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"Becoming more European does not mean forgetting our national cultural heritage, but sharing it with other European nation".

The Life of Man

Romanian Mythology - part 04

Giving Birth

If a woman is heavy with child the first thing she has to do is put on a girdle. During the pregnancy the woman has to avoid certain chores, deemed harmful for the child and the birth. Thus, when she takes the garbage out she must say:
“Let me have my child as easily and quickly as I throw out this garbage.”

A pregnant woman should not eat twin fruit if she does not want to give birth to twins. The same she should not bake twin cakes, or eat peanuts with two cores. A pregnant woman should not forget her nightgown out drying on the fence overnight for an envious neighbor could cut out the shadow cast by the sleeves on the ground. Then the child to be born will have severed hands. The woman who picks sticks in her lap will have a child with spotted skin, and if the wood comes out of the plane the child will get curly hair. If someone overpasses a pregnant woman resting in the shade or spinning in the threshold her child will be born with the navel around its neck. If the pregnant woman takes off the shoes of her husband or of any of the folks in the
house or helps him out of his trousers she will not be able to give birth until she drinks water of the shoe or the boot of the man. She should not blow into the fire for her child will be dumb. She should not go under the loom for she will give birth to twins. Neither should she eat stringed beans for her child will be dull. The same she should not have unchopped meat for her child will lisp. She should not taste thick broth on a fasting day for her child will get red pimples.

Learning the Sex of the Child

If the woman wants to know the sex of her baby then when she finishes weaving she will send one of her children out with a cloth. The child must go out with his eyes closed and open them only on the road. Whatever he lays eyes on first, man or woman, rooster or hen, male or female animal that will be the sex of the child to come. 

Cravings of the Pregnant Woman

It is common knowledge that a pregnant woman has cravings for food she sees or dreams about. It is a great sin to refuse to give a pregnant woman to sample the food she sees and craves. That is why if a pregnant woman comes visiting a house at meal time she must be invited to taste every dish and drink, lest she abort.
Body Marks

If a woman yearns for something and cannot have it then she must not put her hand on her face or body otherwise her child will be born with a mark representing what the pregnant woman wanted. The same if the craving prompts the woman to steal a fruit or other food, she should not touch her face or body with her hand lest her child will get fire-red birthmarks. If she accidentally stumbles upon a funeral she should not look at the dead person or if she unwillingly glanced at a dead relative or someone she used to know she must say right away: 

“I see two not one” lest her child get a livid, deadly pale face.

She must not kick a dog with her foot lest her child gets a mean heart. Or beat a cat for then the child will have a hairy body. If someone lays an axe on the threshold where a pregnant woman has sat then her child will get a cleft lip. She must neither walk across a string for her child will come out with the navel round its neck. If, being tired she rests on a sack she will have a difficult birth. The same if she rests on the steps of a staircase. If she sits down on a washing basin to rest she will have a girl.
A pregnant woman should not sponsor a wedding for she will give birth to a stillborn child. The same will happen to the pregnant woman who is ashamed to say she is pregnant when asked. If the woman has an easy pregnancy she will have a girl, if a difficult one she will have a boy. If the woman wants to give birth easily she has to put under her pillow The Dream of the Virgin. She should not knot her tresses for her child will get to lisp. She should not wear a flower at her belt for her child will get birthmarks. She should not look long at ugly or deficient people (lame, blind, one-armed) for her child will get the same defect.
Removing Birthmarks

If the child is born with a mark the first Sunday (after new moon) while people are at church, about the middle of the liturgy she will sit with her child in the center of one room in her house, and breast-feed it. At the same time, she must think of the thing that most amazed her and she thinks responsible for the mark on her baby. After some three minutes she should get up and go to the fireplace and do the same: from there she must walk to the end of the corridor and pray to God: 

“Dear, Almighty God who made man after your likeness, remove from my son (daughter) all the unusual, inhuman habits and qualities. Let him (her) remain clean and bright like solid gold, like the Holy Virgin, like field dew, like the star in the sky. Amen!” She then will repeat this three times on three Sundays.

Relegating Pain

If a woman is unwell before her time the folks at home first smoke her with a fox muzzle and if she still doesn’t feel good they call quick the midwife or a skilled woman who takes 8-9 seeds of cucumber or melon and two twigs of savory, and mixes them together. Then she pours a little glass of brandy over the mixture and gives it to the woman. After having drunk, the midwife puts some onion skins in a pot with live coal and smokes the pregnant woman with the spicy fumes. If necessary the drink and the smoke are repeated.
Aborting the Child

Not to have a miscarriage – for, besides the peril this represents for the mother, it is deemed a bad omen – you should pound some nut cores and melon seeds or burn wool tussles or peacock tail and then mix the lot with brandy. There are other remedies as well. Heat a brick, then pour brandy on it. The steam coming from
the brick will get to the woman and do her good. The icon with the Virgin can be washed and the wash be given to the woman to drink. Or one takes a scythe, opens a window and places the scythe so that its point is directed at the earth. One pours water over the blade of the scythe three times, so that the water drips into a pot placed at the point of the scythe. If the woman drinks this water the illness will pass. If she feels better she takes spinning hemp, spins it, wets it a little, and places it over her belly. She must keep it there 3 days.

The Time for Giving Birth Draws Near

When the time is near, the pregnant woman should go to church make her confession, and take the holy Eucharist. Then she goes home, pours water in a pot and casts it over the eaves, trying to catch it in another vessel under which she has placed a bowl. Meantime she says:

“As long as the water sits on the eaves that long shall the boy or the girl linger.” 

She drinks water three times, crossing herself, then whets her belly. Furthermore, she takes an egg and places it in the fire, and when it blows up she repeats the mantra: 

“As long as the egg…” Then she goes to a bridge with a string upstream and says: “As long as the water dwells under the bridge that long should the boy or girl linger.”
Difficult Birthing

If the woman has a difficult birthing then she will rest on her knees and pray to God for help. When the woman is in pain and the parturition appears to be difficult, she will be made to drink water poured over the icon of the Virgin, her man will shoot a rifle over the house, while the midwife will kick the door three times. Thus evil spirits that prowl around the house and prevent the woman from giving birth are relegated. For the same reason, two axes are thrust into the house pillars, all things are turned upside down, incense from Easter, Christmas or Epiphany is lit, and the whole house is thus smoked, while the woman prays to the Holy Virgin.
Swaddling. The Things Needed

…The child, if male, is wrapped in a shirt of his father or of his mother, if female, to get dry. Then the child is swaddled. The things necessary are one wrap, a girdle, several strips, clothes, a little blanket, and a cap. Among the swaddling clothes, actually in a woolen or cotton girdle, there should be sewn three twigs of garlic, three berries of pepper, 3 grains of spring wheat, 4 of autumn wheat, 3 grains of incense, 3 of salt, 3 crumbs of bread and 3 splinters from the child’s house, all in all 9 kinds, so that the child should not get the evil eye (9 is deemed a magic number, with beneficial influence, just like 7).

Against the Evil Eye

Not to be jinxed, the baby should get a red bow and a red wool bracelet on its right hand. Against the evil eye a sign can be made on the forehead. The midwife lifts her right foot with the heel backwards and with her thumb she takes some dust, kneads it with spittle, and then puts a mark on the child’s forehead: “Don’t get jinxed!” and spits three times.

She also puts a finger on the child’s chin and cheeks for the child to get dimples.
Influence of the Future

…the midwife does some things to influence the child’s future. She sweeps, sews or spins or cuts wood with an axe, writes, hammers, according to the sex of the child.


Death. The Signs of Death

Death is no longer visible to people and dying men no longer are aware of their time like once; still, there exist certain premonitory signs that show one the moment has come to embark upon the journey with no return. Not everybody knows these signs, and they may not focus on a certain person, so that a lot of people do not believe in them even if they hear or see them. Yet, in a homestead where there is an ailing person and these signs become visible it becomes certain that the sick person will soon pass away. Mind the following:

1) When wooden objects in the house: table, chair, wardrobe, chests, etc. crackle unexpectedly.
2) When bottles, demijohns, clay pots break from themselves or fall down without being touched.
3) When an icon falls off from a peg.
4) When a hen crows like a rooster, especially if the hen is black.
5) When a dog howls long at night. If in the homestead of the sick person there is no dog then those of the neighbors will howl.
6) If someone bats an eye from time to time this means someone close will die.
7) When an oxen drawing a wedding carriage kneels it is an omen of death. The same if the bride drops the fir tree. Or if the yoke on the bride’s carriage breaks.
8) Someone will die in the house on which an owl hoots.
9) If a mole makes a mound under a house wall someone will die in that house.
10) In a house where someone lies in bed, if cats brawl and bite the sick person will die.
11) If dogs dig pits close to the house then one of the folks in that home will die.
12) If the cattle are stomping their feet then their master will die.
13) An oxen that bellows while drawing the carriage of the bride to the bridegroom’s house is a death sign.
14) When the cuckoo sings close to a house where there is a sick person it is a premonitory sign.
15) When cats meow and relieve themselves indoors it is a sign of death.
16) If a swallow makes a nest at a house eave someone in that homestead will die.
17) It is a bad omen if hen chickens, only a few days old, start clacking.
18) If a man or a woman has the impression someone is calling from behind it is a sign he/she are close to their end.
19) If someone loses a ring from a finger it means someone in the family will die.
20) When you have the impression church bells are peeling someone will die.
21) When a candle that burns in the altar goes out from itself the priest will die.
22) When only one coal is left in the hearth one of the spouses will die.
23) If you get black marks on your nails you will die.
24) When you get black spots on your hand you will have a death in your family.
25) When the beams of the house crackle it is a sign someone in the house will die.
26) A rusty ring on someone’s finger heralds the death of the husband, the wife or the lover.
27) When a mirror drops from the wall and breaks it is a deathly sign.
28) If an icon or other church object cracks up one of the priests in the church will die.
29) If by accident there are 13 guests at a table one of them will die within a year.
30) If you dream of a dead relative, one of your folks will die.
31) If you dream of having fallen into a precipice you will soon die.
32) If you dream of a broken home then someone in that house will die.
33) If you dream of someone in new clothing that someone will die.
34) If you dream of planting rows of flowers someone in the house will die.
35) If you dream of cows your time has come and you will die.

Superstitions about Death

If a person gets the creeps death will have looked into his eyes. Let nobody bathe at a watershed for it is a deadly omen. Do not put out the light on Christmas night for one of your relatives will die. If one pees in a pool or in a running water his mother will die. One should not slaughter any animal on Saturday for someone in his homestead will die. If a bear gets in your way it is a deadly sign. If you kill a frog or you walk backwards one of your parents will die. When you eat nuts, plums or any other fruit and someone asks you for one you should give that person two for otherwise your pair will die. Who buries nuts in the ground to have trees will die. To prevent that, he should put the nuts in a circle of tub wood or bury a tub in the ground for then he will die only when the nut tree will become as thick as the tub. When one of your fingers gets yellow and you notice it indoors someone in your house will die; if you notice it outside, a stranger will die.
When two spouses join hands in front of the altar who has the coldest hand will die before the other. When the groom fails to shave for the wedding it is a death omen. When a groom finds another groom in the church he should tie something over his eyes not to see him for otherwise one of them will die. When two engaged girls meet they should exchange a pin, a ring or even flowers so that there be no death on either side; likewise when two wedding processions meet. If a boy or a girl from the same household marry the same year one of them will die. The groom should not go to the woods or the mill for it is a bad sign. If the bride makes faces at her motherin-law the latter will die. Do not burn three candles at the same time. It is a death sign. Do not say the name of a child the day of his/her baptism for he/she will not live long. The child who in his first years grows a lot will die. Let not someone sleep with his face up and hands on his chest for he will die. A pregnant woman should not bathe or do any other thing connected to a dead person for she may die in childbirth. Women should not go around with their hair let down for their husbands will die. If a married woman washes her hair on Friday it is believed her husband will die. The spouse of a dead person should not comb herself/himself a week after the death of the other spouse for it means death. If a person in the house of a dead person sneezes he/she should tear a little of his/her shirt or coat lest he/she may die. On Saturday and Tuesday one should not cut shirt openings for it is a deadly sign. A shoe mender should not accept only one shoe to mend for his wife will die. It is not allowed to shake hands across a threshold or slantwise for one of the two will die. Do not walk with one foot bare for someone in your home will die. Do not walk over someone’s foot for your mother will die. You should not throw a broken needle but thrust it somewhere lest one child of yours should die. Some women do not cry, do not let their hair down and do not go after the first dead child, or do not burn incense for 40 days lest other of their children die. When a lass or a lad die you should not cover yourself for 40 days not to have another one die. The house where there is a dead person should not be swept until the funeral since the house is haunted by a death spirit that may touch anybody else. The dead should never be buried on a Monday for it is a deadly sign. When the dead person has been taken out of the house the doors and windows must be shut otherwise death may again enter the house, requiring other victims. Carrying the dead person on the road one should not go or look back lest someone else might die. When coming from a funeral one should wash one’s hands. In the house where someone died no laundry should be done nor walls whitewashed for a week lest another person could die. 
When the owner of a new house wants to give alms he should do this out of his house. To find whether they live or die, women melt wax or lead; if these take the shape of the cross it is a bad sign; if they take another shape then the women will live. When a sick person does not rest his head on the pillow it is a sign he is dying. If after getting married one of the spouses loses something on the way home, he will not live long. If a man who is very sick turns his face to the wall then his end is near: but if he turns his face the other way then he will get well. When a sick person makes his confession and the wafer is above the wine in the spoon the sick person will get well but if it falls to the bottom he will die. If one eye or both of a dead person stay open
someone in the house will soon die. Who has had a death in the family should carry water in a bucket to a relative each day for nine weeks. Who had several women in this world will live only with the first in the next world, and the other will stay behind her. If a pregnant woman dies the family should give as alms a little chair and a stick so that she has something to sit on in the kingdom come and something to lean on. A dead person should have a silver coin tied to his little finger on his right hand so that he can pay customs duty in the next world. If a virgin dies her clothes are sewn without knots for if there is a knot her fiancé will never get married. 
It is good to make no knots when sewing for a dead person. Death comes better at night than during daytime when the birds will not let alone the dying person. He who dies young will live young in the other world, and he who dies old will be for ever old. The pillow for the dead person is made with flowers brought by women. If a dead man remains with his mouth open he prays people to forgive him or he asks for alms or it is a sign someone else in the family will die. It is a sin not to mourn at night for the dead. It is not well to speak of the dead on Tuesday or at night. The pot where water for bathing the dead has been kept should be broken or buried lest others die. When you go to a house where there is a dead person you should not say “good-day” or “good evening” since for those folks that day is not at all good. Where there is a dead person you should not say anything, nor shake hands for both hands will grow numb. When wine and bread are received as alms and the person who receives them spills or drops something it is a sign the dead person was hungry or thirsty. The persons who come to a dead man’s house should not be seen out. Do not cross the path of a dead person for your hands will grow numb. If it rains in the grave the respective dead person will go to heaven. It is not good to cry a lot for children since in the next world they will have to drink all those tears. The soul of a person who has many children and relatives on earth who died before him will be welcomed by them in heaven. If one has nobody, nobody will welcome him. When a sick person breaks into tears and cries, it means he feels he will die. If a dying person lies on a down-filled pillow he cannot die. If someone struggles to die a fur should be put under his head. If a sick person suffers too much the pillow should be taken off his head and put under his feet; thus he will expire. If someone cannot die he should be lifted from the bed and laid on the floor and he will die.

For someone who is in huge pain to die easily pea stalks should be put under his head. If a sick person is much tormented until he dies it means he is full of sins and God will not forgive him. He who did mean things in this world cannot die quickly and will endure a terrible agony on his death bed. When a dead person is taken out of the house, the coffin should touch three times each threshold. This way the deceased says good-bye to his home, to his relatives, and friends. After the funeral, a pot of wine should be placed on the spot where someone died, several nights in a row, together with a pewter of water, a piece of bread and a lit candle. The wine and the bread are given to a man or a woman (according to the sex of the deceased) to be eaten and drunk for three nights in a row on the spot where the person passed away. The respective person stands for the dead, who is believed to walk around the house for three days and nights, looking for nourishment and beverage. The candle must be taken to the church and placed at the icon of the Virgin, and then at the grave of the deceased. The habit goes that when the dead has been taken out of the house, his clothes or some of his cattle be given as alms as thus the sins of the dead will be forgiven and his soul will find eternal peace. 

When a dead person is being taken to the churchyard, water from his last bath is sprinkled after the procession, then a pot is broken in the middle of the house so that all the troubles should go away. After the dead is taken to the cemetery, bread, salt, a glass of wine and a bundle of unwashed wool are placed in his place in the bed. The following morning, the person who puts these will carry them out of the village or throw them into water. When the dead is taken out of the house a child should be called and given a dish of flour so that the dead has victuals in the next kingdom. Up to the church a dead is lighter, but after the church service, to the cemetery the dead weighs heavier. A coin must be thrown in the grave with the dead: it is payment for the place so that nobody else can take it away. After the dead has been lowered into the grave everybody wash their hands across the grave so that they should not go numb or sweaty.

The Burial

When a man is dying a lit candle should be placed in his hand. This is the habit with Christians so that the dead can see in the next world where it is pitch dark, and frighten away the Devil. When he has passed away one of the relatives should close his eyes and say: “God rest him in peace” or “God forgive him!.” Afterwards he is washed very well for he must go before God clean. Then he is dressed in his best clothes or specially tailored attire if he has lain long.

Afterwards he is placed on a chest with his head under the icon or on the table in the middle of the house, always with his feet to the door. His hands are arranged crosswise, the right over the left. In his hands a wax cross is placed or even the candle he held when he passed away. There should also be a coin for the dead to pay his passage across the river to the next world. A coin is also attached to his little finger to pay the man who will help him cross the bridge into heaven.

Money for the customs will be put in his bosom or will be given as alms. Next to the cross there should be an icon. The body is covered with a white cloth called shroud. This will protect the dead against fire on his way to heaven. When he is placed in the coffin the shroud should cover his face. At the head of the dead two candles are placed in holders. Mirrors in the room of the dead are turned to the wall or covered with a black cloth for if the dead man sees himself he will turn revenant. No dog, cat and even mouse is allowed in the room for if an animal goes under the bed of the dead, it turns into a revenant, and the soul in its torment after death may enter one of these animals.
When the dead has been thus arranged tidings are sent to the relatives and to the church where bells start to peel. All the bells must be tolled for an old man, and only one for a baby. The same if the man is rich all the bells toll longer, and if he is poor bells toll less.

In many parts of the country by custom a little fir tree is placed in front of the dead man’s house. The melancholy event is heralded by mourning. If a man or a child die, then the wife or mother or any other woman in the house mourn first above the corpse then outside the house, intoning specific dirges. First, a mourner stands on the threshold and then goes to each corner of the house. In many places of the country the dead is mourned for three times a day.

As soon as they learn about the demise of someone, relatives and friends start pouring in. They put a candle next to the stand at the head of the dead and at times they also leave a coin. The dead person must be kept in the house for two or three days. All this while, the closest relatives should wear mourning clothes, the men with their head covered, and the women wearing a black headkerchief. Each night there should be a vigil for the Devil claims the body of the mortal since it is he who brought the clay from the bottom of the sea. So, if vigil is not kept the Devil may come and steal the body. Friends and relatives gather for the vigil. Especially young people, and to while away time, they tell stories and play various games so that the folks in mourning forget a little their despair. After midnight the folks of the house bring pies and pound cake and brandy to keep people awake.
Then the preparations for the funeral are started. First round, pretzel-like bread for the alms and the sweet wheat mash are cooked and the tree is arranged. This can often be a little fir tree, nicely decked with ribbons and various fruit: figs, nuts, apples and others. In the folk belief they represent the tree of life with all the goodies that the dead person leaves behind: a passage to the other world; the shadowing and recreation of the soul in the next world, after having passed the customs, and the tree in heaven also heavy with good things.
The coffin is made in fir wood according to the size of the dead. It should not be bigger for it invites other deaths in the house. The head of the dead is propped up by a pillow and close to it are placed the soap and the comb he last used. 

The funeral takes place in the afternoon. As soon as high noon is gone the groups of friends and relatives gather in the house of the dead. Here they receive a candle and a handkerchief. The people who carry the bier have a black cloth tied on their shoulder.
Before the lid of the coffin is sealed any knot in the clothes of the dead is cut off so that the widow may remarry. When the coffin is taken out of the house it should strike the threshold three times lightly as a thank-you to the house from the dead man for the protection and shelter offered. A short prayer is intoned indoors and then the dead is taken out in the yard where the mass for the dead is said.
Mourning cries are numerous and diverse, for a father, for a mother, for a child, a lad or a virgin, for any other member of the family, and they are learnt from the special mourner. These dirges are sung for every dead, with little variants. There are also ad lib cries, according to the circumstances. The mourners sing them in a mournful tone, not forgetting to give out cries and tears, even when they are professional mourners. The more decried a dead and the more beautiful the dirges, the more prestigious the funeral.
Mass for the dead is said partly in the yard, partly in the church. Then the procession starts in the following order: first comes a child with the wooden cross that will be placed on the grave. Next come the men with the banners. Usually, the number of the banners depends on the importance of the dead person. Next come the people carrying the alms.
The processions makes several halts on its way. There are 12 stops or stations that embody the customs the dead has to pass through. In certain parts of the country they are made only at crossroads. In other parts they are settled per village. At each station a prayer is said and then the procession goes on.
Besides stops there are also bridges. In certain places a towel is laid on which a round bread, a light, and sometimes a bottle of wine are placed. The entire procession has to pass over this cloth bridge that embodies the bridges across the rivers in the next world that the dead has to cross. The towel is then given to the priest or as alms to the poor together with the bread and the light. The good-bye kiss is given to the dead either at the end of the mass, in church or in the yard of the dead person. In other parts of the country, the separation takes place in the cemetery.
When they return from the funeral everybody must wash their hands, to clean away the unholy spirits, either at the first fountain they find on their way or at home. Some start a fire of leaves and they jump over it to wave away the stench of death and the unclean spirits clinging to them. It is convenient that people should come back from the cemetery on a different road in order to break the death line, lest the dead should return as a revenant. For the eternal rest of the dead the folks of the house should go to the tomb three mornings after the funeral before the sun goes up. There they light candles and incense. In other parts of the country, candles are lit at the icon for 40 days, when a memorial service is organized. Memorial feasts are prepared after 3, 9, and 40 days. When memorials are not organized the dead cannot rest in his tomb, and small sins that prevent the dead from going to heaven cannot be forgiven.
Also for the soul of the dead there is the custom that when returning from the funeral a feast be thrown. All those who participated in the funeral and especially the priest are invited. After saying a little prayer for the soul of the dead, the priest makes the sign of the cross over the walls of the house and says: “May God rest him in peace!” Which everybody present repeats.

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