Romanian Mythology II

excerptsTHE LIFE OF MANDeath. The Signs of DeathDeath 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 DeathIf 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 mother-in-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 BurialWhen 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. THE SECOND LIFEDeath 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 AirWhen 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 WorldWhen 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 JudgmentBefore 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

by Marcel Olinescu (1896-1992)