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The Second Life

Romanian Mythology - part 05

Time ago Death was an old ugly woman, thin like a rake, with big sunken eyes, teeth protruding like spades, and a face all puckered up like a fig or a prune. She had long, slim fingers and carried a scythe at her back.
A long time ago, Death could be seen by anybody and be recognized by all folks. who knew the day and the time when they were going to die. But that was no good since, being aware they were going to die at a certain hour, people worked no more, and indulged in doing nothing. Thus, they claimed: “So what if I don’t do anything as long as I am not to die now but at another date that I know .” Or they said: “Why work if I have only two more years to live and then I die?” This, along with all the misery and carelessness, disgusted God so much that he decided to take right away the knowledge of the time of death from the mind of people.
They say death sends its heralds: power wanes and dizziness goes to the head. One’s ears tingle, and pains and aches torment the bones. Teeth fall off, the hair grows gray, and eyes grow dim. Death takes man’s soul either if she touches the person with a wing, cuts the person with the scythe or throws an arrow. At other times she offers the dying person a death drink that is very bitter. Willy-nilly, the man must taste and then his soul gets detached from his body like a leaf from a bough, and goes out of the dead person’s mouth like a haze.

When Death cannot put down someone all alone, diseases are called. But then God ordained things so that Death could no longer be seen, the old hag started to do what she pleased and chopped off with her scythe every head she did not care for. The House of Death is very big with a lot of pegs in it from which skeins are hanging, some big, other smaller, other tiny.

What are those?” a shepherd once asked Death.
These are skeins containing the thread of every man’s life: when the thread comes to an end so does the life of the man, and I go pick his soul.
Other story says that in the House of Death instead of skeins there are candles, thousands of lit candles, and when the oil in these candles runs out the life of their owners on earth comes to an end. Death does whatever God and fate tell command her to. So, she cannot do other than carry out the orders of others. That is why they say she is ruthless for she has often separated young people who loved each other, children from parents, often leaving old people or babies without any support. 

Only once did Death allow herself to be moved by the lot of a woman who had eight small children and nobody to help her. Four stood on one side and four on the other crying to break one’s heart. Seeing the poverty in that house and the despondency of the children, Death took pity and went to God to tell him that she had not dared take the woman’s soul for what would the children do?
You see that stone?
Down on earth there was a stone. God struck it with his staff and thus broke it into smithereens. Out of these crawled tiny worms:
See those worms? I take care of them, too. Now you go back to the woman and take her soul.
Death went down and did exactly what God had ordered her, and the women’s children were taken care of by the rich folks of the village.
The Customs of the Air

When Archangel Gabriel decreed that all the rebel angels and Devils should stand still, many Devils remained on earth, others in waters, others in the air. Those in the air, after having come to themselves and understood what had happened to them, got together and started planning something to help their master, Old Scratch. They must have plotted a lot for in the end they came up with a trick: to make some sort of customs between the sky and the earth where they would exact a toll from the souls so that not a single sinful one should enter heaven, and all guilty souls be caught and sent to hell. This is exactly what they did. Between heaven and earth there are numberless unseen roads that the souls take on their way to heaven. The devils settled themselves at each crossroads, and stuck poles and a bar across the road to halt all passage and demand a toll. Nobody knows exactly how many checkpoints there are in heavens. Some say 7, other 12, most believe 24 or even 99.

Beyond the customs there is a rivulet which all soul must cross in order to cleanse itself of sin. This is how it goes on at the toll houses: When a soul gets there several devils meet it and stop it. Then comes the customs chief and from a big book with black pages written in white ink he reads the sins for which toll must be paid at that respective house. For every sin there is a special house. Thus, there is a toll house for thieves, one for killers, another for liars, another for greedy persons, another for wrong-doers, and many more. The toll devil reads from his book, and the guardian angel of the soul from his own white-paged manual written in black ink. 

One devil holds a balance and weighs the sins. If the sins are too heavy the devils take the soul down to hell. But if the soul did not commit any sin for which toll is asked there, the soul goes on, crosses the water behind the house, cleanses itself and starts further, to pass through the other customs where the same process goes on. Even if the soul has passed through all the customs houses it still has one more test, perhaps the toughest: to cross heaven’s bridge. This is an extremely long bridge, narrow, thin as a nail and sharp as a knife blade. If the soul is sinful and yet has passed through the customs houses by who knows what indulgence or cunning here it comes to a dead end, and it falls down in a deep precipice, dark like a starless night. From the bottom come howls of beasts and dragons that live on the banks of a big tar pond which leads directly to hell. Not even a soul without sins can pass easily. Anyway, the narrow bridge or the pitch darkness underfoot or the cries of the animals are not so frightful if the soul is fearless and has faith in God. In the middle of the bridge a cat and a dog meet the soul. The cat dashes at it meaning to topple it from the bridge. The cat brings along all the earthly temptations to lure and tumble the soul into the pitch black hell. But there is also the faithful dog that prevents the cat from doing this. The two animals closest to the man’s heart start a terrible fight. If the man whose soul is on the bridge has a coin tied to his finger he gives it and gets away, crossing the bridge to the gate of heaven where Saint Peter receives him, and after having listened to his deeds, allows him in.
The End of the World

When the time draws near for the world to end there will be a mighty drought. The sky will be very clear and only from time to time a small white cloud will pass, so high though that no drop of water will fall. Rivers will dry up, big and small, and no water will come from the firmament. The sun will burn like a fire and everybody will think it is closer and bigger. The fields will be scorched, and the grasses dry. Everything that man sows will bear no fruit and will wither. Cattle will die of hunger and thirst. The famine will be so awful that babies will cry in their mothers’ wombs. There will be no food, no drink, and people will fight for a piece of bread. 

At this time of need and destitution, Antichrist will emerge in a closed carriage bragging he has bread in it. But the coach will carry only rotten trees, and another cart with a tub, wet on the outside but dry and empty inside. With this he will try to deceive people, saying: “Come with me for I am better than God. He punishes you with starvation and thirst while I, see, give you bread and water provided you obey me.”
People will run about in confusion and will ask him in tears, on their knees, to help them. They will bow to him and obey him. And Antichrist will send them to take what they want and they will find only rot and emptiness and they will grow bitter and they will not even be able to cry. And they will bang their heads against walls and rocks lamenting at having been deceived.

The Last Judgment

Before the time comes for the dead to rise from their graves there will be foretelling sings which many will see but very few will understand. The big day will be on a Sunday, the first day of Easter. The Prince of the Skies, Archangel Michael with his silver trumpet will herald midnight and bodies will emerge from the ground like spiders: and he will trumpet again before the roosters sing and all members and body parts will come together as they once were on earth; and before dawn he will sound the trumpet again and the souls will enter the bodies they once departed from, and they will descend on earth in great joy, and children will recognize their
parents and relatives and friends, and they will all rejoice to have found each other, and the whole globe will glitter.
Everybody will be round thirty. They will all be of the same age: children will grow up and old people will become younger. Every soul and body will come alive. Nobody will be left in the ground and no soul will remain in heaven or in hell. They will all proceed to the judgment throne, and babies will mature on the way. God will send his angels on earth to fetch the church vessels and holy books, and all the righteous and faithful will follow him and will go meet Jesus Christ in the holy chamber. The evil spirits, those that have tormented the world, the cunning ones that have sung in deceitful churches and led the faithful astray, and every seed or soul dedicated to evil, east and west on earth, will stick to Antichrist. And this deceitful prophet, seeing such a numerous host will become conceited and will soar proudly to the sky and plunge into hell, announcing his kingdom.
And those who will follow him will again place golden calves on God’s shrines, and Antichrist himself in his haughtiness will catch Saints Elijah, Enoch, and John Mina of Sarvelnic, and sacrifice them on the new altars by cutting their heads.
Then the angels will descend on Earth and set it alight, and 400 acres deep will burn and all the hills and high mountains will crumble and all the beasts and all the gardens and birds will disappear, and there will be no living creature left on earth. After that four mighty winds will rise from the east and all the cinders and embers of foulness will be blown away and the earth will be cleansed and will remain neat and white like a sheet of paper. And the earth will gather voice and will shout for the entire world to pay attention: “Here I am before you, God, clean like a flower!” And replete with odor it will bow to God.
In great pump and ceremony the Holy Cross will be descended on earth and it will shine like the sun. Before it, hosts of numerous angels will march, standing guard. Then the sign of the coming of the Son of Man will appear. Jesus Christ, with a strength of angels, will come down from the clouds in heaven and sit on the judgment throne and will judge the dead and the living and will requite each after his deeds. The righteous will be placed on the right and the sinful on the left. After that the bright heaven will open up and the righteous will rejoice with the angels. The bigger the number of angels, the bigger also that of the righteous. Then God will make a new sky and earth and from judgment day on there will be no marriages, no care, no sigh, no envy, no
war, no thoughts, no language, no pain, no craving, no thirst for gold or silver, no love and no death, no change of years or of hours. For there will be a single day and a single herd and a shepherd and that will be the kingdom of eternal peace, love of people unto Christ, to be honored for ever. Then the big quarrel between God and the Devil will end for not a single devil will be able to rise to the kingdom of God which will be one and eternal.
Saeculum I. O., Bucharest, 2003

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