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.

As always, discover all my books on Amazon.

The Church Door, a Short Story for Thursday Doors

I hope you will enjoy reading The Church Door, a short story matching the Thursday Doors weekly feature.

This is my first attempt at doing a post for Thursday Doors, but since I am fascinated with doors and I just happened to find my way through a scene involving a door in my WIP, I thought, why not?

The doors are from Brașov, a city in the Transylvania region of Romania over 800 years old. We went there on holiday in 2019. Enjoy!

The Church Door, a (very) short story

Their plan was to arrive at the church before closing time, when the sanctuary was still open to visitors, but voided of worshipers, and the church custodian would be too tired of curious tourists and too exasperated by chatty old crones, so he would wave them in and then rush to finish his last chores.

They reached the holy ground well after nigh fall. It’s been the old town that threw them off, one that none was familiar with, full of labyrinthine nooks where Google Maps had never set foot. They lost their way a few times. As if the town had a mind of its own. As if its troubled spirits, the ones denied for eternity the sanctity of a peaceful sleep, were trying to stop them.

The church rose behind a curtain of trees. Or at least they hoped it was there, cradled in the sombre, hollow space at the back. The street lamps were off and it was too early for the moon to rise.

So why they pushed on? Because they came thus far. And she needed to get an answer.

The church door should face the front, the street, Kate knew that much. The altar would face east and that was to the right.

They would have knocked they heads in the sanctuary’s door, should she not have extended her arms. It was that dark underneath the old trees. She had removed her gloves earlier one, heated from the march, so the door felt warm and cold under her hands, smooth and rough.

Drachen thumbed on a flashlight.  

The door, ten feet tall, had been forged five centuries ago during the times of its founder, Vlad the Monk. Kate’s hands rose and sank with the wood rods that seemed to have been twisted by time, reinforced in battle. Old oak, like the one that it was still alive around them, standing guard. The breams were reinforced with iron plates fixed in place with iron studs, hammered while the metal was still red. The wood and iron were spotted with years of water damage, be it from heavy summer rains or hibernal blizzards. Kate wondered how many battles it witnessed, how many Ottomans and Tatars it fought in silence. For how many weddings it pulled aside quietly, shrinking in the shadows, keeping its smoked-patina away from the pristine ivory of the bride’s gown. Or how many secrets it bear witness to, unwillingly. Unknowingly.

Kate always found churches approachable, a spiritual consecutiveness  between man and god, people and families, intended for peace making. But this door looked as if it’s been forged to keep the intruders, and the worst of the weather, out.

‘As old as the church,’ said Drachen and his words came out in whisper. As if he didn’t want anyone else to hear them. Although there was no one else around.

Except for them, the spirits, a thought crossed Kate’s mind and she shook it off right away, surprised by her naïve predisposition to superstition.

‘Its locking mechanism is incredible, I saw a design once, for another door. It is a complex system made up of no less than 19 locks created in 1515 by local craftsmen, intended to shield the Episcopal treasure kept inside. Only one key can open it,’ he said.

‘A Bramah key?’

‘No, no Kate. You mean the cylindrical keys with different slots of varying depths? You’re nearly three centuries off. The Bramah lock was invented towards the end of the 18th century.’ He leaned towards the door, almost smelling it. ‘ Would you hold the flashlight, please,’ and Drachen leaned on his hands, both palms spread over the door’s relief, the only two areas that reflected the beam coming from the torch.

‘Now this, this is something much better.’

Behind the door with its 19 locks was the old church, full of secrets. One of them, hers.

© Patricia Furstenberg

A gate door along the narrow cobblestone streets winding through Schei, Brasov’s traditional Romanian quarter:

The Beth Israel Synagogue in Brasov (Hebrew: בית ישראל):

The lovely lady in the rope-ed statue below points towards Strada Sforii (Rope Street), a medieval lane and one of the most narrow streets in the world:

Doors are like people.
Some stand proud, some pull in the shadows, some look inviting and throw open both arms, some keep to themselves. Some are round, some tall and dark, some fancy, some barely keeping up. But all, all doors have a story to tell.
At least one.
What is your story, I ask each one as I walk past. I’m listening.

See you all next Thursday! 🙂 Thank you for visiting.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature that brings door lovers from around the world together, while sharing their joy towards door photography. Feel free to join by creating your own weekly Thursday Doors post and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

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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.

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

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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Angela Gheorghiu performs Tatăl Nostru in a deserted Bucharest

Renowned Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu performed ‘Tatăl Nostru‘, Pater Noster or the Lord’s Prayer, accompanied by Romanian violonist Alexandru Tomescu in front of the Romanian Atheneum, in a deserted Bucharest.

I would like to share her performance with you and take you through a few places of my native Bucharest.

The recording was made on 19 April 2020 by Pro TV, Romania’s most watched private television network.

‘During such times, I wish everyone courage, love and hope!’ (Angela Gheorghiu).

Alexandru Tomescu performed on a Stradivarius Elder-Voicu violin on loan from the Romanian government until 2023 – a privilege won through a contest. The violin is listed as a national patrimony item. It was manufactured in 1702 and purchased in 1956 by the Romanian state to be used by violinist Ion Voicu. In 2007, it was estimated at USD 1.2 million.

Composer: Anton Pann
Producer: Sabina Ulubeanu
Sound: Andrei Kerestely
A PRO TV (2020) production.

I have to admit I am a big fan of Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu. I think she is not only gorgeous, but talented too. Nothing comes without hard work and sacrifice though, and she proved it more than once. Since her professional debut in 1990, she has performed in leading roles of several operas at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, Milan’s La Scala, and many other opera houses in Europe and the United States. She has a substantial discography primarily with EMI Classics and Decca and is especially known for her performances in the operas of Puccini.

The Romanian Athenaeum is the-most-gorgeous-concert-hall-ever. Of course is located in Bucharest! The building was designed by the French architect Albert Galleron, for the Romanian Atheneum Cultural Society and built on a property that belonged to the Văcărescu family (one of the oldest noble families of Wallachia, now Romania). It was inaugurated in 1888. The construction showcases the neoclassical style typical for the era with some romantic touches. The Romanian Atheneum is a symbol of Romanian culture and an European Heritage Site as well as one of Seven Wonders of Romania.

Bucharest is my home town so this recording is special to me. I have never seen this city so deserted during day time. If you don’t know, Romania is one of the safest countries to live in.

Follow me through the video.

Calea Victoriei walking towards Lipscani and Dambovita River. On the left is a Pizza Hut we love to visit whenever we get a chance.
Regina Eisabeta Street towards Mihail Kogalniceanu square. The Cismigiu Park must be on the right side.
View from the Romanian Atheneum towards the Royal Palace hoousing the National Museum of Art (left) and Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel (right). Stirbei Voda Street ahead.
Angela Gheorghiu in front of the Romanian Atheneum. Notice the Ionic columns on the right. Their proportions are similar to those of the Erechtheion Temple on the Acropolis.
Angela Gheorghiu accompanied by Alexandru Tomescu in front of the Romanian Atheneum. Note the neoclassic facade.
View from thee Romanian Atheneum towards the Royal Palace and George Enescu square.

Romanian Atheneum above, Cismigiu Park below – I have never seen Cismigiu so deserted. Cismigiu is lovely in summer for a stroll in the shade or a leisurely row and fantastic in winter for ice skating all day long and under the spotlight in the night.

An amazing view of the Romanian Atheneum in the center, its park in the front with the round cupola, Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel in the left with a reddish roof.
Angela Gheorghiu accompanied by Alexandru Tomescu in front of the Romanian Atheneum in the afternoon light. Athenee Palace Hilton Bucharest Hotel in the background. A gorgeous contrast of light and creeping shadows.
Hats off to Sabina Ulubeanu and the camera crew.
Calea Victoriei at Revolution square, the equestrian statue of King Carol I, Royal Palace on the right.

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

valentine's day folklore dragobete

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

Dragobete, origin and signification

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

valentine's day folklore dragobete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romanian country song for Dragobete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dragobete spell from Ardeal region of Romania:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many Saint Valentine are there?

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

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

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