Traveling to Romania

History, Nature, Places, People.


Calusarii – the ritual dance

The Calusari dance is considered one of the fastest and most spectacular dances in the world and was included by UNESCO on the list of non material masterpieces of the universal culture.

The tradition of the Calusari comes from the ancient times of Dacia and even today still keeps its pagan core. Once upon a time, Calusarii were priests of a solar cult. Lead by a great priest, their dances were much more then an initiation, were an exorcism. The great priest was the one that was asking the god for help while leading the army of the Calusari in their war with the evil spirits that took over the villages. More so, they used to take a vow of silence, the only one being allowed to talk being the leader who at varied times was requesting them to release certain war calls.

The Calusari are described as groups of odd numbered men, sworn to stay together in celibacy and ritual dancing for a period of nine years. Their secrets are to be never known. They are feared warriors who fight the “iele” (“them,” magical dancing maiden fairies). They have to stay together for the sworn period to remain invulnerable and invested with the supernatural powers and if they break away from the group they would fall prey to the iele. But together, they can heal those possessed by evil spirits by performing their dancing and rituals around them.

FolkDanceAccording with UNESCO: ‘Performed in the Olt region of southern Romania, the Căluş ritual dance also formed part of the cultural heritage of the Vlachs of Bulgaria and Serbia. Although the oldest documented music used in this dance dates from the seventeenth century, the ritual probably derived from ancient purification and fertility rites using the symbol of the horse, which was worshiped as an embodiment of the sun. The ritual’s name derives from the Căluş, the wooden part of the horse’s bridle.

The Căluş ritual features a series of games, skits, songs and dances, and was enacted by all-male Căluşari dancers to the accompaniment of two violins and an accordion. Young men used to be initiated into the ritual by a vataf (master) who had inherited the knowledge of descântece (magic charms) and the dance steps from his predecessor. Groups of Căluşari dancers, Calusariisporting colorful hats, embroidered shirts and trousers adorned with small jingling bells, perform complex dances, which combine stamping, clicking of the heels, leaping and swinging of the legs.

The costumes worn by the Calusari are white, decorated with colorful sticks, hand made hankies, while the hats have beads and colored ribbons. The most important instrument is the flag, a four-five meters long stick on top of which are tied plants as garlic and wormwood, salt and white and red ribbons, sacred colors in the Dacian vision who connect the dance to the ancient rituals of Zamolxe.

The dance of the Calusari seems to be one of the oldest and most complex of the folk dances of Romania. The men who wished to enter the group of the Calusari came together outside the village, on the shore of a water, where, in a ritual, sworn to respect the rules of the group, including sexual abstinence. For ten days they live in a sacred time and space. During the entire period they wear a specific costume with bells on the legs, a stick, and sleep under churches to be protected by attacks from the Iele. The ceremony included magical practices and invocations, dances and ritual acts executed by the strictly organized group of men. After the ceremonial dances are finished at the end of the ten days, the men meet in the village, greet each other like after a long absence and life goes back to normal.
The dance of the Calusari, in the popular tradition, meets different functions including the magical transfer of the divine fertility through spells during the dance over salt for animals and a bowl with seeds for sowing in the fields. Other benefits were of speeding up the marriage and fertility of the young women who were admitted into the end dance, healing of the sick and the sending away of the Iele (malefic fairies) through the practice of warrior acts and the used of magical plants during the dance.

According to tradition, groups of dancing and chanting Căluşari, who were thought to be endowed with magical, healing powers, went from house to house, promising good health and prosperity to villagers.

Until today, Căluşari meet to celebrate their dancing and musical prowess on Whit Sunday. Testifying the rich cultural diversity of Romania, the Căluş ritual is also widely promoted at folklore festivals.



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Sânzienele (Midsummer Day)– a celebration of love and fertility

The feast of “Sânziene” would have originally a Roman goddess Diana cult, Sânziana name as local holiday known especially in Transylvania comes from the “Sancta Diana”, while in Walachia and Oltenia “Dragaica” is celebrated, after a Slavonic name. According to some experts, the holiday has its origins in ancient Geto-Dacian cult of the Sun, Sânzienele been often represented by the Thracians linked in a dance.
The Orthodox Christian tradition, June 24 is the birthday of St. John the Baptist, the son of an elderly Elizabeth and preparing miracle of a virgin birth of our Savior.
Sânziene Festival (June 24) is manifested by a variety of rituals to ensure wealth of fields, fertility of the married women and the possibility of the unmarried girls to dream the chosen one this particularly night.
On the basis of these rituals are small rose-yellow flowers, called Sânziene (Lady’s Bedstraw), growing in meadows and girls are gathered in music and shriek young men, to form a circle then weave for girls and boys cross. These crowns are put into the house, the doors, the windows, the barns, the hives, and even in culture, in the belief that they will protect the house and the household, will bring good luck, health and abundance.
These girls throw their crowns on a roof; those who remain trapped heralding marry soon. The crown is thrown also over the cattle: if a young cow is hit the girl will marry a young man and if is caught an old one, an old man will be elected.
There are a number of customs for predicting one’s future spouse. A girl who sees nine Midsummer fires will marry before the end of the year. To see the chosen one, the girls sleep that night with a bunch of these flowers under the pillow. Also, if they wear flowers in their hair or breast, girls and married women will become attractive and loving ones.

17Midsummer Day has a twofold meaning in Romania. One stands for the traditional Midsummer fairies that do a lot of mischief. The other is a reminder of the nice smelling flowers of Lady’s Bedstraw. Young girls make wreathes out of them and the boys cross-shaped braids. The flowers are then thrown into the cattle pen. If the wreath gets stuck on an old beast, the future spouse will be elderly. If the animal is young, so will the spouse be. On this day, the lads of Maramures (north-west Romania) go out in the evening holding fire torches which they move around in the sense of the sun in the sky. When the torches are about to go out the young men descend the hills, surround the plots, enter into people’s yards and give the torches to their parents to thrust them into the soil of their gardens. On the same day, in Moldavia, Walachia and Dobrogea, two or four maidens, two of them dressed as lads, perform the Wicked Fairy’s dance. The girls may be accompanied by a boy who plays the flute or the bagpipe and carries a banner on which colored handkerchiefs, bedstraw flowers, garlic and wheat ears are attached. In some villages, the Wicked Fairies wield scythes and fight among themselves.

Another procession usually is Dragaica escort – the most beautiful and quiet of the village girls, who roams along with other young dressed in white. At the crossroads, the girls stop and do a dance singing. It is also customary that girls and boys to be watered by that early morning walk through the village with flowers hanged on hats.
28Sânziene feast is a special moment for residents of several areas of the county Nasaud, some of them say that this day might even learn how to live longer. On the eve of the feast in the evening, the children gather Sânziene and lay them on the doors of houses, one for each family member. This is because one of which is said to be fading Sânziana second day will die before the others. In other places, Sânziene blend crown and discard the house: if it remains on the roof, at which it was intended can expect the worst.
In Sâncel village of Alba County, tradition requires that the night before the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, households decorate their doors with a cross and a flower of Sânziene (Lady’s Bedstraw). On Sânziene day, villagers gather on the field flowers and make garlands for each family member and for each animal in the household. Crowns family members thrown then a man on the roof, then shouting and name of the crown which it belongs. Village elders tell that every crown should remain on the roof, to defend the evil of which it is intended, and if you fall, that family member will go badly all year. Villagers throw then on the roof the crown made for the animal stables from the household, tradition saying that they will be protected from evil.
There is also a popular superstition those specific holidays, that people should not bathe and if not the magical forces will embrace around them.
On the other hand for the girls, there is a ritual of washing with dew. Have gathered at dawn dew on plants, inviolate places on a white cloth, and then squeezed into a new pot. Old ladies in charge of it, then they bring the dew in the village, not to mention the road and avoiding meeting someone. With this dew will wash the girls who want to marry quickly, but also married women who want to be loved by their husbands and have beautiful and healthy children.
A superstition which still refers to love, says that lovers are together dip in the river or at sea will be lovers for life.
In Transylvania they say that, on Sânziene day, old treasures can be searched buried in the ground, because the night before, above the place where are hidden would light a fire.
Sânziene Festival is considered to be the best time in the middle of summer, to gather medicine plants and the spell also. Thus, on the night of Sânziene, women go to pick flowers and herbs that will be used against diseases and other evils.
The initial significance of the custom compares the maidens to ripening wheat. Thus, a transfer of fertility between the two kingdoms, animal and vegetal, is achieved. Sickles that will pull down the plants symbolize the mowing of human lives, as well as the eternal duel between winter and summer, between the good and the evil forces. Sânzienele are bad pixies of the night in Romanian folk tradition. People think these pixies could influence future marriages. Every 24 June, in the Sânziene’s night, unmarried girls cut petals of a thistle flower. Then they keep that flower in a glass of water. They say that the faster petals grow back at the thistle she looks after, the bigger her chances are to marry the man she loves.Legends say that “Sânzienele”, some very beautiful girls who live in the woods or fields, are caught in dance and given magical powers plants. These fairies are good, if they are properly celebrated, bring fruitful harvests, help the girls to find the “chosen” one, give healthy babies to the married women, and heal the sick animals. But if people do not celebrate them properly, they become angry and evil fairies also known as Fairies or Pentecost.
Fairies are described as virgins with magical powers of seduction. It is believed they live in the air, in forests or in caves, on the banks of water or crossroads and occur mainly at night by moonlight, spinning in dance, in retreats, dancing naked, with disheveled hair and bells feet, in some ways. The place is still danced like fire and grass is burned and no longer grows anymore. It is believed that on Sânziene Night, Fairies gather and dance in the forest and who will see them will become mute and crazy.
Practices related to crowning, boys lighting torches, cakes called “torch of Sânziene” entitle the ethnologists and folklorists to consider this festival as one dedicated to the cult of the Sun.



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Spring traditions – The Trinket

The Trinket
The first Romanian trinkets are older than 8,000 years and were made of river stones, painted red and white. Red symbolizes life, hence the woman and white are specific with water and the clouds, hence the man. The trinket string expressed by interweaving the two symbols indicates their unity.

Through the countryside area there’s the tradition of the Old Woman Dochia, which is said she twisted two wires, symbolizing winter and summer, then hang a silver penny on them. The string was worn on the hand by everyone for health, wealth and beauty when the New Moon uses to arise in March. In our time the original meaning was lost and is worn in the chest, being made of all sorts of materials: wood, plastic, metal, paper, textiles etc. that binds a thin strap red and white thread.

In some areas of the country a string of silver penny is adorned to the child’s neck for good luck. In other areas the girls bears it on the neck and then link it to a blooming tree in late March, and the penny is used to buy cheese to get then a white and beautiful face. In the Bistrita (North Transylvania) area the boys are the ones who get and trinkets from girls and those from Sibiu area receive this gift only in leap years.

Baba (Old Woman) Dochia

Legend says that Baba Dochia was a nasty mother-in-law, who had tormented the daughter-in-law, asking her to do all sorts of things: to wash black wool until it is white, bring water to sieve, to bring strawberries on March, 1st … and God in the guise of an old man, helps the girl to fulfill all the commandments.

Seeing the basket with the strawberries, Dochia believe it’s spring and leaves for the mountains, with the flocks of sheep. Clad with 9 coats, Baba Dochia shakes off her furcoats one by one until remains dressed only in shirt. But on the 10th day, reached the top of the mountain, God gives a bitter frost, freezing cold and petrify Baba and sheep.

Tradition of the old women says you have to choose a day between March, 1st and 9th. And as the day the weather will be chosen, so will be your life that year. If it is sunny, you’ll be happy all year, if cloudy, then you have sorrows, and if the wind blows, you might argue. If it rains or snows is a sign of wealth.

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Spring traditions – Dragobete

Love, the force that sets fire to young hearts, has a day of its own in the Romanian folk calendar. It is February 24th when Dragobete’s day is celebrated.

Ever since ancient times, Romanians used to celebrate Dragobete on the 24th of February. It was a sort of Valentine’s Day. This is the time when nature wakes up from her sleep; birds look for places to build their nests, and people, especially the youth, follow nature’s course.

A mythological deity similar to Eros or Cupid, the son of Dochia, Dragobete is a handsome man who likes to indulge himself in love affairs. He isn’t mild like St. Valentine, but tempestuous like the Dacian god who was thought to celebrate in heaven the marriage of all the animals. This has later on extended to people also, and young people keep the tradition up to this day: boys and girls meet on this special day to make their love last. People believed that birds got engaged on Dragobete’s day. So the holiday has a quite deep motivation, if we come to think that birds were considered messengers of gods, the Greek word for “bird” meaning “heaven message.” Dragobete is also a deity of joy and well-being, prone to giving parties and festivities, which often ended up in marriage.
According to the Romanian common belief, those who took part in the Dragobete festivities were protected against any sickness all year-long. So: early in the morning, dressed up in their Sunday best, young people used to meet in the center of the village or in front of the church. If the weather was good, they would go singing in small groups to the forest, to look for snowdrops or other spring flowers, and if the weather was bad, they would gather at one’s place to play games and tell stories.

On this occasion, young people used to make symbolical engagements (sometimes followed by real engagements). In the forest, they would gather around fires and talk. The girls would pick up flowers that were thought to have miraculous powers, in order to perform special rituals for love magic. Young girls would collect the fresh snow that they could find on this day and turn it into water. The water obtained from the immaculate snow was considered to be a magic love potion, which girls would use throughout the whole year. At lunchtime, girls suddenly started running back to the village. Each boy would begin chasing the girl that he liked. If the boy was fast enough and the girl he was chasing liked him back, this chase was followed by a long kiss. This was the playful engagement of the two, meant to last for at least another year.
The village’s community was very interested in what happened on this occasion, because at this time of the year they could find out what weddings they would have to attend in autumn. In the afternoon they would have a great party, where everybody, be it couple or not, would dance, sing, have a good time because it was said that those who didn’t have fun on Dragobete’s day, or at least seen a person of the opposite sex, would not be able to find a partner for the rest of the year.

Women used to touch a man from another village on Dragobete’s day, in order to behave more affectionately for the rest of the year, and they would also remember to well feed the animals in the courtyard, the birds in the sky, and protect all living creatures. Young men often partied in the neighboring villages, in order to have real good summers.

So Dragobete was a holiday of love, full of superstitions and special rituals. It was considered to bear luck for all activities and human actions, not only the small things, but also the big businesses. Farmers believed that Dragobete could help them have a richer year. People would not work on this day, they would keep it just like a religious holiday. They resumed their work to cleaning the house and cooking. It was believed that the girls who worked on Dragobete’s day would be punished by this deity. Even if he sometimes “punished” the disobedient ladies, Dragobete was seen as protector of love, bearing luck to young lovers and young people in general, like a true Romanian Cupid.