Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Datura stramonium or Ciumăfaie

Datura stramonium, widely known as Ciumăfaie in Romanian folklore , also goes by the names of  Bolîndăriță ( from boală – disease), Ciuma fetei ( the girl’s plague, lit.),  cornută ( from corn – horn, the horned one, lit.), Iarba dracului ( the devil’s weed) or  Nebunariță ( from nebun – insane). As found in Borza’s dictionary of ethnobotanics, most of the plant’s given names relate to madness or even rabies, due to Datura’s well known psychotropic properties.

In Valer Butură’s Encyclopedia , it is described as having white flowers and black seeds. It grows on roadsides, or along fences. Its leafs were used for healing pustule, as  they would draw the puss. It was also used during plague epidemics, hence the common name  Ciumăfaie ( ciumă – plague).

In Bucovina, women use Ciumăfaie for love spells, bindings and curses. According  to Marian, witches place Datura seeds in the victim’s drink in order to break their will.  Marian has a different view on the connection between Datura and the plague: the disease was personified as an ugly, old lady and so was Ciumăfaie, plant which they linked to the disease, due to the fact that the effects of  the plant when ingested were as horrid and hard  to battle as the symptoms of the plague.

Oișteanu mentions that in some Romanian cosmogonies, plants such as Datura or Atropa belladonna were created by the Devil himself. Also, the use of hallucinogenic ointments containing  Ciumăfaie has been attested in some areas of Romania. The female living strigoi would use ointments containing extracts of hallucinogenic plants in order to magically fly to their places of gathering. Datura was akso used to feed the dead strigoi in order to keep them from harming the living.

*illustration stolen from http://plantgenera.org/

 

 

 

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Artemisia absinthium or Pelin

Artemisia absinthium is, according to Borza’s dictionary, known as Iarba Fecioarelor (maidens’ weed), or most commonly, Pelin. 

It belongs to the Compositae family and it can be found growing in arid places, on roadsides or along fences. Due to its active components, its use for therapeutic purposes has been attested ever since Antiquity. In Romanian folklore, Pelin  was commonly associated with the dance of CăluşariThe dancers would wear Pelin plants around their waists.

Marian notes that Pelin is used in spells against  Cel-Perit (lit.the dead one), an archaic name for a disease we now know as Syphilis. The healer must touch the pustule with the plant nine times, while chanting specific words.

In Bucovina, Romanian women use Pelin to protect themselves and their children from vântoase, female mythical creatures similar to the iele. Also in Bucovina, women make brooms using dried Pelin, with which they sweep their homes in order to keep the evil spirits out.

Oișteanu mentions the frequent use of Pelin by the Căluşariwho ingest large quantities of the plant. He quotes some Romanian popular lyrics:

Pelin beau, pelin mănânc,

Seara pe pelin mă culc,

Dimineața când mă scol

Cu pelin pe ochi mă spăl.

 

Pelin I drink, pelin I eat,

At night I sleep on pelin,

When I wake up in the morning

I wash my face with pelin.

 

* image stolen from http://www.plantillustrations.org/

** this is an approximate translation, I have mentioned before that I am not a professional translator, but I tried to do my best, as usual

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Atropa Belladonna or Mătrăguna

belladonnaOn my other blog , I used to have  a thing called “Creature Feature”, where I would expand on various beasts from Romanian folklore. I’ve now decided to pay a little bit of attention to the plant kingdom and the Romanian legends, rites and rituals that revolve around it.

We’re going to start with one of our well known ethnobotanical friends, Atropa belladonna. Known as Banewort or Deadly Nightshade in English, Atropa belladonna is most commonly called Mătrăguna in Romanian folklore. According to Borza’s Dictionary, it also goes by the names of  Cinstita (the honest), Cireașa lupului (wolf’s cherry), Doamna codrului (lady of the forest), Iarba lupului (wolf’s grass),  or Împărăteasa buruienilor (the empress of weeds).

It belongs to the Solanaceae family, has brown-violet flowers and shiny black fruits. Its leaves and roots  are rich in alkaloids such as hyoscyamine, atropine or scopolamine.

In his book on Romanian ethnobotanics, Marian talks about the important role that Atropa belladonna plays in love spells cast by women.

A young woman that desires to attract the company of young men has to dress up in her newest, cleanest set of clothes on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. For this ritual, she needs around 500ml of holercă (bad quality moonshine), a glass and a loaf of bread. Just before sunrise she will go to the place where the plant is growing and  go round the belladonna  while saying:

Mătrăgună, doamnă bună!

Mărită-mă-n astă lună

De nu-n asta, -n ceealaltă

-i destul de când sunt fată.

 

Mătrăgună, kind lady

Get me married this month,

If not this one, then the next,

I have been enough a maid.

 

Then, the young woman is supposed to lay the table cloth at the feet of the plant and serve it the glass of moonshine saying:

Mătrăgună, poamă bună!

Eu te cinstesc cu cinste

Cu dragoste și cu pâine,

Să vie norocul la mine…

Norocul când s-a-mpărțit,

Eram cu plugul la câmp

Puțintel mi s-a venit,

Mătrăgun-am sorocit!

 

Mătrăgună, good seed

In honesty I serve you

With love and bread

May you send me luck…

When luck got spread

I was harvesting the field

So I didn’t get a lot

I was meant for Mătrăgună.

 

After reciting the spell above, she has to drink the moonshine, refill the glass and sprinkle the refill on the plant. She will do the same with some bread. The maiden will then take the bread left in the tablecloth, put the bottle on her head, grab the filled glass in her hand and return to her home, chanting the spell.

She will repeat the ritual on the following Wednesday and Friday, choosing different roads back home and being careful not to be seen.

On Friday, she will harvest the plant and take it home wrapped in the table cloth. When home, she will put it under the pillow and bathe in an infusion of Belladonna in the evening.  She will take the plant back on Saturday morning. She has to take another way back home and never look back.

In his book on narcotics in Romanian culture and folklore, Oișteanu quotes Marian regarding  Belladonna. In Bucovina (north-east of Romania), it is believed that there are two types of Mătrăgună: the black one, which grows in shady groves, and the white one, which grows where the sun scorches the earth.

Tavern or inn owners put the plant on top of the moonshine barrels, to attract patrons.

Mătrăguna can also be used to harm enemies. If this is the case, one must harvest the plant while cussing and cursing, moving one’s limbs chaotically and invoking the plant’s magical powers. After the harvest, parts of the plant are placed in the victim’s food or drink. It is said that the one cursed like this goes insane and never gets his sanity back.

 

*image stolen from http://www.henriettes-herb.com

** the verses in bold are an approximate translation and interpretation of the Romanian incantation, due to the archaic use of language and to the fact that I am not a professional translator this is the best I could do

 

Stealing the Harvest

So, this is also from Olinescu‘s book on folklore. I’m already under the impression that I am abusing these resources.

Legend has it that the Devil made allies out of old witches in order to usurp creation. Among the means the witches found to sabotage God-fearing Christians was stealing their harvest.

Basically, in order to do that, a witch needs a few bad eggs, a roll, a red string, a bridle, a whip, a small sack of basil, wax and camel butter. Around midnight, she has to take all these ingredients to the field that was going to be harvested. She has to first bury two bad eggs and bless them with luck. She then ties the small sack to her right ankle, mounts the roll, loosens her hair and gets half naked. She has to whip the roll and run along the field saying : “From old man (name of the owner) to me.” twelve times. After she’s done with that she turns to the west and chants a spell.

She then gets dressed and heads home where she hides the roll in her wheat field. For this spell to be effective, it is very important for the witch not to say a word to anyone she might meet on her way back.

 

 

 

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.

 

Spell – Vrajă

Do not try this. Please find more creative ways of attracting the opposite sex. Thank you!

Marcel Olinescu was kind enough to reveal some spells cast by Romanian witches. This one, in particular, is a detailed love spell. Enjoy!

The witch has to bury a bat and keep it there for a few weeks, until it rots. Then, on a New Moon, the witch unearths the bones and choses two  of them: one shaped as a rake, the other as a shovel. She or he (despite that the witch is, in Romania, traditionally female, I can’t see why a man couldn’t use this sort of spell) has to rake the ashes from the hearth with the first bone, while chanting the desired lover’s name. After that, the witch will used the shovel-shaped bat bone to drag the ashes towards her, as if she were attracting the lover. Then, the witch spins a pipkin using a rod chopped off a hazel nut tree, and keeps doing so until the jug starts moving on its own. She is, of course, chanting the desired lover’s name. When the pipkin is spinning the fastest, the witch will turn it upside down. She should hear the target’s name.

Documentation: Marcel Olinescu