On what might go on happening tonight:

  • the undead might start partying. Beware of crossroads, graveyards and of the woods;
  • the demons and the demonical are throwing a ball themselves, accompanied by witches and warlocks. Avoid crossroads, the woods and derelict churches, to all costs;
  • your neighbors might be rubbing their bodies, doors and gates with garlic, in order to keep spirits at bay – you’d better start doing it too;
  • the strigoi will be stealing the milk, sucking the blood of cows, returning to their (still) living families to take one of their kin to the land of the dead;
  • the moroi buried underneath a home  might be rising from their graves into the the attic, where they may wreck havoc;
  • young women will put some basil under their pillow so they might get a chance ar dreaming their future spouse. They might also place a ring in a water filled glass, placed in ashes and put a candle to the right of the glass and another to the left. After lighting them, a reflection of their future spouse should become visible in the ring;
  • witches get ready to meet their otherworldly lovers, friends and foes by drinking concoctions and rubbing their bodies with henbane, datura or deadly nightshade.

It’s the 29th of November and tonight the feeble border between worlds might just disappear.

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When two worlds collide

I was sitting in line at the ATM, when I noticed an unkempt woman with pretty bad teeth and wearing rags. She was also waiting for something or someone. A child, couldn’t have been older than 10, came out of the bank building holding two plastic glasses of water. In many cases, water is free in institutions. His face was smeared with dirt, and he was also wearing ragged clothes. He cried for his mother, gave her her glass and then the most interesting thing happened. They were standing on the corner of a crossroad and both of them, first the woman, then the little boy, poured water on the ground, before drinking. For the dead, as so often found in Balkan folklore and superstitions.

The Snake in Romanian Folklore – pieces&bits

The Snake does not have a continuous, fluent presence in Romanian folklore. On the contrary, his presence is ambiguous, apotropaic figure as the “şarpele casei” (house serpent), harm bringer in many legends and ballads ( for example, the Milea ballad mentioned in Coman’s essay on the snake as a mythological figure in Romania) or linked with male virility  as an avatar of the Zburător ( the Incubus in Romanian folklore).  Ultimately, the snake is an earthly mirror of the the balaur ( the dragon in Romanian folklore)

There are countless rites and methods for avoiding the snake as a harm bringer, and holy names are mentioned in most of the spells cast against snakes. When encountered, the snake is to be killed by decapitation, as its powers lay in its head.  It is said that snakes awaken on the 9th and 25th of March, when according to superstitions, one is not supposed to say his name,  and one should circle one’s home with burning fires and ash to stop the snake from entering. Also, offerings for the house serpent are dispatched as a slice of mămăligă (polenta) placed near the roots of a tree.

Below,  an example of words recited against the snake as a bringer of harm, and their approximate English translation :

Şede fată pupuiată
Pe un vârf de piatră;
Face pâne de cenuşă
Şi cu lapte de căpuşă.
Să mănânce şarpe negru
Şi şerpoaie neagră.
Să mănânce şarpe alb
Şi şerpoaie albă.
Să mănânce şarpe pestriţ
Şi şerpoaie pestriţă.
Să mănânce serpe galbăn
Şi şerpoaie gâlbană.
Să mănânce serpe vânat
Şi şerpoaie vanaţă.
Să mănânce serpe roşu
Şi şerpoaie roşie.
Şi cât ce li-oi da,
Şi cât ce-or muşca,
Drept în două or crapă.

(I. Bârlea, Cântece, II, p.367. inf. Ioană Ofrim, 60 a. Oniceşti, Maramureş.)
A girl is sitting (the noun girl is followed by the adj. pupuiată which would roughly translate as dolled up);
On a cliff;
Making bread out of ash
And tick milk.
For the black snake to eat
And the black female snake.
For the white snake to eat
And the white female snake.
For the spotted snake to eat
And the spotted female snake.
For the yellow snake to eat
And the yellow female snake.
For the purple snake to eat
And the purple female snake.
For the red snake to eat
And the red female snake.
And that which I will feed them,
And that which they will bite,
They will break in half(the snakes).

As şarpele casei, the snake becomes a guardian of homes. It is said that such a serpent appears as a large, albino specimen, as it lives inside the walls and it’s never exposed to sunlight. In some areas, it is believed that it descends from the attic and drinks milk alongside the children of the house. The house dwellers leave different offerings for the serpent, as mentioned above, and killing, or even harming it in any way, brings years of bad luck.

Zburătorul is an evil supernatural being that haunts the dreams of young women, tormenting them with vivid erotic imagery. Often, when in love with this incubus, women become physically ill. The zburător usually appears as a charming, young man, but can shapeshift into a winged serpent, often fiery.

Coman points out that the snake as a chthonic figure plays an important part in certain myths, as he often devours the hero. The time spent inside of the snake (associated here, of course, with the dragon) is like a return to the womb, followed by the protagonist’s rebirth as a wiser, more powerful character. Often, the hero absorbs the power and wisdom of the snake by slaying it.

Last but not least, the snake is mentioned in water related folklore, as in some areas the Știma Apei being depicted as a half snake – half woman creature.

 

 

Additional resources: http://enciclopediaromaniei.ro/wiki/Zbur%C4%83tor

http://destepti.ro/simboluri-din-mitologia-romaneasca-si-universala-sarpele

Solomonarul – brief introduction

Finding a translation, or a definition, for that matter,of the word Solomonar would be rather difficult. In fact, this shadowy figure of Romanian folklore is surrounded by so many legends and tales, that it makes it impossible to establish a unilateral profile for the Solomonar, or a clear delimitation of  his attributions. Even the origins of this peculiar character are widely disputed by Romanian folklorists.

It is for this reason that I chose to discuss the Solomonar in more than one post, for it would be a blasphemy to treat this folklorical theme superficially. As documentation, I have chosen both studies written by contemporary ethnologists, such as Andrei Oișteanu or Mihai Coman, as well as folk tales collected by late 19th century folklorists such as Tudor Pamfile and Simon Florea Marian.

I will try to structure my post(s) in a coherent manner to cover as much as I can on this unique folkorical figure. I will begin with discussing   the attributes and attributions of the Solomonar, followed by some ideas on the initiation process the origins of the term and possible connection to King Solomon.

The Solomonar is always a male figure, a human being with “extraordinary powers”, as mentioned by Coman. However, it is clear that his powers are not native, but learned and practiced. The Solomonar must undergo an initiation process after having spent several years studying in an underground school. Pamfile mentions that the Solomonar will always be the youngest brother of seven brother monks.

It is said that they travel alone, dressed in rags, roaming through villages as beggars. If the villagers refuse to offer them food, the Solomonar will bring storms and hail upon that particular village. A Solomonar is able to do that by riding a dragon, mythical creature with which he has a special connection ( to be detailed in a future post) in the sky.

No matter the sources of the legends, the Solomonar is always accompanied by a series of symbols. First and foremost, he always carries a great book with him, It is also said that during his learning time, he is obliged to travel to the East and write down all the world’s knowledge into a tome. It is unknown if the book he carries is the same with the universal knowledge tome, but Coman points out that this may be a christian contamination of the original myth. It is in christian iconography that we find the motif of the “holy book”.

Other common symbols are: the hook, the staff (in some legends, the staff was used to kill a snake), an enchanted bag, an iron axe and a rein crafted out of birch tree bark.

It is said that a Solomonar begs for food and receives various products in small quantities, but never meat. According to Oisteanu, he never eats what he receives, but leaves it on a water stream, perhaps as an offering for the departed.

So, the Solomonar is  a man (and not a god, or even a demi-god), invested with special abilities (some legends claim that his teacher was the Devil himself – but that is only natural, since with the arrival of christianity, pagan figures were assimilated with diabolical forces) following an initiaion ritual. He has a complex connection to dragons, and, when he doesn’t ride them, or when he’s not wandering through villages as a beggar, retreats somewhere underground. He seems to master the weather and he constantly tests the virtues of villagers. In all his magical pursuits, he is aided by a series of enchanted objects.

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Vincetoxicum hirundinaria or Iarba Fiarelor

iarbafiarelorAccording to Butură, Iarba Fiarelor was used as medicine against wounds and rheumatic pain. However, the most interesting documented use of this particular plant is the mythical one : apparently Vincetoxicum hirundinaria was thought to possess the power to open all locks, doors and coughs, and break any object built out of iron ( in Romanian, fier = iron). It was said it glowed red during the nigh, but came back to its normal color after sunrise.

Evseev mentions that the plant was known to be toxic; it was said that if cows accidently ingered it, they died. Besides glowing red at night, Iarba Fiarelor had other supernatural properties that could help one distinguish it from useless weeds. For example, it could float against the current. It was said that the origin of the plant was in the first drop of blood that fell from the navel of Christ.

Voronca also mentions Vincetoxicum hirundinaria in her chapter on thieves, among other things. It was thought that, in order to gain protection, thieves used to kidnap pregnant women, rip their babies out to drink up the blood and eat the flesh of the unborn. Moreover, in order to remain stealthy when robbing the victim, they would bring the hand or finger of a dead man with them and ritualistically circle the victim’s house while carrying the fetish.

These connections between thievery and the dead are to be analysed later, in another post.

 

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Hyoscyamus niger or Măselariță

 

Hyoscyamus niger is known as Măselariță in Romanian folklore or henbane in common English. It grows along fences and roads. Its leafs and seeds contain alkaloids, such as atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine.

According to Borza’s dictionary,  henbane was used against toothaches ( hence the name, măsea = tooth). It was also used to cure snake bites and insomnias in children (!).

According to Oișteanu, we know from Dioscorides that henbane was used by Dacians. They called it dielleina or  dielina. Dioscorides writes that the Măselariță causes insanity and deep sleep. In Roman territory, it was known as altercum/alterculum or insana. Romans used the plant at feasts in the name of the dead. One of the Romanian names, nebunariță (nebunie = insanity) proves the continuity of its use. It was also used by witches for flying ointments. According to legend, plants such as henbane,  belladonna or datura were created by the Devil himself.