Mythology in Romania: Exploring Beliefs about Witchcraft and the Devil
An old Romanian proverb says: Do not speak badly of the Devil because you cannot know to whom you will belong. According to popular Romanian mythology, it is not considered difficult to establish a connection with the Devil. He can appear quickly, happy with the availability of the person who wishes to be initiated into the secrets of witchcraft. Those who wanted to contact the Devil used to go to a crossroad where they called his name or they yelled out loud “Hey! Hey! Hey!” and the Devil was said to come to them. In other cases, staying in an unclean place was sufficient in order to obtain the infernal aid.
Ancient legends say that there was once a woman who wanted to become a witch, so she went to the river where she waited until midnight. At that time, the Devil came out of the water and asked her why she was sitting there. The woman replied that she wanted to be made a witch, so the Devil told her the necessary condition. She had to agree to dance with him during each full moon. Legend has it that the woman accepted and she was made a witch.
The Devil and a woman on horseback. Illustration by Hartmann Schedel (public domain)
Still, not all witches are very skilled when it comes to magic. Another popular story starts from a chant which begins as follows: “ Oschi, oschi, Scaraoschi! Cu gura sa te invat, cu ochii sa nu te vad.” (“ Devil, Devil, Devil! With the mouth to teach you, with my eyes not to see you”). The witch was a young woman from Barbosi village who was a beginner at magic, so she spoke the chant wrong. Instead of saying “ with my eyes not to see you”, she said “ with my eyes to see you”. As a result, the demon appeared at her window and the young woman only managed to escape him at sunrise when the rooster sang. According to the description, the demon was red and very skinny. He danced in front of the windows and hit them making the entire house tremble.
Depiction of a red demon, like the one in the Romanian tale. Fresco detail from the Rila Monastery. (public domain)
Other witch stories fall under a more amusing category. It is said that a witch kept stealing the milk from a peasant’s cows. Upset, the man decided to catch the witch, so he hid himself in the paddock and waited. At midnight, the witch came and began to drain the milk of the cows in a bag made of hair. The man could see everything, but he could not react in any way, being almost petrified. Once the witch finished taking the milk from all the cows, she went to the man and asked him: “- Are you sitting Ivan?”. The man replied mechanically as though he was taking in his sleep: “- I am sitting.”. Then the witch put something in his hand and told him before leaving: “- Here, hold this and keep sitting!”. The wife who waited for her husband until dawn went the next morning to look for him. She found him sitting in a corner of the stable firmly grasping in his hands a big pile of dung.
In Romanian mythology, it is said that each wizard and witch has access to a Black Book which contains all the incantations, chants and magic formulas. Usually, before dying, wizards pass on this knowledge to an apprentice, but sometimes such books remain without a master. Such is the case of the following story. A young man found such a book left behind by a wizard who had died. Courageous, the young man opened the book and began reading from it. As he read, in front of him demons appeared asking for work.
The young man first gave them easy tasks and, then, more and more complex ones. Still, the devils always managed to fulfill them and kept returning asking again for work. Not knowing what else to have them do, the young man did not give them any tasks. Then, the restless devils killed the young man and no one ever dared to open the Black Book ever again. It is said that only wizards know what tasks to give to the devils by making them do things such as making ropes out of water and sand or stopping rivers from flowing into the sea. Still, this story remains as a warning to all those who dare play with the evil forces without knowing the price that must be paid for the recklessness of their actions.
Featured image: Francisco Goya, Witches' Sabbath (El aquelarre). (public domain)
By: Valda Roric