Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales

plants romanian folklore

Healing plants can have wondrous names proving their millennial use in medicine, household or purely recreational as well as a fertile popular imagination when it comes to the Romanian folktales.

Herbs have been used in medicine since before Ancient Egyptian. Sumerian clay tablets, for example, list numerous plants, some highly used today such as myrrh and opium.

When it comes to the common names given to the healing plants, there is a fragile boundary between the sacred and the profane as some plants are named due to their association with legends (chicory, mil-foil), mythology (Sita-Ielelor ‘silver thistle’, snowdrop), celebrations (daffodil, garlic, lily of the valley, Năvalnicul ‘hart’s-tongue’, Sânzienele ‘lady’s bedstraw’), Christian worship while others are simply given human traits thus desecrating or sanctifying them (anthropomorphism).

Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales
Romanian naive art

The fine line between the beneficial and the malefic use of plants is seen in their dual use, as medicine or as poison; in their various uses, for the soul of for the body.

It is worth mentioning that the beneficial and malefic use of plants is derived also from the way God and Satan are portrayed in the popular belief: associating flowers and green grass with the positive forces of nature and attributing thistles, thorns, prickly nettles to the underworld.

The Romanian Folklore of Plants and Celebrations

Celebrate originates in Latin celebratus “much-frequented; kept solemn; famous,” past participle of celebrare “assemble to honor,” from celeber “frequented, populous, crowded;” with transferred senses of “well-attended; famous; often-repeated.” – a collective experience meant to last.

Celebrations are perhaps meant to freeze into memory various events so that time, as a whole, will make sense.

Plants and Romanian folk celebrations

Dragobete, Head of Spring and Sister Flowers – 24 February

The celebration of Dragobete (first flowers of spring as Dragobete is celebrated on 24 February / 24 Făurar, Februarie in Romania). During the celebration of the Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist, nicknamed in rural areas the celebration of Head of Spring, we can pick the very first flowers that lift their heads from underneath a blanket of snow: snowdrops, crocuses.

A celebration dedicated to pure love takes place now and we can throw these spring symbols down a moving water.
The concept of sister flowers appears now, flowers that grow during the same time of the year but never near each other. Pick them and throw them on a moving water so that they can finally meet and your sins will be forgiven.

Dragobete, dragobeti have a few connotations: lads which experience the first thrills of love, the green tiger beetles used in love spells.

Clean or unclean, how do we pick a Dragobete plant – the fern?
Once we spot it, before picking it one must make the sign of the cross upon it, to bless it. Then one must bring it an offering, such as is the custom, of bread, salt and sugar. Quietly, place the offering at the plant’s root. The Dragobete plant must be picked whole, with its root, then placed where it is needed the most, to perform its magic: a baby’s crib, a maiden’s bosom, the home’s eave… or behind the icon on the wall. Then, only, the Dragobete plant may be tucked in the maiden’s belt when she goes to the Sunday dance, in the hope that village lads will ask her to be their partner and they will dance and be joyful the way she, too, dance with the Dragobete fern tucked in her belt.

Because Dragobete, as a celebration, supports pure love, harmony, steadfastness and stability.

Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales and Celebrations
Mircea Cojocaru, De Dragobete

Navalnic, Impetuous, and the Fern

Navalnic, Impetuous, as a plant connected with this time of year, has also a legend. Navalnic was a fine young man who enjoyed flirting a little too much. He often hid along the forest paths awaiting lonely maidens to walk by, hoping for a kiss. But Navalnic pushed his luck a little too far when he caused Saint Mary with baby Jesus in her arms to catch a fright. Saint Mary turned him into a plant on the spot:
“Impetuous you’ve been
And so you shall remain!
A weed of love, unclean,
A love weed to blame.”

The legend of Flyboy and its Speedwell plant

Flyboy, Zburatorul, is associated with the evil eye and is antagonistic to Dragobete’s symbology. Its plant is the speedwell or longleaf speedwel supposed to counteract the effects of the evil eye.

The Flyboy’s legend takes off like this.
Once upon a time there was a lovely maiden who fell in love with a Flyboy. A charmer. Now her mother thought it will be better not to intervene between the two so she cooked up a plan. ‘Our cow is sick,’ she complained to the girl. Do you think Flyboy will help? We only need a string of longleaf. The village charmstress will concoct us a cure, a good charm. It is our only cow. Will he help?’ And he did, and they got the longleaf and the charmstress boiled it and she extracted its essence. And she gave it to the mother, which sprinkled it over the maiden as she slept. And so the girl was saved.

Mucenici and Crocuses, Brândușele – celebrated on 9 March

For 9 March, 9 Martie, to celebrate the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste or the Holy Forty Romanians make Mucenici or Măcinici. This celebration also coincides with the start of the agricultural year.

Basically shapes of eight are made of sweet dough and there are two ways to prepare them, following recipes from Muntenia and Ardeal or from Dobrogea and Moldavia. I was lucky to enjoy both and, believe me, they are delicious.

Mucenici from Muntenia and Ardeal (left) and from Dobrogea and Moldavia (right). Double – Yummy!

What does the eight shape of Mucenici means?

The eight shape is named brânduși or brândușei – from brândușă, crocus.

From the eight shape the upper circle represents the crown (similar to a saint’s halo) and the bottom circle symbolizes the mace that as used to smash the martyrs’ ankles.

The Legend of How the Crocuses, Brândușele, came to be

It is said that long ago, before stories came to be written, earth had a step-mother… But she was kind-hearted and always kept busy. Each season something else to do, each month with its own routine.

Every March, after the long winter, when nature was still half frozen, she would pull the crocuses out of the ground so that humans could enjoy them and smile again after the long dreary months they just sailed through.

But also to remember that, the way they enjoyed the crocuses now, their dead relatives and friends enjoyed the same flowers during winter when they would show their flowers on the other side of the ground where living people could not see them.

All is relative in life.

These would be the Spring Crocuses, of curse.

The Legend of Young Basil and Lady Crocus (Busuioc si Brândușa)

Basil was a king’s son, a prince by birth and ways, by bravery, knowledge and nature. And when his time came he fell in love with a beautiful, gentle, clever girl named Crocus. But Crocus also caught the eye of a dragon, a fiery horse (a zmeu). Who did what any self-respectable, all-powerful creature would do: kidnap the maiden he wanted, taking her for himself. Yet Basil saved Crocus – and I think he killed the dragon as well. And today the world enjoys basil plants and crocus flowers, the offsprings of the first Basil prince and Crocus maiden.

The Sângiorz or Saint George (Sfantul Gheorghe) celebration, the Narcisus and the Lilly of the Valley – 23 April

Sângiorz or Saint George is a Transylvanian celebration of Spring held on the 23rd of April, honoring flowers such as Lilly of the Valley, Narcissus.

On this special day maidens pick flowers, narcissus and Lilly of the valley too, and make crowns they place on milking jugs. After three days the flowery crowns are fed to the cows, for abundant and sweet milk all year round.

Plants, their Names and Romanian Folktales, Saint Geroge
Naive art from Romania, Saint George Slaying the Dragon

The Feast of Drăgaica / Sânzienele celebrates Midsummer Day – 24 June

The day when the skies open and all the living creatures can speak.

Dragaica or Sânzienele are celebated in Romania on the 24 June (24 Cireșar, Iunie). During this feast we celebrate the Lady’s Bedstraw plant and other summer flowers: golden-rods, wild roses.

During this night we celebrate an agricultural deity, protector of wheat fields and of married women, a Romanian fairy similar in strength and symbology with Hera, Diana, Juno or Artemis.

Lady’s Bedstraw and golden-rods have both yellow flowers

Legend says that fairies who bath in spring on the night of Sânziene wear clothes made of white flowers. In the North of Romania, in the corner of Maramures county, there is a minuscule geographical and historical area called Forest Country, Țara Codrului. Here, between the fields of hemp, folk tradition calls to sprinkle the yellow flowers of Sânziene so that their yellow tint will rub onto the shade of hemp flowers.

On the night of Sânziene the maidens ready to get married can place under their pillows white and yellow flowers, to dream of their love to be. They also plate small crowns of flowers they later throw on the roof of their homes. Of course, the white of the Sânziene flowers is symbolic for purity of heart and body.

The yellow flowers of Sânziene are also known as the flowers of Saint John the Baptist. Popular beliefs says that Lady’s bedstraw can cure epilepsy, ‘le mal caduc‘.

More plants and a few spells

If you wish to convince a man to get marries, legend days, put a few petals of borage or Starflower, limba mielului, in a glass of wine and he will be willing soon. But remember, true love doesn’t need spells.

If you take a bath in lovage (privet), leustean, leaves and rose petals the boy you fancy is sure to fall in love with you. Privet is also good to warn off the evil action of the full moon.

Have a strong wish? Write it on a piece of paper and wrap in in leaves of mint, menta. Then tie it in a piece of red cloth. By the time the scent of mint will warn off your wish will come true.

The Legend of the Olive Tree

It is said that Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods, decided to gift the new city of Athens to the God that will gift its inhabitants the most useful gift.

Poseidon came with his almighty trident derived from Zeus’ lotus scepter and hit the rock at his feet. At once salty water sprouted, running down the mountain.

Next came Athena with her battle spear and she plunged it in the earth. An olive tree sprouted at once.

Then the inhabitants of Athens had to show their preference and they chose the olive fruits over the salty water. So Athena became the goddess patron of the new city. Legend says that all the olive trees around Greece originate from this first tree gifted by Athena.

These were known as moria, olive trees considered to be the property of the state because of their religious significance.

The most sacred Moria tree is on the Acropolis, Athens
The most sacred Moria tree stands in front of the ancient temple of Erechtheion on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece. Thought to be the same location of the very first olive tree given to Athens by the Greek goddess Athena.

Olive oil against the evil eye

Romanians believe in the evil eye. It is enough for someone to pay you a compliment or glance in your direction, especially if they have green eyes, and if you complain of nausea or headache (among other symptoms such as dizziness, fever, stomach pain, bad luck, financial ruin, serious illness and so on) – then something has to be done to counteract the effect.

First, how do you know if you’ve encountered the bad eye? Pour water in a white bowl and drip some olive oil in it. If the oil gathered into globs, you’re safe from curse. But if the oil scatters around the bowl, that’s the evil eye. There are light spells against the evil eye performed with holy water and matches and rhymes that have to whispered.

That’s why babies are bathed in water with a branch of Lythrum salicaria, or purple loosestrife, rachitanul, to protect them from the evil eye.

I discovered these facts and legends about plants, as well as their various names and Romanian folktales during my latest research. I probably ran away with it, but I found everything so interesting that I wanted to keep it for further reference – so I wrote this blog post. It is sad that, with each generation, fewer Romanians remember our rich heritage and try to keep it alive, for I am sure that we wouldn’t have had such a wealth of myths and legends if it wouldn’t have been for our ancestors, who passed it on through stories and songs when no other means of safekeeping were available.

I hope you found it interesting too.

As always, find all my books on Amazon worldwide.

The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, a Medieval Legend

the 12 dreams of Mamer, Medieval legend

Once upon a time, in a fortress far away, in the lost town of Iriin, an emperor known by the name of Sehachi (some called him Sachaisa) had twelve vivid dreams in one single night. No one in the emperor’s entourage could explain their meaning, until they heard of a great scholar and philosopher named Mamer, who could interpret such dreams. So they invited Mamer to court. He came, for he was wise enough to know that if the emperor himself invites you, then there is great cause and you must go at once.

In the safety of the royal rooms, the emperor shared his dreams with Mamer.

‘My lord Sehachi,’ said Mamer, ‘these dreams should not worry you, but cause great joy for God had sent them to you and to you only to show you what will happen at the end of days. Yet there is much you can still do to prevent it. But you cannot do it alone.’

The emperor gasped and a tear bloomed in the corner of his eye only to make its way along a deep wrinkle, down the emperor’s cheek until it got lost in his grey beard.

‘Tell it to me,’ said Mamer stretching out his hand as if to receive, ‘the first dream.’

The emperor’s eyes were looking straight into the philosopher’s cobalt ones, as clear s the sky, as deep as the sea.

The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, a Medieval Legend, an old man with blue eyes

‘There was a golden pillar that seemed to unite Heaven and earth.’

Mamer listened, his eyes searching the horizons. A ray of sun was shining,emerging between the palm trees lining the imperial gardens.

‘When the last days will arrive,’ he finally spoke, ‘there will be much evil in the world. Justice will seem to have vanished, and so will all good intentions, and heartfelt gestures, peace and understanding. No one will even think good thoughts or utter kind words, but only vile ones. The old people, the only ones still remembering how a good thought sounded like, will be too weak and too scared to say it out loud to the young. To teach them. And all will go to their graves taking their sins with them, without repenting. There will also be famine and the autumn will last through the winter, while the winter will stretch into summer. Yet men will be able to sow during any season and no one will ever remember that there was a time for each seed and an endeavor for each season. Men will sow all year long, yet there will be little to reap. Because the earth, too, will be tired. And during such times children will not respect their parents anymore and will marry whomever they choose. They will no mind the sin and many children will grow not knowing who their fathers are, nor who their ancestors came from, or where their roots spread. And kings and princes will care no more for their people, but will be violent towards the poor. Many will forsake their fate and embrace another. There will be day, yet the sun will get darker and no moon will come out to shine. The days will become short and many signs will show themselves. To everybody. Yet people will have none to turn to for advice for priests will not be recognizable from the uninitiated anymore, nor by looks and neither by speech. Priests will tell lies, and this will contribute to the crumbling of all truth and justice.’

The philosopher returned the king’s hard stare.

‘This is what your first dreams means, Sire.’ Then he said quickly, ‘how was your second dream, o king?

The king sighed, caught his breath, his right hand over his heart, and said, “ I saw a woman holding a towel in her hand and it reached from heaven to  earth.’

Mamer the philosopher thought, looked around the king’s large rooms, with bolted ceilings painted with stars and suns and moons, then said, ‘when the last days will be near the people will forsake their true faith and will think of adopting another one, but no one will think of worshipping God anymore. People will forsake their poor relations, but prefer the company of strangers.’

The king’s eye caught a small brown bird on the windowsill. His youngest daughter liked to leave crumbs there. The bird ate, sang a tune, and flew away.

The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, a Medieval Legend, bird

‘And the third dream?’

‘I saw three kettles boiling over a big fire. One filled with fat, one with water and the third one with oil. Some of the fat was running into the oil, and some of the oil into the fat.  But none fell into the water which was boiling by itself.’

A tray with gold rimmed glasses placed on a silver tray engraved with geometrical patterns as well as a wine jug was brought next to the king. Yet the philosopher declined the drink with a tip of his head.

He said further, ‘at the end of the days the men will plant villages in places where such villages had never been dreamed of rising before. At one end of the village a rich man will live, while at the other another rich man will raise his manor, while the poor will live in the middle. And the one rich man will invite the other to feast with him, while both will ignore the poor, even if the poor is their brother. And will be hypocrites, they will all neglect their own relations, hate their parents and brothers and love only the wife’s family, if it has money. Women will leave their husbands and run away with other men. Old women will marry young men and old men will marry young girls, much too young, for shame would have disappeared from among men and there will not be left a single pure woman or man in the world.’

The king looked at his family portraits, adorning the walls of his rooms. Mamer placed his hands in his lap, one on top of the other, and said quietly, ‘and the fourth dream?’

‘I saw an old mare chewing some hay and the foal neighing within its belly.’

The philosopher replied while watching his hands. Or perhaps he observed the thick carpet that felt so soft underfoot.

‘When the end of the day approaches, mothers will act immodestly and allow their daughters to meet with strangers and conduct immoral business. And the fifth dream?’

“I saw a dog lying in a pond and her puppies were barking inside her belly.’

The king’s  carpets were dark blue, with gold details that matched the murals.

‘During the last days fathers will still teach their sons properly, but the sons will refuse to listen and will say ‘you have grown old and have lost your senses and you don’t know what you are talking about anymore,’ and the parents will be put to shame and will keep silent.’

The king kept quiet for a long time. The sound of a lute filled the room.

The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, a Medieval Legend, castle window

‘And the sixth dream?’

‘I saw a large number of priests standing in dirt up to their necks,’ whispered the king.

‘At the time of the ned of days the priests will still teach God’s word to the people, but they themselves will not follow it anymore but  will only plan to enrich themselves, condemning their souls to the everlasting fire.’

The notes were turning and twisting with the leaves.

‘And the seventh dream?’

‘I saw a beautiful horse with two heads, one in the front and one looking at the back. One head fed on grass while the second drank water.’

‘When the end of days  will come near, there will be wrong judgement in the world, bribery, and the bishops will appoint ignorant priests because they will be paid to do so and not mind it. A thing which ought never to happen. There will be plenty of priests, but only a handful of good ones among them. The rest will have neither fear of God, nor shame of men and will never think that they will go down to the torments of hell for their sins.’

The first drops of rain hit the leaves.

‘And the eights dream?’

‘I saw a great number of pearls strewn on the face of earth and fire fell from heaven and it burned everything.’

The room filled with the ozone rich scent of rain, overpowering the sweet incenses rising from gold vases placed along the walls. The philosopher filled his lungs, grateful. Then answered.

‘At the end of days all will become smugglers and the rich will make the poor to look like liars and will use treachery to take everything away from the poor. No worrying that by doing so they will lose their souls.’

The leaves of the palm tree seemed to rub one another in the wind, like giant hands.

‘And the ninth dream?’

‘I saw a large number of people working together in one spot,’ said the king, rubbing his own hands, absentminded.

‘At the end of days men will bring their riches to others, for safekeeping. And the keepers will smile and be glad to receive it. But when the owners will come to take back what was rightfully theirs, the keepers will pretend not to know what is being asked of them and they will even swear they speak the truth, not worrying that they will lose their soul for lying.’

A sudden outburst rose the curtains to the ceiling, pushing a vase over, its fall cushioned by carpets. Then the downpour came.

The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, a Medieval Legend,

‘And the tenth dream?’

‘I saw lots of women and men sitting on the ground,’ called the king, in an attempt to make himself heard over the gale.

‘When the end of days will be near,’ answered Mamer, en will not shy away from trickery and pride, and will not worry for losing their souls for it.’

‘And the eleventh dream?’

‘I saw people wearing beautiful flowers in their hair.’

Mamer thought for a while, his eyelids almost covering his cobalt eyes that were cast on his hands, placed in his lap. Outside, the rain poured like a song.

‘At the end of days people will be stingy, greedy and many will gossip and will stray away from the righteous path and do that in their homes too. Good words, truth, will not be uttered anymore, not even between brothers. When a poor will say wise words, all will laugh, but when a rich man will say something stupid, all will gasp and clap and say ‘hear what he says for he speaks the truth,’ and all will agree with him. And all will end in hell. And the twelfth dream?

‘I saw many people with a great deal of hair, with nails like a vulture and very long legs,’ said the king and two tears run down his face, one on each side. And when the philosopher looked up he saw the wet path that was already there, for each tear to follow.

‘At the end of days the rich will take advantage of the poor so much so that the poor will envy those who died before them, and were thus absolved from living such bad times.’

Then he placed both his hands on the sides of his chair and stood with great ease, given his age. And Mamer the philosopher bowed in front of the king and said, ‘your servant, my lord, for I spoke the truth, and dark times will be seen, at the end of days.’

And he turned, left the king’s rooms and the palace and headed down the road. And those who saw him walk did not knew who he was, just wondered how such an old man can walk at such a great speed and not mind the rain.

magical road

What are The Twelve Dreams of Mamer?

Dating from the 15th century and known today in several variations, the twelve prophetic dreams of king Sehachi is available also as a 17th century (1678) Romanian manuscript, being one of the oldest known manuscripts written in the Romanian language. The manuscript is entitled The Twelve Dreams of Mamer, Cele Douasprezeve Vise in Tâlcuirea lui Mamer.

The Twelve Dreams of Mamer a Medieval Legend, Cele Douasprezeve Vise in Tâlcuirea lui Mamer.
A page from the Romanian version of The Twelve Dreams of Mamer

The Twelve Dreams of Mamer may very well be a an oriental story that reached the Slaves (and from there it came to Romania where it stayed among other local folktales) via an unknown Greek version.

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My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

my top heroes from Romanian folktales

Thinking of the heroes from Romanian folktales, and any tales, they achieve so much more than rescuing the princess or defeating the dragon who endangers an entire kingdom. Heroes give readers hope and hope is the seed of dreams, of adventures and achievements.

Only four centuries ago, during a time when books would slowly, very slowly become accessible due to printing, yet reading was still a skill of the lucky few, written stories were cherished, their readers esteemed, and the entire experience treasured in group gatherings, artisanal sittings or during feasts. Stories were further narrated, enjoyed and treasured, past on to descendants, and the storybooks, if owned, were even kept next to religious icons and even protected by curses against possible thieves.

Be it religious accounts, mystical or magical tales, secular adventures, enigmatic predictions, parables or humorous accounts, stories have left their mark on people’s mindset, on their imagination.

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

Făt-Frumos, Beautiful-Son

Ask any Romanian 🙂 and Făt-Frumos, Beautiful Son, is the one Romanian folktale hero that’s on everyone’s lips. Well, he is a character quite hard to forget, handsome (as if it needed be said), smart, possessing great physical and spiritual strength, performing good deeds left and right, always keeping his word while going through some really queer adventures.

Usually the youngest son of a king, Beautiful Son always succeeds where his older brothers failed. I guess he is a bit like Superman or Spiderman – the underdog who eventually goes through tests and obstacles that surpass ordinary men’s power, fighting monsters – dragons – and other malicious characters – hags, witches, or even prejudiced, unreasonable kings, always emerging victorious.

He does have an aid, and this is one of my favorite parts as it is a magic horse, a Marvelous Horse, a Magic Horse, who looks old and shabby, but is given a second chance.

I am not sure I am cut to be the type of hero Beautiful Son is, having to overcome Frost’s dilemma as to which road to travel: “If you turn right, you will be in sorrow; if you turn left, you will be in sorrow as well“, and ending up traveling through deserts and snowy places on this land, but on the other land too.

Isn’t this what we love about heroes, the second chance they are offered and they offer to others?

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

For a child, a hero is the ticket to an adventure he / she can take from the safety of their own bed. But if we look at folk heroes closely, as adults, we can see that they encompass the history of the nation who birthed them. Romania has known centuries of harsh attacks from north, south, east and west (mongols, Turks, Austro-Hungarians, Russians, Nazis) – and Romanians always fought back, always forced to decide between two equally unfortunate choices: ally with your enemies or fight them.

Have you read the story of Emperor Aleodor yet?

Ileana Cosânzeana

Ileana Cosânzeana (or Ileana Simziana, Chira Chiralina) is the main heroine of Romanian mythological fairy tales, the female correspondent of Beautiful-Son, usually his love ideal. She is depicted as beautiful and kind – perhaps the other way around, her kind spirit shining through, therefor everyone finds her lovely?

According to folktales she is kidnapped by a dragon and locked in a tower or taken to the Other Land, the Netherworld. The heroine is saved by Făt-Frumos and most of the times the two have to defeat the dragon/ or the witch together. Thus, the fairy tale ends, most of the time with a wedding. And they both live happily ever after.

Worth mentioning is that the dragon is always in love with Ileana. It is interesting to notice that Ileana and her abductors never have children. In Romanian fairy tales a child can only be the result of a relationship based on love and consensual marriage.

What makes a heroine out of a brave girl?

What makes a heroine out of a brave girl?

A spirit that soars against patriarchal norms.
Boldness when obedience is expected.
A voice that does not yell.
A will like a sword.
A kind heart.

Now, as Iana Sânziana (and many argue that the two are not the same character) she is the daughter of the Son from which she runs away for he loves her so, perhaps with too much ardor. She hides herself on a secluded island. In another version of the myth she is the Moon and thus God separates the Moon from the Sun.

The Romanian myth of the Sun and the Moon goes like this

My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales
My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales

The sun is presented as a young man who, wanting to get married, travels for nine years, on nine paths to find his chosen one. Finally, the sun finds the youngest of nine sisters and her name was Ileana Sinzeana, later nicknamed
‘The lady of flowers
Of carnations,
The sister of the Sun,
The foam of milk. ‘
He wishes to marry her and travels through Heaven and Hell, accompanied by “old man Adam” and “mother Jehovah” (Eve), who try to persuade him to give up his intention. Back to earth, the young man again asks the girl to accept him as her husband, and she, as in the fairy tale, asks him to build her “A brass bridge, To not pay attention to it” (perhaps invisible) over the Black Sea (bordering Romania), at the end of which she knew there was a monastery where they can celebrate their marriage.
But when the two reach the bridge, Ileana Sânziana throws herself into the sea, turning into the white foam that “the saints from heaven” in their palms took.

You might want to read about the legend of Dochia too.

Greuceanu

This hero we encounter in only one Romanian myth. The Sun and the Moon are stolen by three vicious dragons, balauri, and their wives. Greuceanu defeats them all and returns daylight to humankind. This is a precious motif of initiation symbolizing a new beginning for humans, the chance of a rebirth.

Prâslea cel Voinic, Young-One the Robust

The youngest of the brothers, again, proves to be the bravest and the smartest one. He is also the one who has to save the honor of the family by making up for his older brother’s faults – necessary for his success. But it isn’t only bravery that Prâslea has and his brothers don’t, but social skills too. In Romanian folklore Prâslea finds the thief of the King’s golden apples.

When I was young I found this story mesmerizing as Prâslea had to stay awake an entire night to catch the thief. He even fashions some spikes for himself that were supposed to impale him awake from his slumber.

Harap Alb, White Warrior

Harap Alb may be only a 19th century story told by Ion Creanga and based on Romanian folktales, but the theme of this fairy tale is still the struggle of good against evil, ending with the victory of good. The main character follows the same heroic adventure, a path of moral and ethical maturation sprinkled with various trials and obstacles. The world in which the action takes place is still a miraculous one, dominated by stereotypes and exaggerations.

It is the same reflection of reality, but in an embellished, fabulous way, which does distract the reader and thus the characters can and will react in ways that will not make sense nor be possible in the real world.

Harap might translate to moor, or Arab, but the character is the youngest son of a King and is depicted as having blond hair.

My favorite part as a child were some of Harap Alb’s helpers, his buddies: Frost-one, Thirsty-one, Hungry-one, Good-sight-one, Birdy-Widy-Lenghtly-One, one more colorful than the next.

Harap-Alb by Natsuki Otani

The Old Man’s Clever Daughter

I do like the Old Man’s Daughter and she was one of my favorite heroines as I grew up. Not your average wild character, and definitely not a warrior with a sword. Still, a champion.

Old Mn's Daughter, old school heroine, Romanian folklore

A gentle voice
To match her heart;
A will that saw her
Through heartbreak.
The Old-Man’s-Daughter sings of trust,
Endurance, and everlasting love –
Old-fashioned qualities,
Yet so hard to come by anymore.

Patricia Furstenberg

She is quiet, shows perseverance, and always sees the best in others – qualities often overlooked in many people. Her story shows us that good deeds, honesty, humanity and diligence do not go unrewarded. Something we need to read more about these days. I wrote more about her story for the lovely people at Folklore Thursday.

Why do we love a good hero?

Because they create order out of chaos? Because they show us that it can be done, any obstacle surmounted if we set our mind to it?

Folk tales remind us of a time when everyday life was passing at a slower pace, when people listening and let their imaginations unfold, when simple fables held the answer the world’s ultimate questions and dark forests still withheld secrets.

Today we rush through each day and fly over forests to spy on its last secrets. But perhaps at night, when we hear the last wolves howl, or a branch knocks in the window stopping us from our fast pace, sending shivers down our necks, our souls remember what was passed on from generation to generation until it was embodied in our DNA. Story-time.

I hope you enjoyed My Top Heroes from Romanian Folktales. Which are your favorite fairytale heroes and heroines?

hope readers books Pat Furstenberg
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Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology

The way in which animals and nature are presented in folklore and mythology can tell us a lot about a nation’s cultural profile. Although in most cultures we encounter the belief that all animals were created / put on earth by a higher divinity to teach humans a lesson and challenge them, animal symbology and legends can vary.

Some cultures and religions believe that the man was created to rule over all the animals. Other cultures believe that animals are manifestations of a divine power. During medieval times Christian beliefs in a hierarchical structure of all matter and life emerged, The Great Chain of Being, an idea that humanity (with the king at the top) is a subdivision situated above animals (with the lion at the top).

Folklore and mythology are the domains where explaining and understanding real life events was done by the use of animals as symbols – thus creating a microcosmic representation for easier comprehension of something that seemed larger than life. The explanations become story lines and new situations and events are understood and can be dealt with only if explained though the prism of an archaic vision with its social norms, moral values, and traditions.

Animals in Romanian folklore and mythology are considered to have a positive interaction with humans (the farm animals, the ones humankind relied on), but they can also threaten and challenge us (the wild beasts), as well as be conferred fabulous, mythological powers (exotic animals).

oxen
Nicolae Grigorescu, Carul cu Boi – Cart with Oxen

The cow and the ox as white animals

In Romanian folklore the cow and the ox were seen as holy in the sens that even God loved them and bestowed upon them the gift of speech, one day a year, like people.

White symbolizes their purity and their economical value in working the field, as means of transport, as well as being a source of various foods.

Cow, as a symbol, stands for prosperity, fertility, and obedience. In folktales the cow defies evil and helps enrich the hero.

The ox is held on higher regards than the cow, seen as the farmer’s symbol of strength and wealth therefor an ox must never be sold.

The cow and the ox in folklore

In Romanian folklore, to protect a cow you can tie a red ribbon around one of her horn; you can feed her magical grains; you can hide in the shed various lucky items; and if you do milk the cow then you must fast during specific dates of the year so the cow won’t run out of milk.

At Christmas time, the best carols are the ones wishing the host to have lots of healthy cows.

In Romanian folk songs love’s value and meaning can only be compared to that of a cow.

On Pentecost, Rusalii, 31st May, custom asks to decorate an ox (symbol of fertility) with flower garlands and bells.The lads would then take the ox for a stroll around the village, from one house to the next, and the ox would be sprinkled with water (another symbol of fertility). The flower garland that decorated the ox was to be kept safe so that the field would be fertile that year.

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

Superstitions involving the cow

When a cow is about to have her calf, put some wheat, lemon, salt and pepper in a red cloth and tie it to the cow’s tail to keep the bad spirits away.

Don’t hit the cow with a pitchfork or she’ll have a bowlegged calf.

If you want to find out the year you will marry, go to the stables and kick the cow that’s lying down, saying ‘this year… I shall marry.’ If the cow stands, you have your answer. If she doesn’t, chose another year and kick her again… gently 🙂

The oxen can speak on the day of Saint Vasile, 14 January, and you can hear them do so if you go to bed in the manger – but you better watch out as you might not like what you hear.

The sheep was from God

The sheep, good, soft and gentle, could only have been God’s gift to all humankind. All you need to do when you are sick is touch the sheep to feel better.

Romanian folktales say that God Himself walks the sheep to pasture, and He plays the flute, feeling happy and content. Sheep are helpers, protectors and, in more than one instances, messengers of God – as is the lamb in the myth of Miorita.

The ram, with its golden fleece and painted horns at Christmas time is also a reason of joy and pride.

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

Folk rituals involving the sheep and the ram

On Sângeorz day, Saint George, on 23rd April and especially in the province of Moldova, shepherds sprinkle their sheep with water, to be abundant in milk.

On Rusalii, in Transylvania, the sheep are jumped over a life-giving fire (smoked), to protect them against evil spirits.

During the midsummer celebration of Sânziene or Dragaica (24 June), rituals involving sheep and flowers are performed.

The sacred sheepfold

Romanian folklore sees the sheepfold as sacred as a church altar. Millennial old rituals take place here and inherited tools play a sacred role, tools that are never removed from the spot, tools decorated with the symbols of the sun, the earth, the cosmos, or the heaven’s holy gates… The sheepfold’s hearth, where the fire had been burning for generations, is on high regards. For this reason, in its foundation one will find the bone of an ancestor, of a warrior who fought against the enemy of the country or against the wild beasts; a sacred bone, for the same reason one would bury the bones or relics of saints in the foundation of churches.

The sheep is sacred too. Touch it and any bad spirits that bothered you will leave.

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

The bells hanging around the sheep’s necks, of various sizes, based on a rigorous hierarchy, are in harmony with the shepherd’s flute, with the song of the forest streams and with the rustle of the wind through the leaves and across the grassy planes.

Any sheepfold has a knapsack containing, at any given time, bread, holy water from the church or sanctified by a log from its holy hearth, as well as flowers kept from the Sânziene celebrations – all necessary during various rituals.

No one leaves a sheepfold without the smallest of gifts; a piece of cheese, a pipkin of milk, or at least a piece of bread for the road. Gifts from the heart.

The goat is a whole different story

The goat came from the devil, it is said in the Romanian folklore.

The myth of how the goat came to be

God took a handful of earth and created the sheep. So the devil wanted to do the same. He scraped some ground from the marsh, barely a handful and, not knowing what to do further, he decorated it with branches and shoots of grass instead of fur. He found his creation to be just as perfect as God’s. Yet something was missing… so he added a tuft of grass shooting from the goat’s chin, much like his own. Yet he couldn’t bring it to life. That was something only God could do.

Romanian folklore says that it is the horned scoundrel that takes care of goats, chasing them over the fields that they never sit still and he’s also the one that cuts their fur; that’s why it is all erratic and in tufts and uneven. You just have to take care of one and see for yourself.

Superstitions involving the goat

If you are gifted a goat on Saint Vasile, the angels will stay away from your home for fifty days.

Goats symbolize poverty as they eat a lot, stomp over grass and chew on all the green buds.

Caroling with the goat at Christmas time

Perhaps resonating of a pagan custom and definitely not related to the hellish imp is the winter custom of caroling with a goat mask while performing a ritualistic dance on a cheerful music to match the event.

Animals in Romanian Folklore and Mythology

The pig

Long ago, one creature cheated and lied to the gods so it was destined to grunt for a speech and to trundle through mud all its life.

The pig’s curse also says that the pig hates all humans, for he know he will be butchered, yet he forgets all about it whenever he is fed and joyfully stuffs itself.

Romanian Christmas custom asks for a pig to be slaughtered on Ignat, 20th December. It is said that, shortly before Christmas, the pig dreams of a sharp knife and stops getting fat. It is better to cut it or the wild beasts will have its meat.

It is also said that a farmer must see or, even better, spill the blood of a pig each year around Ignat to have wealth in the farmyard and on the fields the following year.

Superstitions involving the pig

The woman who doesn’t eat pig on Christmas Day or at Easter will have an easy childbirth.

On Ignat day, if you don’t see or at least hear the pig being slaughtered you should prick your finger so that you at least see some blood.

After the pig is slaughtered and cut, on Ignat, when the pig’s head is brought inside to be cooked, its snout must enter the house firs, for good luck and a rich litter of piglets in the new year.

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

The blessed donkey

Romanian folklore blesses the donkey for the donkey was blessed by Virgin Mary herself, after it carried her on its back all the way to Jerusalem, and later it carried Jesus too.

There is a heartwarming symbology behind the donkey’s mild appearance, an impulse to choose to be modest, devoted and unpretentious because big things will still cross your path.

The myth of how the donkey got its super-sized ears

Well, once when the donkey was but a foal he was a little bit naughty, walking at the back of the herd. So God scolded the beast for its incessant agitation and fret. Yet the young animal, like any young, pretended not to hear. God repeated Himself, the donkey said he still can’t hear Him. Being at the back of the group and all… So God pulled the donkey by its ears… And that’s why the donkey has such long hearing aids.

The horse

The horse is seen as a virile animal, a warrior yet often less valuable to a farmstead than a cow or an ox.

One must never eat the meat of a horse because it might have been ridden by a woman.

The dog and the cat

It goes without saying that the dog is loved by God for its qualities and his good and reliable nature, much as it is treasured by humans.

Romanian folklore says that the cat came to be from God’s glove, when He threw it on Noah’s Arch to catch the mouse.

The myth of why the cat and the dog fight

It is said that, long ago, the cat and the dog used to be married, yet the cat was a lazy and greedy wife, while the dog was a hard working husband. The two were always arguing with each other because of their different views and expectation of the world.

Superstitions involving the dog

If the dog digs in the yard, right in front of the house, it is a bad omen, foretelling death.

When there is thunder and lightning someone better sit next to the cat or the dog. Otherwise the devil might hide in their fur and the lightening will strike those nearby.

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

The two-faced wolf

Why two-faced? Because it has both positive and negative connotation, the wolf being good or bad, a friend or a foe – depending on the circumstances. Much like humans.

In Romanian folklore, the malefic wolf can be a pricolic or a vârcolacul. Pricolici are the spirits of malefic people who, awoken from their graves, take the shape of a wolf and roam the streets to harm whoever they meet. Vârcolacii are a general representation of all evil that hunts humankind and they can take a wolf’s appearance.

The positive connotation of the wolf is that of an animal-guide, accompanying the spirits of the dead to the netherworld.

There is a fascination story about the wolf as a symbol on the brave Dacian’s flag, the ancient inhabitants of the cultural region of Dacia, today Romania. But this is a story for another time.

Superstitions involving the wolf

If you caught shivers after a big fright, smoke around yourself the hair of a bear or the dung of a very hairy wolf.

If you travel under the new moon you better watch out for wolfs.

The two-faced snake

House snakes are seen as sending a positive vibe, not so the snakes one meets during various travels. This one you should kill (and not only for its Christian connotation), for ‘if you don’t it will turn into a dragon (balaur) in no less than two years time.’

One should not ‘believe the word of a snake’ or ‘harbor a snake in one’s bosom’, or harm will come in return. Snakes have strong connotations with magic and spells too. For example, cut with a silver coin the head of the first snake you see before Saint George day, put a clove of garlic in its mouth and on Saint George’s day it will help you see how vampires steal the milk from the cows.

The beasts showcased in Romanian folklore and mythology are fabulous and deserve separate attention or, who knows, their mythological powers might prove real. 🙂 Stay tuned.

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A Forgotten Spring Legend and a Romanian Tradition

spring legend Romanian tradition

Knee deep in research I lost my way between dusty manuscripts but I am excited to have discovered a forgotten Spring legend tied to a Romanian tradition.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, for if it wouldn’t have happened it wouldn’t have been told…

Legend says that the Sun, bewildered by the livelihood of Spring with its slow onset, elevated by the burst of energy that seemed to take over the world… everywhere but where he lived… the Sun himself, sick and tired of the long hibernation forced upon him in the company of Winter, a guest that seemed never to plan on leaving… the Sun decided to run away.
Towards South.
Towards Spring.
Towards heat.

A Forgotten Spring Legend and a Romanian Tradition

And to escape through the gates of Heaven he even had a plan. A well thought plan. A plan fabricated during the long, cold, boring nights spent in the company of Winter.

The Sun placed nine crones, one on each one of the nine stallions that were pulling his carriage! He did so knowing very well that the crones will be ‘more wicked than Lucifer itself’ and so they will drive the horses till they will give their last breath running.

The Sun and his suite drove like the wind through the gates of Heaven and off they went! The pull from their chase even stirred the robes of Saint Toader, the Heavenly guardian of the Sun. Now Saint Toader, stiff as he was after the long winter, a little bit sore in the joints too, caught sight of the fleeting group one second too late. Saint Toader ran to the Heaven’s stables as fast as his robe and his age allowed him, grabbed nine strong stallions placing on them nine seniors with beard as white as his and hands as gnarly as his own… and after he seated himself in his carriage they took off, chasing after the Sun.

Saint Toader and his team searched and searched for eight long days but alas, they lost track of the Sun. Perhaps because the crones were indeed as evil as the fame preceding them said they will be. And they had driven the horses so forcefully that even the skies shook and blizzards and snow storms fell onto Earth. A calamity after another.

The seniors riding ahead of Saint Toader’s carriage, gentle as they were, could not keep up with the crones.

Until the ninth day when one of the seniors caught sight of the Sun and together with the others finally caught up – determined as they were to get the Sun to follow his celestial path again. The one intended for him by God.

And in the day when Saint Toader and his nine seniors found the Sun the Earth, with all its creatures, came to life! In Spring.

And in the day when Saint Toader and his nine seniors found the Sun the Earth, with all its creatures, came to life! In Spring.

And this is why during March, we celebrate in Romania:

  • starting with the 1st of March, for 9 days, we celebrate the 9 Crones, Babele, starting with Dochia. These days are renowned for their fickle weather.
  • on the 10th of March begin the 9 days we celebrate the Seniors, Mosii – days that always have a milder weather. And from these nine days stands out:
  • the 17th of March – the day of Alexii.

17 March – the Spring Legend of Alexii and another Romanian tradition – Alexiile

Legend says that humankind suffered terribly at the cost of insects, both crawling and winged. So God, in His good heart, caught them all and placed them in a box. Then he called Alexie, his trusted man, and gave him the box to throw into the sea.

But Alexie, true to his nature, could not resist the temptation and took one peek. He thought that just one will be enough.
Quick.
And no one will ever know.

Quick.
And all the bugs scattered all over Earth again.

For his punishment Alexie was turned into a heron and made to gather bugs between 17 March and 14 September.

Did you know that it is around 17th of March when migrating herons and storks return?

The Romanian fishermen also say that it is Alexie who brings the fish to the surface again, from the depths of the waters where they love to hibernate. They also say that if you eat an uncooked fish, just a tiny one mind you, on this day of Alexie you will have a rich catch each day for the next year.

 if you eat an uncooked fish, just a tiny one mind you, on this day of Alexie you will have a rich catch each day for the next year.

Well, I don’t fish, but I certainly remember the fickle days of March from my childhood. I only discovered now that the Sun ran away to warmer lands and it was his chariot and his stallions who shook the last of the snow from the late Winter clouds… A spring legend and a Romanian tradition to treasure.

Have a blessed Spring and good luck fishing 😉

And I mounted on my saddle.
What I said it wasn’t babble.

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