The Child Is Another Soul

In the Balkans full of various mythologies, "it is said that nobody can move faster than angels"[1] when it comes to passing from one human being to another, thus populating the earth. Yet angelic beings are not among the early manifestations of our national imagery. Romanians rather believe that the soul of a man who died "passes into a child born into his own people. As a soul, shadow and breath, it could also pass into a ram, an ox or any other animal. It can come out of the animal again and return to the people (…). There were old people, men and women, who asserted, in all the certainty given to them by their belief, that the soul of a certain person had passed into this or that newborn, that the latter resembled his ancestor in terms of looks, behavior, strength and courage (…). In other cases, it was claimed that the soul of the dead person would pass into a newborn of the same family for seven generations."[2] The resort to "the soul" is not typically Romanian: all over the entire East there is the belief that newborns "are bearers of the souls of relatives and ancestors," that in each of us there is "a collection of inherited units, probably fragments of the past or of ancient lives."[3] Yet, if for the majority of primitive cultures, from ancient times or present day, "the newborn is a reincarnation of the ancestor, whose soul entered inside a woman," the Romanian traditional culture "presents a somewhat transfigured version of this belief. In order to become pregnant, or to give birth easily, the woman turns to mythical ancestors, asks for their help, making them ritualistic offerings to soften them, or avoiding any action or gesture that might stop their benevolence." There are, actually, many "Romanian taboos imposed on the pregnant woman, related to the places and objects in the house which are considered as symbols of the ancestors (the hearth, the ashes, the broom, the threshold, etc.): "The pregnant woman shall not sleep on the threshold, because her child will remain there," "The woman who sleeps on the hearth shall have a difficult birth," etc.[4]Do children have a twin soul at birth which accompanies them for a while in their new existence? Some psychologists and psychiatrists see a form of affective compensation in the children's imaginary friend; other specialists think that it might be an unborn twin brother or the spirit of a close relative that accompanies the little one. "You see so many children playing with imaginary friends! I mean, for instance, a child, very often an only child, comes all alone in the kitchen and says: 'Look at the friend I brought with me' – and the mother thinks 'This girl has such a rich imagination!' But who said it was just imagination? The girl really has a friend! Someone who keeps her company. I believe many children have this kind of invisible playmates. And one day they stop seeing them; they grow up and lose them."[5]So, according to the tradition, the child is "another soul," either that of a distant ancestor or a collateral relative. Hence, probably, the proverb: "You never know who you bring up," as this soul – different from ours – must be recognized and its confidence must be gained in time. The world where souls come from is a strange space, consubstantial with us, and where there is no Time. But this space is "full of souls, the air is full of good spirits and bad spirits," according to Bélibaste the Cathar. And when you find yourself "in discrepancy with or outside time, you probably have a different vision of the world. It is very likely you may see an extraordinary world."[6] To the spiritists, "children are beings sent by God to live new existences and to whom He offers their entire innocence, so that they cannot blame Him for being too harsh (…); even in the case of a naturally-evil child, his evil deeds are protected by the lack of consciousness of what he is doing. (…) The only reason why spirits enter a bodily life is to perfect themselves, to make themselves better (…)."[7]The countless traditions and habits which surround birth and death in all peoples do not hinder anthropologists from structurally defining the reference points of a common cultural background. Thus, by simple birth, "you don't enter a domestic group automatically; the entrance is done gradually. (…) In all societies, the mother and child are subjected to a period of isolation: seclusion to the place where the woman gave birth, or the family house, spaces which cannot be left until a predetermined period of time has elapsed (…). During this period, the mother is considered to be impure, and the child, very vulnerable. Indeed, he is not considered as being fully human, and supernatural forces and beings threaten to take him back. Besides, the birth is not actually a punctual event: the body of the baby has to grow stronger, more vigorous, so that the soul and the spirit merge better. The integration rituals end this difficult period. The christening illustrates this period, as it allows the inclusion of the child within a familial ancestry, the assigning of a name, of a father and a mother whose functions are religious and social – the godparents – and, eventually, his introduction to the community (…)."[8]Romanian folklore preserved many ancient beliefs related to the coming of a baby into this world and the period of time spent by him in the fragile, oscillating space between the two worlds disputing him. from Romanians' Childhood, Compania, 2006
[1] Milorad Pavic, Landscape Painted in Tea, Univers, Bucharest, 2000.[2] Paul H. Stahl, Tribes and Villages of Southeast Europe. Social Structures, magical and religious structures, Paideia, Bucharest, 2000.[3] Aniela Jaffe, Apparitions and Precognition. A Psychological Interpretation, Humanitas, Bucharest, 1999.[4] Ivan Evseev, Dictionary of Romanian Magic, Demonology and Mythology, Amarcord, Timisoara, 1998.[5] Marie Capdecomme, Life of the Dead. On Ghosts of Yesterday and Today, Polirom, Jassy, 2003.[6] Ibidem.[7] Allan Kardec, The Spirits' Book, Herald, Bucharest, 2003.[8] Dictionary of Ethnology and Anthropology, Polirom, Jassy, 1999.

by Adrian Majuru (b. 1968)