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.