Spanning over two millennia, the Romanian folklore, rich in myths and legends, influenced and later inspired the vast culture of this country. In an attempt to pass their knowledge, explain natural phenomenons and remember the heroes lost in wars, myths and legends were born, shared and treasured. As a source of entertainment around the fire during the long months of winter, stories were shared.
Apotropaic – apo·tro·pa·ic | \ ˌa-pə-trō-ˈpā-ik – is a word with deep meaning in folklore: “supposedly having the power to avert evil influences or bad luck. Designed to avert evil.” Most rituals are apotropaic.
I will share my findings on Romanian folklore, myths and legends on this page, updated regularly.
Have a look at my other blog posts about interesting Romanian folklore, myths and legends:
4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred
Valentine’s Day in Romanian Folklore: Dragobete, Ziua Indragostitilor
1 March, Martisor – Tradition and Symbolism in Romania
A Forgotten Spring Legend and a Romanian Tradition
Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore
Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology
Flower Moon and Lunar Folklore
Garlic in Romanian Folklore
Or these blog posts on Romanian folk tales:
Emperor Aleodor, Romanian Folktale
The Journey of Initiation in Romanian Fairy Tales
Youth Without Age and Life Without Death – Romanian Folktale
Time in Romanian Folktales and Schrödinger’s Cat
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
Romanian Monsters of Myth and Folklore
Romanian folklore, myths and legends you can read about on this page:
- Seasonal Folklore of Romania
- Romanian Folklore of Food, Flora and Fauna
- Romanian Myths
- Childhood, Child-lore in Romanian Folklore
- Folk-Art ~ Romanian Symbols, Symbology
- Romanian Folklore, Myths Involving Nature
- Romanian Folklore of Travelers and Traveling
- Romanian Folklore of Home and Family
Seasonal folklore of Romania
Seasonal Folklore of Romania
For good luck in the New Year it was advised to sew a pillowcase on new year’s eve. But, do not use the scissors on the 1st day of the new year, or you will cut your own good luck for the year ahead.
Yet, having your clothes mended while wearing them it is said to have the power of twisting your mind, of taking away your wits. Holding a thread or your tongue between your teeth prevents such ill fortune. Maidens avoided having their garments mended while wearing them, even buttons, as the number of times the needle stabbed the cloth was to equal the number of women gossiping about them.
If the weather is dry, then February will be freezing, but it will rain all summer. Yet if January is ccccold… you will enjoy a hot July!
On the night of Epiphany, the 6th of January, young girls can hide a thread of basil under their pillow – to dream of the one they are going to marry. Basil is said to hold special powers. Therefore it is used for love potions and spells.
But… if you don’t have basil, don’t despair. Eat a very salty gingerbread before bedtime on Epiphany day, 6 January, and if you dream of a man bringing you water, that’s your future husband. OR place a borrowed wedding-band under your pillow…
In Romania, on the 2nd of February folklore tradition speaks of the Spring & Winter spying on each other on Stretenia or Bear Day. Today the Bear is expected to comes out of his barn for the first time after its winter hibernation. If he sees his shadow 🌞 he’ll get a fright, run back for more sleep and thus winter will last for 40 more days. But if he won’t see his shadow the Spring will come very soon in that year.
Spotting raspberry flowers this early in February was always considered a good sign in Romanian folklore. Girls would pick them & chant for love:
“Flower of raspberry,
Born in February,
Make the whole world like me
And take away all that’s beastly”
To be lucky in love for the entire year wear Navalnic or hart’s-tongue tucked in your bosom on Valentine’s Day, celebrate on 24 February in Romania, and called Dragobete!
‘Babele‘ were knowledgeable old women able to predict the future and the weather and are celebrated between 1 – 9 March. The weather of the respective day predicts how your next year will be! Your birth date is the date in March (between 1st and 9th) when your ‘Baba” day will be. Has your birth-date having two digits ? Add them and find the date of your ‘Baba”.
In Romanian folklore we say that March (‘Mart‘) invited April (‘Prier‘) to visit. Advised by May (‘Florar‘), April brought along a cart, but also a sleigh and a boat as March had the reputation of being a trickster. Thus, April was able to visit!
The 1st Thursday of Christian Orthodox Easter Fasting was “Mare Thursday”, Joia Mare. Popular belief dictated that no work be done around the farm / only indoors. If this was followed, it was believed to help ease births in the future, warn off stomach pain and allow for lots of foals to be born – OR ELSE.
In Romanian folklore the Wednesday after Easter is seen as holy, like that entire week. No household work is done or… mice will come in the house and eat all the goods from the table on this “Mice Wedding” day.
More Romanian folklore myths legends moving into summer.
Also called “Wormwood Day” or “Day of Drunkenness”, May 1 or Arminden Day symbolizes, in popular tradition, the beginning of summer and a symbol of vegetation, a day when the protector of crops and animals is celebrated. The name Arminden comes from the name of the Christian prophet Jeremiah. In some regions of Banat and Transylvania, Arminden Day is celebrated on the eve of St. George (23rd April) or on Ispas (6 June, Ascension).
Arminden is celebrated for the fruit of the earth, so as not to harmed by hail and be protected against pests; for the health of cattle, good wine,and for healthy people. Arminden is celebrated through outdoor picnics where lamb and curd are eaten and washed down with red wine spiced with with wormwood.
On the morning on May 1st people wash their faces with dew for good health. Tradition asks that green branches are placed at gates, for good luck and abundance. But only young lads can do it, under the protection of the night. If a maiden ready to get married lives in tat house, then birch saplings are placed in front of the gate. The gates to the cattle barns are also decorated with green branches so that the animals, just like the people, will be protected from the destructive forces of evil spirits.
Arminden symbolizes the ancient god of vegetation that protects crops and animals. The day before, a green branch or a cleaned tree is brought from the forest, and on May 1 is placed in front of the house where it is left until harvest time. Then only will it be fed to the fire on with which the bread from the harvested wheat will be baked.
Some Romanian folklore, myths, legends for autumn.
It was believed that healing herbs and plants could only be collected until the day of Saint Mary, on the 8th of September. After that day they would loose their healing powers.
Romanian tradition says that autumn lasts between Saint Mary’s day on 8 September and Saint Nicholas on the 6th of December. Whenever you hear thunder during that time, it is only Saint Ilie, Saint Elijah, returning home with his cart filled with corn.
Bringing offerings to those who passed away and lighting bonfires in the eve of Saint Dumitru ( St Demetrios, a Christian holiday observed on the 26 October) is said to bring good harvest in the new year.
Beautiful Romanian folklore myths legends for Christmas.
Only between Christmas Eve and the 6th of January can children go caroling with the Star, fashioned of paper, wood or wire, with an icon of Saint Mary and the Infant in the middle. A Christian winter tradition to remind us the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
A meaningful winter tradition in Romania is caroling. Children go a-caroling in the morning on Christmas Eve (JOY to the World) while young, single men go chanting in the evening. Young couples carol on Christmas Day. They get round pretzels (symbolizing the SUN, nuts, and sometimes money.
Caroling with the bear (an animal considered stronger than winter) at Christmas time in Romania is a reminder that winter will be replaces by spring as the bear’s dance, spinning, falling, and rising on the staff, are all symbols for the seasons’ sequencing.
At Christmas and New Year, The Goat Dance (stag or ewe) symbolizes nature’s death during winter & its renewal in coming spring. Just like the bear, the goat dies & returns to life in its dance. Its vibrant colors are a reminder of joyful spring.
Around winter solstice and Saint Ignat Day, Romanian folk sacrificed a pig. A cross was made on its neck, at the back, each family members receiving a cross on the forehead with the pig’s blood. For good luck. The meat was smoked & Christmas meals prepared with it.
Romanian Folklore of food, flora and fauna
Romanian Folklore of Food, Flora and Fauna
Plant / keep daisies by your entrance door to keep evil spirits and troubles out of your home.
In Romanian folklore Cynanchum vincetoxicum or “Iarba fiarelor” was believed to grand the power of opening any locks to those who found it. Not even handcuffs could resist its magical powers. It was the key to unlock the doors to unimaginable treasures.
It is said that a handsome man, NAVALNIC, hid in the forest, stealing kisses from the passing girls. A spell was put on him:
‘You’re wild & headlong,
Thus you shall remain-
But a weed among the herbs of love,
Love’s weed you shall be.’
– Hart’s-tongue fern
Yes, garlic was well know to ward off bad spirits (even vampires) or the evil eye. Romanians used to tie a clove of garlic with a red string to the baby’s hat, for protection. Modern generations dropped the garlic, but kept the red thread.
Drink a glass of Sauerkraut water then walk backwards to your bedchamber. You will dream of your destined lover who will offer you a glass o water. A sure way to learn his face.
A ladybird was said to tell a maiden’s good fortune if it sat on her hand, then flew away. The girl would marry someone living in the direction the insect took. However, if the ladybug didn’t move it meant bad luck. The girl would remain an old maid.
“buburuza , ruza,
zboara de pe frunza,
unde tu vei zbura,
acolo m-oi marita .“
“Ladybird with dot motif,
Fly off the leaf.
Wherever you will fly,
That’s where I will marry my guy.”
(In a loose translation to keep the rhyme going 🙂 )
If you suddenly spot a row of ants in your house, that’s a good sign of wealth coming your way.
Kill a big spider and seven if your sins will be forgiven. Kill a small one and only three sins will be erased…
On the day of Saint Andrew, Sfantul Andrei, 30 November, you can plant some wheat in a pot. If it grows thick and lush, the same will be the next year’s harvest. As well as the household’s luck in the new year.
The stork is considered holy and her nest, if placed atop a house, must never be disturbed or pulled apart – or the stork will catch fire and will set the house alight.
The swallow announces rainy weather when it flies low, close to the ground or water. Swallows also bring good luck so don’t kill their chicks or destroy their nests.
The European bee-eater are believed to be cursed because they only drink water when it rains.
The pigeons are believed to bring bad luck to the house where they choose to nest.
So are the crows, bringing bad luck and the worst of news. Still, never kill a crow because the witches use his heart in spells against bad diseases, its feathers are good for casting spells, its fat is good against deafness. But if you shoot or kill a crow it will not rain for three years.
The cuckoo is seen as a mysterious bird heavily influencing the human’s faith. If you hear a cuckoo singing at your right or ahead, that is a good omen. But is it sings behind or at your left it is a bad sign. When you hear a cuckoo singing for the first time count how many times it calls it’s own name – and that’s how many more years you will live. Be joyous if it sings many time for you have a long, prosperous life ahead of you. If you are of an age ripe for marriage and the cuckoo sings but a few times that’s a sigh that you will marry very soon.
The cuckoo is believed to sings first on Buna Vestire, on the Day of Annunciation (25 March). It is good to have money with you on that day for if you hear the cuckoo sing you will be wealthy and healthy all year long – for when the cuckoo sings at the beginning of the year is a good sign indeed.
The curved shadows of trees and the snippets of female voices, mixed with unusual physical sensations and electronic devices that suddenly malfunction or are depleted of power, are a few of the urban tales voiced about Hoia Baciu Forest, Cluj, Romania.
Ah, love is in the air. If you find a four-leaf clover, shamrock, you might just meet your future love on the same day. Some go so far as putting a the 4 leaf clover in their shoe.
It is said that on the night of Saint George, Sfantul Gheorghe, enchantresses or witches search the woods for a rabid wolf and put a spell on it to steal its howl, which they later use to charm men into submission.
In Romanian mythology the underworld is located in the depths of Mountain Kogaionon, Carpathian Mountains. Here Zalmoxis, the god of Getae, lived 2 500 years ago. The underworld was said to be a place where people lived forever with no food shortages.
When Romans, under Trajan, invaded Dacia (now the southern part of the Romanian territory), Trajan’s eye was caught by Dochia, a Dac princess. His mind was made up. He wanted to take the beautiful Princess back to Rome, as a trophy. Dochia asked the gods to remain in her homeland no matter what and was instantly turned to stone.
The Romanian pastoral ballad Miorita tells of three shepherds guarding their flocks, one from each historical province, Moldavia, Transylvania and Wallachia. An enchanted ewe warns the youngest one that the other two work on a plot to kill him. He peacefully accepts his destiny, only asking the ewe to tell his mother that he left because he married to a princess. And that he is happy.
Often, work is unachievable without sacrifice. Curtea de Arges Cathedral has such a story. Master builder Manole saw his day’s work collapsing each night. In a dream a vision told him that the first human to visit the building site in the morning must be sacrificed, built in the foundation. Sadly, it was his wife Ana.
The Romanian myth of Flyboy speaks of a handsome youngster with golden hair (or of a dragon whose skin is covered with precious stones that shines and who has a fiery tail). Either way, Flyboy visits the maidens in their dreams, causing them to stir and torment. This Romanian myth is quite similar to the myth of Incubus. It signifies impossible love. You can read more about it here.
If you ever venture through the Romanian woods watch out for ‘Bald Man’ (Spânul). He will try to trick you three times. An anti-hero of Romanian folklore, fighting him only proves that the gifted man will earn a reputation under any circumstances.
Youth Without Old Age & Life Without Death– a Romanian folktale of a young prince who desires Ageless life. He finds it, but the price is the loos of his memory. Until one day… he wants to see his parents’ home again. Where his death was waiting…
Iana Sânziana, or Ioana Samziana, was the Sun’s sister who ran away from him, afraid of his ardent love. She hid on a distant island, in a white monastery. The Sun looked for her betwen all the stars in the sky… eventually she became the Moon, forever out of his reach.
Charmstresses, women of forests and waters wt magic powers living in Romania. Better keep away.
Blessed, alluring IELELE,(translated by Patricia Furstenberg)
Mistresses of breeze,
Ladies of the earth and mist,
Through the air you rise,
On the grass you slide,
And on waves you glide.
Childhood, child-lore in Romanian Folklore
Childhood, Child-lore in Romanian Folklore
When I grew up… word on the street was that if you step OVER someone’s legs he/she will stop growing!
A superstition I grew up with in Romania was to never leave my handbag on the floor or bad luck will come my way and I’ll become poor.
I remember avoiding stepping on pavement cracks when I was a child. The word on the street was that it brought bad luck!
In Romanian folklore Bau Bau, bogeyman, is a monster representing an evil individual, usually a stranger, lurking in the shadows, ready to steal away any child. His face is usually shadowed by a hat or a hood. Misbehaving kids are threatened with the bau bau who will come to take them away if they don’t behave…
Gheonoaia, although the name of a woodpecker specie, is in Romanian folklore a malefic old woman who, in her wrath, knocks over forests and covers the fields in human bones. Only a brave Prince and Maiden, working together, can defeat her.
Folk-Art ~ Romanian symbols, symbology
Folk-Art ~ Romanian Symbols, Symbology
When crafting his staff, the Romanian folk artists puts a lot of thought. Each staf tells a story, some symbols are for protection, others to remember them of the families left behind.
It is more than a mere staff. It is a friend on the lonely planes, confident, a weapon, a story, a memory. Art forged in the colors of earth.
A cross is for protection.
A cross in a circle symbolizes God.
A circle is for eternity, a dot for perfection.
A diamond represents the woman.
Sometimes the underworld’s location is a cryptic message. The White Monastery, mentioned in some Romanian tales, is said to be :
‘Raised by the Saint Sun,
On the sea’s black dunes,
Large and pearled,
Yet not as large as the world.
Tall and twirled Without touching the clouds.’
The underworld in Romanian folklore is thus described:
“he reached the end of this world, a mountaintop, kissed only at noon by a few sun rays. Here he entered a black vortex and after an endless walk he notices, down below, a flicker of light. A windmill, mighty spinning.
‘Blessed, alluring IELELE,
Mistresses of breeze,
Ladies of the earth and mist,
Through the air you rise,
On the grass you slide,
And on waves you glide.
(adapted from Romanian)
Similar to nymphs, naiads, dryads of Greek mythology, and Samodivas of Bulgarian folklore, ielele are feminine mythical creatures in Romanian mythology. They are described as faeries (zâne in Romanian), with great seductive power over men and with magic skills.
The Forest Godesses, Vâlve or Charmstresses (not Ielele) were said to hold power over herbs, magic flowers, thermal springs, winds, mountains and forests, where they lived among themselves, speaking a language no one understood.
The women-fish hide themselves for six days when the seas froth, and on Saturdays, when the seas rest, they come to the surface. Three lines, red, yellow & blue, mark the place. And they charm the seamen with their tune, luring them so sleep and death.
‘Praslea cel Voinic si Merele de Aur‘ – Junior the Brave and the Golden Apples, is a Romanian folk tale about the theft of gold apples from the emperor’s orchard. The apples symbolize the universe & the sacred sun. Stealing means the destruction of humankind.
One of the Romanian folktales behind the myth of the man cursed to wear animal skin during the day (and get married wearing it) is ‘The Magic Pig‘ (Porcul cel Fermecat)- as retold by folklorist and writer Petre Ispirescu.
Romanian Folklore, Myths involving Nature
Romanian Folklore, Myths Involving Nature
A Romanian spell for mending bad health uses the water collected from a river, bread and salt:
“Running water, moving water,
May your fate be changed
And with bread and salt
May this soul restore
And life-long vigor bestow
From head to toes.
In Romania we say, when something is lost: “s-a dus pe Apa Sambetei” – an idiom meaning it went down the drain, although its etymology is rooted in the old belief that all that’s lost is gone with the Saturday River – to the Kingdom of the Dead.
In Romanian mythology, two magical rivers cross the Universe. Saturday River takes our loses around the Earth to the Kingdom of the Dead. Sunday River springs from Heavens, around the skies, to fall onto Earth pure like the morning dew.
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.
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.”
Romanian Folklore of travelers and traveling
Romanian Folklore of Travelers and Traveling
Be careful when plaiting your hair. If a strand is left loose, a long journey awaits you…
But don’t start a journey on Tuesday or Saturday or you will have bad luck.
Before your leave home, sprinkle some flour on the doorstep for good-luck. Also, do make the sign of the cross.
Be careful when plaiting your hair. If a strand is left loose, a long journey awaits you. But don’t start a journey on Tuesday or Saturday; you will have bad luck. Before your leave home, sprinkle some flour on the doorstep for good-luck.
A woman’s hair was believed to hold positive energy, so long hair was always admired.
“Mary, Mary from the mountain(Adapted from a Romanian gypsy song)
Don’t comb your hair over your forehead
Or world’s gossip you will dread.”
Romanian Folklore of Home and Family
Romanian Folklore of Home and Family
Want to build a good home? Best choose a spot favored by birds and small animals and place the hearth there – says the Romanian folk belief.
If you have patience a cat can also show you the ideal spot for building a home, especially where to place the bedroom and the bed. Just wait for the cat to choose a spot and sit comfortably. Cats sense positive energy vibes.
Marriage tradition in Romania followed a patriarchal route: husband brought the wife in a house built on his father’s land. IF they lived on the wife’s land, the husband changed his name to indicate the matriarchal blood line: Ion al Mariei (Mary’s John) .
Romanian tradition says that the spot favorable to building a home will be indicated by a bull, two oxen, an obstinacy of buffalo or a deer… which had to be hunted and killed. The spot where they died was the telltale sign.
The hunting could also be simulated by shooting an arrow, throwing a cosh or a club. Wherever they would land it was considered auspicious for the hearth of the future village.
It is said that Stephen the Great, 14th century Prince pf Moldavia, shot an arrow to choose the spot for Putna Monastery. Where his arrow fell, the altar was built. Two children also shot arrows with him, to choose the spots for the gate and the steeple.
If you travel to Romania you might spot houses with a cross on top. They are not churches. Placing a cross, a branch of fir tree, a bouquet of small flowers, a beautiful woven cloth on the roof of a house being built brings good luck, strength & prosperity.
Romanian tradition says that building the shadow of a human being into the foundation of a home also brings good luck. Warning: the person whose shadow is buried might die soon. More auspicious items to consider are: corn / wheat seeds, coins, holy water, cow fur.
Idioms: ‘cut off your nose to spite your face‘ loosely translates into Romanian as ‘a-si fura singur caciula‘ (to steal one’s own hat) meaning harming oneself, while actually hoping on a gain.
After a baby’s birth, if the midwife will dress the newborn with one of dad’s shirts, the child will grow up to love his father the most. But the reverse is also true, thus dressing the child with one of mom’s shirts will influence the child in favor of the mother.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Romanian folklore, myths and legends. This page is updated periodically, so do return for more!
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