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

On the connection between water and sinister spirits in Romanian folklore

Water has always played an important part in myths and legends, from Enûma Eliš  to the Bible, from Scandinavian mythology to Eastern European folklore. It has been linked to the moon, the unconscious mind, birth and chaos, and looked upon as more of a feminine element.

Thus, it is of no surprise that the creatures associated with bodies of water in Romanian folklore are mostly of the sinister type.

One of the names of the Devil himself is Cel din Baltă (the one of the pond). According to Marcel Olinescu,  the Devil fell into a body of water when he was cast out of Heaven along with his minions. It is said that at the bottom of each pond a devil has his home. It seems that water cannot extinguish  demonic fire, as the devilish  lake dwellers love to cook. They have lots of minions which the human eye cannot see because humans are not familiar with their shape – very interesting, a naive way of saying that it is the human eye defining the unknown forces the magician works with, great intuition. Their favorite activity seems to be sinking ships and drowning human beings.

stimaȘtima Apei is somewhat similar to a nymph. Marcel Olinescu  describes the spirit as a proud, beautiful woman. She has flowing blonde hair and very big breasts – water connected to fertility and abundance. When in water, she is half fish, half woman. Each body of a water has its own Știmă, and she demands a human head a day. When angry, the  spirit floods the surroundings of the body of water she resides in. The one meant to be killed by the Știma Apei will abandon his chores and go swim in the water in which she abides. If stopped, he or she  will fight until released. Would be interesting to know what happens to the ones destroyed by the Știma Apei.

Vidra (lit. otter) lives at the bottom of the Black Sea. He is the king of sea  creatures and all of the fish obey him. It seems he is a trickster spirit.

Oamenii de Apă (water people) seem to be just like us, only that instead of talking they make crow-like noises – this somehow reminds me of China Mieville’s “The Scar”. They are very weak and fearful.




Documentation and image: Marcel Olinescu