Monday, 5 November 2012

Offerings to the Dead

Funeral and remembrance of the dead traditions in today's Romania are many and varied, some entire ceremonies with well established dates, others spontaneous manifestations of love or respect. All of them, however, suggest a deep respect for the ancestors inherited from the ancient 'pagan' times. 

In a culture that believed in the forever life of the spirit with thousands of years before Christianity, the dead are never truly dead, just existing in a separate, yet close universe, that maintains close ties with this world. Not only that the dead can cross from one world to another to offer consolation and advice, to manifest their displeasure, but the dead are considered to have needs and cravings just like the people from this world...

In some parts of Romania, all the possessions of the one that passed away are given away to strangers, so the dead can enjoy the same things in death as they did in life. In all parts of the country, food and drinks are shared in the memory of the dead at fixed dates, with ceremony and pomp and spontaneously with no ceremony.

At fixed dates, the women of the family lovingly prepare food and drinks, sweet breads with nuts, and a special cake made out of wheat grains, nuts and sugar, and take it to the church along with a list containing all the names of the passed away in as many generations as can be remembered. In a special ceremony the priest blesses the food and reads entire family trees (for example Mary, daughter of... mother of... wife of... and so on) after which the food, drinks (usually red wine) and the cake are shared in front of the church with the saying :"May it be for the soul of...", at which the receiver answers back "May it be well received".

At certain intervals after death, (three days, six weeks, one year, seven years), the women of the family prepare an entire feast, including most of the dishes and drinks that the dead loved in this life. Family and friends are invited and during the feast stories are being told about the one that passed away.

With less ceremony, candles are being lit and left to burn out, either at home or at the church, whenever one feels the need to connect with his ancestors. The only formal occasion for lighting candles is the Easter night when candles are lit at the church and then taken in procession to the grave yard, soon after the clock strikes midnight and are left to burn out on the graves. Lit from those, another set of candles is carefully taken home, being considered that it brings light in this life and the other, in this night when the veils between the worlds are thin.

Yet another way to cherish the ancestors with no ceremony are the libations. You might eat, or more often drink something, and knowing that your dear one loved it in life, you gently pour few drops on the Earth, or crumble some of the food, and say quietly or aloud "May it be for the soul of..." It is considered that the soul can enjoy it in death as they enjoyed it in life.

And yet, at other times, you may cook something and knowing the dead person loved that dish, you take a plate to a friend, neighbor or stranger and give the food away not only in remembrance of the dead, but for the use of the soul that still lives.

And still at other times, with their needs ignored for too long, the spirits cross into this world, in dreams most often and bluntly request certain foods or drinks to be offered to them. Sometimes the spirits can be quite specific: "I am craving for that and that and give it away to that person for me".  Other times the soul of the departed can be satisfied by simply cooking the dish and letting the aromas disperse in the air, before being consumed in the family.

Not respecting the wishes of the departed, even more so if the departed made an effort to cross into this world to express those wishes, can cause varied reactions from a restless dead that starts haunting your dreams, to physical manifestations of displeasure, to bad luck. Even if the departed does not cross into this world to request their due, forgetting to honor and make offerings for the departed can result into a restless spirit who can not peacefully cross into the other world because they are too tied up to this world by not having their needs met.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Before the Writing of Sumer

A little village lost beyond the Carpathian Mountains... Few houses, and those not exactly beautiful, on one side and the other of the main street and few more streets lost between fields of wheat and corn, protected by fruit bearing trees say nothing about this village. Is just another village, no different from countless other villages around today's Romania. And yet, and old man, dressed in the traditional white and black colors of the one that got to know life, says: "This village of ours, that you can see today, is our new village. The old Tartaraia, as the ancestors say, was a bit further away. From the valley, all the way here where you start climbing the hill, was a mighty village, full of life with our ancestors, only God knows how far back in time. That's hat out grandparents knew, from their grandparents and so on."

This village is called Tartaraia, an unusual name even for Romanians. In the village of Tărtăria,  in 1961 was discovered an important religious complex; the material showed a continuity of habitation for several thousand years. Among others, they found three sensational clay tablets, which according to the isotope carbon 14 dating were made at least 6,500 years ago, in 5300 BC to be more exact. Together with the three clay tablets, covered with strange signs, was discovered a small cache of offerings, accompanying the charred bones of a mature human. The artifacts suggest this person was a Great Priest or Shaman and he was cremated during a sacrificial ritual. 

The Danube Script appeared some 7,000 years ago in the Danube valley: in Serbia, Kosovo-Metohija, Southern Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and northern Greece. It flourished for one and a half millennia. Around 5,500 years ago, a social upheaval eclipsed this and other elements of the advanced culture of the Danube Civilization. Some researchers argue that there were devastating invasions of new populations from the steppes while others have hypothesized the imposition of new dominant elites.

Specialists from Hungary,  former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, the U.S. and the former USSR, tried to decipher and date the clay tablets based on the latest scientific achievements in the field (Carbon 14 and so on). Bulgarian Academician Vladimir I. Georgiev said that "tablets from Tartaraia are (...) a millennium older than the Sumerian writing" and "writing in the form of icons appeared in southeastern Europe and not in Mesopotamia, as was previously thought, the designs and marks on the three tablets representing "the oldest writing in the world", especially as Sumerian writing in sec. fourth BC, "appeared quite unexpectedly and in a developed form", which means that it was either brought there or was improved in cuneiform writing. Similarly, the orientalist, Andrei Nadirov is excited before the wonder of the tablets from Tartaraia, who transmit over times, "a message from pre-Dacian brothers". Marija Gimbutas, an eminent American scientist was writing that these tablets fit in an ancient sacred writing coming since the Paleolithic, through the Neolithic richest events, and belonging to the civilization of Old Europe. Investigations made by Hungarian researchers (Makkay Janos ERŽEN Nustupny), Yugoslavs (Jovan Todorovic), U.S. (S. Hood, David Whipp), Soviet (TS Passek, V. Titov, Boris Perlova) etc. reached the same conclusions. 

Unfortunately the meaning of the signs found on the tablets remain a mystery up to today. Over the last seven thousand years, and continuing today, traditional pieces of folkloric art in Romania (from carpets to clothes) are being produced that continue these ancient signs. The lozenge, the X, the E, the b, the D, the M, the circle, the angle, the tree, the spiral, the angle, the cross, the rosette, short parallel lines are highly productive and persistent motives attesting to the Neolithic Script.
Whilst Tartaria signs have not lost their popularity over the millennium as decorative motives, it remains the case that in rural tradition they are not purely ornamental elements, but allusive expressions of religious ideas, codes associated with magic powers and basic symbols relating to the divinity and its epiphanies.

Powerful geometric motives continue to be transmitted from mother to daughter. 


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

30 November or The Romanian Halloween

The ancestral calendar remains a mystery for most, and yet for over two millennium is coexisted in parallel to Christian holidays, proving not only the continuation of the millenniums old traditions, but also the existence of the same people from the darkness of history to the present day. 

In the Romanian popular traditions, the night of 29-30 November, marks the passing from summer to winter, from light to dark, and the rituals conserved from the Geto-Dacian civilization suggests that the night also represented the beginning of a new year. Up to today, the night of 29-30 November, other then being the night of St Andrew in the modern calendar, is the night when the bad spirits cross from one world to another, tormenting the living.

Some of these spirits are the strigoi, a type of national vampire. The strigoi are spirits who after death can not pass into the other world, either because they were wronged in life or because no funeral rites were observed for them. The legends say that strigoi have chalky white skin and a red color around the pupils. Their personality is no longer 'human' like, instead becoming very revengeful, vain and cruel. The strigoi are meant to have an extreme physical power and be able to move incredibly fast.

The legend says that strigoi are very warrior like in appearance and behavior, and when they can't find anyone to fight with,  they go around the houses of the living in order to suck the blood of the people unlucky enough to cross their path.

This is the reason for why, in the night of Saint Andrew, the people try to protect themselves from strigoi by rubbing garlic around the doors and windows, the reason for this being that the strigoi dislike the smell of garlic. Also, on this night, the women would turn all cups and pots face down so the strigoi can't hide inside. The ash from the fires is taken out and bread is thrown around the yards so the hungry strigoi can consume the bread.

However, it is extremely rare for strigoi to actually suck the blood of the living. More common is to use spells in order to steal the beauty of the people, or the milk of the cows, the power of the bulls and to bring with them diseases that affect humans, animals and the future crops, or that they terrorize and torment their still living relatives if these relatives wronged them in life. Most legends say that strigoi can transform themselves into wolves, steal and later eat the animals from the villages.

In some villages rites of keeping the strigoi at bay are still practiced. One such tradition is called the Watch of the Garlic. The youngsters of the village get together in a house and after rubbing garlic all around the doors and windows, a merry party is started at sunset. The women would bring with them garlic cloves that would be put in a wooden crate, and an old woman, surrounded by candles, would watch the garlic the entire night, while the youngsters partied with joy, eating, drinking and dancing, not unlike a New Year's Eve. After sunrise, everyone would step out of the houses and the wooden crate containing garlic would be thrown into flames in order to protect the village over the fallowing year.

Another ancient custom observed this night is the custom of sowing wheat grains in a vase. A month later, the newly sprang wheat would be used for divination. The quantity and the height of the wheat would predict the health and the good luck of the sower. Also, maidens would eat very salted bread before going to sleep in the belief that the man that brings them water in the following dreams is the one that they were going to marry.

If the strigoi came around the houses in St Andrew's night, and if someone recognized them, there were ways to make sure that the strigoi were able to fully cross over into the other world. A young white horse would be taken into the graveyard in the morning. If the horse refused to step over a grave, the body was unburied. The legend says that the bodies if the strigoi still look almost alive, only with long hair and nails and are often turned into a different position than at burial. If that was discovered, a wooden stake was impaled into the heart of the strigoi, thus ensuring that the undead becomes truly dead.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Samedru or A Celebration Of Death and Resurrection

On 26th October on Samedru, throughout the villages of Romania, people celebrate the Old Men Of Autumn, a celebration in the memory of the ancestors who passed away. In the Romanian pantheon, Samedru is an agrarian divinity and an important god. The popular legends show Samedru as an old shepherd. In autumn, a period of symbolic aging of time, is considered that the god dies and comes back to life in a nocturnal ritual called Samedru's Fire. The tradition, still carried in most areas of Romania, even without the initiation elements, is an important holiday for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest person.

The holiday of the Old Men comes from the archaic cult of totemic ancestors. Most believe that it started in the times of Geto-Dacians, when is believed that they celebrated varied religious rituals. Part of these, around big fires, during the celebration, after consuming quantities of food, clay bowls were broken. About the pieces found in ritual graves, is believed that were offerings to the ancestors from under the Earth. The Old Men are celebrations dedicated to the souls of the ancestors around solstices and equinoxes. In this periods of crossroads throughout the year is believed that the veil between the world of living and the world of the dead is at it's thinnest and the spirits come back on Earth around the places where they once lived.

Samedru's Fire is a ceremony of the annual death and resurrection of the agrarian divinity, suggested through cutting and lighting a fir tree. In the Romanian tradition, the fir is considered a sacred tree and is part of all rites of passage. Chopping it is a ritual that symbolizes death, in the same way that lighting it is a ritual of resurrection. The ritual celebrates the end of the pastoral year and the beginning of winter.

Preparations start coupe of weeks before because Samedru's Fire is considered one of the biggest pastoral celebration, a type of New Year's Eve where the entire village is present. Commemorations take place and pyres are lit on hilltops, at crossroads, in the middle of the village and next to the waters, in places considered useful for contacting the dead, which combined with a ritual watch, are part of the tradition that on Samedru's day the dead come out of the graves and haunt the living.

Children and young people gather in advance fir-tree branches, twigs, corn cobs, hemp, dry wood and prepare them in the places where fires will be lit by Samedru. On the morning of October 25, a few lads with children go into the forest to cut ritual trees and clean them.

When the sun sets and the darkness begins to fall, the entire village gathers in silence, as at a sacred ceremonial ritual. Children - the purest souls, ignite the fires with emotion, and when the flames began to rise all call loudly: "Let the fire of Samedru, let the fire of Samedru!" . Women, prepared with baskets full of ritual food, share a ceremonial burial wheat cooked with butter or lard, coils and ritual candles, pretzels, hot bread, cheese, milk, nuts, apples dedicated souls of the ancestors.

An incantation is sang on this occasion: "My forefathers / Let me be all cheerful / Make my home bountiful / With lots on the table / With much help / As a field of flowers" .

During the feast are practiced numerous acts of ritual purification, divination, practices of remembering the dead and weather forecasting. Shepherds throw their coats in the middle of the road to find out what type of winter follows. If a white sheep goes near the coat, it is considered that the winter will be long and rough, and if a black sheep goes near, is expected that the winter will be mild.

Toward morning, when the fire is almost extinct, people go to their homes taking with them the ashes and coals and throw it in the gardens and orchards for the year to have good harvest- a symbol of fertility.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Calusarii or The Sacred Dance

The tradition of the Calusari comes from the ancient times of Dacia and even today still keeps it's pagan core. Once upon a time, Calusarii were priests of a solar cult. Lead by a great priest, their dances were much more then an initiation, were an exorcism. The great priest was the one that was asking the god for help while leading the army of the Calusari in their war with the evil spirits that took over the villages. More so, they used to take a vow of silence, the only one being allowed to talk being the leader who at varied times was requesting them to release certain war calls.

Xenophon ( Anabasis, VI,I 5-6) describes the ancient Thracian dance of the swords as such: "The Thracians started to dance, weapons in hand, on the sound of panpipes, while jumping in the air waving their daggers. At the end, after one of them overpowered another and all thought that the fallen one was dead: he fell with a great art".

The great priest of the solar cult shared his knowledge with only one man who took his place. With the expansion of Christianity, pagan cults slowly dissipated, while the traditions remained rooted in the world of the Romanian villages.  In this way, the Calusari remained a dance understood by less and less people. And yet, people still believe that watching the Calusarii dance brings good luck over the entire year. The Calusarii bring with them joy and protection against illness. The tradition says that each group of Calusarii gives life to the ritual dance and takes suffering away.

The Calusari are described as groups of odd numbered men, sworn to stay together in celibacy and ritual dancing for a period of nine years. Their secrets are to be never known. They are feared warriors who fight the “iele” (“them,”  magical dancing maiden fairies).

According to the Romanian historian of religions, Mircea Eliade, the Calusari were known for “their ability to create the impression of flying in the air” which he believed represented both the galloping of a horse and the dancing of the fairies. Indeed, the group’s patron was the “Queen of the Fairies”, who was also known as Irodiada and Arada, and who Eliade connected with the folkloric figure Diana.

The origins of the Calusari are unknown, although the first written attestations are from the 17th century. Eliade noted that “Although the oath taken is made in the name of God, the mythic-ritual scenario enacted by the Calusari has nothing in common with Christianity".

The Calusarii have to stay together for the sworn period to remain invulnerable and invested with the supernatural powers and if they break away from the group they would fall prey to the iele. But together, they can heal those possessed by evil spirits by performing their dancing and rituals around them.

The costumes worn by the Calusari are white, decorated with colorful sticks, hand made hankies, while the hats have beads and colored ribbons. The most important instrument is the flag, a four-five meters long stick on top of which are tied plants as garlic and wormwood, salt and white and red ribbons, sacred colors in the Dacian vision who connect the dance to the ancient rituals of Zamolxe.

The dance of the Calusari seems to be one of the oldest and most complex of the folk dances of Romania. The men who wished to enter the group of the Calusari came together outside the village, on the shore of a water, where, in a ritual, sworn to respect the rules of the group, including sexual abstinence. For ten days they live in a sacred time and space. During the entire period they wear a specific costume with bells on the legs, a stick, and sleep under churches to be protected by attacks from the Iele. The ceremony included magical practices and invocations, dances and ritual acts executed by the strictly organized group of men. After the ceremonial dances are finished at the end of the ten days, the men meet in the village, greet each other like after a long absence and life goes back to normal.  

The dance of the Calusari, in the popular tradition, meets different functions including the magical transfer of the divine fertility through spells during the dance over salt for animals and a bowl with seeds for sowing in the fields. Other benefits were of speeding up the marriage and fertility of the young women who were admitted into the end dance, healing of the sick and the sending away of the Iele (malefic fairies) through the practice of warrior acts and the used of magical plants during the dance.

The Calusari dance is considered one of the fastest and most spectacular dances in the world and was included by UNESCO on the list of non material masterpieces of the universal culture.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Dragobete or the Romanian God of Love

In the Romanian mythology, Dragobete was a young God, god of love, a Romanian Eros or Cupid that bought love and joy in people's hearts. About Dragobete, the legend says, that he was the son of Baba Dochia and the cousin of a vegetational hero. He is described as a young man, strong and handsome, beautiful and good, or in other legends as supernatural being, either god, or half man half angel, forever living and extremely beautiful.

Either way, he walks through the world unseen. People can see him no more because their bad deeds caused the loss of 'sight'. Dragobete is the protector and bringer of love. The legend says that on Dragobete day the animals and birds 'get engaged' and girls and boys that trust the God and celebrate the day with joy and love will find their mate and remain in love over the year. A different legend says that Dragobete was the god that acted as a celebrant of the weddings of birds and animals before his magical powers extended over people as well.

The Dragobete celebration, ancient, since the days of Dacians, is a celebration of fertility and fecundity, a celebration of nature waking up after the long winter sleep, marking the coming to life of nature and human alike, of harmony between human and the nature that blossoms.

Dragobete is considered the Romanian equivalent of Valentine's Day, a celebration of love. Traditions are still followed today in South and South West of Romania. On Dragobete, girls and boys meet so their love can last the entire year, similar to the birds that get 'engaged' on this day.

Being a God of happy times, on his day parties were being organized, where young people could meet, being the starting point of future marriages. If the weather was good, young people would meet in groups, singing and making noise, to go in the forests and pick up the first flowers of spring, the snowdrops. The young girls would take buckets of not yet melted snow and later would wash in it to remain beautiful and lovable over the year.

The tradition says that on this day people would stop working, spending the day cleaning and decorating their house in order to welcome the God of love who never came alone, but accompanied by the fairies of love who whispered sweet words to people in love.

There are plenty of traditions connected to this holiday:

On this day, everyone was careful to not spend it without a pair, which was considered an omen of solitude and loneliness for the entire year, until the next Dragobete.
Older people had to look not only after the household animals, but after the birds of the sky as well.
No animals are being sacrificed.
Men could not be upset on women, or start a fight, ot bad luck would follow them throughout the year.
Young people had to celebrate through jokes, or without respecting the holiday, no love would come to them. 
The popular tradition says that if  a girl does not meet a boy on that day, she will find no love from the opposite sex for the rest of the year.
On this day, sewing and field work are not allowed. House work is encouraged in order to bring abundance.
On Dragobete, symbolic engagements were celebrated by a young man kissing the girl he loved in the open view of the entire village. It was also a day where young man and women could become blood brothers by mixing their blood.
In the forest, around camp fires, men and women would talk and pick up plants to be used in love spells and charms at other holidays.
Coming back to the village, the young men would chase the young women. If the woman accepted the man, or allowed him to catch her, he would kiss her in front of everyone which was signifying an engagement followed by a wedding later in the year.

The legend says that if it rains on this day, spring will come soon.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Solomonarii or The Clouds Travelers

Solomonarii, this enigmatic beings of Romanian mythology, live half lost in the legends, half in the daily reality of the Romanian village.  Half divine being, they have magical powers.

The image of the Solomonar is to say the least, scary. He is seen as a giant wild man, with eyes that stick out and hard red hair, wearing a white coat.  He carries an iron axe, filled with magical spells, that can be used either to bring hail or to steer away the thunder if it is stuck in the ground. A magical belt made of holy wood helps him to tame and control the dragons. The Solomonar's book in which resides all their power and knowledge hangs from his shoulder and on his chest he carries a piece of wood used to call the winds.

Romanian legends say that only a child born with a 'mask' over his face can become a Solomonar. Kidnapped as an infant by one of the old members of the order, the child s taken to the Solomonar's  school, found somewhere at the end of the Earth in a deep cave. The legend says that out of nine children, only one can become a Solomonar, at the end of a teaching period that lasts twenty years, and done in highly difficult conditions. In this school, The Cloud Travelers learn all the languages of all the beings from the Earth, all the magic spells ever done, and only after they lean all of these, they retire in a cave where, sitting at a rock table, write down all the knowledge of the world.

The legends consider the Solomonars as holy men, instruments of the divine justice who measure the moral value of everyday people. In this sense, the tradition says that the Solomonars travel through the villages as beggars and if not received well, they become angry and call the hail that destroys all the crops.  All that they receive, as they need nothing, they throw in the rivers as payment for the river fairies.

The world of the Solomoars is full of magic and mystery. They use their extraordinary powers in controlling the spirits and the elements of nature. They are seen is extraordinary circumstances: walking on the clouds riding dragons, flying through the sky and using their will can bring the rain.

Even though it seems that the term Solomonar entered the Romanian language relatively recent, in the last four centuries, their initial, ancestral denomination, goes back in time to the old ascetic priests of the Geto-Dacians, priests called Kapnobataii. In an approximate translation, Kapnobataii means 'The Clouds Travelers" or "The Smoke Walkers". They were able to produce important changes in the weather just by ordering it, including producing and ceasing the rain and producing or ceasing the storms.

In the early history, the "solomonarii" were considered rather as benevolent, but as Christianity begun to supplement early beliefs, the "solomonarii" began to be considered evil, and the popular beliefs invented even an "anti-solomonar" sort of hero. The belief in the "solomonarii" has not died out completely, still remaining in some of the most remote villages.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The legend of The Big White Wolf

In long forgotten times, around the Carpathian Mountains were today live Romanian, used to live the Dacians. The Dacians had an amazing connection with the Wolf, having it as a symbol on their flag. The Wolf flag was the one that ran ahead of the armies in times of war, installing fear in the heart of the enemies. The flag of the Dacians, the dragon with a wolf head, is a unique symbol in the world. The wolfs appear as symbols on many archeological discoveries all around the territory of today's Romania. The wolfs are considered to be the symbols of Dacian sanctuaries. 

Some legends say that The Big White Wolf, considered the king of wolfs, fought next to the Dacians when their capital, Sarmisegetuza, fell to the Romans. The legends are many, from the god Apollo, to the Dacians to Christianity, the wolf seems to go from millennium to millennium as symbol of these lands.

In the old forests of the mountains, under the sky filled of stars,
In the warm breeze of the winds of freedom, the ones with a pure heart,
Can still hear today the Big White Wolf calling for the battles.
The Earth, the leaves, the sky know Him too well.
Can you hear it?
The sacred legends of the Free Dacians

The legend says that in long forgotten times, one of Zamolxis' priests was walking the lands of Dacia without ever stopping, to help the ones that needed it and telling the Geto-Dacians that the Big God was watching over them. Even though the priest was still young, his hair and beard were white as snow, and his faith, courage and power were known not only to people and Zamolxis, but to animals as well. The God, realizing his priest valor, asks him to live close to Him, in the mountains. Far away from people, the priest continued to preach as before, to the forest animals. In a short time, the animals of Dacia, started to listen to the priest and to consider him their master. The most he was loved by the wolfs, as they were the only ones without a leader, only hunger holding them in packs.

After a time, Zamolxis talks to his priest and decides the time has come for the priest to work for him in a new way, and transforms him in an animal. But not any animal, but in the feared and respected animal of Dacia, a White Wolf, big and powerful, ordering him to bring together all the wolfs of the forests to help defend the lands.  In this way, every time the Dacians were in danger, the wolfs came to help. It was enough to hear the calling of the Big White Wolf, and wherever they were, the wolfs would run to help the people that became their brothers.  The White Wolf, however, was judge, condemning the cowards and untrustworthy.

One day, the God, calls his priest to him, giving him the possibility to choose for the last and final time between being man or wolf. With extreme sadness in his heart, knowing what was to follow, the priest decides to stand by his God, hoping to help more the lands and people of Dacia.

Regardless of the faithfulness of most Geto-Dacians, wolves and the Big White Wolf,  the Romans manage to infiltrate whiting them and as the invasion was getting closer, they manage to put in the hearts of some cowards the mistrust of the Big God. This way, some Dacians are starting to fear that Zamolxis won't stand by them in battle and the cowards, lost in fear, start killing all the wolves in their path hoping that one of these will be the Big White Wolf, whose head they could offer the Romans in exchange for their lives. The wolves, as many as they were left, ran to the hearts of the mountains, never to come again in the middle of the brothers who betrayed them.

The Big White Wolf and Zamolxis go inside the Sacred Mountain from where they watch with tears in their hearts as the Geto-Dacians are defeated by the Romans because of their own betrayal.

The symbol of the Wolf as defender of these lands does not stop to the Geto-Dacians. In other later legends, Saint Andrew was sent to preach in the 'lands of the wolves' and was protected on his path towards the Dacian sanctuaries by the Big White Wolf.  Also, older yet, one of the versions in regards to the name of the Dacians, considers the word daoi- coming from one of the Thracian dialects, meaning wolf. This attribution is connected by some authors to the Dacians role as Defenders of the Sky and Earth.

Even today, around camp fires, if one stops and listens to the stories of mountain man, will surely hear recollections of some people being saved in moments of great danger by a ... White Wolf.

The mythical image of the White Wolf- the leader of the wolves, was highly respected by the ancestors, as the one that was the Dacian savior in the citadel of Sarmisegetuza assaulted by the Romans, and in general as the one that was always helping them in moments of danger. There is a surprising correlation between the legend of the Big White Wolf and the legend of the god Apollo. The god had his temple on the island Alba (White in English, Leuke in Greek), on the shores of the Black Sea (the actual Island of the Snakes). Every autumn, Apollo went back to spend the winter in the mysterious country of the Hyperboreans where Boreas is king. Apollo was the leader of this Hyperboreans and was called the Lycanthrope, meaning The Wolf, whose name remained in mythology as the Light Wolf.

Paparuda- A rain ritual

Paparuda is a magical ritual used for bringing rains in times of drought. When the sun burns the fields and the harvest is lost, a young girl walks the streets of the village, dancing almost erotically. The girl is dressed in a skirt made of yellow leaves, becoming an impersonation of the purity of the Earth, walks and dances lifting her hands to the sky while her voice carries the calling for the Goddess of Rain.

The women of the village walk around her and stop at every house, throwing cold water over the child- Goddess. The number of women following the Paparuda varies from one area to another, but at least one ot two girls are masked. Undressed, the girls are covered with leaves and flower garlands, covering the entire body as a green cone. Red ribbons are knotted between the leaves.  The almost nudity of the Paparuda, the young girl that became a living Goddess, is meant to evoke the genuine purity of the live Nature, readying Itself to be fertilized.

The women walk and dance through the village, from one house to another and later on the fields, singing a ritual song, clapping their hands, while the Paparuda dances lively. The rain is invoked through the continou repetition of the sounds of rain, through hand clapping and fingers drumming, but most especially through the words of the magical chant:

"Come little rain/ Come and make us wet/ When you come with the sieve/ Let it be a barnful"

Paparuda is an old agrarian divinity of Romanian mythology, a divinity of the fertilizing rain, reduced in modern times to a magical ritual.

For their dance, the Paparude are offered ritual gifts that signify the abundance: eggs, corn, wheat, milk, fruits. Sometimes old clothes, connected to death rituals are added to the gifts. When the women finish walking and dancing through the village and fields, the Paparude go to a flowing water and make a doll out of wheat. The doll is put on fire and thrown into the water, followed by the leaves clothes.

This ritual is still very much alive today in some regions of Romania, where the magical aspects  are doubled by the village priest offering prayers.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Sanziene or Summer Solstice

Every year, on 24th of June, Romanians celebrate the holiday of Sanziene, or the summer solstice.

The legend says that in long lost times, the Sanziene used to be priestesses of the Sun, but as their believes are lost in the mists of time, today they are considered beneficial fairies of extreme beauty. Some specialists say that  the Sanziene celebration is a Geto-Dacian celebration of the Sun, millenniums old.  In the night of 23-24th June, the Sanziene, who live in forests and plains, come out of their hiding places and dance the night away in circles. Where the Sanziene dance, the plants grow healthier and stronger, filled with healing properties.

The Sanziene Night, or the solstice night, is considered one of the most magical nights of the year, when the curtain between the worlds is at its thinnest and the parallel universes meet. The people believe that in this night the fairies are flying through the air or walking on land, singing and dancing, bringing love, healing and protecting the grains. The legend says that if people don't celebrate the fairies as it is meant to, the fairies get upset and punish the unbelievers.

The Sanziene celebration is a good night for love, where young people meet to sing and dance. In the evening, the young unmarried men of the villages light big fires and with torches dances around them replicating the movement of the Sun while singing:

"Go Sun, Come Moon/ Good Fairies/ May the flowers grow the flower/ Yellow and sweet smelling/ For the girls to harvest it/ To make it into wreaths/ To wear on the hats/ Flowers for marriages/ The old women to spell them/ To get married by the autumn"

The young unmarried women go to the forest and pick up the Sanziene flowers to create wreaths which they throw on the house roofs. If the wreaths get stuck on the roof is a sign that the maiden will marry before the following year is ended.  The flowers are yellow, tiny, highly used in natural remedies.

In the morning, the young men get together and walk around the villages wearing flowers on their hats. They choose the maiden that will represent the fairy. The maiden is chosen from a group of seven girls and she has to be not only the most beautiful, but also the one with the nicest character. Once chosen, the maiden, a Sanziana now, has wheat added to her hair and surrounded by the other girls, dressed in white, walk around the villages and the fields, stopping to sing and dance in the places where paths intersect.

The elders of the villages say that the maidens that wish to marry fast need to wash themselves in the dew from the flowers on the morning of Sanziene. For it to work, however, the girls need to respect some traditions: before sunrise, in places where no human stepped over, the old women harvest the Sanziene dew in a white container, in new cotton. Walking back home, the women can not talk at all and are not allowed to meet anyone in their path. If these conditions are met, the ones that wash in the dew are said to be healthy, beautiful and lucky in love over the year. Married women can attend this ritual, in order to be loved by their husbands and to have beautiful and healthy children.

Sanziene is a very magical celebration, with strong roots in Paganism. Being considered the middle of the summer, it is the best time to harvest healing plants that are to be later used in magical practices.  The rituals are connected to harvest, fecundity and healing practices and even today are a fascinating mix of paganism and witchcraft with slim christian undertones.

The Sanziene holiday is a celebration of love, connected to both the Sun and the Moon. Rituals start at dawn and continue through the middle of the day, dusk and the middle of the night under the clear light of the Moon. At the Solstice, as the Sun dances in the sky, down, on Earth, the women connect in the Sanziene dance. As above so below. In this day of balance between two time intervals, the villages practice rituals for fertility, protection and healing. Many rituals are lost or changed, but one can still feel the magic of a long lost time.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

1st of March- Martisor

In Romanian, Martisor means little or dear March (Martie means March). Celebrated on the 1st of March, as the first day of spring, is a day to celebrate the end of winter and the new life that comes to Earth.

Archeological discoveries point to the fact that Martisor has been celebrated on the territory of today's Romania, for about 8000 years. No one knows exactly how the custom started or why. Only legends remain, lost in the mists of collective memories.

One such legend says that on the first day of of March, the beautiful goddess of Spring took a walk in the forest. In a clearing, she notices a snowdrop flower trying to come out from under the snow. Spring, being the goddess of life, decided to help it by gently melting away the snow around it. Seeing this, the god of Winter became angry and called the wind and frost to destroy the tiny shy flower who froze immediately. The goddess of Spring cupped her hands and covered it  trying to warm and protect it. The god froze Spring's hands, cracking the skin.  A drop of the goddess' blood touched the snowdrop, bringing it to life again. This way Spring defeated Winter and the white and red colors of the Martisor string symbolize her red blood on the white snow. White is also the symbol of the purity and delicacy of the snowdrop, the first spring flower, while red is a color of blood and life. 

Another legend of the Martisor that I love is the following:

Once upon a time, the Sun came down in a village to be part of the dances as a young beautiful man. A monster followed and kidnapped him from between humans to hide him in a dungeon. Thye world became a sad place. The birds sang no more. The creeks stopped flowing and the children were laughing no more. No one dared to confront the monster. But one day, a strong and brave young man, decided to go and save the Sun. Many humans walked with him and all creation gave him power to help defeat the monster and free the Sun. The young man's journey lasted three seasons: summer, autumn and winter. At the end, he found the monster's castle and the battle started. After three days of fighting, the monster was killed. Weakened and injured, the young human man freed the Sun who climbed up the sky bringing joy and beauty back to Earth. The nature came back to life, people knew happiness again, but the young man never got to see spring again. Out of his wounds, ward blood spilled over the snow. As the snow was melting, white snowdrops were blooming, announcing spring.  Every last drop of the young man's blood spilled in the snow and he died. Since then, the young men knot two strings, one white and one red and offer them to the girls in the village. Red means love for all that is beautiful and is a memory of the blood the young brave man shed for humanity. White means the health and purity of the first snowdrop, first flower of spring.     

There are many more legends about the Martisor, but in all, the red stands for blood, life and fertility, while the white stands for purity, health and joy, both winded like DNA strands.

Every year, for over 8000 years, on the first day of spring, Romanian men offer the Martisor to women. In the old days, to the red and white string used to be threaded a gold or silver coin that was worn at the throat, hair, hand. As a talisman it protected the health and the joy of the woman that wore it for 12 days. The magic is lost, and yet, men still offer women little charms, flowers, love hearts, that are attached to a red and white cord that is worn attached to the clothes for the first 9 days of spring after which is tied up to the branches of a tree.

Baba Dochia

All Romanian myths and legends start with "Once upon a time it was as never again..." So...

Once upon a time, as never again, there was a most beautiful young woman called Dochia. Dochia, renowned for her beauty, chastity and wisdom was the only daughter of the Dacian king Decebal.

Decebal, the last king of the Free Dacia took a stand against the Roman emperor Traian when his armies invaded Dacia. Upon seeing Dochia, Traian fell in love with the beautiful maiden who with a broken heart from losing the freedom of her people, and trying to save the last of the Dacian treasures ran away into the mountains.

Using the last of her magic, Dochia transformed herself from a beautiful maiden into an old woman. Her golden cape becomes a sheep skin one, her gold scepter nothing more but just a simple wood stick. Still running from mountain path to mountain path, Dochia transforms her country's treasures into sheep, hoping  that an old shepherdess will pass unnoticed from Traian and his armies.  But at the beginning of March the weather is always changing, even more so high in the mountains.

Rain falls down like a river and the soaked sheep skin is too heavy to carry for the now old frail woman. Dochia leaves it under a tree and keeps on climbing the mountains with her sheep. But nowhere is safe and even though the weather changes to a beautiful balmy spring day, Traian, obsessed with getting hold of the beautiful maiden and her treasures, follows her closely.

The weather changes again and snow starts falling, making it harder and harder for the princess in a woman's old body to keep on moving. On a mountain top Traian finally catches up with the almost frozen princess and her old hag appearance does nothing to hide her. As he reaches to catch her, Dochia, desperate to protect herself and her people's treasure, asks the supreme god, Zamolxe, to transform her into rock. Seeing her tears streaked face, Zamolxe listens to her plea and transforms Dochia and her sheep, denying Traian both the princess and her treasures.

Even today, after so many thousands of years, high into Bucegi mountains, Dochia and her sheep remain in rocks simply called Babele, or The Old Women.