Like the Greeks before Aristotle, the peasants believe that the Earth is not a sphere, but a disc whose boundaries are linked with the sky.
In some ancient beliefs, the Earth is usually sustained by three poles made of iron, wood or wax. They are being eaten by an evil witch (“zgripturoaica”) who has been staying there since the beginning of the world. In other stories, the poles are eaten by Iuda the Iscariot. That’s the peasants’ explanation for earthquakes. The evil witch can only eat the maize flour wasted by women while riddling and can only drink the water used for washing the buckets before filling them at the well. That’s why peasants advise to save even the less valuable things. Otherwise the enemy will take advantage of the waste.
According to other beliefs, the Earth stays in water, on the back of a big fish whose movements produce earthquakes. Peasants say that water wouldn’t rise from the earth if the earth didn’t stay in water.
Instead of the fish, sometimes two fish or two buffalos are present.
As religion plays an important role in the Romanian peasant’s life, other explanations for earthquakes have been found. It is said that the Earth slowly quakes when God only peeks at it, but it strongly quakes if God looks at it directly. The Earth knows that it’s full of sins and that’s why it can’t face God.
The Solar cult could be found as early as in Neolithic Age. In the folk beliefs, the Sun has human physic and moral features.
It is believed that the Sun is born at the winter solstice, when he is as small as the day, then he grows and becomes stronger at the spring equinox (when the day equals the night), comes to climax at the summer solstice (the longest day of the year), arrives again at the autumn equinox and then he grows older and dies at the winter solstice (the smallest day of the year).
Peasants usually think that the bright hot Sun warms the Earth by the power of God.
Folk beliefs tell that Sun is a handsome young man whose face is so bright that it lightens the Earth. Everyday he walks on the celestial sphere – until noon he rides a buffalo, as he ascends; until the afternoon he rides a horse and from afternoon until evening he rides a lion.
In the evening, after the Sun dismounts, he eats a loaf and drinks a glass of wine. Then he continues the journey on the other land until he reaches the East.
Other beliefs tell that the Sun always rides a lion. While the Sun and his lion sleep, they are carried to the East by big monsters. If the Sun has rested enough, he’ll rise bright, but if the monsters didn’t leave the Sun to sleep, he’ll rise surrounded by clouds or he won’t rise at all.
Folk mythology explains the seasons by telling that the lion bores to remain all the time in the same place, so he goes to other places, although the peasants ask him to stay.
Often peasants refer to the Sun saying “the Holy Sun”.
The Moon shines in the night time, resting during the day. She’s usually considered to be a beautiful girl, sister of the Sun. According to the legends, the Sun wanted to marry his sister. As this was a sin, God stopped their wedding. Since then, the Moon has been hiding from the Sun and they never meet.
As she was the sister of the Sun, the Moon was as bright as him but God took away some of her brightness, hiding her in the sea in order that the Sun didn’t notice her.
Peasants explain Moon’s phases by telling that every month God renews the Moon by His powers, in order to show to the people that He can make big things out of small ones and small things out of big ones.
The spots on the Moon make the peasants to compare her with a man’s face. They say that this man is Abel, the first shepherd in the world, which, according to the Bible, was killed by his brother, Cain.
When there’s new moon, the peasants clink the coins from the purse, thinking this way they’ll have money all month.
Nevertheless the Moon also has an evil meaning. In Bucovina region the new moon is the beginning of all evil things. It is said that if a pregnant woman drinks the water the Moon has reflected in, her child will be insane.
The people name the eclipses sun (moon) “blackness”. Werewolves (“varcolaci”) are the ones that eat the moon, causing the eclipses.
The werewolves are borned from unbaptized children or they are the children of unbaptized parents. It is also said that the werewolves appear if the garbage is swept towards the sun, at the sunset or they appear if the man who mixes the “mamaliga” (a traditional food, a kind of polenta) hits the fire with the stirrer.
Other beliefs tell that the werewolves stay on the spun threads when women spin in the night, without a candle. They arrive this way to the moon or sun and they bite them. If the threads break, the werewolves lose their power.
The moon doesn’t completely disappear during the eclipses because she’s stronger than the werewolves and because the world would end if they ate it whole. That’s why the peasant make noise in order to scare the werewolves – they shoot, play various instruments or ring the bells.
Other explanations say that the moon is too big and the werewolves get tired to bite her or that the moon runs and they can’t catch her.
Generally the sun eclipses have the same explanations as the moon ones. It is also said that during the eclipse the Moon goes quickly by the Sun which has been blinded by God, so he can’t see her.
According to some other beliefs, the sun darkens and turns his face from the humans because or their sins.
It is generally considered that the eclipses foretell calamities, wars or other bad things.
According to the Romanian tradition, the sky is inhabited by God, angels and saints. This is also the place where Heaven is situated. The sky is an arch which stands on the water that surrounds the Earth. It has doors which are used by angels to bring news from the people.
Each night the angels hold liturgies in the sky. The roosters hear the vesper and they sing. The vesper can also be heard by humans, but only by the pure, good, faithful ones.
On the New Year’s Eve, on Saint John’s night and on the Easter night, sky opens. This can only be seen by the righteous people, who can ask God to fulfill their wishes. The same people can also hear the cattle talking in these nights.
Each night the angels turn on the stars, in order to enlighten the earth until morning.
Each human has a personal star that falls when he dies. That’s why, when a falling star appears on the sky, it is said that a man died.
Other stars, bigger and rounder, enter the humans’ houses or fall on the earth or on the people. These stars are “zmeii”, “balaurii” ( Romanian dragons) or the werewolves, who try to hurt people during the night. These stars are also called “wandering stars”.
The comets foretell bad things which are going to happen in the part where the comet can be seen. It is said that a comet appeared on the sky during the Romanian Independence War (1877-1878), smaller at first, bigger and bigger later. It disappeared only when the war was over.
The Milky Way
The Milky Way, which can be well seen only in the clear moonless nights, is called “Traian’s Way” or “The Way of Slaves”. Peasants say that the Milky Way shows the way on which Traian, the Roman Emperor came to Dacia. They also say that he took the slaves to Rome on this way, carrying them in the Greater and in the Lesser Bear (in Romanian they are also called “the Greater and the Lesser Carts”).
Other beliefs tell that the souls of the dead walk on this way towards God.
The Milky Way is also called “the Spinney of the Sky”.
The Greater Bear and the Lesser Bear
In some regions, the Lesser Bear is also called “the Plough” or “the Harrow”. It is believed that the two Bears indicate the North, so the peasants use them for orientation during the night.
The legends tell that the Romans carried their Dacian slaves to Rome on the Lesser Bear and that the Dacian rulers sat on the Greater Bear.
The Northern Star has different names: “the Emperor”, “the Candle of the Sky”, “the Pole”, “the Oak” or “the Shepherd’s Star”, because shepherds use it for orientation during the night.
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The Romanian World in images. XV-XIX centuries