamer, en will not shy away from trickery and pride, and will not worry for losing their souls for it.’
‘And the eleventh dream?’
‘I saw people wearing beautiful flowers in their hair.’
Mamer thought for a while, his eyelids almost covering his cobalt eyes that were cast on his hands, placed in his lap. Outside, the rain poured like a song.
‘At the end of days people will be stingy, greedy and many will gossip and will stray away from the righteous path and do that in their homes too. Good words, truth, will not be uttered anymore, not even between brothers. When a poor will say wise words, all will laugh, but when a rich man will say something stupid, all will gasp and clap and say ‘hear what he says for he speaks the truth,’ and all will agree with him. And all will end in hell. And the twelfth dream?’
‘I saw many people with a great deal of hair, with nails like a vulture and very long legs,’ said the king and two tears run down his face, one on each side. And when the philosopher looked up he saw the wet path that was already there, for each tear to follow.
‘At the end of days the rich will take advantage of the poor so much so that the poor will envy those who died before them, and were thus absolved from living such bad times.’
Then he placed both his hands on the sides of his chair and stood with great ease, given his age. And Mamer the philosopher bowed in front of the king and said, ‘your servant, my lord, for I spoke the truth, and dark times will be seen, at the end of days.’
And he turned, left the king’s rooms and the palace and headed down the road. And those who saw him walk did not knew who he was, just wondered how such an old man can walk at such a great speed and not mind the rain.
What are The Twelve Dreams of Mamer?
Dating from the 15th century and known today in several variations, the twelve prophetic dreams of king Sehachi is available also as a 17th century (1678) Romanian manuscript, being one of the oldest known manuscripts written in the Romanian language. The manuscript is entitled The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, Cele Douasprezeve Vise in Tâlcuirealui Mamer.
The Twelve Dreams of Mamer may very well be a an oriental story that reached the Slaves (and from there it came to Romania where it stayed among other local folktales) via an unknown Greek version.
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According to lunar folklore, the full moon of May is the Flower Moon. On May 7 we can see the last full supermoon of 2020. The full moon will last only a moment, at 6:45 a.m. EDT (1145 GMT) on Thursday May 7, when the side of the moon that faces Earth will be fully illuminated by the sun.
The Story of How the Moon Came to Be
There was once a beautiful maiden and she was the Sun’s sister. Her name was Ioana Samziana. She had long, silky hair and so blond that it was almost white. She was tall and gracious and she had a beautiful, alabaster, round face. The Sun loved his sister so much, a bit too much some say. So he turned himself into a human and came to ask her to marry him.
But as he changed, he lost all memory of who he really was. He only remembered his love for this Maiden. He searched for the woman he loved, and traveled for nine years, along nine roads. Until he found her. Samziana liked the human, but something in her heart told her she should not marry him. So she ran away. Alas, he followed her, traveling through Heavens and through Hell, until he found her again.
Eventually, she gave in and agreed to marry him but asked he build her a bridge of copper, over a sea of black , for she knew of a monastery on the other side. Where they could marry.
Once on the bridge, the girl threw herself into the sea. She became the foam of the waves and, as the saints scoop it in their hands, Samziana turned into the Moon. And this is how the Moon came to be.
And the human became the Sun again. And they never saw each other again.
No wonder the moon has been personified as a deity, think of Greek goddesses Artemis, Selene, and Egyptian god Thoth.
Flower Moon, Lunar Folklore and Superstitions
It is said that if you’re been born during a full moon you won’t know any shortages all your life.
A church service aimed at good health is much more effective during a full moon.
Of course, spells benefit from the full moon, its light and energy amplifying their powers.
For good luck for the rest of your life, fill a green bowl with water and leave it outside under the full moon. Next day, use the water to wash yourself and no harm will come to you, ever – is the folk belief.
If you wish to fall pregnant, stand under the light of the full moon for as long as you can and your wish will come true. Some folk believe that the fifth day after a full moon is the perfect time to try to conceive a child.
But the new moon is also a symbol of new beginnings, marking the ideal time for making new plans.
In Romanian folklore, New Moon is called Crai Now, New Prince. The night with a full moon is ideal for maidens to dream of their new beau. Step outside inti the light of the new moon, cross yourself three times and say “New Moon, New Moon, let me drink the morning dew, New Prince, New Prince, may I dream my one true love.”
Of course, wishes do come true under the new moon. Write your wish on a paper, burn it and throw the ashes towards the new moon. Your wish will come true.
A British legend says that if Christmas falls on the day of a dark Moon, the following year’s harvest will be rich.
In some parts of the British Isles it is believed that a waxing moon on Christmas meant a good crop the next fall, but a waning moon was a warning, indicated a bad one would come.
A lunar halo in folk belief meant that rain, snow, or other foul atmospheric conditions were on their way.
In some Chinese religions, offerings are made to the ancestors on the night of a full moon.
The moon has fascinated people since ancient times. Not only because of its beauty but also because of its influence on life on Earth.
Things you should not attempt during a New Moon:
Don’t move. Don’t sit the hen on eggs. Don’t get married. Don’t go in trip after midnight.
The New Moon an the Lunatics
Some 2 000 years ago, the Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder claimed that the full moon affects the moisture in the brain and therefore all human emotions. Then, in the 17th and 18th centuries, despite the fact that the Renaissance era moved away from superstitions, doctors such as Richard Mead and James Gibbs argued that certain periods of the solar and lunar cycles induce certain conditions, such as epilepsy and hysteria.
Did you know that the term “lunatic” derives from the Latin word “moon”?
Today, scientists are still debating on the full moon’s influence on the human psyche. Those who state that crime is on increase during full moon nights are reminded that street lights have been around for more than a century. Nevertheless, animals seem to exhibit a different behaviors during the full moon and this aspect cannot be ignored.
Ancient Month Names for the Full Moon
January’s full moon is nicknamed Wolf Moon, after the howling wolves. Other names are Moon After Yule, Old Moon, Ice Moon.
February’s full moon is also called Snow Moon, easy to imagine why especially if you grew on or above the 45th parallel north.
March has the Worm Moon because of the earthworms that come out at the end of winter. Is is also known as the Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Sap Moon, Sugar Moon, Chaste Moon, or Lenten Moon.
April’s Pink Moon name comes from from the pink flowers – phlox – that bloom in early spring. Other names are Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon, Hare Moon, Egg Moon, and also Paschal Moon because it is used to calculate the date for Easter (falling on the first Sunday after the March Full Moon – as long as the March equinox and Paschal Full Moon coincide).
The May Full Moon is known as Flower Moon, symbolizing the flowers that bloom during this month. Other names are Corn Planting Moon or Milk Moon.
June’s Full Moon is called Strawberry Moon. How sweet! Other names are Hot Moon, Mead Moon, and Rose Moon.
July’s Full Moon is called Buck Moon, after the new antlers that emerge on deer buck’s foreheads around this time. It is also known as Thunder Moon, Wort Moon, and Hay Moon.
In August, the Full Moon is called Sturgeon Moon because of the large number of fish in the lakes where the Algonquin tribes fished, in North America. Other names are Green Corn Moon, Barley Moon, Fruit Moon, and Grain Moon
September‘s Full Moon is Harvest Moon. Most years it is in September, but every three years September borrows its full moon to October. Other names for September’s Full Moon are are Corn Moon or Barley Moon. October’s Full Moon is also called Hunter’s Moon, Dying Grass Moon, Blood Moon (not the total Lunar Eclipse) or Sanguine Moon.
November’s Full Moon is nicknamed Beaver Moon, since beavers become active preparing for winter. It is also known as Frosty Moon, or Oak Moon. When the Beaver Moon is the last Full Moon before the winter solstice, it is also called the Mourning Moon.
Lastly, December’s Full Moon is called the Cold Moon, or the Moon Before Yule, or the Wolf Moon (more common used for the January’s Full Moon).
The Difference between Full Moon, Supermoon, Dark Moon and New Moon
Full moon refers to the moment when the moon’s Earth-facing side is fully illuminated by sunlight. Supermoon is the same, but the moon must be the closest to Earth.
A Dark Moon happens when the moon is between the Earth and the Sun (in conjunction with is the term) and it appears dark to us. But astrologers call this a new moon because it marks the beginning of a new moon cycle. You will not find a dark moon in the moon phase calendars.
But the Pagan’s New Moon, the one that counts for moon followers, is when the moon begins to show the tiniest illumination, its waxing, and it happens after the dark moon (that we cannot see).
A new moon refers to the moment when the moon’s Earth-facing side is fully in shadow. (Unfortunately, that means the Black Moon will be more or less invisible, even if the moon is high in the sky).
A moonbow is just like a rainbow, but appearing at night. It involves the way the light refracts. A moonbow will only be seen in the part of the sky opposite of where the moon is visible.
Next supermoom (90% closeness to Earth) will be visible in April 2021 only.
Nevertheless, the full moon carries, apart from its own visible halo, an invisible one of mystery and magic, tied to the ebbs and flows of the tide, as well as the human body, and our intuition. Whether we want it or not, the moon will probably light our footsteps for many more cycles to come.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
The way in which animals and nature are presented in folklore and mythology can tell us a lot about a nation’s cultural profile. Although in most cultures we encounter the belief that all animals were created / put on earth by a higher divinity to teach humans a lesson and challenge them, animal symbology and legends can vary.
Some cultures and religions believe that the man was created to rule over all the animals. Other cultures believe that animals are manifestations of a divine power. During medieval times Christian beliefs in a hierarchical structure of all matter and life emerged, The Great Chain of Being, an idea that humanity (with the king at the top) is a subdivision situated above animals (with the lion at the top).
Folklore and mythology are the domains where explaining and understanding real life events was done by the use of animals as symbols – thus creating a microcosmic representation for easier comprehension of something that seemed larger than life. The explanations become story lines and new situations and events are understood and can be dealt with only if explained though the prism of an archaic vision with its social norms, moral values, and traditions.
Animals in Romanian folklore and mythology are considered to have a positive interaction with humans (the farm animals, the ones humankind relied on), but they can also threaten and challenge us (the wild beasts), as well as be conferred fabulous, mythological powers (exotic animals).
The cow and the ox as white animals
In Romanian folklore the cow and the ox were seen as holy in the sens that even God loved them and bestowed upon them the gift of speech, one day a year, like people.
White symbolizes their purity and their economical value in working the field, as means of transport, as well as being a source of various foods.
Cow, as a symbol, stands for prosperity, fertility, and obedience. In folktales the cow defies evil and helps enrich the hero.
The ox is held on higher regards than the cow, seen as the farmer’s symbol of strength and wealth therefor an ox must never be sold.
The cow and the ox in folklore
In Romanian folklore, to protect a cow you can tie a red ribbon around one of her horn; you can feed her magical grains; you can hide in the shed various lucky items; and if you do milk the cow then you must fast during specific dates of the year so the cow won’t run out of milk.
At Christmas time, the best carols are the ones wishing the host to have lots of healthy cows.
In Romanian folk songs love’s value and meaning can only be compared to that of a cow.
On Pentecost, Rusalii, 31st May, custom asks to decorate an ox (symbol of fertility) with flower garlands and bells.The lads would then take the ox for a stroll around the village, from one house to the next, and the ox would be sprinkled with water (another symbol of fertility). The flower garland that decorated the ox was to be kept safe so that the field would be fertile that year.
Superstitions involving the cow
When a cow is about to have her calf, put some wheat, lemon, salt and pepper in a red cloth and tie it to the cow’s tail to keep the bad spirits away.
Don’t hit the cow with a pitchfork or she’ll have a bowlegged calf.
If you want to find out the year you will marry, go to the stables and kick the cow that’s lying down, saying ‘this year… I shall marry.’ If the cow stands, you have your answer. If she doesn’t, chose another year and kick her again… gently 🙂
The oxen can speak on the day of Saint Vasile, 14 January, and you can hear them do so if you go to bed in the manger – but you better watch out as you might not like what you hear.
The sheep was from God
The sheep, good, soft and gentle, could only have been God’s gift to all humankind. All you need to do when you are sick is touch the sheep to feel better.
Romanian folktales say that God Himself walks the sheep to pasture, and He plays the flute, feeling happy and content. Sheep are helpers, protectors and, in more than one instances, messengers of God – as is the lamb in the myth of Miorita.
The ram, with its golden fleece and painted horns at Christmas time is also a reason of joy and pride.
Folk rituals involving the sheep and the ram
On Sângeorz day, Saint George, on 23rd April and especially in the province of Moldova, shepherds sprinkle their sheep with water, to be abundant in milk.
On Rusalii, in Transylvania, the sheep are jumped over a life-giving fire (smoked), to protect them against evil spirits.
During the midsummer celebration of Sânziene or Dragaica (24 June), rituals involving sheep and flowers are performed.
The sacred sheepfold
Romanian folklore sees the sheepfold as sacred as a church altar. Millennial old rituals take place here and inherited tools play a sacred role, tools that are never removed from the spot, tools decorated with the symbols of the sun, the earth, the cosmos, or the heaven’s holy gates… The sheepfold’s hearth, where the fire had been burning for generations, is on high regards. For this reason, in its foundation one will find the bone of an ancestor, of a warrior who fought against the enemy of the country or against the wild beasts; a sacred bone, for the same reason one would bury the bones or relics of saints in the foundation of churches.
The sheep is sacred too. Touch it and any bad spirits that bothered you will leave.
The bells hanging around the sheep’s necks, of various sizes, based on a rigorous hierarchy, are in harmony with the shepherd’s flute, with the song of the forest streams and with the rustle of the wind through the leaves and across the grassy planes.
Any sheepfold has a knapsack containing, at any given time, bread, holy water from the church or sanctified by a log from its holy hearth, as well as flowers kept from the Sânziene celebrations – all necessary during various rituals.
No one leaves a sheepfold without the smallest of gifts; a piece of cheese, a pipkin of milk, or at least a piece of bread for the road. Gifts from the heart.
The goat is a whole different story
The goat came from the devil, it is said in the Romanian folklore.
The myth of how the goat came to be
God took a handful of earth and created the sheep. So the devil wanted to do the same. He scraped some ground from the marsh, barely a handful and, not knowing what to do further, he decorated it with branches and shoots of grass instead of fur. He found his creation to be just as perfect as God’s. Yet something was missing… so he added a tuft of grass shooting from the goat’s chin, much like his own. Yet he couldn’t bring it to life. That was something only God could do.
Romanian folklore says that it is the horned scoundrel that takes care of goats, chasing them over the fields that they never sit still and he’s also the one that cuts their fur; that’s why it is all erratic and in tufts and uneven. You just have to take care of one and see for yourself.
Superstitions involving the goat
If you are gifted a goat on Saint Vasile, the angels will stay away from your home for fifty days.
Goats symbolize poverty as they eat a lot, stomp over grass and chew on all the green buds.
Caroling with the goat at Christmas time
Perhaps resonating of a pagan custom and definitely not related to the hellish imp is the winter custom of caroling with a goat mask while performing a ritualistic dance on a cheerful music to match the event.
Long ago, one creature cheated and lied to the gods so it was destined to grunt for a speech and to trundle through mud all its life.
The pig’s curse also says that the pig hates all humans, for he know he will be butchered, yet he forgets all about it whenever he is fed and joyfully stuffs itself.
Romanian Christmas custom asks for a pig to be slaughtered on Ignat, 20th December. It is said that, shortly before Christmas, the pig dreams of a sharp knife and stops getting fat. It is better to cut it or the wild beasts will have its meat.
It is also said that a farmer must see or, even better, spill the blood of a pig each year around Ignat to have wealth in the farmyard and on the fields the following year.
Superstitions involving the pig
The woman who doesn’t eat pig on Christmas Day or at Easter will have an easy childbirth.
On Ignat day, if you don’t see or at least hear the pig being slaughtered you should prick your finger so that you at least see some blood.
After the pig is slaughtered and cut, on Ignat, when the pig’s head is brought inside to be cooked, its snout must enter the house firs, for good luck and a rich litter of piglets in the new year.
The blessed donkey
Romanian folklore blesses the donkey for the donkey was blessed by Virgin Mary herself, after it carried her on its back all the way to Jerusalem, and later it carried Jesus too.
There is a heartwarming symbology behind the donkey’s mild appearance, an impulse to choose to be modest, devoted and unpretentious because big things will still cross your path.
The myth of how the donkey got its super-sized ears
Well, once when the donkey was but a foal he was a little bit naughty, walking at the back of the herd. So God scolded the beast for its incessant agitation and fret. Yet the young animal, like any young, pretended not to hear. God repeated Himself, the donkey said he still can’t hear Him. Being at the back of the group and all… So God pulled the donkey by its ears… And that’s why the donkey has such long hearing aids.
The horse is seen as a virile animal, a warrior yet often less valuable to a farmstead than a cow or an ox.
One must never eat the meat of a horse because it might have been ridden by a woman.
The dog and the cat
It goes without saying that the dog is loved by God for its qualities and his good and reliable nature, much as it is treasured by humans.
Romanian folklore says that the cat came to be from God’s glove, when He threw it on Noah’s Arch to catch the mouse.
The myth of why the cat and the dog fight
It is said that, long ago, the cat and the dog used to be married, yet the cat was a lazy and greedy wife, while the dog was a hard working husband. The two were always arguing with each other because of their different views and expectation of the world.
Superstitions involving the dog
If the dog digs in the yard, right in front of the house, it is a bad omen, foretelling death.
When there is thunder and lightning someone better sit next to the cat or the dog. Otherwise the devil might hide in their fur and the lightening will strike those nearby.
The two-faced wolf
Why two-faced? Because it has both positive and negative connotation, the wolf being good or bad, a friend or a foe – depending on the circumstances. Much like humans.
In Romanian folklore, the malefic wolf can be a pricolic or a vârcolacul. Pricolici are the spirits of malefic people who, awoken from their graves, take the shape of a wolf and roam the streets to harm whoever they meet. Vârcolacii are a general representation of all evil that hunts humankind and they can take a wolf’s appearance.
The positive connotation of the wolf is that of an animal-guide, accompanying the spirits of the dead to the netherworld.
There is a fascination story about the wolf as a symbol on the brave Dacian’s flag, the ancient inhabitants of the cultural region of Dacia, today Romania. But this is a story for another time.
Superstitions involving the wolf
If you caught shivers after a big fright, smoke around yourself the hair of a bear or the dung of a very hairy wolf.
If you travel under the new moon you better watch out for wolfs.
The two-faced snake
House snakes are seen as sending a positive vibe, not so the snakes one meets during various travels. This one you should kill (and not only for its Christian connotation), for ‘if you don’t it will turn into a dragon (balaur) in no less than two years time.’
One should not ‘believe the word of a snake’ or ‘harbor a snake in one’s bosom’, or harm will come in return. Snakes have strong connotations with magic and spells too. For example, cut with a silver coin the head of the first snake you see before Saint George day, put a clove of garlic in its mouth and on Saint George’s day it will help you see how vampires steal the milk from the cows.
The beasts showcased in Romanian folklore and mythology are fabulous and deserve separate attention or, who knows, their mythological powers might prove real. 🙂Stay tuned.