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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Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Targoviste-history

The importance of Târgoviște royal palace (curtea domnească) in history emerges, first of all, from the significant role it played in the life of Vlad Țepeș and during the medieval period. Among other royal residences of Wallachia, the royal court of Târgoviște was the third oldest and the second most used, without significant interruptions, over a period of 300 years.

The geographical location of Târgoviște was also favorable, hills on one side, planes on the other, Ialomita river passing through, as well as Dambovita river nearby.

Around 1400 Mihail I, son of Mircea the Elder (Mircea cel Bătrân) and co-ruler with his father was the first to settle his royal court here, where there was already a rural settlement as well as a more recent one, 14th century, belonging to Transylvania Saxon settlers. Later, as one of the important border villages of Wallachia, Târgoviște receives special privileges for commerce.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Royal Palace, Curtea Domneasca - source Facebook
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Curtea Domneasca de la Târgoviște

The royal palace of Târgovişte was designed as a group of buildings with various purposes: to host the administration of the country, as well as to offer protection and lodgings for the ruler, his family and their various courtiers and servants. Here were special rooms for the high government’s ministry and for the court to meet and for the prince (ruler) to sign his decrees and receive foreign guests and emissaries.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Royal Palace of Târgoviște, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

Târgoviște – etimology

Târgoviște = Târg + -iște. Târg means market, but Târgoviște means an older market, one well-established.
As a name for a town, Târgoviște is also found in Croatian, trgovištse, Serbian, trgovište, Ukraine, torhovytśa, Slovakian, trhovište, and Polish, targowisko.

The Royal court was at Târgoviște because from there were easy connections with other parts of the Wallachian state, the city of Târgoviște being better positioned from an administrative and commercial point of view.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History
The Royal Palace of Târgoviște, Church View. Photo by Diana Popescu, Wikimedia

On 23rd August 1437 Vlad Dracul (Vlad II, the father of Vlad Tepes) signed a document in Târgoviște to declare that Vlădești will belong to the boyar Bodin, and exempts him and his sons Mircea and Vlad of services and tributes for as long as they live. The bequest starts with:

“In the name of the God Almighty, the all faithful and all honorable and Christ Loving, I Vlad and lord by the mercy of God and through the Benevolence of God ruler of all Hungarian-Wallachian Country, and duke of Amlaş and Făgăraş. My lordship has deign to offer this hereby true gift of property to my servant boyar Bodin and his sons, so that Vlădești village may be his land… ” and ends with “I Vlad Lord, with the mercy of God, ruler.”

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History

Vlad Dracul and the people of Târgovişte

The influential boyards, the patricians of a town (such as Târgovişte was), were called good men, “om bun“. We encounter one of the first mentions of such good men in a letter of Vlad Dracul addressed to the people of Brasov perhaps during his first reign (1436–1442). The letter concerns Zanvel, a good man, but also a wealthy one, from Târgovişte, who had been killed and mugged while traveling for business in Transylvania. Vlad Dracul requests that all of Zanvel’s valuables be returned: 250 Florins, 500 Perperi (=250 Ducats), a money bag with 300 Aspri (silver coins) and a gold ring valued at 10 Florins. The man’s clothes are also mentioned, clothes of Ypress (one of the largest commercial communities of Medieval Belgium, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city’s prosperous cloth industry), a hat and also a sword. Vlad Dracul allows for one week only, during which Zanvel’s killer had to be found and punished, and the wealth be returned to his family.

Smuggling weapons through Târgovişte

During the 14th century, the weapon craftsmanship of Braşov’s inhabitants (Transylvania) was greatly trusted by the rulers of Wallachia, such as Stephen the Great (Stefan cel Mare) and Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler, Vlad III – son of VladDracul, Vlad II). Thus, weapons trade beyond the borders of Transylvania was common, especially with Wallachia.

For example, at the end of 1445 the Wallachian Voivod Vlad Dracul requested the delivery of “bows, arrows, firearms and saltpeter” for his conquests in southern Wallachia. The Voivod was dependent on this delivery to strengthen the defenses of the seized town.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, the cellars
Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History – the cellars

Not much later, the new Wallachian Voivod Vladislav II (who fought over the ruling of Wallacia with Vlad Tepes), requested in a document from 1453 that a delivery of weapons to Kilia (Chilia) to take place via the towns of Târgovişte and Brăila, so that the delivery could proceed in secret and without danger. A year later a similar request was made by John Hunyadi himself.

Vlad Țepeș’ main political objective was reinforcing his central authority. He expressed this in a letter written in Târgoviște, on September 10th 1456 (during his 2nd reign) and addressed to the people of Braşov:

“Think about how when a man or a ruler is powerful and strong he can make peace in any way he wants to; but when he is powerless, another one will come and rule him as he pleases.” (“Considerandum est vobis: quando homo vel dominus est potens et fortis, tunc pacem potest facere sicut vult; cum autem impotens erit, forcior super eum veniet et faciet secum sicut vult”).

Targoviste Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu - DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA
Targoviste, Royal Palace, East and West view, 1953, by J. Cohn, Dora Pistiner și Ion Văleanu – DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

The massacre of 1457: Vlad Ţepeş and the Boyards

We cannot go further without mentioning the relations between the townspeople of Târgoviște and Vlad Ţepeş and the existence of some conflicts between them. The only incident recorded by chroniclers mentions that Vlad Ţepeş considered the townspeople guilty of the death of his older brother, Mircea, whom they buried alive in 1447, and of that of their father, Vlad Dracul.

Vlad Ţepeş and his ruling policy

Having lived through his father’s political struggles, at the Ottoman and Moldavia court, as well as through his own first reign of almost three months, in 1448, Vlad would have learned that only a strong ruler can keep a country united, and that only a strong, united country can withstand a foreign attack.

As it was obvious during the Medieval times, the boyards held much power and through their intrigues they could control a country, often opposing the rule and power of a ruler. Vlad knew too well that one of biggest issues that opposed a strong head of state were the boyards and made it clear during a meeting he had with them. When asked under how many rulers they served during their life time, most acknowledged at least seven, which came and went, yet they remained in position.

But the Lord, Vlad Ţepeş, punished the townspeople differently: the big boyards and the old ones were impaled, while the young ones were taken together with their families on Easter day (a day of rest and Christian joy) to work on the Poenari fortress.
It was Vlad Ţepeş’ desire for revenge, along with his need to consolidate his power, that drove him to commit one of the most notorious acts of his career.
After this, Vlad gave positions in his council to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and even to some foreigners and free peasants.

ruinele Cettii Domnesti de la Targoviste

The punishment of the townspeople was placed by historians in 1457, when Vlad Ţepeş was in Târgovişte. The conflict should be understood through the context of power struggles between the two branches of the royal family (Dănești and Drăculești), in which both the great boyar groups and the influential members of the townspeople took part, whose political involvement is now revealed. The fact that the punished were put to work at the fortress is a rare situation; the obligation to work appears formally mentioned in several acts, but the event described above is the only attestation of a forced implementation of this duty. Among the internal chronicles, the History of Wallachia relates only the sending of young people to work, while in the Histories of Gentlemen it is written about the sending of women and children. Exceptional is the sending of people to work on Easter day, proving that the punishment applied to the citizens was a serious form of the duşegubina (a medieval payment for killing someone, or for theft, incest, adultery or kidnapping of girls).

Only in 1458 does Vlad Ţepeş begins building his Bucharest fortress to supervise and defend the road leading from Giurgiu, a Romanian city found under the ruling of the Turks.

It is documented by Chalcocondil (a Byzantine chronicler contemporary with Vlad Ţepeş), that in 1462, when the Ottoman troops came searching for Vlad (to remove him from the throne of Wallachia) they found him at Târgovişte

night attack at Targoviste royal palace - by night

The Night Attack at Târgoviște

It was Vlad Ţepeş outstanding victories against the Turk army under the command of grand vizier Mahmud Pasha that caught the eye of Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad was celebrated by Saxon cities of Transylvania, as well as by the Pope Pius II. So the Sultan decided to deal with Vlad himself, thus preparing an army equal to what he had behind him when he conquered Constantinople. 150 000 Turks including fierce Janissary troops, archers, cavalry, saiales (slaves, medieval Turkish Kamikaze), pikemen, beshlish who handled firearms, 120 cannons and an entire fleet… and Radu the Handsome, Vlad’s half brother who commanded 4 000 horsemen…as well as engineers who would build bridges and roads if necessary, priests, astrologers…
And Vlad? With no support from Hungarians ruled by Matthias Corvinus he relied on his people: all men of military age, but also women and children over the age of twelve ; and included Gypsy slaves, about 30 000 people all together, armed with lances, swords, and daggers, and most probably prong forks too.
Vlad was able to stop part of the Turkish attacks by scorching the earth, poisoning the water, creating marshes and pits, even adopting guerrilla tactics.

Still, on June 17 the Turks set camp outside Târgovişte
There was one last thing Vlad could do to protect his town.

That evening, Vlad disguised himself as a Turk and entered the Turkish camp (Vlad was fluent in Romanian, church Slavic, German, Latin, Turkish). Here, he wandered around to find the location of the Sultan’s tent and learn about his plans of attack.
A contemporary historian, Chalkokondyles, mentions that Mehmed had interdicted his soldiers to wander about the camp during the night, as to not cause panic in case of an attack.
So Vlad decided to attack the Turkish camp during that night.
Vlad’s men infiltrated the camp, then made noise from their buglers and illuminated the battle with their torches launching a series of attacks from “three hours after sunset until four the next morning”. Vlad Țepeș himself aimed for the tent of the sultan, but mistakenly went for the tent of his two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha (the same one that Vlad had already defeated in a previous battle).
The sultan Mehmed II abandoned camp and fled for his life.

The Night Attack at Targoviste - Theodor Aman
The Night Attack at Târgoviște, Theodor Aman

The Chindia Tower, Turnul Chindiei

It was Vlad Tepes who started building the lovely Chindia Tower for military purposes and to store the treasury. The tower rose on the place of an old manor house, although its final stone was put in place during the 19th century. It is believed that Hungarian commander Stephen V Báthory saw Chindia Tower and later refereed to it as the castle, in his letter from November 11, 1476.

A big feast or festival where people dance is known in Romanian as chindia, and this could be one explanation for the tower’s name, here being the place for such happy gatherings. But chindie, of Turkish origin, ikindi, also means sunset, the time of day when the guard gave the curfew signal, before closing the city’s gates. And this time was rather important as afterwards it was prohibited to enter or leave the city, and the residents were required not to pass through its streets and not to maintain outdoor fires that would have made the town visible from a distance and thus render it unsafe.

Today the Chindia tower rises at a height of 27 meters and measures 9 meters in diameter. When Prince Bibescu restored it, his builders also rose the tower by 5 meters.

For this reason, out of pro-Christian or pro-Ottoman beliefs, the Wallachian rulers of 16th century will shift the location of their princely court from Târgovişte to Bucharest and back again. Also, Târgovişte was often used as a summer residence, while Bucharest as a winter one.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History, Chindia Tower, inside view, black and white photo
Chindia Tower, Târgovişte – source Wikimedia

Dealu Monastery was built by Radu IV the Great at the very beginning of the 16th century, on a previous monastic settlement. This is rather important, as previously in Târgovişte we only had a Franciscan and a Dominican monastery, but not a Christian Orthodox one.

The grand Metropolitan Church was raised under the ruling of Neagoe Basarab, early 16th century. During the same time the seal of Târgovişte town depicting Virgin and Infant is created.

Târgovişte sees another rebirth at the end of the 16th century, under the ruling of Petru II of the Earring, who brings Italian and French cultural influences. Franco Sivori, Petru’s private secretary, mentions gardens designed after the Italian fashion as well as the Prince’s menagerie found at Târgovişte.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - reconstruction by Radu Oltean from Art Historia
Târgovişte Royal Palace and royal grounds the way they would have looked during the 16th century – reconstruction by Radu Oltean, Art Historia

Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) rules from here for a short time briefly bringing the three principalities under his personal union at 1600.

Although fortified, Târgovişte falls during the Turk-Tatar invasion of 1658 and is destroyed, its ruins being brought back to life 30 years later under the ruling of Constantin Brâncoveanu – till his tragic death.

18th century Târgovişte was on the world map

The most usual route on the way to Istanbul from western Europe, crossing Transylvania and Wallachia, passed through the towns of Cluj – Alba-Iulia – Sibiu, where it divided into two roads to Bucharest.
One crossed the Carpathians through the gorge of Turnu Roşu, going down to the capital by Râmnicu Vâlcea and Piteşti, and the other passed through Braşov Rucăr pass – Câineni – Câmpulung – Târgovişte, or along Valea Prahovei through Ploieşti, both routes passing through Bucharest.

Read the observations of an 18th century traveler returning from Istanbul and passing into Wallachia, a province still under the domination of the Porte (Ottoman Empire). Daniel Clarke traveled by carriage and this is his account on the different types of mentality he witnessed:
“On April 16”, – writes Daniel Clarke – “we crossed the Danube [moving north, towards Wallachia]. On the other bank, the carriages of Wallachia’s ruler. […] Some of the Turks had never before sat in a wheeled vehicle and when the carriages set in motion they stuck their bearded heads out the windows throwing the most pitiful looks one can imagine. […] For us the change wasn’t less memorable either, as one year and a half had passed since we had left Russia and we had spent the entire time traveling without once having at our disposal a wheeled carriage”

Cetatea Targovistei, Valeriu Pantazi pictura
Valeriu Pantazi, Cetatea Targovistei

As he crossed the Danube river, the British traveler on his way from Istanbul to England entered Wallachia. But for the travelers there was no militarized border with the Ottoman Empire as Wallachia had been for a few centuries under the domination of the Ottoman Porte (Sublime Porte), and in the 18th century the Ottoman Empire had increased its presence in the Romanian space.

There is an incredible 19th century story about the local villagers who fought for the conservation of the princely court with the Wallachian ruler of the time who had been named in position by the Ottoman court: Ioan Caradja (of Greek-Turkish origin). Caradja wanted the court demolished, but the villagers not only opposed, but they also preserved and rebuilt it.

The royal court of Târgovişte has next witnessed the Russo-Turk war, an earthquake and a fire, before a final rebirth during the late 19th century under the exemplary ruling of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and King Carol I.

Half a century after Dealu Monastery was built, a Military Highschool rose in Târgovişte in 1912, while King Carol I lead the Romanians. In 1930 Mihai I (the last King of Romania) and great-grandson of King Carol I (from his brother’s blood lineage) studied here. And Mihai was thus named after Romanian King Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), the first to rule over an united Romania in 1600.

Târgoviște, a Royal Palace in History - interbellic postcard
A postcard depicting the royal palace of Târgovişte during the two world wars

Sources:
*Markus Peter Beham, Braşov (Kronstadt) in the Defence against the Turks
*Laurentiu Radvan, Orasele din Tarile Romane in Evul Mediu
*Sorin ŞIPOŞ – FOREIGN TRAVELLERS IN THE ROMANIAN SPACE AND BORDER SYMBOLISM (1797-1810)
*Camelia TEODORESCU, Laurentiu Stefan SZEMKOVICS, Roxana RADU, FROM VLAD ŢEPEŞ – WALLACHIAN RULER – TO DRACULA. CONCLUSIVE DOCUMENTS REGARDING HIS NAME AND “FAME”
*DOCUMENTE DE ARHITECTURĂ DIN ROMÂNIA

My next work of fiction is a contemporary story glancing over the shoulder at some incredible events dating from Medieval Romania. Subscribe to my newsletter ad be among the first to know when it will come out 🙂

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Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

monters of folk tales

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.

Greek Monsters

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).

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

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.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

The Minotaur

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.

Odysseus and the Sirens, Roman mosaic, second century AD
Odysseus and the Sirens, depicted as women-birds, Roman mosaic

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.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Talesy, Odin and Fenris (1909) by Dorothy Hardy
Odin and Fenris (1909) by Dorothy Hardy

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.

Kraken monster by Édouard Riou
Kraken by Édouard Riou

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)

English Monsters

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.’

An illustration of Grendel by J. R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as "Very terrible to look upon."
An illustration of Grendel by J. R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf. Grendel is described as “Very terrible to look upon.”

The Dragon

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.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales, Puss meets the ogre in a nineteenth-century illustration by Gustave Doré
Puss in Boots meets the ogre…

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)

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales, Monster of Ravenna as depicted in the publication Curious Creatures, John Ashton, 1890.
Monster of Ravenna as depicted in the publication Curious Creatures, John Ashton, 1890.

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.

The Tarasque

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.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

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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.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

The Futakuchi-Onna

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.

futakuchi-onna,  a Japanese mythological monster depicted as having two mouths

Hone-Onna

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.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales, Hone Onna by Anna Astrid
Hone Onna by Anna Astrid

The Gashadokuro

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.

Oni

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.

Japanese Oni monster

Onis are popular characters in Japanese art, literature (the 14th century fairytale of Momotaro, Peach Boy), and theatre.

Jiangshi

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.

ArtStation - Jiangshi, Jean Vervelle

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.

American Monsters

The Hidebehind

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‘.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

Jersey Devil

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?

Modern Monsters

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.

Past and Present Monsters of Folk Tales

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?

The Clown

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:

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

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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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Flower Moon and Lunar Folklore

flower moon and lunar folklore

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.

flower moon and lunar folklore

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.

Flower Moon Lunar Folklore

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

Flower Moon Lunar Folklore

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). 

The Moonbow

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.

Flower Moon Lunar Folklore

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Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology

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).

oxen
Nicolae Grigorescu, Carul cu Boi – Cart with Oxen

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.

Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology
Tradition of decorating the ox on Pentecost, Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology

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.

Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology
Ştefan Luchian – Cioban cu oi, Shepherd with Sheep

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.

Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology, sacred sheepfold
Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology – the Sheep

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.

Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology

The pig

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.

Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology
The pig – Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology

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

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.

Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology, the wolf and the lamb
Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology, the wolf and the lamb

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.

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The Holy Fire of Easter

holy fire easter

One of rituals that stands out at Easter time, especially for the Christian worshipers, is the lighting of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

It goes like this…

They prayed that Saturday morning, all the high priests and the small ones, believers and worshipers, then they killed all the candles from the Church ’till the light was so dim that only the rays of the holy sun that shone through the stained glass windows showed them the way around. And with two white strips of cloth that crossed one over another they sealed the entrance to the Holy Tomb and they put a wax seal too, for all to see that nothing and nobody will go inside – till the time was right.

Police guarded the sealed door too, for none to doubt.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, The Holy Fire of Easter
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Later, the time had come. It is now.

But only one can step inside the chapel where the Holy Tomb is, the Patriarch. He is dressed like any other man, like the Man that once was and now is in Heavens, after He paid for our sins. He is dressed in a plain white sticharion, symbolizing the simplest of shrouds.

The simplest of shrouds for the purest of Men.

That through our belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and in his death and resurrection, God’s forgiveness was made once and for all through the death of Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Patriarch disappears inside, and outside the door awaits a deacon, holding a gold chalice made of the purest gold. Yet nothing is pure enough for this purpose.

The Tomb of Christ, within the Cathedral of the Holy Sepulchre, from which the Patriarch of Jerusalem emerges with the Holy Fire. The Holy Fire of Easter
The Tomb of Christ, within the Cathedral of the Holy Sepulchre, from which the Patriarch of Jerusalem emerges with the Holy Fire.

Inside the Holy Tomb the Patriarch kneels and prays from all his heart and through him believers from inside the church and from all over the world pray. The prayers that were whispered in the morning, the day before and the week before, pour now through the Patriarch’s heart, towards the Holy Tomb. The marble slab atop the tomb is the same as it was two thousand years back, when He was laid to rest there and their hearts were heavy with grief. For they though they lost Him.

And the Patriarch prays further, his head on the Holy slab, his lips moving in silent prayer, a confidential prayer, for God only.

And outside the Holy Tomb everyone holds their breath in waiting.

In waiting of the Holy Fire.

Almost everyone. The Arab Christians run throughout the church clapping their hands, and with loud voices show their faith. They too, pray, they ask God to send the Light.

The Holy Fire.

It is said, by those who witnessed, pilgrims from the four corners of the world speaking as many languages as there are stars in heaven, or almost, it is said that while you wait quietly for the Patriarch to step outside with the Holy Fire… While you wait on your knees, or standing, or even seated… While you wait quietly, or praying, or crying… you feel, and everyone does, a breeze.

For a breath of air has flown over the Holy Tomb.

It is quick. Look for it one second too long and it is gone. By the time you ask yourself if you really felt it, it is gone.

And after it is gone, drops of light, sparks of blue-light fire dance on the holy marble slab of the Tomb. The Patriarch’s heart swells with joy, the same joy worshipers must have felt when He has Risen, and he gathers the dancing flames with his hands in a loving gesture. The same one you and I use when cradling the light of a candle. And he steps outside, holding the Holy Fire in his hands, and then setting it with care, with love and worship, in the purest gold chalice.

It does not burn his skin.

It does not burn anyone for 33 minutes.

Then, taking two bunches of 33 candles each, he lights them both from the Holy Fire and calls for all the worshipers in the Church, for the entire Christendom:

The Holy Fire at the Rotunda of the Cathedral of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday.
The Holy Fire at the Rotunda of the Cathedral of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Holy Saturday.

Come Receive the Light!

And everybody cheers and rejoices and the bells sing and the Patriarch, holding the Holy Fire, is carried on the worshipers hands around the Church for everybody to light their own candles from the Holy Light, and then to pass it on.

From candle to candle. From man to man. From believer to believer. They are Christian Orthodox, Roman-Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox…

The Holy Fire of Easter

The Holy Fire is taken, by special flight, to other orthodox countries: Greece, Romania, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, being received by churches and millions of believers. And spreads from candle to candle, from hope to hope, from heart to heart.

From year to year, over the centuries.

The Holy Fire of Easter, a Memory

Each Easter Saturday, Sâmbăta Mare, the Saturday of Light or Holy Saturday, for as long as I remember of my life in Romania, my parents and I would walk to the church nearby, shortly before midnight, to receive the Light.

The vast church yard would be filled with people, young and old, neighbors and friends, my school friends and my parents’ friends, their relatives too, people standing in groups or alone, different in their dreams and ideals, yet all carrying a candle. Waiting, with hope in their heart, for the Holy Light. To see it. To share it, from one to the next. To take home.

The Holy Light is Hope. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for a blessed life. But it is also a common denominator. An equalizer. A reminder that we are all His children, we are not alone.

And so the Holy Light burns in our hearts for one more year. And forever.

Below is a 3 minutes video recording from the Metropolitan Cathedral, Iași, north-east of Romania.

Happy Easter!

PS Did you know?

Many Orthodox churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, which often differs from the Gregorian calendar that is used by many western countries. Therefore the Orthodox Easter period often occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox. This year the Orthodox Easter will be celebrated on the 19th of April.

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