1 March, Martisor – Tradition and Symbolism in Romania

Martie - Martisor - red and white string tied to snowdrops

They blamed it on the March wind, curious and playful, throwing off the girls’ scarfs so tightly wrapped all winter long, deceitful in its scented games, innocent in appearance, a trickster of a djinn. The red mark left on the maidens’ cheeks by the spring wind was a sure tell-tale. Some older women got it too. And there was not cure, known or unknown.

What was there to do? No one liked a blotchy face when the birds sang again of life and love and the flowers bloomed and your heart went mad with joy once more.
Someone must have gotten the idea from an old tale or a word lost in a whisper, over the fire.

Some legends say that the red-white thread was first spun by Old Dokia, Baba Dochia, as she took her sheep grazing up the mountain.

1 March Martie Martisor Romania
Nicolae Grigorescu, Peasant Woman

But who really cares where a cure originated when it works? It started in the valley, I believe, and it spread like gossip to the forest and up the mountains and even to the land over the forest and even further away…

And girls and older women together began to tie a red silky string around their neck. Thin enough to go unnoticed, yet strong to do the trick. To protect their smooth, white skin freshly sprung from a long winter against the March breeze, called the martisor.
And it worked.

And soon boys used it too. Girls and boys were gifted with this special thread on the 1st of March, before the sun showed its face up on the sky.
Soon they started to wear where it showed . For it had a red thread too, to protect their milky skin and sparkly eyes against the evil-eye.

1 March Martie Martisor Romania
1 March Martie Martisor Romania

The two threads twisted together, red and white or red and black, symbolized the unity of opposing forces: summer-winter, heat-cold, fertility-barrenness, light-dark.

Or so the story of the 1st of March, Martisor, says.

They were wearing it, maiden and wives, lasses and ladies, boys too, pinned to their chest, above the heart or around their wrists. A thread of white and red twisted together and tied in a bow. They would wear it from the 1st of March till the day they knew that Spring had won its battle against Winter: when the cuckoo sang again and the cherries bloomed, when the storks returned to their old nests and the swallows showed their fine tails in spirited flight again. When the snowdrops peaked from underneath the snow.

Then… they would tie the Martisor thread to a white rose or a blossomed tree, bearer of fruit, for good luck. The brave one would even throw it towards the directions where the migrating birds arrived from, whispering: “take my dark days and bring me bright ones.”

Later, some attached a silver coin to the silky white-red thread as a gift. Those who could afford such. The coin symbolized the sun and the Martisor became a symbol of light and of fire.
With the silver coin they would buy red wine, bread and fresh, soft, white cheese so that the girls who wore the silky thread would keep their ivory skin and have beautiful cheeks as red as wine.

1 March Martie Martisor Romania
1 March Martie Martisor and a silver coin – Romania

Why the 1st of March? 1 Martie?

You see, the Geto-Dacian tribes who inhabited during the 4th century BC the territory we now today as Romania, celebrated the New Year on the 1st of March. Their calendar had only two seasons, winter and summer. The Martisor was therefore offered for good luck on the first day of the New Year, together with heartfelt wishes for health, happiness and love.

As are my wishes to you…
La Multi Ani de Martisor!

PS. Here is my childhood collection of “Martisoare”. In Romania, we would offer them to friends on the 1st of March. Not all were made of glass. They can be fashioned out of anything.

Glass collection of Martisoare: dogs, squirrels, chimney sweep, penguins, parrots, swallow, cat, rooster, bird, swan, geese
My priceless glass collection of Martisoare
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The Journey of Initiation in Romanian Fairy Tales

journey initiation Romanian fairy tales

A strong sense of the place, a memorable, relatable character, a journey of initiation we are eager to follow – are the markings of retellable Romanian fairy tales.

Romanian folk tales are filled with active characters involved in amazing journeys. Perhaps an influence of the millennial transhumance and of a local history forged in battles, seen through the Romanian metaphysical view on religion, what better way to explain the connection between the sacred and the profane but through stories?

Romanian folklore sees the sacred and the profane as two parts that, united, create this world. Thus the journey the main character of a mythical story or a folk tales follows is seen as a bridge connecting the two, a way of communication, of connecting the sacred with the profane. But at the same time this journey, by reaching the sacred, allows the character to achieve a higher level of knowledge and understanding of the world he lives in, the profane.

Going back to my Romanian roots I read my childhood’s fairytales with one though in my mind. That the material read influences not only the style and the form, but also the thoughts and the ideas behind one’s work (and actions). By observing various characters from Romanian fairy tales I drew a mind map of the various journeys of initiation, with examples.

The journey of initiation as depicted in Romanian fairy tales

1. The quest of finding one’s fate, even going to the netherworld

Youth without Age and Life without Death, Tinerete Fara de Batranete si Viata Fara de Moarte, is the story of a young prince who goes in search of that what was promised to him before he was born, a youthful state of life that lasts forever. During his adventure he discovers a land far away, where time passes at a different pace. Surprisingly this fairy tale does not have a happy ending.

The journey of finding what was promised, of finding one’s fate, or the journey to the underworld often includes a forbidden place, a room or an object that has the power to suddenly undo the happiness found. The world that the main character left behind, ruled by normal time, is different than the new world he discovered. Often, there is no exact border between the two. While time cannot physically affect them in the world they discovered at the end of their quest of initiation, we must remember that the main character was born in a world guided by normal time and therefore time can still affect him psychologically (they becomes homesick).

journey initiation Romanian fairy tales

2. The journey of finding a beloved that went (suddenly) missing or of leaving a beloved behind in order to find something lost

The Enchanted Pig, Porcul cel Fermecat, is the story of the youngest princess (of three), the one who marries a pig because that was her fate. Following wrong advice, one night she gets rid of the pig’s skin and this throws her into her journey. Turns out the pig skin was only spell put over a handsome prince that now she must search for all over the world, “until she will wear out three pairs of iron shoes and a steel staff”in order to undo the spell and find happiness again.

Often in Romanian fairy tales a character appears to have a different shape, wear an animal skin that is suddenly lost due to the main character’s mistrust.
The transformation that the secondary charter goes through, often from that of an animal to a human appearance, can represent the hero’s confusion, his or hers lack of experience in dealing with intimate relationships.
It is the journey of initiation the hero must take (in this case of finding something lost, the animal skin) that will eventually allow him/ her to mature enough so that on his / her return a relationship can be pursued.

During this type of journey the character can be forced to leave the loved one behind due to a mistake. The journey he is about to undertake will help solve the problems, or redeem the sin that was committed and was the catalyst of he journey.
On the other hand, the hero that undergoes such a journey shows exceptional qualities, as anyone else showing less class would not have been able to undergo such a quest.
The loved one that is left behind or must be found, often waiting in anguish, is not having happier days either until the hero’s victory.

journey initiation Romanian fairy tales

3. The trip to solve a problem, fix a wrong doing, or of proving oneself

Ileana Simziana or The Princess Who Would be a Prince tells the story of three princesses who try to prove themselves in the eyes of their elderly father, the king. It is the youngest one who emerges victorious from the different quests she has to undergo.

Through the journey the hero finds himself on a higher level, gaining the experience needed to live in a world he knew nothing about at the beginning of the story. Often it is the youngest one or the smallest one (of three brothers of sisters) who emerges victorious.
The journey also allows the main character to finally perceive the reality just the way it is, without the initial pink cloud of an ideology based on the ignorance of youth or of a sheltered existence.
In other occasions this journey of initiation starts out of indifference to the place of birth or because the character is banished.

journey initiation Romanian fairy tales

4. The ride of humility, of forgiveness or of teaching a lesson

Junior the Brave and the Golden Apples, Praslea cel Voinic si Merele de Aur tells us the story of how the youngest son of an emperor who goes to find and punish the intruder who would steal the golden apples from the king’s orchard. During the quest he discovers the cunning jealousy of his older brothers as well as a monster with great powers. Luckily, a beautiful fairy comes to his rescue.

Often, a hero found high on the social scale has to undergo a journey of initiation that will force him or her to leave below the social standard received through birth, thus learning a valuable lesson on self-sufficiency, humility and compassion.

journey initiation Romanian fairy tales

5. The voyage as a pretext that will lead to lessons learned or other journeys.

Emperor Aleodor, Aleodor Imparat, is the story of an emperor’s son who accidentally passes the border to a forbidden land, that of Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-rabbit. To redeem himself he has to undergo a series of tasks. He doesn’t mind proving his innocence and escaping the beast, but the outcome is not what he bargained for – still a happy ending.

The initial journey is often an every day activity, such as a stroll, hunt, or a trade. The result, on the other hand, is that of the main character meeting a fairy, a witch, a spirit, a beast, entering a forbidden space or having a terrible dream that will later lead to him pursuing more adventures.
Although it begins as an involuntary activity, this journey of initiation proves that the spiritual and the sacred surpass the godless and the worldly side of life.

The journey of initiation will often allow the character access to the sacred. In Romanian folklore, life consists of seen and the unseen combined, much like the world we live in, crated by God as a unity.
The journey of initiation allows the character to travel between the two worlds, the seen and the unseen. These worlds, although different, are governed by the same moral laws. What differ is often the way the physical body interacts and reacts, often to the passing of the time.

journey initiation Romanian fairy tales

The journey of initiation in Romanian fairy tales and its connection with time

One other element connected with the journey of initiation is the time that seems removed from the normal timeline of the character’s everyday life. No matter where the character arrives, in a magical valley, over seven mountains and seven seas, in an enchanting kingdom, time passes different.

In Romanian folk culture there are various sacred tradition throughout the year, connected with the seasons, with observing of various saints, with agriculture or human life stages and each tradition is preceded by a series of customs. These customs have to be performed in a certain order, at a certain time. By doing so we mark the sacred time in the year that we celebrate.

Through the prism of the the end result – the finding of what “rightfully” belonged to the main character, the braking of the spell, the removing of the obstacle, the knowledge and experience gathered – the journey of initiation is similar to the traditions of the Romanian folk culture, marking a sacred time in the life of the character, the time he spent in his quest.
The character fought to obtain something and by doing so he gained access to a sacred time in a different land, away from the time frame and the borders of the era and the country where he was born.
By traveling to a far way, enchanted land, the main character passed not only a border between worlds, but he traveled in time, not in the past or the future, but in a parallel time, governed by different laws. There is often little difference between the two worlds and there is no visible border either, the exact moment of passing is often unnoticed. Only by observing the various rules that govern the two world can we tell them apart.

The journey of initiation in Romanian fairy tales is extraordinary and it often spans over the entire length of the folktale. But is this journey mesmerizing though the various tasks the hero goes through and the challenges he faces or because he finally gains that much needed knowledge and sees the life and the world around him for what it actually is?

Life is a journey of initiation in itself and it is in how we address its problems and on how we emerge from its various challenges that makes it retellable and relatable, much like fairy-tales.

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Valentine’s Day in Romanian Folklore: Dragobete, Ziua Indragostitilor

valentine's day folklore dragobete

Romanian folklore is a rich source of fairy-tales and traditions filled with wisdom and symbolism and bearing witness to a millennial culture, such as Dragobete, the Romanian version of Valentine’s Day, Ziua Indragostitilor and celebrated not on 14 February, but on 24 February.

Dragobete, origin and signification

A few theories explain the origin of this celebration and the etymology of its name. Some say it derives from “dragubete”=”dragu” (meaning dear, beloved in Romanian) + “-bete” (a Slavonic suffix meaning gathering).
Some say it coincides with the Christian celebration of The First Finding of the Honorable Head of Prophet John the Baptist, named in Slavonic Glavo-Obretenia and adopted during the Middle Ages by Romanians under various names, such as Bragobete, later Dragobete. Some see in Dragobete an old Dacian tradition taking place during this specific time of the year, beginning of spring, by using the connection with two Dacian words: ‘trago” (tap, goat) and “pede” (picioare, feet). And the Dacians inherited their legends from the Thracians, Indo-European tribes mentioned as far back as the legends of Iliad and Odyssey, 600 -800 years before the times of Saint Valentine.

valentine's day folklore dragobete

Perhaps the best connection with Valentine’s Day is by associating Dragobete with a character from Romanian mythology, patron of love and good cheer. He was the son of Baba Dochia, a figure that marks the return of spring, described as a demigod with special powers, young and good looking, and kind hearted. And with spring comes the renewal of nature and love. This explains why Dragobete is celebrated on this day, as 24 February was considered the beginning of the new agricultural season.

Based on the popular tradition surrounding this specific date in Romania, 24 February, birds and animals all find their mates and build nests, as it is a celebration of fertility and nature’s rebirth. I is said that if girls and boys enjoy a day of jokes and fun together then they will enjoy of a year full of love, for sure. For Dragobete protects love and those who share it on this day. 

Dragobete is also a symbol for spring and new beginning, for changing of seasons from winter that we leave behind, to spring, ahead of us, a change from long night to shorter ones and longer days, filled with sunshine.

Dragobete, Valentine's Day - photo by Adolph Chevalier
Photo by Adolph Chevalier

Romanian folklore presents Dragobete as a handsome young man with hair as black as ebony and eyes as green as the spring leaves, who would play his whistle and make the girls fall for him. He is the one responsible for teaching humankind how to love. As a reward, Virgin Mary turned him into a plant, Navalnic, Impetuous or hart’s-tongue fern. Other folk tales speak of Dragobete as teasing Virgin Mary and making her lose her path in the forest, thus she changed him into the same plant.

Up to today, this plant is said to bring young maidens good luck in love if they wear it tucked in their bosom in a silk bag. Although modern times swapped the plant for a banknote. 

Popular tradition speaks of young girls and boys meeting outside the village church and heading for the woods to gather spring flowers. If raspberry flowers were in sight, it was a good sign. They were soon picked while the girls would sing:

“Flower of raspberry,
 Born in February,
 Make the whole world like me
 And take away all that’s beastly”

Romanian country song for Dragobete

Afterwards, the boys and girls light up fires and sit around and talk. At noon, the girls sprint for the village, each followed by a boy the boy who liked her the most. If the boy catches the girl and if she also likes him, they kiss in front of everybody, thus becoming engaged for one year, on Dragobete, by showing their attachment for each other in front of everybody.

I don’t know what happens if two boys chase a girl. But all young adults were urged to take part in this ceremony for, as tradition also says, participating in Dragobete will protect you from any illness during the coming year. I would say enough for any elderly villager… 

valentine's day folklore dragobete - valentine's day folklore dragobete - photo by Adolph Chevalier
Moldavia, Romania. Photo by Adolph Chevalier

Want to have luck in love? Here’s what you should do on Dragobete, on 24 February

Wash your hair with snow. Gather fresh, unspoiled snow, melt it and wash your hair and your face to stay beautiful all year round and for the boys to notice you first. The Dragobete snow is said to be perfect for love charms.

Kiss your loved one on Dragobete or at least make sure you get to see the one you fancy and you two will be together forever or at least you will increase your chances of ending up together.

Be merry and joyful on Dragobete day and you will stay like this the entire year.

In some parts of Romania the common belief says that stepping on your partner’s foot on Dragobete will establish your dominance in the relationship. At least during the year ahead.

You can pick or buy crocuses, violets or snowdrops to hang them above the icons in your home – it will keep you young as well as chase away any bad thoughts or envy held against you. These flowers, once dry, can be thrown on a moving water on 24 June, on Sanziene Day (or Dragaica, a night when all magic is possible), to attract all bad luck down the river with them.

Clean your house on Dragobete day for a fruitful year and to guarantee your husband’s love. But, if you are a boy don’t dig or work the ground or Dragobete might punish you because you don’t have fun.

Boys and all men should not tease the girls or be nasty towards them on Dragobete, or they will set themselves for an unlucky spring. 

Plant basil so it will grow until Saint George, the day after Easter, when it’s the perfect time to replant it in the garden. The basil planted on Dragobete is perfect for spells, charms, and cures, for it is said it hold special powers. Besides, the Dragobete basil is the one girls can use in various rituals throughput the year to help them foresee their chosen one.

Try to spot a hoopoe on Dragobete and you will have good luck all year. But if you spot a pair of birds, you will have good luck in love. 

If you drink cherry tea on Dragobete you will know love all year round.

valentine's day folklore dragobete - Dragobete, folklore, Romania, tradition dance. photo by Adolph Chevalier
Romanian traditions on Dragobete – folk dance. Photo by Adolph Chevalier

A Dragobete spell from Ardeal region of Romania:

Old women would go in the forest to pick hart’s-tongue fern. Before they pull it from the ground they whisper the name of the girl they collect for and drop honey, flour and some sugar at the plant’s root. Picked only this way can the fern be used for magic spells that are supposed to make a certain boy love the girl it was picked for. 

What you should NOT do on Dragobete, on 24February, to avoid any bad luck

Because it is a celebration of love and rebirth, don’t buy or sacrifice any animals on this day.

Don’t sew, wash or iron, but you can clean your home.

What makes Dragobete or Valentine’s day so special ,lasting the test of time?

Is it the nostalgic feeling all tradition carries, the romance that puts a spring in our step, no matter how much we deny its importance during the rest of the year?

Or is it simpler then that. It is the need for hope and the feeling of belonging, to know that our existence carries some sort of meaning for someone else? Someone we care for too.

How many Saint Valentine are there?

The Saint Valentine we all know so well was a 3rd century Roman saint venerated by Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, and Lutheran Church on the 14th of February.

Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Valentin, Bishop of Umbria, on the 30th of July. Saint Valentine of Umbria was born in 175 AD in Interamna (today Terni, in Umbria Italy), and performed numerous miracles, healing the sick. When he was almost one hundred years old he was arrested in the middle of the night (to avoid protests from people of Terni), tortured and decapitated in Rome during the ruling of Marc Aureliu.

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Emperor Aleodor, Romanian Folktale

emperor Aleodor Romanian folktale

Emperor Aleodor, Aleodor Imparat, is a Romanian folktale gathered by Romanian folklorist and writer Petre Ispirescu in 1875 and translated into English in 19th by historian and linguist Robert Nisbet Bain.

Although rooted in the rich imagination of Romanian people, Emperor Aleodor follows the classical structure of a fairy tale. It begins with “once upon a time” and the events follow a certain order, while real characters, desires and circumstances blend with fantastic ones. The folktale ends on an optimistic note, with the main character learning a few valuable lessons, making new (unexpected) friends and defeating the villain.

I did very little to change Nisbet Bain’s skillful translation. I liked his choice of early modern English, I thought it gives Emperor Aleodor a charming old-fashioned patina. Petre Ispirescu wrote Aleodor Imparat in modern Romanian language, but, you see, for us, Romanians, having grown up with this story, it already speaks of childhood memories and of once upon a time.

Emperor Aleodor Romanian folktale
For a child, where does reality ends and fantasy begins?

Emperor Aleodor, a Romanian Folktale

Once upon a time, a long, long ago, for if it didn’t happen it couldn’t be told, when the poplars fruited apples and the willow tree sprouted wallflowers; when the bears wrestled one another through the strength of their tails; when wolves and lambs kissed one another; when one would put 99 iron shoes on the flea and then would thrust it into the glory of the sky only to return to Earth and tell us stories; when the fly would write on the wall, a bigger liar being the one who doesn’t believe what he is told… there lived an Emperor whose hair was already white, yet he never proved himself worthy of a son to bless himself with. The poor Emperor would have given anything to have had a little son of his own, even an unattractive one as other men did. But, alas, all his wishes were in vain.

At last, when he reached old age Fortune took pity on him and a darling of a boy was born to him, the like of which the world had never seen before. The Emperor named him Aleodor, and gathered east and west, north and south together to rejoice in his joy at the child’s christening.

The revels lasted three days and three nights, and all the guests who made merry there with the Emperor could think of nothing else for the rest of their lives.

Emperor Aleodor - The revels lasted three days and three nights

The lad grew up as strong as an oak, as lovely as a rose, and as clever as a fox, while his father the Emperor drew nearer the edge of his grave with each passing day. And when the hour of his death arrived at last, he took the child on his knees and said to him:

“My darling son, behold for, at last, the Lord calls for me. The moment is at hand when I am to share the common lot of man. I foresee that thou wilt become a great man, and though I be dead my bones will rejoice in the tomb at thy noble deeds. As to the administration of this realm, I need tell thee nought, for thou, with thy wisdom, wilt know how it behoves a king to rule. One thing there is, nevertheless, that I must tell thee. Dost thou see that mountain over yonder? Beware of ever setting thy foot upon it, for ’twill be to thy hurt and harm. That mountain belongs to the ‘Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-rabbit,’ and whosoever ventures upon that mountain cannot escape unscathed.”

Emperor Aleodor - That mountain belongs to the ‘Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-rabbit

He had no sooner said these words than his throat rattled thrice, and he gave up the ghost. He departed to his place just like every other human soul that is born into the world as if he has never been since the world began. 

Those of his household bewailed him, his great nobles bewailed him, his people bewailed him also, but eventually, they had to bury him. 

Aleodor, from the moment that he ascended the throne of his father, ruled the land wisely like a mature statesman, though in age he was but a child. All the world delighted in his sway, and men thanked Heaven for allowing them to live in the days of such a prince.

All the time that was not taken up by affairs of State, Aleodor spent in the chase. But he always bore in mind the advice of his father, and took care not to exceed the bounds which had been set for him.

One day, however—how it came about I know not—but anyhow he fell into a brown study, and never noticed that he had overstepped the domains of the Half-man till, after taking a dozen steps or so onwards, he found himself face to face with the monster. That he was trespassing on the grounds of this lame and terrible creature did not trouble him over-much, it was the thought that he had transgressed the dying command of his dear father that grieved him.

“Ho, ho!” cried the hideous monster, “dost thou not know that every scoundrel who oversteps my bounds becomes my property?”

“Yes,” replied Aleodor, “but first I must tell thee that it was through want of thought and without wishing it that I have trodden on thy ground. Against thee I have no evil thoughts at all.”

“I thought you better than that,” replied the Half-man; “but I see that, like all cowards, thou dost think it best to make excuses.”

“Nay, so sure as God preserves me, I am no coward. I have told thee the simple truth; but if thou wouldst fight, I am ready. Choose thy weapons! Shall we slash with sabres, or slog with maces, or wrestle together?”

 “Neither the one nor the other,” replied the monster. “One way only canst thou escape thy just punishment—thou must fetch me the daughter of the Green Emperor!”

Emperor Aleodor - One way only canst thou escape thy just punishment—thou must fetch me the daughter of the Green Emperor!
Emperor Aleodor must find the daughter of the Green Emperor in this Romanian folktale.

Aleodor would very much have liked to have got out of the difficulty some other way, as neither the affairs of his State would allow him to take so long a journey, nor had he a guide to direct him. Nor this, nor the other one either. But how would the Half-man know of such? He merely held on to it, that Aleodor must fetch him the daughter of the Green Emperor if he wants to be rid of his pending punishment and keep his Soul Bone. 

He, Aleodor, knowing in his heart that he did wrong, felt that if he would avoid the shame of being thought a robber and a trampler on the rights of others, he must indeed find the daughter of the Green Emperor. Besides, he also knew that of the devil-man one must escape at any cost, better yet, avoid at all costs. He wanted to escape with a whole skin if he could so, at last, he promised that he would do the service required of him.

Now Half-man-riding-on-the-worse-half-of-a-lame-horse knew very well that, as a man of honour that he was, Aleodor would never depart from his plighted word, so he said to him: “Go now, in God’s name, and may good luck attend thee!”

~~~ end of part one~~~
Do return for part two of Emperor Aleodor, a Romanian folktale. Coming soon.

If you like stories from long ago you might enjoy my retelling of Jock of the Bushveld: Africa’s Best Loved Dog Hero.

Jock of the Bushveld: Africa's Best Loved Dog Hero by Patricia Furstenberg, folktales retold

“Although Jock of the Bushveld is a children’s story, I recommend Patricia Furstenberg’s tale to anyone of any age because it is an easy read that is easy to identify with and understand, as well as the positive messages within the text that are a strong indicator of how anyone can benefit from a love born of a second chance.” (Amy Raines for Readers’ Favorite)

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4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

The Romanian Myths draw from a popular culture that is tightly blended with the history and the sacred and it spills into a rich national culture.

Myths have a powerful significance to the cultures who tell them, for they explain sacred origins, bring forward human archetypes, and are a model for future aspirations. A myth unifies cosmic and social events, explaining them in a way that is in touch with the most fundamental values of a community.

Carried forward through a nation’s folklore, myths enrich its culture in many ways, acting as a catalyst in literature, music, and the arts . Enchanting to children and still shrouded in mystery, myth reveal their meanings, like stepping stones, only as one advances through life. I remember learning about these myths in school. They felt abstract and their charm escaped my younger self. I am happy I revised them recently. I found them fascinating, dripping with insight and wisdom that over-passed the millennia.

The Cosmogonic Myth of Miorita

At the very origin of this myth is the ballad of Miorita that originates in Soveja, a small town in the Romanian Vrancea Mountains (right at the curve of the Carpathians). The eerie, mournful ballad was often sung by local troubadours. Worth mentioning here is that the Romanian populace, developed around strong Christian values and governed by a social structure, was fundamentally rural until the middle of the 18th century, so the myth of Miorita influenced a local and vibrant culture.

The word miorita has its root in mioara, a nick-name for a small, young sheep, an ewe.

Shepherding has been a millennial occupation of Romanians. Humans domesticated sheep since the early Stone Age, about the same time they met the trusted dog. Tradition and rituals are deeply embedded in the mindset of these people.

The sheep in Miorita may symbolize purity and simplicity, but also the complexity of unpretentious things. In Christianity, sheep symbolize purity and goodness.
In Miorita, the (young) sheep represent the oracle.

The ballad tells of three shepherds, one from each historical province of Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania), who meet in the Vrancea mountainous area during the transhumance. One of them is approached by a sheep who predicts that the other two will plot against him to steal his sheep. The shepherd accepts his destiny. His only desire is that the sheep tell his mom that he fell in love with a princess and ran with her to a far away kingdom.

The Legend of Traian and Dochia is the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis

Ceahlau, Dochia and Traian, Romanian myths culture history
Source

The Legend of Traian and Dochis is part of the Romanian myths that try to explain the origin of the local culture and the history of the Romanian people.

In antiquity, the geographical area we know today as Romania was known as Dacia. The geto-dac people lived here. Dacia was at the height of its power during the ruling of Decebal, 87-106.

Dochia was Degebal’s daughter. When the Romans under the ruling of Emperor Trajan attacked Dacia for its valuable gold mines, Trajan fell in love with Dochia and wished to take her with him. He chased her over the hills, eager to catch her. Dochia did not wish to leave her people and asked the gods to remain in her homeland, no matter what. She was instantly turned to stone together with her maidens.

The myth is placed in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, in the Ceahlau Mountain, where there is a group of stones with a strange appearance. Ceahlau Mountain is unique in Romanian culture, being the only mountain with patron saint.

The myth of Dochia represents the pain that Decebal felt at the thought of the Romans conquering his people, as well as his helplessness in front of irreversible life and its events. Just keep in mind that Decebal did not go down without a fight. The Dacs fought the Romans in two wars before they were finally conquered.

As it is often with myths and legends, this specific story might draw from a different one, about a grumpy master mason and his daughter.

The Myth of Master Builder Manole

The Legend of Master Builder Manole. Curtea de Arges Cathedral

This myth speaks of the sacrifice that sits at the foundation of each accomplishment or construction. The bigger the sacrifice, the more sacred the result is considered.

The theme of this myth is the sacrifice as a source of new life.

Tradition asks for cats, puppets, coins, or crosses to be built in the foundation of a new home or on its doorstep to protect it from evil spirits. And diggings prove that this tradition is true and widespread.

Prince Neagoe Basarab, ruler of Wallachia at the beginning of the 16th century and his wide Millica Despina were the founders of the Curtea de Arges Monastery.
Nine builders under the leadership of Manole worked all day long only to see their work falling to pieces during the night. Needless to say, the Prince was not happy. Manole prayed and prayed until one night he had a dream. Human sacrifice was needed, more exactly a laborer’s female relative, the first one to bring them food at dawn. And so it happens that the first woman to arrive with food was Maole’s wife Ana.

As soon as the sacrifice took place, Manole building his wife into the foundation while she was still alive, making it look like a game, the construction stood and it was soon finished.
The most beautiful monastery ever to see the light of the sun.
The Prince was ecstatic, but not desiring his master builder to raise another construction as beautiful as that one again, perhaps even more stunning, ordered for the scaffolding to be removed abandoning Manole, who were still standing on the roof. Manole fashioned himself wings out of its of wood he had nearby and tried to fly to safety, only to fall to his death.

The construction of Curtea de Arges Monastery was finished during the ruling of Prince Radu the Black. It is unclear if the myth of Manole speaks of him or his image was distorted. One version of the ballad mentions that Manole and the builders boasted together that they will be able to build an even better monastery, and so they were all left on the roof.
The Monastery Curtea de Arges is real, a pearl of byzantine architecture with Moorish arabesques and its two twisting cupolas are famous worldwide.

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy -  mitul Zburatorului
Amore e Psiche by Canova

This Romanian myth blends culture with social and religious believes as well as the history and beginnings of psychiatry.

Fly-boy is said to be a magnificent young man that visits young maidens in their dreams, similar to the myth of Incubus.
In Romanian mythology he is depicted as a handsome youngster with golden hair or as a dragon that shines, his skin covered in precious stones, with a tail made of flames.

The myth of Fly-boy signifies the impossible love, the unanswered love, the burning passion and even remembers of the vampire’s myth – giving the symptoms of the girls he “visits”: weight loss, pale skin.

The Fly-boy is presumed to have been a man whose love was rejected during his lifetime by a woman. He returned to hunt all women, but especially the one who rejected his feelings.

The Romanian folklore and literature are abundant with fabulous characters and archetypes: giants, ogres, sirens, three headed dragons, magic horses, talking wolves, spirits of the forest and of the lake, ghosts, eerie maidens, magic birds, witches and saints, fairy godmothers, handsome princes or clumsy page-boys, good or evil emperors, and many more. Their stories have animated the childhood of many generations and form an unseen golden thread that unites a strong national spirit that prevailed over millennia.
The Romanian myths connect its people with an abundant culture, a stormy history and the ever-permanent sacred.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Romanian myths between culture, history and the sacred. You might also be interested in:

Symbolism in Silent Heroes, the Story behind it
Orthodox Easter Eggs, folktales, symbolism, traditions
Snow’s Thousand Faces and Meanings

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