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.

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