With Immortalis, the Immortal Căluşarii Dance we’ve reached the 4th century AD in our 100 words story posts along the historical timeline of Transylvania. Remember how it all began? Do you see the pattern?
A Paleolithic Murder in Transylvania
Behind the Cave Art of Transylvania
Conduct in a Neolithic Kingdom in Transylvania
Dacian Horses of Bronze Age
Echoes of a Battle, the Getae
Falx vs Gladius, Dáoi vs Romans
Greed, of the Roman Kind
Hope Has Multiple Faces
Immortalis, the Immortal
For each lad lost to Ielele, Fairies, ten wish to join Căluşarii, Stallions, in dance-battle.
The voiceless one, masked – goat and sun, death and rebirth – leads into the clearing drawing a sacred circle with his two-edged sword. In leap Căluşarii as one, counter-clockwise, armed with sticks crossed over their bodies, red ribbons, garlic.
They pledge on their linden-poled flag then spring, their bodies twisted roots… float like leaves, bells ringing in the wind… climb their sticks… pounce across, hop, spin.
One drops dead.
They broke the spell like an earthenware jug crashing. The sick cured, Căluşarii depart quietly.
Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.
Immortalis, the Immortal – words, stories, and some history
Immortalis, immortale, immortal. (Oxford Latin Course, Balme & Morwood)
Căluşarii and their dance goes back as far as the Thracians and Dacians. Was those a more peaceful time? I hope so, as the rituals developed then and involving important life stages have survived and have reached us.
Men, and by this I mean the male gender, were willingly involved in dancing ritual even before Mr Darcy’s (in)famous words:
[Dance] “has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world; every savage can dance.”Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
The Spartans, for once, had their pyrrhike (having its roots apparently in the exultant victory dance performed by Pyrrhus, Achilles’ son, after killing their opponent’s leader. Dancing stayed with the Greek soldiers for centuries, part of their military training, until combat rules changed and only Sparta kept the tradition alive.
Yet Greek philosopher and historian Xenophon describes in his work Anabasis (The March into the Interior – the interior land beyond the Black Sea), a Thracian war dance he witnessed. The Thracians danced to the sound and rhythm of the reed pipe.
Reed pipes stuck with resin later became the panpipes, a Romanian national musical instrument.
For me, I will never forget the Haka, the ceremonial challenge-dance of the Māori culture as it is still performed by the New Zealand sports teams before international challenges.
Back to Romanian Căluşarii and their dance, its tradition rises from Dacian times and it still holds its pagan essence. Led by their great priest who would ask the gods for guidance, Căluşarii would perform their ritualistic dance to fight off evil spirits, and heal the sick.
Initially, Căluşarii were a restrictive groups of odd numbered men, between 5 and 13, sworn to stay together in celibacy and to perform ritual dances during a period of three – seven – or nine years. Their leader was the only one to know all the secrets, some passed on orally, others taken to the grave. Căluşarii were / are feared warriors who fight Ielele, magical maiden fairies who steal the spirit and the minds of all those men who happen to see them in the forest. Ielele only dance on the night of Rusalii or the Descent of the Holly Spirit (Pentecost). Rusallile go back to the Roman celebration of Rosalia, the day of the roses, dedicated to worshiping the dead and bringing them food and roses.
Why Căluşari? Cal in Romanian language means horse, perceived as a fantastic creature. Horse, cal, symbolizes heat, warmth, summer, it even aids the sun climb atop the sky every day. As is the head of a horse, sculpted in wood, seen as a protective, positive symbol. Therefore Căluşarii are divine stallions.
The dance Căluşarii perform imitates the horse’s walk, canter, and gallop, but also the rider’s jump on the horse’s back, as well the limb walk of a horse without shoe-horses. Over 100 dances, all performed to become as strong and agile as a horse, thus receiving a stallion’s divine powers and fight off evil spirits.
The costumes worn by the Căluşarii is filled with symbology. Made of white linen with stitching to depict the geographical area they belong to, it is decorated with colorful sticks stuck in their belt to form a cross, for protection. Hand made hankies (gifted by women and girls for their own protection and fortune in the year ahead), silver spurs and bells, a leather harness complete the look while their hats have tassels and colored ribbons, white and red -sacred Dacian colors.
The most important instrument is their flag, a three to ten meters long linden (oak or hazelnut) stick topped with a white cloth decorated with white-red ribbons, garlic, wormwood, wheat and salt.
There is a wealth of information and symbology behind Căluşarii, their dance still performed all across Romania. Know that since 2005 Căluşarii are par of the UNESCO Heritage.
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