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The undead 1

A doctor in ethnology from Bucharest has traveled the length and breadth of the country, for over 30 years, in search and recording of customs and beliefs from the archaic landscape. Rarely found in the urban environment, these beliefs have the character of letters of the law in certain areas of the country. People tell about the visits they receive from the dead, how certain deceased locals can turn into animals, to do harm, or into some beings or forces, called undead.

Dr. Mihai Alexandru Canciovici, principal scientific researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore in Bucharest, has studied mythological traditions and Romanian folk prose for over 30 years, especially that transmitted orally. The deer, the Forest Girl, dragons or the mysteries of buried treasures were only some of his objects of study. Another motif frequently encountered throughout Romania and studied by Mihai Canciovici in archaic societies is that of the undead, or moroi, as it is also called. The undead is a diabolical force that has no other purpose than to torment people. He can take various forms or call you by name with the voice of someone you know, in order to attract you to unlit places and do harm. Many times, the undead even kill those they don’t like. “It must be said that people who claim that they have had experiences with undead or that someone in their family has had something like that, live in a different society from the one in the city. Most people who say they have met undead are from Bistrita-Nasaud, Maramures, Bihor, from the Apuseni Mountains, Bucovina, but also from Moldova or Oltenia. I have dozens of recordings in which people tell the experiences they went through”, says the researcher. Not infrequently, people’s fears of the undead have been well founded. Because undead are not just spirits that return from the grave at night to stalk women; to kill those with whom they had quarrels. They are the bearers of serious sins, people who hanged themselves, drowned, children who were killed by their parents, children made by first cousins.

The return of the undead from the grave is done only at night, and its first exit to torment the poor people can be made from 9 days after the burial, up to 12 years.

Mihai Canciovici says that there are both dead undead and living undead. The living undead are people who were born with this quality, who live in the respective community. It is possible that no one will realize that they are undead. But they can be identified, because they have an extra vertebra at the lower end of the spine, like a tail. Living undead, men or women, have keys on the top of their heads, they don’t eat garlic and onions at all, they have the aforementioned tail, visible when bathing, and they can’t stand incense. But be careful, the tail should only be looked for when it’s cold, because it retracts when it’s warm. Obligatory, on the night of St. Andrew, they sleep outside. The living undead can be recognized from birth, the child having a little cap-like skin on its head. The newborn will struggle to eat the skin, to be undead for the rest of its life.

Buried undead are hated by people because they return to the houses where they lived and destroy the hearts of those close to them. I drain them of life. Many people were found dead, with hearts the size of rags. Some undead come back just to eat, drink, talk. “In Mehedinti, a woman’s husband returned to her daily to feed her. She told her neighbors what was happening to her, but they didn’t believe her and asked her for tangible proof. Then, she convinced the undead to take off his shoes and kept him talking until almost the crowing of the roosters. He only managed to put on one boot and ran into the grave. She was left with tangible proof that her dead husband was with her, having the boot with which he had been buried”, says the researcher.

Another sensational case was collected in the Romanati area and mentioned by T. Pamfile in the work “Romanian Mythology”: “Three people went to a village to look for an acquaintance from their youth. The wanted man’s wife told them: “My husband has been dead for 12 years, but he comes every Thursday and Saturday. If you want to talk to him, wait”, the paper says. It is said that some admit that they are visited by the undead, that they have connections with them, or that they are undead, but others do not do it even in the slightest.

The ghosts walk especially on the nights of St. Andrew, St. George and St. Basil. Testimonies about various ghosts from the “night of the dead”, that of St. Andrew, were also told by a farmer from Suceava. It is about the ability of the undead to leave their bodies at night and go around the village. “Last night, on St. Andrew’s Day, my wife went to bed early, like never before. At midnight I woke up to go outside and saw how a red pear came out of his mouth. I pulled her to wake up, but she was as if dead. I moved her from the bed because I thought she would recover. But he didn’t wake up. The babes told me that that pear was her soul and that she returned to enter her body, but because she did not find her body on the bed, she went to the other world”, the old man said, the testimony being recorded in the work of T Pamphlets.

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