The Personification of Death and Its Heralds in Romanian Folklore

Both Vulcănescu and Olinescu mention the personified aspect of Death in their studies on Romanian folklore.

Legend has it that Death was not always invisible. She appeared as a hideous, emaciated, old woman, bearing wings and, of course, a scythe . However, since Death enjoyed taunting the ones she was supposed to take with her, and since sometimes the most cunning enjoyed taunting her, God decided it was best to grant her the gift of invisibility.

Even though Death is now invisible to mortals, and they cannot foresee their time of departure anymore, there are certain signs that speak of an imminent death.

Vulcănescu  writes about such signs. According to the ethnologist, the animals around the household are often heralds of death: dogs howling at the moon, or digging holes in the ground, horses neighing out of the blue, hens that sing a rooster’s song and so forth. Household items can also play the part of the messengers of death. For example, mirrors that break or sacred icons that fall from where they are hanged are considered to herald someone’s death.

Luckily, Marcel Olinescu is far more generous with the info. So, these are the signs one should pay attention to:

  1.  Wooden objects cracking out of the blue;
  2. Bottles and pots breaking or falling without being touched;
  3. Sacred icons falling from where they are hanged;
  4. A hen singing like a rooster, especially if the hen is black;
  5. Dogs howling at night;
  6. A twitching eyelid heralds the death of a close one;
  7. An ox kneeling at a wedding;
  8. An owl singing on the rooftop;
  9. A mole mound next to one of the walls;
  10. Cats fighting each other;
  11. Dogs digging holes into the ground;
  12. Cows kicking the floor;
  13. An ox mooing at the bride’s chariot when she is taken to the groom’s house;
  14. A cuckoo bird singing near a house where someone is ill;
  15. Cats meowing and hissing inside;
  16. A swallow nesting under the eaves;
  17. Chicken singing in only a few days after birth are a bad omen;
  18. Being called by your name when there’s nobody there;
  19. Losing a ring from one’s finger;
  20. Hearing the bells toll when they actually don’t;
  21. If the altar candle goes out on its own, it means that the priest is going to die;
  22. Only one coal left in the stove heralds the death of one of the spouses;
  23. Black spots on one’s nails;
  24. Black spots on one’s hands;
  25. Beams cracking;
  26. Rusty wedding ring on one’s finger;
  27. Mirror falling from where it is hung;
  28. Things breaking inside a church herald the death of one of the priests;
  29. 13 people round a table – one of them will die by the end of the year;
  30. Dreaming of a dead relative;
  31. Dreaming of falling into a chasm;
  32. Dreaming of a broken down house;
  33. If one dreams someone wearing new clothes, that someone will die;
  34. Dreaming of cows.

I do find it very interesting that animals associated with sorcery all over the world, such as the owl, the black hen, the cat or the dog are also seen as heralds of death in Romanian folklore. Moreover, there seems to be a tight connection between death and love, as some of the omens are related to weddings. While it is also clear that some of these superstitions are pre-christian, and others a lot more recent, man’s capacity for intuitive knowledge never ceases to amaze me.


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