Enemies And Friends Of Man II

excerptsDEATHDeath, whom some mistake for Samodiva, Sila Samodiva or Salea Samodiva, is the invisible spirit that takes away any man's soul, irrespective of the fact that the latter is old or young, rich or poor, happy or unhappy with his life, at the moment when it is meant for him to bid farewell to this transient world and pass away, obeying thus God's will. This happens only if his life is not taken by plague or cholera, the only diseases that people personify.Death reveals itself to humans in the guise of an old, gaunt, repellent woman, who has got hollow eyes, long teeth, bony fingers clutching to a scythe.If people say that those who suffer from a terrible illness have been touched by the wing of death, then we have to believe that Death is endowed with wings. Some say Death is one of the three Parcae, more precisely the one who cuts the threads spun by the second one, from the spinning wheel held by the first one.Once upon a time, Death was visible, but seeing her was distressing and people were extremely terrified whenever she passed by. It happened to Death to be caught quite often, consequently, Death underwent all sorts of unpleasant experiences; one of them is described by Creangă in his story of Ivan Turbincă, who had the power to confine anyone to his pouch.After he had pushed Death into his bag, ordering "paşol, Vidma, na turbine," he obliged her to eat old forests for a three-year period of time – when God had demanded her to kill only old people for three years; then, she had to eat only young forests for another three years and then again, only tender offshoots, moss berries, sprouts and the like, so that poor Death came to say: "Damn that pouch! I am very upset with God. He must have lost His mind, God forgive me; otherwise, how can one explain the fact that He has given Wacko Ivan such power over me. I would take great delight in seeing Mighty God himself in Ivan's pouch one day, or at least Saint Peter; only then will they understand my suffering.After many years of turmoil and unrest, our merciful God ordered that Ivan should die and Death be released. Consequently, Ivan made his coffin and awaited for his end.'Well, Ivan, are you ready?''As ready as I can be,' he answered with a smile.'Then, lie down in your coffin. Come on, quickly, for I have no time to lose. People are waiting for me out there to give them days off from this life.'Then Ivan lay face downward in his coffin.'No, not like that, Ivan,' said Death.'But how?''Lie down the way all dead men do.'Then Ivan lay down sideways, his feet out of the coffin.'Well, I see you keep wasting my time. Do it the right way, will you?'Ivan lay face downward again, his head and feet hanging out of the coffin.'Oh my, oh my! Can't you do that much? It's only foul play that you are good at! Get out of my way, let me show you how it is done, you crazy muck!'Ivan got out of the coffin and stood up humbly. Death, willing to teach him the right way, lay in the coffin, her face upwards, her legs stretched, her hands on her chest, her eyes closed. She said:'This is the appropriate way to lie down in a coffin!'Upon this, Ivan quickly closed the lid, locked it up and, despite Death's cry for mercy, he put the coffin on one of his shoulders and let it down on a fast-flowing river." Ukrainians have a similar story telling how a soldier did the same with Ivan Turbincă.Sometimes, when really in need, elderly people, would call for Death and she would turn up but, most of the times, when they see how terrifying she is, they dash away to get rid of her. Here is a story related to that:Once upon a time there was a very old woman, so emaciated and bony that Death herself probably would have abhorred dealing with her. That woman had a son who was no spring chicken, either, but at least he was ruddy and meaty. His name was Luca. One day, the old woman was every downhearted and she started weeping and crying out:'Alas, you damn Death! Come and take me, for I have had enough of this life I have been living!'Then, all of the sudden, the crone saw the door opening and the honest Death poking her head into the room.'You have called me, here I am!'The frightened old woman then replied meekly:'You Death, God forgive me, I've put you through the pain of coming here. As you can see I am as thin as a rake. What good would I be for you? You'd better: Go to Luca the Ruddy, He's so meaty and chubby!Here is a waggish version from Muscel:Once a upon a time there was a ninety-nine year old woman who had two sons, Luca and Ispas. The woman, round-shouldered as she was, weary and sick with her old age and needs, kept begging God:'God, I have had enough! Why won't Death come and take me?'Or:'Death, why do you tarry? Why won't you take my life?'One day, the two sons, who couldn't stand her whining anymore, pushed down the chimney an ugly owl, which fell near the place where the poor crone was heating up her bones to the warmth of the stove. The fowl cast a fearful glance to her.'Ay, my boys, what is that awful creature that is looking at me like that?' she asked in a frightened voice, running away from the stove.'Death, what else could it be? Haven't you called her so many times? Here she is! She wants you to get ready and follow her!'When she heard this, the woman started to tremble, to weep and to beg:'You, Death, spare me! Don't take me, I am too bony! Why don't you better: Take Luca the Ruddy, He's so meaty and chubby, Or Ispas the Dumpy, He is deliciously plumpy!' Another waggish version ends with the following favour that the old woman asked Death – an owl caught by her son in the church steeple:'Death, don't eat me, 'cause I am too scraggy.Eat Irimia the Tubby,Can't you see he is so flabby?'Another well-known story is that of an old man who was coming home from the woods, carrying on his shoulder a bunch of fagots. He kept calling for Death throughout his way home but when the latter finally arrived, he told her, just as in La Fontaine's fable, that in fact he had called her to help him with the his burden. It is also believed that in the old times people knew the day when Death was to come and take them. Because He loved man so much, God presented the latter with a book in which He had put down all the things man needed to know in order to live his life properly. The book provided advice on which deeds pleased God and which angered Him; amongst others, the time of man's death was mentioned, for him to be given the chance to take care of his soul by repenting.However, years went by and man, as he knew the day of his death, became lazier and lazier and therefore, much in need, and in the end, started to grumble and complain about God's mercilessness.When God saw there was so much evil on Earth, he got down on heaven's stairs and asked a man to put Him up. But He had turned into an old man so His host did not recognize Him.'How are you, gentle people?' asked God.'Not at all well, not at all! You have got from God more days to live than I, you've lived more and worked more and probably saved something for hard times, but I'm in deep trouble. I am to die in four days' time. For two years, I haven't covered my body with clothes, or eaten enough or drunk enough.''Why haven't you made a fence around your house, and grown vegetables in your garden? You wouldn't have been so hard-up now.''As I knew I would die soon, I thought it didn't matter how I would live for the rest of my life.''Have you ploughed the land?''No, for if I had done that, the crop would have been richer than I would have needed and, after my death, God would have punished me fiercely for the row brought about the sharing of the heritage between my sons.'The man kept whining and finding fault with God, therefore the latter made him forget the exact day when he was supposed to die – and so did He for the rest of the mankind. Ever since, man has to be always ready to die properly, which means repenting in advance for his sins, because only so will painful Death be banned, only so will he get ready for his true life; and then, man, a good Christian as he is, has to call out: 'Glory to you, holy cross, heavenly weapon,The star and the praise, the beautiful royal crown, Glory to you, holy scepter of Jesus Christ,Who made us heirs to the heavenly Jerusalem,Glory to you, sacred fortress and church,That guides us into the wisdom of light,Glory to you, holy cross, symbol of life and spirit,The key that opened to us the gates of the heaven,Glory to you, sword of fire, that pierced Death And defeated Devil and pushed him down to hell!' When Death comes to a man's door, without revealing herself, of course, she sends a chill down the latter's spine and he starts shivering: that is the sign that Death has locked her eyes on his.According to other beliefs, man finds near his bed either the Angel – the Guardian Angel or Archangel Michel – or the Devil, ready to seize man's soul and take it to heaven or hell, in accordance with his deeds. Alas for he who comes to say the following:'Alas, Death is near,Alas, Devil is here!Where shall I run?Where shall I hide?No place under the sun, Where I could abide.Too sinful, too impure,Too weak my mind and bod'No escape but to endure,The wrath of Mighty God.' Death takes away people's soul in several ways. According to one riddle, death strangles them: 'I have a floppy bunny,He is so cute and so zany,I want to eat its fine ears, But she stifles me!' In such cases, the agony is terrible, because Death and the human being start fighting fiercely.Other people are cut down with the scythe – for Death scythes, or with the sickle – Death sickles. That is why, in some regions there is a custom according to which, three days after the burial, the room in which somebody died should be whitewashed in order to cover the blood that had sprung up from the body when Death stung it with the scythe.The same goes for the times when Death shoots people with arrows – Death arrows – or when she stabs them with the daggers – a sort of a knife, as invisible as the other tools of Death.All these happen at the 'right time,' which is written down in the mortals' book, but they can also happen at inappropriate times, which man should be aware of and beware. For example, Death awaits impatiently those who get out of their houses at night when cocks crow.To other people, Death offers a bitter, poisonous drink – the drink of Death. When she reveals herself to the man, she asks him to have a glass of a bitter, fire-like drink. Should the man drink willingly, his days are over. Should he be reluctant, she forces him. Then, the soul leaves the body under the guise of a blue smoke and floats away in the void.The story goes that Death did not dare to mow down a strong, healthy man. As she was complaining about her weakness, she ran into Fever. They greeted each other, as they were friends, and Fever asked Death why she was so down-hearted. The latter told her the whole story and Fever replied:'I'll take care of this, come and take him in a week's time!'Fever kept her promise and Death's job became much easier.Sometimes Death uses different cunning:'Once upon a time Death set off with a man. How could she lead him up the garden path and take away his soul? They went on their way and they got thirsty. They found a well and the man took out some water and offered it to Death. When the man wanted to drink in his turn, Death asked him to blow away the filth in the water, for him not to swallow it. When the man did so, Death snatched his soul away. His body fell to the ground and his soul flew to God.God asked her where she had got that unpurified soul from and sent her to take it back.When she returned to the body that was lying next to the well, she showed it to the soul and asked the latter to go back where it had come from. The soul said it had not come from that body and it wouldn't enter it; so, it flew to God again. In the Haţeg region, the story above has the following version:'Once upon a time Death came to a man's place and ordered him to follow her in the other world. The man regretted this world too much and begged Death not to take his soul, for he wanted to go on living. Death was merciful and left him untouched but she came back one year later and told him:'Come, now, I won't spare you this time!'The man begged and wept, but to no use, because Death seized him against his will and headed for some woods.The poor man kept whining and sobbing for fear he would soon lose his soul. Every now and then he looked at his hands, his legs, his head and said:'Poor body, in vain have I fed you and washed you and covered you with clothes, for now you will vanish!'Then he thought about his soul and about the fact that if the latter got out of his body, it wouldn't ever get back inside; therefore, he was very sad and unwilling to die.They went on their way and reached a pond. There, the man asked Death to let him have one last drink of worldly water. Death agreed, but, as the man bent down to sip the water, she touched him and took his soul away. His body fell face downward in the mud, as stiff as a board.It so happened that one year later, the same soul accompanied God to the same pond. They were strolling on the opposite shore and God saw that the body of the soul He was with was across the pond. Therefore, God asked:'Do you know that is there?'The soul answered:'Honestly, my God, I can't make out anything; I think there's some carrion of some sort! The stench is unbearable, let's leave this place!'But God crossed the water, taking the soul along with Him. The latter got so thirsty that it asked God to let it drink. But it got really scared when it realized that the carrion was its own worldly body.God ordered:'Get inside that body!'But the soul wept and begged God not to force it to enter that filthy body. God listen to its prayer. Then the soul said:'Silly me, I did not want to leave that body. How disgusting it is! And me, how free I am now!'Here is another story in which Death turns into a pile of money, so as to cause argument and fight between two men:Death, tired as she was of so much work, reached the Foul Valley and sat down to rest, somewhere in the vicinity of a well. In order to sleep better, she concocted a makeshift bed of brambles and thistles, lay down and put her head on a mole hill.Good shelter for the foul crone! Shade and cold water. Hardly had she dozed off when a healthy, well-built fellow came to the well, singing light-heartedly, as loud as he could. She woke up and stood there watching the man. After having drunk cold water, the latter started washing his face, without noticing that Death was hanging above his head. When he was about to wipe his eyes, he saw her standing there and staring at him. He quickly crossed himself and dashed away to the woods, leaving his hat behind. Poor fellow, he was running like a bat out of hell! He was running for fear that Death might catch him, unaware that she would seize him anyway, if she wanted to. But, for that once, she was kind and just looked at him and let him go on his way. Then she lay down on her thistle bed trying to fall asleep.Well, our fellow, tough as he was, was wise enough to realize that he shouldn't fool around with Death and the Devil. That is why he had dashed away towards the woods; and he ran faster and faster, without looking behind, for he was scared to death. But, all of a sudden, he ran into two hunky men, heavily armed, carrying guns and daggers. They were thieves, which was worse than death herself, for they spared nobody. God forbid you fell pray to their mercilessness!'What are you doing here, my boy?''Don't stop me, Death is chasing me!''Are you crazy?''Alas, no. I am telling you the truth. I saw Death pending over the well; she was making wry faces to me.'And he went on to tell the whole story.'Come on, show it to us,' asked the thieves.'Kill me and I won't go back there,' our fellow told them. And he dashed off again.In vain did the thieves call for him; he went deeper into the woods, as if he were a hare chased by a hound.'Let's go and see what it's all about,' decided the thieves. What's that Death? Death is not visible; who knows what this crazy chap was blubbering about!'Therefore, they strode to the FoulValley, the meeting place of all outlaws. Soon they reached the Cold Well, where they found the hat of our runaway fellow.Death saw them as they were coming. By the time they reached the well, she had already taken her scythe, which had been leaning against an evergreen oak, and hidden it in a bush, and she had turned into a pile of copper coins. On her bed there were now lots and lots of Turkish money. Some of the coins were glittering among the thistles. The thieves went up the hill and in the clearing near the oak, they found the treasure. On the bed that on which Death had rested her bones, there was this huge pile of money.'We are so lucky! That boy must have been mad!' said one of the thieves.'Tough luck, my man! I have never seen such a pile of money! And it's all ours!'The thieves gathered calmly the money and made it into an immense heap, which they divided into two. They used the hat of the fellow who had run away as a gauge and weighed the money out.'Let's drink something to wet this luck of ours. Go to the pub in Poeni and fetch two bottles of booze; mind you, tell the publican to pour more spirits into the bottle, to strengthen it, 'cause I want to get drunk tonight. Do not forget, tell him I'll whack him if he gives me crap brandy!''Alright, I'll go, but a little later, when the night falls down.''You go right now, for I say so! I want to drink now. Don't be a chicken! We have money now! You can bribe the whole poss if you have money. If you are sorry for it, I can give you my share!'When he heard that, the younger thief stood up and headed for the pub in Poeni, his pouch full of money. The other thief called after him:'You find me at the Wolf Tree!'On his way to the pub the young thief was thinking about his fellow's money. 'He is a thief, just like me, but he has taken more money. The lion's share has gone to him.'He couldn't get rid of the thought of stealing his fellow's money. When he got to the pub, he asked the publican for some brandy and rat poison. 'What do you need the rat poison for?' 'I need it as a medicine. I have some foul rush on my body and I need to cure it.In no time the publican filled up two bottles of strong brandy and gave it to the thief together with some finely-ground rat poison, with which the latter had planned to kill his fellow.'I can't hit him on the head with a bat, but I'll whack him with the poison. I have killed some others in this way.'He tasted some brandy, then put the rat poison into the bottle. 'That's his bottle. Well, he could use some of that…'The other thief had also devised a plan of his own. He considered that he had given his fellow too much money. 'That's alright, I'll take it back. When he comes back, I'll shoot him in his head.'And so he did. The young thief was climbing the Wolf Hill. In the dark – for night had fallen – his glittering pipe was showing the other thief the head that he had decided to shoot into pieces.'Where are you?' called out the young thief.'I'm right here. Stay put, I'm coming.' Aiming at his chum, he was drawing closer and closer. When a gunshot was heard in the FoulValley, a thief fell down on the path leading to the Wolf Tree. His fellow ran down the hill and found him face downward, all bloody and stiff. The bags full of brandy bottles and money were the last spoil he was to take. He drank thirstily from a bottle, as if he had worked all day long and needed some refreshment. Soon after that, he started to feel his guts burning. His skin was prickling with pain, his blood throbbing heavily. He tore his clothes, hit himself against the trees, till the fire seized his entrails and made him stay put. Eventually, tired and confused, his hands on his belly, he died on the path, not very far from the place where the other thief had passed away. Death turned into herself again, into flesh and bones, out of money. She lifted the bottles of strong brandy and spilled the booze onto the thieves' bodies, took her scythe and went on her way. 'Nice work!' she congratulated herself.This is a story specific to Oltenia that can be heard in the county of Neamţ, as well.It is said that in a forest, there were three foresters marking the trees. As they were doing this, they saw a reclusive monk running among the trees, tripping over branches and panting with fatigue. The foresters stopped him and asked him:'Why are you running as if you were a lunatic?''I'm running from Death,' he answered. 'What are you talking about? Where is she?''One step behind me!''Come on, show it to us! We are not afraid of her, we can chop her with out axes!''Go and chop her! Do as you please, I won't come!''Well, if you don't come of your own accord, you'll accompany us unwillingly, anyway!'So they forced him to show them the way, and he took them to a pile of money, placed a long time ago by somebody in the hollow of a tree. Glad that he got away without being smacked, he dashed off towards the hermitage.'What a fool! exclaimed one of the foresters. That's really weird! There is a pile of money lying here and he claims that's Death herself! What a wild, zany monk! I have never seen anything like that before! Poor Death, I wonder about her whereabouts!''Forget the monk! said another one. We don't need a job anymore, we are rich from now on!''Let's have a drink; we have worked all day long and we are thirsty!' said the third one.'Having decided that, one of the foresters took a gold coin and headed for the village to get some brandy. But the devil was wide awake and looming around!A vile thought came into the minds of the men who had left behind: to share the money between them and to shoot their fellow when he came back. They agreed upon it immediately.But the devil kept busy twisting everybody's mind, therefore, on his way to the pub, the fellow who had gone to fetch the brandy started planning how to cheat on his companions. He told himself:'Why don't I take all the money? Why shouldn't I be the only one who gets rich? I'd better buy some poison and mix it with the drink. It's not in my habit to drink much, so there will be no suspicion raised, on the contrary, my fellows will be glad to have more brandy left for themselves. And then, you lucky chum, just go ahead and fill up your bag with gold and silver coins! Go home, eat, and drink whatever you please and laze about all day long! So be it! There he came with the brandy and offered the others a drink. After they had taken the mug, they raised their firelocks to him and shot him. It was all over in no time! The victim fell to the ground all covered in blood and then he was buried in a ravine, as if he were a dog.From now on, their only care was to empty the brandy mug, for the money wouldn't go away, there was plenty of time to share it.They starting to tank up and no sooner had they tasted the deadly booze than they started to fret like fish caught in the net. They had no time to share the money.So, while passing away, they were probably thinking about the reclusive monk who running away from Death and who they had laughed at so whole-heartedly! We run into this topic in other stories as well, even if the name of Death is not mentioned. There was a time when this sinful Earth of ours was overwhelmed by Death, Plague and Cholera and other terrifying evils.One spring midnight, Death, Plague and Cholera met in a graveyard and start complaining, because the shepherd living at the outskirts of the village, who was the proud, stout owner of some beautiful sheep and fat lambs, wouldn't present them with a lamb.Cholera, who had bragged that she would talk the shepherd into giving her the fattest lamb, was the first to call on him.'What do you want from me?' asked the shepherd the crone that had appeared before him, as ugly as death and with cholera-like eyes.'I am Cholera, I've come to ask you to give me your fattest lamb, otherwise you'll have to suffer the consequences of your conceitedness.''I'm not afraid of cholera, because I eat garlic and spiced food!' Cholera, after flying into a rage, met her sisters and told them the whole story and then she left on her way with her tail between her legs.'Let me handle this! said Plague to Death. Just watch how I will teach him a lesson!'One afternoon, the shepherd saw crawling towards his house a hideous old woman.'What do you want?''I've come to ask for your fattest lamb. Give it to me, otherwise your days are over.''Who are you to give me orders? Can't you see that I am the master here?''I am Plague, and if you don't give me what I ask, you will regret it deeply!''I don't give a damn about the plague, or about the cholera, for that matter! I'll burn all the rubbish I have in my yard, I'll stand in the smoke and there'll be nothing you can do to me!'Upon hearing this, Cholera ran to Death to tell her the whole incident.'I'll go and talk to him! If he refuses to give me the fattest lamb, he will be soon pushing the daisies.'One day, when the shepherd was having dinner, he received the visit of a bony freak, carrying a scythe.'Who are you and what do you want from me?''I am Death! I've come to ask you to give me your fattest lamb. If you don't, then get ready to follow me!''I will, of course, wholeheartedly! I'll accompany you home, to help you carry it!'The shepherd fetched a fat lamb to Death's house. Her house was very big and full of nails on which smaller and bigger clews hung.'What are these?' he asked.'These are the clews made of thread of every mortal's life. When there is no more thread to make up one clew, it means that the days of that particular man are over, so I have to go and take away his soul.''Which is the clew of my life?''This one!'The clew of the shepherd's life was very big. When he became aware that he had many days to live, he got hold of the lamb and said :'If I still have days to live, leave the lamb with me, because I have a wife and children and nobody gives me anything for free to feed them!'So, he took his lamb and went back home. Plague, Cholera and Death all went raving mad with spite because the shepherd had led them up the garden path.This is a story from Moldavia, which can be heard in Oltenia as well, where it is said that the shepherd who had gone to Death's house saw the torches of the mortals' lives.It is said that once Death wanted to spare a woman, thus disobeying God's orders, or Saint Haralambie's (who is her master).Here is the Macedonian-Romanian story:At the beginning, Death – Harlu, that is to say, Charon – was not deaf as she is nowadays. One day, God sent her to a beautiful housewife. At the latter's bed, she found an aunt who was sobbing, because the housewife had just given birth to two boys and had just received the news about her husband's death.When Death entered the house and saw the terrible distress the family was in, she did not dare to take away the housewife's soul. Therefore, she went back to God.'Where is the woman?' asked the latter. 'Mighty God,' said Death, 'here is what is going on. The poor woman has given birth to two sons. On the other hand, she has found out that her husband has just kicked the bucket. The house is very poor and shabby, there are no relatives left, except for an old, hard-up aunt, who can hardly feed herself, there's no way she can spare something for the others. I was thinking that if I took the woman's life, there would be no one left to look after the poor babies!'God frowned severely, got angry and ordered Death to dive into the sea and fetch a cliff as big as a house.Death dashed off, dived and lifted a cliff on her shoulder, and came back to God, in no time. 'Cleave it!' ordered God.Death obeyed. When she did so, she found two living beings, two worms moving inside.'Who looks after these beings?' asked God.'You do, my God,' answered Death.'If I do, then why don't you just go about your own business? Why are trying to find out what is not meant to be found out?''You are right, my God!' said Death.Consequently, God deprived her of her hearing and sent her to take away the woman's soul, then punished her to live on Earth until she came into her right mind. On Earth, Death entered a convent and prayed day and night for God's pardon.One day, thirty years later, the abbot sent her in town with some business. There she noticed how everybody made way for the bishop, bowing and crossing themselves and asking for his blessing. Deaf as she was, Death took great pain in findi