Romanian Religious Belief of the Dead

by Taylor Echolls
A Romanian bust of Dracula. Romanian folklore tells of ghosts and vampires.

A Romanian bust of Dracula. Romanian folklore tells of ghosts and vampires.

David Greedy/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Modern Romanians observe a mix of Orthodox Christian and folk rituals, with an especially rich set of beliefs regarding death and the souls of the dead. Death signifies the beginning of the soul's journey to the afterlife, and is the basis of many Romanian superstitions, including vampires. Although the church is crucial in providing official rites to improve the status of the soul of the deceased, there are still many folk rituals performed by families at home.

Orthodox Christianity

Romanian beliefs regarding death are based in Orthodox Christianity, including a belief in the afterlife, reverence of the Virgin Mary and the importance of salvation for the soul. Souls go to heaven, a floral paradise, and those who "don't have God" go to a fiery hell. Worshipers look to the Romanian Orthodox church for "purification of the soul, forgiveness of sins, and the church sanctioned incorporation of the deceased into the other world," writes Gail Kligman in her book, "The Wedding of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics, and Popular Culture in Transylvania," a detailed ethnography of Romanian religion.

Folk Beliefs

Romanians hold many folk beliefs and superstitions about the dead left over from pre-Christian times. While mourning is important, in Romanian folklore too much mourning for a dead child puts the young soul in danger of drowning in excessive tears on its way to heaven. The dead are also thought to communicate directly with the living through dreams; a dream of a deceased loved one is a sign that the dead still cares for the living.

More Folk Beliefs

The mourning period is heavily influenced by Romanian folk religion. Candles are kept lit by the deathbed to light the soul's passage to the next world, including a long taper of wax called a "toiag" that is thought to burn away the sins of the deceased. The corpse is bathed and the tainted bathwater disposed of, or possibly sprinkled on an enemy to bring him harm. Until the funeral passes, women will leave their hair unbraided in the belief that it decreases the number of obstacles for the soul on its way to the afterlife.

Mourning

Mourning has special significance in Romania, where the departed soul is believed to watch over its own funeral to ensure no ritual is forgotten. From the moment of death, women relatives are supposed to keep up a chorus of poetic and sorrowful lamentations until burial. Mourning is a key aspect of "maintaining social relations between the living and the dead," writes Kligman, and ghosts are thought to haunt the living if lamentations are not performed correctly.

All Soul's Day

Romanians continue mourning during holidays, such as All Soul's Day, to commemorate the deceased. All Soul's Day has its roots in Christianity, but its observance among Romanians is infused with folk belief. In honor of dead loved ones, families hold large meals that are thought to restore the energies of the dead. Neighbors and even tourists are invited to partake in honor of the soul, and it is considered offensive to the dead if the invitation is refused.

Vampires

In Romanian folklore, vampires are a real concern. As a supernatural version of the dead who were unbaptized, vampires are feared for their tendency to roam cities unnoticed, killing loved ones of the living, and they strike a real chord of fear in some Romanians. In villages like the small Marotinu de Sus in Romania, residents have been known to dig up coffins of dead relatives and perform a mutilation to ensure that a suspected vampire causes no mischief, according to an article in the Seattle Times.

About the Author

Taylor Echolls is an award-winning writer whose expertise includes health, environmental and LGBT journalism. He has written for the "Valley Citizen" newspaper, where his work won first- and second-place awards in sports and outdoor features from the Idaho Press Club. Echolls holds a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College.

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