Căpcăun - the Ogre
A Căpcăun in Romanian folkore is an Ogre . The Căpcăun either kidnaps children or young ladies (mostly princesses). It represents evil, as do the Zmeu and the Balaur, among several other negative characters.
Căpcăun appears to have meant "Dog-head" (căp meaning "head", căun meaning "dog") derived from Romanian cap ("head") and câine ("dog") (these words are derived from Latin caput and canis respectively).
Făt-Frumos, Prince Charming
Făt-Frumos (from Romanian făt: son, infant; frumos: beautiful) is a knight hero in Romanian folklore mythology, usually present in fairy tales. Akin to Prince Charming, he possesses such essential attributes as courage, purity, justness, physical and spiritual strength, cleverness, passion, and unshakable love.
Făt-Frumos also displays some minimal abilities in performing miracles, as well as total commitment to the word given and to the monarch he serves.
Făt-Frumos has to go through tests and obstacles that surmount ordinary man's power. With dignity, he always brings these to a positive resolution. He fights demonic monsters and malevolent characters (zmeu, balaur, Muma Pădurii, etc.). He travels in both "this land" and "the other land" (tarâmul celălalt) on the Calul Năzdrăvan ("The Marvellous Horse"), who also serves as his counselor.
In his journeys, Făt-Frumos often has to overcome a major dilemma related to the correct route he is to follow, and is bound to decide between two equally nonsensical choices. Asked about the right way, an old woman gives Făt-Frumos an obscure answer: "If you turn right, you will be in sorrow; if you turn left, you will be in sorrow as well".
According to Victor Kernbach, this lose-lose situation evokes the historical condition of the Romanian people whose homeland, the Danubian Principalities, has been constantly crossed and attacked by foreign powers, as the native population was always forced to decide between two equally unfortunate choices: ally with your enemies or fight them.
Făt-Frumos is also a commonplace figure of the Romanian culture and literature. He appears as a character in stories and poems by famous writers, such as Mihai Eminescu, Tudor Arghezi, or Nichita Stănescu. As a symptom of the Romanian people’s self-irony, Făt-Frumos can be encountered even in contemporary Romanian jokes, yet less frequently than Bulă or the political personalities of the moment.
Hero of the Romanian mythology, Greuceanu is a young brave man somewhat similar to Făt Frumos who finds the Sun and the Moon that have been stolen by zmei (plural of zmeu). After a long fight with the three zmei and their wives, the zmeoaice (plural from zmeoaică), Greuceanu sets the Sun and the Moon free so the people on Earth have light again.
The Zmeu (plural: zmei, feminine: zmeoaică/zmeoaice) is a fantastic creature of Romanian folklore and Romanian mythology. Sometimes compared to other fantastic creatures, such as the balaur or the "vârcolac", the zmeu is nevertheless distinct, because it usually has clear anthropomorphic traits: it is humanoid and has legs, arms, the ability to create and use artefacts such as the weapons, or the desire to marry young girls.
In some stories, Zmeu appears in the sky and spits fire. In other stories, it has a magical precious stone on its head that shines like the sun. It likes beautiful young girls, whom it kidnaps, usually on the purpose of marrying them. It is almost always defeated by a daring prince or knight-errant.
The "zmeu" figures prominently in many Romanian folk tales as the manifestation of "pagan evil" and the destructive forces of greed and selfishness. Oftentimes, the zmeu steals something of great value, which only Făt-Frumos can retrieve through his great, selfless bravery. For example, in the ballad of the knight Greuceanu, the zmeu steals the sun and the moon from the sky, thereby enshrouding all humanity in darkness.
In the story of "Prâslea the Brave and the Golden Apples", the zmeu robs the king of the precious "golden apples"; a parallel can be drawn to the Eleventh Labour of Hercules, in which Hercules must retrieve the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Usually, the zmeu resides on the "other side of the world," and sometimes Făt-Frumos has to descend into his dark kingdom, implying that the zmeu lives underground, perhaps in the Underworld.
The zmeu has a plethora of magical, destructive powers at his disposal. He can fly, transform himself into various creatures, and has tremendous supernatural strength. Ultimately, the abilities of the zmeu are of no avail, as Făt-Frumos defeats him through martial skill and daring.
Some English translations refer to the "zmeu" as the ogre or giant from western European mythologies, and there is some truth to such analogies. Like the ogre, the zmeu likes to kidnap a maiden to be his wife in his otherwordly realm. After Făt-Frumos slays the zmeu, he takes the maiden as his bride-to-be. Similarly, like the giant in the popular British stories of "Jack and the Beanstalk", the zmeu returns home to his fortress from his raids into human lands sensing that a human (Făt-Frumos) is lying in ambush somewhere nearby.
As an interesting side-note on the zmeu's ability to fly, in Romanian as in German, Russian, Norwegian and Swedish, the word for dragon also refers to the kites that children fly.
Most scholars agree that Zmeu's name and appearance is derived from the Slavic Zmey. However, the linguist Dr. Sorin Paliga challenges the notion that the Romanian word Zmeu is of Slavic origin, and hypothesizes that the pan-Slavic forms were an early Slavic loan from the Dacian language. The relation with Romanian "zmeură" (raspberry) has been deemed to be possible, but rather unlikely, by Alexandru Ciorănescu.
Balaur - the Evil Hydra/Dragon
In Romanian folkore a balaur is a creature similar to a dragon, although distinct: dragons as such also exist in Romanian folklore.
A balaur is quite large, has fins, feet, and multiple serpent heads (usually three, sometimes seven, or even twelve).
As a traditional character which is found in most Romanian fairy tales, it represents Evil and must be defeated by Făt-Frumos in order to release the Princess (see also Zmeu).
Balaur seems to derive from PIE *bel-, 'strong', or PIE *bhel-, 'to swell'. It is considered to be a pre-Roman word from the Romanian substratum.
Vârcolac and Pricolici, the Werewolves
in Romanian folklore may refer to several different figures. In some versions, a vârcolac is a wolf demon. Like the Norse Fenris, the vârcolac can swallow the moon and the sun and is thus responsible for eclipses.
Some legends say it is a ghost or vampire (Strigoi
) while others say it is a werewolf, although it can occasionally mean "goblin". The word vârcolac is a loan from Slavic (cf. Bulgarian varkolak, vulkodlak, Greek vrykolakas), meaning "werewolf" (etymologically "Wolf's Fur").
(same form in plural) is a more definite werewolf in Romanian mythology, whereas the vârcolac can sometimes symbolises a goblin.
Pricolici, like strigoi, are undead souls that have risen from the grave to harm living people. While a strigoi possesses anthropomorphic qualities similar to the ones it had before death, a pricolici always resembles a wolf or large dog. Malicious, violent men are often said to become pricolici after death, in order to continue harming other humans.
Even as recently as modern times, many people living in rural areas of Romania have claimed to have been viciously attacked by abnormally large and fierce wolves. Apparently, these wolves attack silently, unexpectedly and only solitary targets. Victims of such attacks often claim that their aggressor wasn't an ordinary wolf, but a pricolici who has come back to life to continue wreaking havoc.
The Iele ("Yehleh")
Clear characteristics are hard to assign to these fairies of the wind, but all Romanian's know their powers! Most of the times they are described as virgin fairies (zane in Romanian), with great seduction power over men, with magic skills, attributes similar to the Ancient Greek Nymphs, Naiads, Dryads, etc.
The Iele live in the sky, in the forests, in caves, on isolated mountain cliffs, in marshes, often bathing in the springs, or at crossroads. From this point of view, the Iele are similar with the Ancient Greek Hecate, a three headed goddess of Thracian origin, which guards the crossroads.
They mostly appear at night, under the moonlight, as dancing Horas, in seclusive areas like glades, the tops of certain trees (maples, walnut trees), ponds, river sides, crossroads or abandoned fireplaces, dancing naked, with their breast almost covered by their disheveled hair, with bells to their ankles, and carrying candles. In almost all of these instances, the Iele appear acorporal.
Rarely, they are dressed in chain mail coats. The effect of their specific dance, the Hora, has similar characteristics with the dances of the Bacchants. The place where they had danced would after remain carbonized, with the grass incapable of growing on the trodden ground, and with the leafs of the surrounding trees scorched. Later, when grass would finally grow, it would have a red or dark-green color, the animals would not eat it, but instead mushrooms would thrive on it. The Iele don’t live a solitary life.
They gather in groups in the air, they can fly with or without wings; they can travel with incredible speeds, either on their own, or with chariots made of fire.
The Iele appear sometimes with bodies, other times only as immaterial spirits. They are young and beautiful, voluptuous, immortals, their frenzy causing delirium to the watchers, with bad tempers, but not being necessarily evil.
They come in a group of unknown numbers, either in a group of seven, and sometimes in groups of three. This version is mostly found in Oltenia, were these three Iele are considered the daughters of Alexander the Great, and are called Catrina, Zalina and Marina.
They are not generally considered evil genies: they resort to revenge only when they are provoked, offended, seen while they dance, when people step on the trodden ground left behind by their dance, sleep under a tree which the Iele consider as their property, drink from the springs or wells used by them. Terrible punishes are inflicted upon the ones who refuse their invitation to dance, or the ones who mimic their movements. The one who randomly hears their songs, becomes instantly mute. A main characteristic is their beautiful voices which are used to spell their listeners, just like the Mermaids from ancient Greek mythology. Invisible to humans, there are however certain moments when they can be seen by mortals, like during night, when they dance. When this happens, they abduct the victim, punishing the “guilty” one with magical spells, after they previously caused him to fall into sleep with the sounds and the vertigo of the frenetic Hora, which they dance around their victim. The ones abducted, and which had the unfortunate inspiration to learn the songs of the Iele, disappear forever without a trace.
The Iele are also believed to be agents of revenge, of God or of the Devil, having the right to avenge in the name of their “employers.
When they were called upon to act, they hounded their victims into the middle of their dance, until they died in a furor of madness or torment. In this hypostasis, the Iele are similar to the Ancient Greek Erinyes and the Roman Furies.
In the "Description Moldaviae" (1726), Dimitrie Cantemir describes the Iele as ‘’Nymphs of the air, inloved especially with young men’’. The origin of these beliefs is unknown. The name iele, is the Romanian popular word for "them" (feminine). Their real names are secret and inaccessible, and are commonly replaced with symbols based on their characteristics. There names based on epithets are: Iele, Dinse, Dragaice, Vilve, Iezme, Irodite, Rusalii, Nagode, Vântoase, Domnite, Maiestre, Frumoase, Musate, Fetele Codrului, Imparatesele Vazduhului, Zânioare, Sfinte de noapte, Soimane, Dânse, Mândre, Izme, Fecioare, Maiestre, Albe, Hale, etc. But there are also personal names which appear: Ana, Bugiana, Dumernica, Foiofia, Lacargia, Magdalina, Ruxanda, Tiranda, Trandafira, Rudeana, Ruja, Trandafira, Pascuta, Cosânzeana, Orgisceana, Lemnica, Rosia, Todosia, Sandalina, Ruxanda, Margalina, Savatina, Rujalina, etc. These names must not be used randomly, as they may be the base for dangerous enchantments. It is believed that every witch knows nine of these pseudonyms, from which she makes combinations, and who are the bases for spells.
To please the Iele, the people had dedicated to them festival days: the Rusaliile, the Stratul, the Sfredelul or Bulciul Rusaliilor, the nine days after the Easter, the Marina, the Foca, etc.
Whoever doesn’t respect these holidays, will suffer the revenge of the Iele: men and women who work during these days would be lifted in spinning vertigos, people and cattle would suffer mysterious deaths or become paralyzed and crippled, hail would fall, flooding would happen, the trees would wither, the houses would catch fire.
But the people also invented cures against the Iele, either preventive: garlic and mugwort wore around the waist, in their bosom, or hanged to their hats, the hanging the skull of a horse in a pole in front of the house, either exorcistic customs. In this category, the most important cure is the dance of Căluşari. This customs was the subject of episode of the popular TV series, The X-Files (see The X-Files (season 2))
The same common Indo-European mythology base is also suggested by the close resemblance with the Nordic Elves, youthful feminine humanoid spirits of great beauty living in forests and other natural places, underground, or in wells and springs, having as sacred tree the same maple tree, and with magical powers, having the ability to cast spells with their circle dances. The elves too leave a kind of circle were they had danced the älvdanser (elf dances) or älvringar (elf circles). Typically, this circle also consisted of a ring of small mushrooms. Arguably, Iele are the Romanian equivalent of the fays of other cultures, like of the nymphs of Greek and Roman mythology, of the vili from Slavic mythology, and of the Irish sídhe.
In Romanian mythology, Baba Dochia, or The Old Dokia, is a name originating from the Byzantine calendar which celebrates the Martyr Evdokia on 1 March. The Romanian Dokia personifies mankind's impatience in waiting for the return of spring.
Baba Dochia has a son, called Dragomir or Dragobete, who is married. Dochia ill-treats her daughter-in-law by sending her to pick up berries in the forest at the end of February. God appears to the girl as an old man and helps her in her task.
When Dochia sees the berries, she thinks that spring has come back and leaves for the mountains with her son and her goats. She is dressed with twelve lambskins, but it rains on the mountain and the skins get soaked and heavy. Dochia has to get rid of the skins and when frost comes she perishes from the cold with her goats. Her son freezes to death with a piece of ice in his mouth as he was playing the flute.
Dochia is sometimes depicted as a proud woman who teases the month of March, who in return gets its revenge by taking some days from February.
In other sources, Dochia was the daughter of Decebalus, King of the Dacians. When the Roman Emperor Trajan was conquering part of the Dacian territory, Dochia seeks refuge in the Carpathian Mountains in order to avoid marrying him. She disguises herself as a shepherd but she takes off her lambskin garments and freezes to death with her herd. She is transformed into a stream and her animals into flowers.
Days that are set aside for Baba Dochia are March 1 (for snow), March 2 (for summer), and March 3 (for harvest).
Muma Pădurii - The Mother of the Forest
Muma Pădurii is one of the many female monsters in the Romanian folklore (others being 'Zgripţuroaica
') which together form a triumvirate similar to the Greek Gorgons.
Muma Pădurii literally means "the Mother of the Forest", though "mumă" is an archaic version of "mamă" (mother), which has a fairy-tale overtone for the Romanian reader (somewhat analogue to using the archaic pronouns like "thou" and "thy" in English). A few other such words, typically protagonists of folk-tales, have this effect.
Muma Pădurii is a spirit of the forest in a very ugly and old woman's body. Sometimes she has the ability to change her shape. She lives in a dark, dreadful, hidden little house. This (step-) mother of the forest kidnaps little children and enslaves them. In one of the popular stories, at some point, she tries to boil a little girl, alive, in a soup. However the little girl's brother outsmarts Muma Pădurii and pushes the woman-monster in the oven instead, similar the story of Hansel and Gretel. The story ends on a happy note when all kids are free to go back to their parents. Instead of saying "she's ugly", Romanians sometimes say "she looks like muma pădurii".
She is thought to attack children, and because of this, a large variety of spells (descântece in Romanian) are used against her
The Water of Life
In Romanian mythology, Apa Vie, the "Water of Life" means the water from which heroes drink so that they come back to life after healing their wounds. Apa moartă ("Dead Water" or "Water of Death") is the complement of Apa Vie. In the vast majority of the tales it has the power to heal wounds of dead bodies (but not to give life). There is a small percent of tales in which Apa moartă is a poisonous drink that kills any person who drinks it.
Moşul (the old man), is a mysterious benevolent character, symbol of wisdom and prosperity in Romanian mythology. Some historians associate him with the ancient Dacian god Zamolxis, or with the Roman god Saturn. In 1935, after allegedly having witnessed appearances of the Moşul, the illiterate shepherd Petrache Lupu of the village Maglavit tried to establish a sort of religion based upon this.
Vântoase - The Wind Fairies
Vântoase are a sort of female spirits in Romanian mythology that, in the popular beliefs, cause dust storms and powerful winds. They live in forests, in the air, in deep lakes, and use a special wagon for travelling. They are also believed to be able to attack children, and the only protection against them is the mysterious "grass of the winds". In other legends, they are believed to be servants of God.
The Vâlve are a sort of female spirits (similar to the Bulgarian Vila-Veela), which in Romanian mythology are believed to walk in the night over the hilltops. The main types, the Vâlve Albe (white) are considered beneficial, but the Vâlve Negre (dark) are considered evil. Some types are believed sometimes to look human-like, especially when they came to protect villages from a storm, or as simple shadows, or as a black cat, etc. They also have the ability to change their shape.
The various types of Vâlve include:
* Vâlva Apei, which is considered as a sort of guardian of the water sources, fountains.
* Vâlva Bucatelor, protector of the poor people, and of the crops.
* Vâlva Băilor, defender and protector of mines and tunnels.When the "Vâlva" leaves the mine, it is considered that the ore has finished.
* Vâlva Banilor, protector of the money.
* Vâlva Comorilor, protector of treasures, but she can also signal the place of the hidden treasure to the chosen ones.
* Vâlva Pădurii, similar to Muma Padurii.
* Vâlva Ciumei, controlling plague and other disease.
* Vâlva Zilelor, protector of the days, one for each day of the week.
* Vâlva Cetătilor, defender of ancient ruins.