It’s a bright August morning, and I’ve just begun driving around this achingly scenic part of central Romania, where the green hills are dotted with giant conical haystacks. As I make my way from one hamlet to another, occasionally stopping to peek inside magnificent 13th-century churches that once doubled as citadels, the welcome is not exactly warm. Pretty much everyone I pass—farmers weeding their fields by hand, groups of kids playing by the roadside, stooped women in head scarves carrying bags of tomatoes—sizes me up with a severe, wary look that seems to be some kind of Transylvanian Death Stare. Granted, whenever I pause to speak with anyone, the stern facade crumbles quickly; one young guy in a tracksuit cheerfully shows me how to scale a stone wall so that I can look around an abandoned medieval rectory. But in the next village, the intense glowers begin anew.
We are in The Clearing. The trees stop in a uniform oval where nothing grows and where, since official records began, nothing has grown. “Once when I came here,” says Alex, our guide, “I found 60 people from Bucharest trying to open a gate into another dimension.”
I set a significant scene in Daughters of Shadow and Blood here.
Romanian friends told us this area of medieval villages and fortified churches had little to do with the fiction of “Dracula,” yet the night was turning into a vampirish cliché. In his 1897 novel, the Irish writer Bram Stoker described the Carpathian pass as “an imaginative whirlpool” where every known superstition gathered. I saw how he might get that idea.
We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Pricolici.
In Romanian folklore, a pricolici is a type of undead werewolf. Unlike a traditional vampire, a pricolici comes back in the form of a wolf or a giant dog. It is said that in life a pricolici was a violent or particularly evil man who comes back specifically to cause havoc. In some legends a pricolici was a werewolf in life.
A pricolici is larger and stronger than a normal wolf. It hunts alone at night. It attacks silently and usually targets solitary travelers.
Within Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin is the story of Mihai Viteazul, a sixteenth-century Romanian prince, and of course, Dracula himself, Vlad Țepeș, was Romanian. Among the Romanian place names that occur in the novel are Cluj, Șelimbăr, Țârgoviște, Alba Iulia, and Iași.
Romanian is the easternmost Romance language, though the language has been influenced by its Slavic and Hungarian neighbors. Because the majority of Romanians belonged to the Orthodox Church, Romanian was once written with the Cyrillic alphabet, but in the nineteenth century, the transition was made to the Latin alphabet because it was considered more suited for the Romance language.
The letters are pronounced pretty much the same as in English with the exception of the following:
ă as in the a in about
â, î as in the e in open (â is used in the middle of a word and î at the beginning or end)
c as in the c in cat before a, o, or u and as in the ch in church before e or i
ch as in the c in cat before e or i
g as in the g in go before a, o, or u and as in the j in judge before e or i
We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Iele.
Iele are fairy-like spirits in Romanain folklore. They are usually invisible, but can be seen at night when they gather to dance and sing in open fields or the tops of trees. Then they appear as beautiful young women. Often the next day the places where they dance appear scorched, and when the vegetation grows back, it is a different color. This belief is similar to the belief in fairy rings in Northern and Western European folklore.
Iele are not necessarily evil, but the offend easily and will punish people who make them angry. The list of offenses include seeing them dance, not dancing with them when asked, drinking from a particular spring, sleeping beneath a particular tree, or stepping where they have danced. Sometimes they are said to entrance men with their singing. They can also act as spirits of vengeance, punishing wrongdoers by compelling them to dance and then abducting them, never to be seen again.
A person must not work on certain days considered important to the Iele. In addition, garlic and mugwort can be worn to ward against them.
We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Strigoi.
The legend of the Strigoi comes from Romania and is arguably the most direct reference to what we today would call a vampire. A strigoi is the soul of a deceased person that rises from its grave at night to plague the living. There are differing accounts of its abilities. In some stories it is only an incorporeal spirit. In others it in an actual reanimated corpse. Sometimes it can shapeshift into an animal, or become invisible. Usually the strigoi visits living relatives and neighbors, causing illness and weakening them until they die. Only occasionally do they directly drain the blood of their victims.
A person can become a strigoi by a number of methods. The most common include generally being a bad person in life, being a redhead, committing suicide, being born with a caul, or being cursed by a witch. A person deemed likely to come back as a strigoi could be prevented from doing so by beheading their corpse or burying them with a stake through their heart. The best way to defeat a strigoi is also to dig up the body during the daytime and behead the corpse, cut out and burn the heart, or impale the body with a wooden stake.
An interesting version of the strigoi is the strigoi viu or “living” strigoi, who is a kind of evil magician capable of ruining crops and causing livestock to get sick and die.
Though no one knows for sure, some speculate that the strigoi originates from Dacian myths about evil spirits that plague the living. The word itself likely comes from the Latin word strix, which means “owl,” but is also a nocturnal blood-sucking monster in Roman mythology.
The boy couldn’t have been more than ten years old. He practically panted, having run up the steps all the way to the top of the tower. I knew he was eager to deliver his message, but I didn’t acknowledge him right away, even though it was a message I expected. Instead, I chose to watch the sun rise over the battlements in silence. Images from my most recent dream flooded my mind, bloody violent scenes.
The name Transylvania literally means “the land beyond the forest.” The Romanian name is Ardeal, and the Hungarian name is Erdély. In German, it is known and Siebenbürgen, which literally means “seven fortresses,” referring to the seven fortified towns founded by German immingrants to the region in the Middle Ages.
Though it was made famous by Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula, Transylvania is an area rich in history and has long been a crossroads for different cultures, a fact represented in the coat of arms.
The black bird in the upper portion of of the coat of arms is often mistaken for an eagle or even a raven, but it is actually a turul, a mythical falcon from Hungarian legend. It represents the Hungarian nobles who ruled Transylvania for several centuries. The sun and moon represent the Szeklers. The Szeklers speak Hungarian, but they are a distinct ethnic group. The seven red towers on the lower part of the coat of arms represents the seven cities of the German immigrants, who are commonly refered to as Transylvanian Saxons. Because Transylvania is now part of the modern state of Romania, these cities are normally referred to by their Romanian names, but sometimes the German names are used. The seven cities are (with German names in parentheses): Braşov (Kronstadt), Sighişoara (Schäßburg), Mediaş (Mediasch), Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Sebeş (Mühlbach), Bistriţa (Bistritz), and Cluj (Klausenburg).
Sighişoara is significant because it is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, also known as Dracula, Bram Stoker’s real-life inspiration for the vampire.
Interestingly enough, the Romanians, who have been the majority of Transylvania’s population for much of its history, are not represented in the coat of arms.