Romanian Folklore, its Myths and Legends

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.

I will share my findings with you on this page. Do return as I intend to update it regularly.

For stater, you might find these blog posts interesting:
4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred
Valentine’s Day in Romanian Folklore: Dragobete, Ziua Indragostitilor
Emperor Aleodor, Romanian Folktale
The Journey of Initiation in Romanian Fairy Tales

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.

Romanian folklore, beliefs for good luck

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!

Romanian folklore myths legends, January weather, ianuarie

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends, basil  charms, Epiphany night, 6 January

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…

Romanian folklore myths legends, making a Romanian good luck charm

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.

Bear Day, Sretebia tradition, Romanian folklore myths legends
Stretenia or Bear Day

Romanian folklore myths legends, raspberry flower bring good luckSpotting 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!

Romanian folklore myths legends, Navalnic plant for good luck, Navalnic noroc

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.

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.

Romnanian beliefs, old-wives tales - healing herbs and plants could only be collected  until the day of Saint Mary, on the 8th of September

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.

Nicolae Grigorescu - Car Cu Boi
Nicolae Grigorescu – Car Cu Boi

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.

 Bringing offerings to those who passed away and lighting bonfires in the  eve of Saint Dumitru (a Christian holiday observed on the 26 October) is said to bring good harvest in the new year.

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends, copii cu colindul cu steaua de Craciun, Christmas carolers

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends, old  photo, carolers at Christmas in Romania
Down the memory lane: carolers at Christmas time in Romania

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends - caroling with the bear. Cu ursu de Craciun
Caroling, Bear;s dance at Christmas time – Cu Ursu de Craciun in Romania

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends, caroling with the goat, Christmas in Romania
Caroling with the Goat at Christmas time in Romania – Cu Capra de Craciun

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 myths legends - Porcul de Ignat
De Ignat ~ Romanian folklore myths legends traditions

Romanian Folklore of food, flora and fauna

Plant / keep daisies by your entrance door to keep evil spirits and troubles out of your home.

 Plant / keep daisies by your entrance door to keep evil spirits and troubles out of your home.  - Romanian folklore of flora

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.

iarba fiarelor - giving great power

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

Navalnic art on a Galle vase

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends, garlic, against evil spirits - usturoi de deochi
Garlic against the evil eye – usturoi de deochi

Drink a glass of Sauerkraut water then walk backwards to your bedchamber. You will dream of your destined love who will offer you a glass o water. A sure way to learn his face.

Romanian folklore myths legends
Romanian folklore myths legends

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.

Romanian folklore - planting wheat on St Andrew - telling of fortune

Romanian Myths

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends - mitul Mioritei
The Myth of Miorita in Romanian culture

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.

  • Romanian folklore myths legends, Mesterul Manole, Manastirea Curtea de Arges

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.

Flyboy, mitul Zburatorului, Romanian folklore myths legends
The Myth of Flyboy

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends
Image courtesy Semne Bune. ~ Romanian folklore myths legends

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…

Ageless life - Romnian myth -Tinerete Fara de Batranete s Viata Fara de Moarte

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.

Iana Sanziana, sun myth, Romania

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!

 I remember avoiding stepping on pavement cracks when I was a child. The word on the street was that it brought bad luck!  - folklore, child-lore Romania

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.

Gheonoaia, although the name of a woodpecker specie, is in Romanian folklore a malefic old woman

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.

Romanian folklore myths legends - art, symbols, symbology

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.’

Romanian folktales - cryptic location, White Monastery
Art by Deborah Watkins

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.

 The underworld in Romanian folklore is thus described. Capatul  Pamantului

‘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.

ielele are feminine mythical creatures in Romanian mythology

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.

Forest Godesses, Vâlve or Charmstresses, Romanian folklore

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.
Heal!”

 A Romanian spell for mending bad health uses the water collected from a river, bread and salt/ Romanian folklore, spells

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.

"s-a dus pe Apa Sambetei" - an idiom  meaning it went down the drain

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.

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hope readers books Pat Furstenberg
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