4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

4 Romanian Myths between Culture, History and the Sacred

The Romanian Myths draw from a popular culture that is tightly blended with the history and the sacred and it spills into a rich national culture.

Myths have a powerful significance to the cultures who tell them, for they explain sacred origins, bring forward human archetypes, and are a model for future aspirations. A myth unifies cosmic and social events, explaining them in a way that is in touch with the most fundamental values of a community.

Carried forward through a nation’s folklore, myths enrich its culture in many ways, acting as a catalyst in literature, music, and the arts . Enchanting to children and still shrouded in mystery, myth reveal their meanings, like stepping stones, only as one advances through life. I remember learning about these myths in school. They felt abstract and their charm escaped my younger self. I am happy I revised them recently. I found them fascinating, dripping with insight and wisdom that over-passed the millennia.

The Cosmogonic Myth of Miorita

At the very origin of this myth is the ballad of Miorita that originates in Soveja, a small town in the Romanian Vrancea Mountains (right at the curve of the Carpathians). The eerie, mournful ballad was often sung by local troubadours. Worth mentioning here is that the Romanian populace, developed around strong Christian values and governed by a social structure, was fundamentally rural until the middle of the 18th century, so the myth of Miorita influenced a local and vibrant culture.

The word miorita has its root in mioara, a nick-name for a small, young sheep, an ewe.

Shepherding has been a millennial occupation of Romanians. Humans domesticated sheep since the early Stone Age, about the same time they met the trusted dog. Tradition and rituals are deeply embedded in the mindset of these people.

The sheep in Miorita may symbolize purity and simplicity, but also the complexity of unpretentious things. In Christianity, sheep symbolize purity and goodness.
In Miorita, the (young) sheep represent the oracle.

The ballad tells of three shepherds, one from each historical province of Romania (Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania), who meet in the Vrancea mountainous area during the transhumance. One of them is approached by a sheep who predicts that the other two will plot against him to steal his sheep. The shepherd accepts his destiny. His only desire is that the sheep tell his mom that he fell in love with a princess and ran with her to a far away kingdom.

The Legend of Traian and Dochia is the myth of the Romanian people’s ethnogenesis

Ceahlau, Dochia and Traian, Romanian myths culture history
Source

The Legend of Traian and Dochis is part of the Romanian myths that try to explain the origin of the local culture and the history of the Romanian people.

In antiquity, the geographical area we know today as Romania was known as Dacia. The geto-dac people lived here. Dacia was at the height of its power during the ruling of Decebal, 87-106.

Dochia was Degebal’s daughter. When the Romans under the ruling of Emperor Trajan attacked Dacia for its valuable gold mines, Trajan fell in love with Dochia and wished to take her with him. He chased her over the hills, eager to catch her. Dochia did not wish to leave her people and asked the gods to remain in her homeland, no matter what. She was instantly turned to stone together with her maidens.

The myth is placed in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, in the Ceahlau Mountain, where there is a group of stones with a strange appearance. Ceahlau Mountain is unique in Romanian culture, being the only mountain with patron saint.

The myth of Dochia represents the pain that Decebal felt at the thought of the Romans conquering his people, as well as his helplessness in front of irreversible life and its events. Just keep in mind that Decebal did not go down without a fight. The Dacs fought the Romans in two wars before they were finally conquered.

As it is often with myths and legends, this specific story might draw from a different one, about a grumpy master mason and his daughter.

The Myth of Master Builder Manole

The Legend of Master Builder Manole. Curtea de Arges Cathedral

This myth speaks of the sacrifice that sits at the foundation of each accomplishment or construction. The bigger the sacrifice, the more sacred the result is considered.

The theme of this myth is the sacrifice as a source of new life.

Tradition asks for cats, puppets, coins, or crosses to be built in the foundation of a new home or on its doorstep to protect it from evil spirits. And diggings prove that this tradition is true and widespread.

Prince Neagoe Basarab, ruler of Wallachia at the beginning of the 16th century and his wide Millica Despina were the founders of the Curtea de Arges Monastery.
Nine builders under the leadership of Manole worked all day long only to see their work falling to pieces during the night. Needless to say, the Prince was not happy. Manole prayed and prayed until one night he had a dream. Human sacrifice was needed, more exactly a laborer’s female relative, the first one to bring them food at dawn. And so it happens that the first woman to arrive with food was Maole’s wife Ana.

As soon as the sacrifice took place, Manole building his wife into the foundation while she was still alive, making it look like a game, the construction stood and it was soon finished.
The most beautiful monastery ever to see the light of the sun.
The Prince was ecstatic, but not desiring his master builder to raise another construction as beautiful as that one again, perhaps even more stunning, ordered for the scaffolding to be removed abandoning Manole, who were still standing on the roof. Manole fashioned himself wings out of its of wood he had nearby and tried to fly to safety, only to fall to his death.

The construction of Curtea de Arges Monastery was finished during the ruling of Prince Radu the Black. It is unclear if the myth of Manole speaks of him or his image was distorted. One version of the ballad mentions that Manole and the builders boasted together that they will be able to build an even better monastery, and so they were all left on the roof.
The Monastery Curtea de Arges is real, a pearl of byzantine architecture with Moorish arabesques and its two twisting cupolas are famous worldwide.

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy

The Erotic Myth of the Fly-boy -  mitul Zburatorului
Amore e Psiche by Canova

This Romanian myth blends culture with social and religious believes as well as the history and beginnings of psychiatry.

Fly-boy is said to be a magnificent young man that visits young maidens in their dreams, similar to the myth of Incubus.
In Romanian mythology he is depicted as a handsome youngster with golden hair or as a dragon that shines, his skin covered in precious stones, with a tail made of flames.

The myth of Fly-boy signifies the impossible love, the unanswered love, the burning passion and even remembers of the vampire’s myth – giving the symptoms of the girls he “visits”: weight loss, pale skin.

The Fly-boy is presumed to have been a man whose love was rejected during his lifetime by a woman. He returned to hunt all women, but especially the one who rejected his feelings.

The Romanian folklore and literature are abundant with fabulous characters and archetypes: giants, ogres, sirens, three headed dragons, magic horses, talking wolves, spirits of the forest and of the lake, ghosts, eerie maidens, magic birds, witches and saints, fairy godmothers, handsome princes or clumsy page-boys, good or evil emperors, and many more. Their stories have animated the childhood of many generations and form an unseen golden thread that unites a strong national spirit that prevailed over millennia.
The Romanian myths connect its people with an abundant culture, a stormy history and the ever-permanent sacred.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Romanian myths between culture, history and the sacred. You might also be interested in:

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Songs that Remind me of the Marines, my Silent Heroes

Songs Remind me of Silent Heroes

Music evokes vibrant images and these three tunes are only a few of the songs that remind me of the fighting Marines, the main characters from my book Silent Heroes.
I mostly do my writing in a quiet space, listening to the words playing in my mind, but every so often I turn to music for inspiration, for its regular or progressive rhythm if I must describe a battle scene, or for the emotions it stirs when I am faced with a life-and-death situation.

Five Finger Death Punch – ‘Wrong Side Of Heaven’

This is a heart-wrenching musical video about the futility of war, its real, hideous face and the reality we choose not to acknowledge: that wars change – for the worst – the lives of all those involved in them, soldiers too. It was also one of the songs that also inspired me to write Silent Heroes.

‘Arms wide open
I stand alone
I’m no hero and I’m not made of stone
Right or wrong
I can hardly tell
I’m on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell
The wrong side of heaven and the righteous side,
The righteous side of hell ‘

Songwriters: Ivan Moody / Jeremy Spencer / Kevin Churko / Thomas Jason Grinstead / Zoltan Bathory
Wrong Side of Heaven lyrics © Sony/ATV. Find the lyrics here.

The White Stripes – ‘Seven Nation Army’

Although this song is about how shallow gossip is, I like the feeling of loneliness it evokes, the solitude of those caught under the spotlight. I think that soldiers, through the nature of their occupation, are under the spotlight, permanently in the news, yet very few spectators grasp the real meaning of their sacrifice.

‘And I’m talking to myself at night
Because I can’t forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And the message coming from my eyes
Says leave it alone.’

Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group. Find lyrics here.

Another one of the songs that inspired me when writing about the Marines in Silent Heroes is:

Prokofiev – ‘Dance of the Knights’

I listened to this song often when working on my battle scenes, although it is part of his Romeo and Juliet ballet. I found it strongly related to death. The loud, rhythmic beginning is very war-like in a dignifying way. The second, pianissimo part, speaks of the Angel of Death, but of the soldiers’ loneliness on the battlefield as well.

‘Dunn turned his head to respond. That’s when his whole body disappeared into a deafening blast of rocks, leaves, smoke, and blood.
That day it rained with dirt.
Conde felt his body thrown to the ground and he landed on his back, dirt in his mouth, dust all over his face. The wave had gone right through him.
Behind him, everyone threw themselves around looking for cover, weapons at the ready.
The dust was still settling on the road ahead when Conde jumped to his feet, yelling Dunn’s name.
“Medic, over here!”
He could taste blood and it smelled like charred flesh.
Was he talking? He couldn’t hear himself, just a constant ring in his ears.
“Medic, over here!” he yelled, again and again, wiping dust and water from his eyes and looking all over the ground for Dunn. The acrid air made him choke. It smelled of burned tyres and ammonia.
Focus, Conde. Focus!
Just ahead of him Dunn was laying on his back, legs sprawled, not moving. Conde felt his body freeze in panic. Was Dunn dead? Please, no! He forced himself to move ahead, his mind racing in circles, remembering what had to be done in a first aid combat situation. That’s when he heard Dunn moaning.
Blood was sipping through his left leg. Dunn was trying to feel it, but his left hand was missing its fingers. Tourniquet! It flashed through Conde’s mind and his body snapped in motion, the Marine having tightened the first tourniquet around Dunn’s left leg before their medic arrived on the scene.
“Easy, buddy, stay with me,” said Conde trying to see if Dunn’s eyes were open or closed but the blood and dust caking the fallen Marine’s face made things difficult. Conde felt like he was in a dream, the one where he would try to open his eyes as large as he could, still no image would form. Eventually, the white of Dunn’s eyes shone through.
“We got you, buddy. We got you,” said the medic, feverishly wrapping combat gauze over the Marine’s hands. The white bandage looked like show balls against the bloody background. But not for long.
“Don’t give up. I’ll beat you up if you dare giving up, Sarge! You hear me?!” Conde’s voice came out croaky.
“Easy, Conde,” someone said nearby and Kent kneeled, helping hold Dunn’s hands upright.
“Nice and easy.”
“We got you, Dunn.”
“Someone call MEDEVAC!” Conde yelled.
“Easy, buddy. Already done. They’re on their way.”
“Where’s a landing strip over here?”
Conde wiped dust and water from his eyes again, leaving strikes of blood behind.
“Damn rain!
“Where are they going to land, Sarge? There is no freaking landing area here, only freaking trees! Damn trees!” the Marine panicked.
“It’s okay, man. They’ll drop a cord for us, said Kent” ‘

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for. Songs-Remind-Marines-Silent-Heroes
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg

You can BUY Silent Heroes from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Amazon Canada, or Amazon Worldwide: link here to your preferred Amazon website.

These are the songs that remind me of the Marines depicted in Silent Heroes. Next time I’ll tell you about the songs I listened to to stir emotions rooted in the lives of the Afghan people.

The #MusicMonday meme was created by Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek. You can pick a song that you really like and share it on Monday. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog feature on Mischenko’s lovely blog, ReadRantRockandroll .

Which songs inspire you? Which songs you find yourself returning to?