Incredible Myths and Folklore from Romanian Woods

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods, spooky Hoia Baciu forest

Incredible myths and stories of folklore hail from the Romanian woods, this green gold that once covered three quarters of Romania. Throughout centuries, forests fed and sheltered humans from invaders, ‘forest, best buddy bloke of Romanian folk’ goes the ancient saying (Codrul, frate cu romanul), but woods also offered their buds of wisdom and tales.

In Romanian culture, as in many others, the house represents the spiritual center of human life, the place where profane meets sacred and around which gravitates many of the intriguing creatures populating myths (stories and beliefs rooted in human’s origin, often involving gods) and folklore (fictional tales and superstitions, legends, involving fauna, flora and creatures with unusual powers).

A beautiful Romanian myth speaks of a distant time, long, long ago and right after God created the world, when humans needed no shelter for the sky was near and the sun, the moon and all the stars would walk among people. And keep them warm. But then people turned against each other and this made God so sad that he lifted the skies high above, beyond the flight of the birds and the arch of the rainbows, so humans started experiencing the cold and the rain and the sleet and the wind. And to look for a shelter. For the first time. So they found shelter in caves, and in forests until God, in His kindness and love for His creation, inspired humans to build a shelter of wood. And the house became a home.

Apart from building homes, almost always out of trees, especially fir, the wood was used for creating tools and weapons necessary for survival (with the added benefit of iron parts), but also household objects and works of art and spiritual connection with God (the wooden vesper bell), a physical representation of the Romanian spirit.

Listen to the song of the wooden vespers bell of Petru Voda Monastery:

You would have noticed tat the monk bends and touches the ground when he crosses himself. It is to take earth at a witness of his love for God, the earth that was made and blessed by God, but also to show his appreciation towards the earth he lives on.

Wood and Forest Myths from Romania

In Romanian mythology and folklore the cult of the mother (Mother of the Earth, The Mother of the Forest, the Mother of Flowers, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Rain) is widespread and is linked to the mystery existence itself, to the life and death circle of life.

Many were our ancestors’ forests, vast and dense were they, enriched by mysterious creatures, bathed by springs. And countless are the characters that climbed out of the Romanian forests into our folklore, and found refuge in the woods, only to come out in our myths.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods

Muma Pădurii, The Forest Crone Mother (synonym with Gaia, he ancestral mother of all life in Greek mythology)

Muma Pădurii is a mythological representation of a long ago civilization, mainly focused on woods as she personifies everything that comes out of a forest. She lives in the depths of her realm, in its hollows, safe from the woodcutter’s ax and human sightseeing. She is a sad mother though, for she moans, mourns, sighs, snorts, and wails. People are cutting off her offsprings, the trees.

Muma Pădurii is portrayed as an old and anthropophagous (feeding on human flesh) woman, a patron of evil spirits who populate the forest. She is hideous, her mane reaching the ground, and often the woods resonate of her shrieks. They say this sound is enough to scary any traveler. At night time she can be spotted sleeping near strange fires (for they never burn with wood) or sliding like a ghost, a chimera, through forests and bushes, across the plains and crossroads. And she brings whirlwinds and bad weather, entering homes at midnight. You know it is she, for she slams open doors and windows.

How does she look like?

They say she can take the shape of many animal (be it a mare, buffalo, or cow), or that of a woman looking like a knotty tree, with withered legs, hair like braided strands that fall to the ground, like snakes, a woman dressed in bark or moss. She can be as tall as a house or as small as a rabbit, as beautiful as a fairy or as hideous as a monster with a big head, eyes as big as a dinner plate, teeth as big and as sharp as a sickle. She comes on foot or riding a mare with nine hearts.

If she is hungry for flesh nothing can stand in her way for she knows 99 tricks with which she entices people to leave the safety of their homes and get lost in the forest – where she fries them and eats them.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods

Some of her children are the spirits of the night, Murgila, Miazanopte, Zorila (Twilight, (Midnight, Daybreak)

They are her sons cursed to always follow each other, yet never to meet, a personification of the passing of the time. And they are ugly, so hideous, always crying, that she constantly tries to exchange them with human children. For this reason, mothers with babies take extra care to guard them till they are baptized (usually between 3 – 6 month in Christian Orthodox tradition). So they don’t let them out of sight, day or night. If they must leave them alone, then a metal object will be placed nearby, for protection. Remember, metal cuts wood. Anything they have, a sickle, scissors, pliers, a silver coin, that they whispered upon, a spell from the heart, a prayer for protection:

You, Forest Crone
You, Woodsy bag of bones,
Arriving by cow,
By cow be gone.
From [name] be banned!

And:

Sickle,magic reaper,
By day thou art be cut,
By night be it to guard,
For [name],
On bed,
Under bed,
On bedding,
Under bedding.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods

And if the baby was changed?

There are various magical practices by which one could bring it back. Thus, a witch or even the child’s mother would lit the fire in the hearth, takes the changeling in her arms (often a baby displaying macrocephaly, a large head, thin, but always hungry) and threatened to throw him into the flames. Of course, faced with such imminent danger Muma Pădurii returns the stolen child.

She will punish robbers yet assist those in need, be it honest fugitives or lost children. Like any mother, she knows each and every tree in her forest, for she nurtured them all since they were but shoots. She scolded them when they grew crooked, and when they upset her she cursed them, to meet the woodcutter’s ax or be struck by lightning.

But her wrath spills into villages too, if women who spin on Tuesdays or pick berries on Saint Mary’s Day (6th of August), or if men whistle or sing in the woods and wake her children.

To defend yourself against her wrath, simply make the sigh of the cross, and if your hands are occupied, make it with your tongue on the roof of your. If you are brave enough and you hear her whimper, ask her, ‘Great Lady, why are you crying?’ – and if she answers ‘ I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten in a week,’ then give her something to eat and you are good to pass through her forests.

As the goddess that she is, a true mother of nature, Muma Pădurii can be also good.

Beneficial, she is the sacred plant Asperula odorata, Wild Baby’s Breath, and also Lathraea squamaria, the common toothwort, used in invoking spells that drive away children’s diseases. But there is a sacred ritual before picking it and only on the night of Sanziene, (23-24 June), in silence, so it won’t get scared nor hide in the ground. The plant is then dried and stored as something of the greatest value, only to be used when needed. As for treatment, it is smoked or used as incense or put in the bath water, always accompanied by a spell.

In case you wondered, there is a Daughter of the Forest too

The Daughter of the Forest lives in the depths of the woods where she emerges from, taking on the appearance of a familiar girl, as sweet as a fairy, brought forward by winds and storms. Like her mother and brothers, she can only travel by night and sometimes she shows herself as a half-girl – half-fish or animal, usually a mare. She only emerges to deceive lads, whom she kidnaps, plays with their minds only to abandon them in the forest, forever lost.

Unlike her harpy mother, the Daughter of the Forest is cheerful, happy, always ready to sing and dance. She is tall and willowy, and her only item of clothing, apart from shoes made of animal skin, is her hair that twirls around her. In winter, perhaps, she chooses to cover herself with moss. From the front, she looks like a woman, but from the back she appear to be the bark of a tree, like the hundreds surrounding her. Brothers, sisters.

To be rid of his maddening love for her, the lost lad can be aided by a witch who crafts a life-size puppet out of straws. The replica is dressed in the young man’s clothes and left by the crossroad, in the woods. Fulled by its appearance, the Daughter of the Forest falls for the puppet thus releasing the lad from the power of her spell. Of her love.

But if the lad wears a belt, she will keep away for she is afraid that he’ll use the belt to tie it around her, squeezing all her secrets out of her.

The Father of the Forest, or Old Man Wood, Moșul Codrului

He is a mythical representation of the wooding craft and of the golden, old age. Moșul Codrului together with Muma Pădurii grows trees and bring life in the forest wherever they go. He has the same physical features as his wife,except that he does not steal children. And he is friendlier.

The Forest Goddesses, Vâlve or Charmstresses

Are 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.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods, Valve, Charmstresses of the forest

Folktales and folk belief hailing from the Romanian Forests

A very long time ago, Romans (like many other cultures, I am sure), respected trees so much that when they had to cut them down, they first prayed and asked for forgiveness, showing us that they believed the woods to poses a soul.

An important tree in Romanian culture is the beech. In many areas it is used on the celebration of Arminden, May 1st. Beech branches are placed above the windows and stable door, with the belief that they protect against the undead. In some villages of Oltenia, the coffins, called “thrones”, are made only of beech wood.

Another magical tree is the oak. On the Column of Trajan it is depicted that Decebal, the renowned Dacian leader of 87-106 (today Romania) killed himself under an oak tree to escape being taken prisoner by Romans, led by Trajan, after the second Dacian-Roman war. You can read about the Legend of Traian and Dochia and the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis.

In some areas in Ardeal (western Transylvania) there is still the custom taking the holy communion at Easter time in the form of fir or beech buds, instead of bread and wine, after which they say “Christ Has Risen”.

Situated on the curve of Carpathian Mountains, east of Brasov, is Vrancea county. A place where shepherds confess in front of a fir tree. With the tip of their ax or with the aid of a pocket knife they would craft a cross on the bark of the tree and confess their sins, while making the sign of the cross with their right hand. Then they would remove a few wood chips from the fir tree, and throw them away. If the tree dried out in one year, their sins were forgiven. Holding fir tree in high regards is still a custom today, when a new born is presented to a fir tree, for blessing, in the absence of a priest.

Considering that the Romnaian word for fir, brad, is of Geo-dacic origin, proving the old spiritual connection with this tree, its strong presence in the Romanian spirituality should not surprise us. Also of Geo-dacic origin are the following Romanian words for forest and trees: codru, copac, stejar (oak), mugure (bud).

Biserici de Brazi, The Fir Church

The Fir Church is a cluster of fir trees growing in a circle pattern where young shepherds would choose as a natural church, to mary the girl they loved dearly, but whose parents opposed to the wedding. An old shepherd or even a priest would thus marry them in a Fir Church. The sky and the stars above their heads would be witnesses, in this sacred church of God. The marriage would be out of love, without a dowry.

Folk art involving wood

Worth mentioning is also the Folk-Art ~ Romanian Symbols: when carving in wood, the Romanian folk artists puts a lot of thought. Each carving tells a story, some symbols are for protection, others to remember them of the families left behind:

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.

Folk belief:

If yellow clouds lift when wind blows over fir trees, called mana, wealth, a good year will follow.

If you jump three times forward and three times backwards over a stump of wood you will never get lost in a forest. Or in an orchard.

If you cut trees to build a house, leave none stumps behind and say: for the rot, for the fungus, for the mildew…

If you are looking for fir trees free of mildew, better cut them in January or February, under heavy frost. And if you do it in March, do it under the New Moon.

It is for protection that fir branches are placed on the roof of a newly build home, to be strong, and the people living in it to be healthy and happy.

We see fir tree at weddings too, atop a pole, with colorful ribbons attached to it. And a bell.

In Bucovina, NE of Romania, before the sheep are taken into the mountains, the are walked through a Live Fire, smoked with burning branches of fir tree to be free of danger all summer long. Laurel leaves and rosemary are also added to the fir fire.

The sky opens in the night of Saint George (St. Gheorghe), when all trees can flower: walnuts, willow, and all forest trees.

If you hear the eagle owl singing in the forest, know that bad weather will follow.

The groom should never go in the forest or by the water well or bad things will happen to him.

For the first 40 days after the baby was born, he (she)is not removed from the house or Muma Pădurii will take him.

A Romanian spooky forest

Located west of Cluj-Napoca, in the north of Romania, Hoia Forest is considered one of the spookiest places in the world. Because trees grow different here. Of course, ghost sighting and UFOs have been observed here, earning this woodland the nickname of “Romania’s Bermuda Triangle”.

But spots of light have been shooting from the forest, without a reasonable explanation. The locals say that the trees are thus curved because they are nothing else but the souls of those lost in this place.

Worth mentioning is that a wind called Austrul, hot and dry, blows at 20-30 km/h in this western part of Transylvania.

Myths Folklore Romanian Woods, spooky Hoia Baciu forest

Did you know?

Transylvania means ‘the land beyond the forest” (the forest of Apuseni Muntains).

Bucovina means “strawberry forest” in Slavonic.

Also on my blog…

medieval Sighisoara, House where Vlas the Impaler was born
Paleolithic Murder in Transylvania 100 words story
Paleolithic Murder in Transylvania 100 words story

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Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore

Plants are deeply rooted in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, this positive blend of cultural creations and ancient spirituality. Plants have been used as cures, in ritualistic traditions and for magic spells for centuries, all over the world. Let’s discover how a few of these herbs and flowers got their names in Romanian folklore, the legends behind it and their connection with Christianity.

Flower Sunday, Floriile or Palm Sunday

A special Christian celebration is on Palm Sunday: the day of Flowers, Floriile, Goddesses of Spring. Flora, in Roman religion, was the goddess of flowering plants and was the patron on month April. In Romanian folklore April is called Prier (from Latin aperio, to open, correlated with the opening of the buds’ leaves), and May is called Frunzar (leafy) and Florar (flowery).

So if you know someone whose first name is that of a flower, send them your best wishes on Palm Sunday, on Florii Day.

Palm Sunday - flowers of Easter Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore
Flower Sunday, Floriile, Palm Sunday

Sfintele Paști, Easter celebrations and Flowers: Wood Anemones and Violets

The wood anemones are Easter flowers and legend says that they sprouted from the earth wet by Jesus’ tears and that Saint Mary shared them to the four corners of the earth, at His request. Wood anemones have various nicknames in the folk tradition that symbolizes their strong correlation with Easter: the White Flower of Easter, the Flower of Blessed Friday, Easter’s Bread.

Folklore tradition calls for picking the White Flower of Easter this time of the year and decorating the Easter table with it as well as taking it to church as an offering on Good Friday. It is seen as a blessed flower.

Violets, too, are Easter flowers with a somehow mellow connotations. They represents young girls, children, metamorphosed into flowers. Is it pain, premature death that causes this? Certain is that violets are made into little crowns placed on the graves of young maidens or lads.

Plants and Christianity in Romanian Folklore

In Romanian folklore there are numerous plants named after Christian holidays, saints, Virgin Mary, and so on, depicting popular belief in the plant’s incredible powers in aiding the body and the soul.

  • Plain hogweed is called earth’ cross;
  • blue anemone hepatica is warrior’s cross;
  • orpine or livelong is Heaven’s Table;
  • bugleweed is God’s Mercy;
  • Mock Orange is Heaven’s Tree;
  • Sweet William is Priest’s Seat;
  • Rose Champion or Rabbit’s Ears is Saint Mary’s Belt;
  • begonia is Angel (îngeraș, probably due to the resemblance that popular imagination created between the angels’ wings and the plant’s leaves);
  • sage or Sage of the diviners is Virgin Mary’s Hand;
  • maidenhair fern is Virgin Mary’s Hair.

The common vervain, its Romanian meaning translating to God’s Arrow, is considered a holy herb, bringing wealth in the house and predicting the future too. It is believed to have grown first on the Mountain of Transfiguration and the plant can only be picked by fairies, Sânziene, who bring offerings before collecting it: bread, salt and a silver coin. It is believed that this specific plant helped heal Jesus’ wounds.

On the other hand Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins, Judas’ Plant and many banish it from their gardens.

Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins, Judas' Plant - Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore
Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins

The White Lily and its Symbology in Iconography

The white lily, Lilium Candidum, is believed to be Virgin Mary’s flower who is depicted holding baby Jesus with one arm and a white lily in her other hand. White lily is believed to be the first flower to ever be cultivated by humans and is associated with purity. Archangel Gabriel is also depicted offering Virgin Mary white lily after the birth of Baby Jesus. Saint Joseph is also depicted as holding Baby Jesus and a white lily as a symbol of purity and of Saint Mary.

We can clearly see that Virgin Mary is highly revered not only in the Christian Orthodox Church, but also in Romanian folklore. Yet by eighteenth century Carol Linnaeus), the founding father of modern scientific biological nomenclature, discouraged the practice of attributing names of saints to plants, a sign that scientific terminology was on its way towards gaining autonomy from the ancient naming practices.

Poppy flowers is believed to have been initially white. They turned red when a few drops from Jesus’ blood fell on them, underneath the cross. Since then poppy flowers are red, in remembrance of His sacrifice.

Basil in Christian Tradition and a Spell too

Basil is also a herb with deep christian connotations. It is associated with Jesus, Saint Mary and God. Romanian folklore says that basil first sprouted when Jesus was born, but also that it grew when Saint Mary wept by the Cross.

If maidens place under their pillow a strand of dry basil received from a priest, on the night of Boboteaza, Epiphany night,6 January, also considered the coldest night of the year, they can dream of their future husband. If they don’t dream that night they can try again on Sânziene Day, on 24 June.

On the same night maidens can take a handful of basil and go to a river, a running water. They dip the basil in water and then they wash their faces with it so they will be liked and loved by lads.

Basil and its role in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, Saint George’s Day, 23 April

To keep its holy powers basil must be planted on Saint George, on 23 April, and harvested on 14 September, on the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is then hanged by icons till it dries.

Basil is considered holy because it has the power to turn water in holy water, agheasma, used in Christian churches.

On Easter, Christian believers wash their faces with the water in which they kept a basil, a red painted egg, and a silver coin – to be liked and loved.

On Saint George and Saint Andres old women hang basil tied with a red ribbon on the stable’s door so that the cow’s milk will flow on and on.

basil - busuioc - Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore
Basil, Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore

Siting under the shade of a tree

Myrrh, smirna, with its waxy branches and thorns, give us a resin that changes color from yellow to reddish, scented when burned and bitter to taste. Its scent a smoke are said to induce meditation and prayer and warn off any evil spirits.

Fascinating is how the effect of this resin spilled into the Romanian language. We say a sta smirna, meaning sitting quietly, or tacut smirna, meaning really quiet, as one would sit in meditation, which is exactly the effect of burning myrrh, smirna.

A branch from the bladdernut tree, clocotișul or clocoticiul, tied around your waist is said to warn off any evil spirits and no hail will bother you in your travels either.If you take these twigs to church on Easter Sunday their good powers will increase tenfold. Very long ago, before a woman would embark on a long journey she would fashion for herself a necklace made of young twigs of the bladdernut tree and wear it around her neck to warn off evil and not get lost Her courage will also increase, that she would be amazed by herself.

Also warding off evil spirits is the mugwort, a plant said to protect against pandemics too, so wear some around your neck.

Without any doubt, we can observe now everyday plants and flowers in a different light. From a sacred meaning to the scientific one, and through their legends, plants are so much more than they reveal to us. Don’t you think?

I hope you enjoyed reading about Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore. Do return for more herbal folk tales.

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Youth Without Age and Life Without Death

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death

If you enjoyed the eerie feeling and local color of Romanian folktale Emperor Aleodor you will love reading Youth Without Age and Life Without Death. Enjoy it and remember, the magic of Romanian folktales starts with the first words.

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death ~ part 1

Once upon a time long, long before something happened whose likeliness never occurred before, for if it had not happened it could not be told. When the flea had one foot shod with ninety-nine pounds of iron and jumped into the glory of the sky to get us fairy stories… When the fly would write on the wall, a bigger liar being the one who doesn’t believe what he is told… 

There was once a mighty emperor and empress. Both were young and handsome, and as they desired the blessing of children they did every thing that was necessary to secure it, that is they went to the witches and philosophers and asked them to read the stars to find out whether they would have children or not.
But it was all in vain.
Finally the emperor heard that a very wise old man lived in a neighboring village, and sent for him. The messengers returned with the answer: “Let him who needs me come to me.” So the emperor and empress set out for the wise man’s house, taking with them several of their courtiers, attendants, and soldiers. When the old man saw them in the distance, he rose, went to meet them, and said at once:

in a land far away - Youth Age Life Death

“Welcome! But what do you want to know, oh, emperor, your wish will bring you sorrow.”

“I am not here to question you about that,” replied the emperor, “but to learn whether you have any plants you can give us that will bestow us the blessing of children.”

“I have,” the old man answered, “but you will possess only one child. He will be a handsome, lovable boy, yet you will not be able to keep him long.”

After the emperor and empress had obtained the herbs they joyfully returned to the palace. The whole empire, the courtiers, and all the attendants rejoiced too. But when the hour of birth came, the child began to scream in a way no magic arts could silence it. The emperor commenced to promise it all the good things the world contained, but it was impossible to quiet him.

“Hush, father’s pet,” said the emperor, “I will give you this or that kingdom. Hush, my son, I will give you this or that princess for your wife.” At last, when he saw the child would not stop, he added: “Hush, my boy, I will give you youth without age and life without death.”

Then the prince stopped crying and was born. The courtiers beat drums and blew trumpets, and there were great rejoicings throughout the empire for a whole week.

The older the boy grew, the more thoughtful and reflective he became, handsome too. He went to the schools and the philosophers and gained every kind of learning, so that the emperor died of joy and came to life again. The whole realm was proud of having a prince so wise and learned, a second King Solomon.

Then one day, when the lad had just reached his fifteenth year and the emperor sat at a banquet with the nobles and grandees of the country, the handsome prince rose, saying: “Father, the time has come, you must now give me what you promised at my birth!”

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death - party

When the emperor heard this he grew very sorrowful and answered: “Why, my son, how can I give you an impossible thing? If I promised it to you then, it was only to hush you.”

“If you can’t give it to me, father, I shall be obliged to wander through the whole world till I find what was promised to me, and for which I was born.”

Then all the nobles and the emperor fell at his feet and besought him not to quit the country, because, as the courtiers said, his father was growing old, and they would place him on the throne and give him the most beautiful princess under the sun for his wife. But it was impossible to shake his resolution, he remained as firm as a rock. After his father had seen and duly considered all these things, he gave his consent and prepared to supply the prince with provisions and whatever else he might need for his journey.

The young hero went to the imperial stables, where the finest steeds in the whole realm were standing, to choose one of them; but when he laid his hand on the horse’s tail he knocked it down, and so they all fell, one after another. At last, just as he was going out, he let his eyes wander around the stables once more and saw in one corner a sick, weak horse, covered with sores. He went up to it, and when he grasped it by the tail, the animal turned its head, saying:

“What do you command, my master? I thank God that He has permitted a hero’s hand to touch me once more.”

And, planting its feet firmly, it remained standing. The young prince told it what he intended to do, and the horse replied:

“To obtain your wish, you must ask your father for the sword, lance, bow, quiver of arrows, and garments he wore when a youth; but you must take care of me with your own hands for six weeks and give me oats boiled in milk.”

When the prince begged the emperor for the articles the horse had advised, the monarch called the palace chamberlain and ordered him to open all the chests of clothing, that his son might choose what he pleased.
The young hero, after rummaging them three whole days, at last found in the very bottom of an old trunk the weapons and garments his father had worn in his youth, but the arms were covered with rust. He set to work to clean them with his own hands and in six weeks, during the time he was taking care of the horse, he succeeded in making the weapons as bright and shining as a mirror.

When the horse heard from the handsome prince that the clothes and arms were cleaned and ready, it shook itself once. All the sores instantly fell off and there it stood, a strong, well-formed animal, with four wings. When the hero saw this, he said:

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death - magic horse

“We’ll go in three days!”

“May you have a long life, master. From to-day I shall be at your service,” the horse answered.

~ Return tomorrow for part 2 ~

Youth Without Age and Life Without Death (Tinerete Fara de Batranete si Viata Fara de Moarte) is a Romanian folktale discovered by Petre Ispirescu, Romanian editor, folklorist, printer and publicist, and first published in 1862 in local newspaper Țăranul român (Romanian Peasant).

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