Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Feast of Saint Andrew in Romania - Night of the Vampires

Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Romania, is seen by Romanians as the Apostle who Christianized the lands north of the Danube, and according to tradition it is said he spent twenty years evangelizing the pagans of this area. There are many traditions without religious meaning connected to the feast day of Saint Andrew on November 30th, some of them having their origin in the Roman celebrations of Saturn. The Dacian New Year took place from the 14th of November until the 7th of December and this was the interval when time began its course.

The feast of Saint Andrew, accompanied with the feast of Saint George and Easter, was acknowledged as one of the most feared times of the year in Romania. The feast of Saint Andrew was in honor of Saint Andrew who was the patron of wolves and giver of garlic. Formerly the Dacians at this time celebrated another divinity – the Santandrei or the master of the wolves. November 30th also marked the end of autumn and the beginning of winter, as well as the day when wolves formed packs of twelve in order to hunt and prepare for the hard winter. Therefore, the Day of the Wolves was very important and the rituals were intimately connected with them.

The old traditions say that Saint Andrew, being the master and protector of wolves, on the eve of his feast descends on Earth at midnight to share with each wolf the prey for winter. Even today, in certain remote regions, people believe that on this night, the wolves become so agile that they can even turn their head in order to see their own tail, and that no prey can escape their chase. If the cattle start to roar at midnight, it means that the wolves are preparing for their hunt. During this night of Saint Andrew, the wolves are allowed to eat all the animals they want. It is said that they can speak, too, but anyone that hears them will die soon. In order to protect themselves, people prepare wax crosses and stick them on the right horn of the cows. Nobody is allowed to work, to comb their hair, or to pronounce the word “lup” (wolf in Romanian), as these might attract the thirsty wolves. Till this day the feast of Saint Andrew is considered a work holiday in Romania.

But Saint Andrew’s Eve is not just about wolves. According to more ancient beliefs, the spirits of the dead are now allowed to re-enter, just for one night, into the world of the living. As the cosmic order is now profoundly disturbed, other malefic forces might slip through. So, along with wolves and spirits, the vampires and the moroi are also enjoying this moment of chaos, dancing and haunting abandoned houses, tormenting people and animals. It was on Saint Andrew’s Eve, in certain parts of Romania, that the vampire was believed to be the most active and dangerous, the vampires were also believed to continue their activity throughout the winter and rest at Epiphany (January 6th). As expected, people take strong measures in order to protect themselves, especially in the countryside, so don’t worry if you see people rubbing their doors and windows with cloves of garlic, hanging garlic around their house, or preparing different garlic-based dishes.

An interesting tradition, resembling more like a party, is the Guarding of the Garlic. Each girl participating in the ritual brings three garlic bulbs which are put into a vase. The vase is then guarded by an old woman while the young people dance and eat and enjoy the party until morning. Then, the garlic is shared to all participants and each keeps it all year long in the most sacred place of the house, near the icons, to be used only in time of need as the garlic now is invested with magical and healing properties.

In cities, this ritual was adapted and transformed into a party quite similar to Halloween, which is not really celebrated on October 31st but more so on November 29th, so from villages to cities, this holiday keeps the entire Romania awake, on what is known as "the night of the vampires".

Livestock was also at risk of an attack, so precautions were taken with them as well by rubbing them down with garlic. In the remote villages of Transylvania, people still believe that strigoi (vampires who were never born, but made by other vampires) get out and start a fight. If they do not find other strigoi to fight with, they get angry and hunt a human and suck his/her blood.

However, it is extremely rare for strigoi to actually suck the blood of the living. More common is to use spells in order to steal the beauty of the people, or the milk of the cows, the power of the bulls and to bring with them diseases that affect humans, animals and the future crops, or that they terrorize and torment their still living relatives if these relatives wronged them in life. Most legends say that strigoi can transform themselves into wolves, steal and later eat the animals from the villages.

If the strigoi came around the houses on Saint Andrew’s Eve, and if someone recognized them, there were ways to make sure that the strigoi were able to fully cross over into the other world. A young white horse would be taken into the graveyard in the morning. If the horse refused to step over a grave, the body was exhumed. The legend says that the bodies of the strigoi still look almost alive, only with long hair and nails and are often turned into a different position than at burial. If that was discovered, a wooden stake was impaled into the heart of the strigoi, thus ensuring that the undead becomes truly dead.