The Night of the Wolf: The Romanian Celebration When Evil Spirits and Fearsome Wolves Roam the Earth.
On the night of November 30th, Romanians celebrate the night of Saint Andrew. On this night, it is believed that strigoii, werewolves, and evil spirits expect to be released, to be able to roam freely among the living. Both infernal and heavenly creatures wander, enabled by the ancestral magic of this special night. Enchanting Ielele (similar to the Nymphs of Greek mythology) come out to tempt you at crossroads, and Saints dance in sacred places.
To protect against unwanted visitors, it is traditional for people to hang garlic by all the means of access to their homes. Windows and doors are firmly shut.
Most feared, however, is the wolf, whose limbs become more agile, and his howl bone-chilling. It is said that he brings forth Winter. Indeed, it is around this time of year that wolves organize their packs and start preparing for the harshness of winter. It is for this reason that November 30th is called the Night of the Wolf.
The Dacian Wolf
Dacian mythology, which came to fruition in Transylvania’s current territory, is rich in legends and mythical figures. These vibrant elements gave birth to much of Romanian folklore. Of particular significance is the Wolf Cult of Dacian mythology.
The Dacian Draco was the banner of the Dacian people. With the head of a wolf and the body of a serpent, Draco was undoubtedly a terrifying symbol. However, it did not intimidate the enemies of the Dacians by looks alone. Ingeniously crafted, when mounted on a pole and held high into the wind, the banner of the wolf-dragon would make a sound similar to a piercing howl.
The Dacian Army regarded Draco as a protective symbol that enforced them on the battlefield and scared their enemies. The Dacian Tribes also cherished Draco as the manifestation of the “heavenly dragon”, a sky demon strongly connected to the constellation of the Dragon and the supreme Dacian god, Zalmoxis.
According to the legend, Zamolxis transformed one of his bravest priests into a Great White Wolf, that fought alongside his people in the Dacian Wars. It is for this reason that the Dacian people revered the wolf as the most powerful totem. They even believed that they descended from wolves themselves.
When the Dacian Wolf Cult was transmuted by Roman syncretism, with Draco falling to the sign of the cross, the Night of the Wolf emerged.
Alongside Saint Andrew, another symbol of divinity is celebrated on 30th November – Sântandrei. Sântandrei is the Master of Wolves. Despite the prevalence of Christian figures like Saint Andrew, the mighty wolf has not lost its ancient powers in the minds of the Romanian people.
Legends surrounding the Night of the Wolf
The legend of Saint Andrew
Saint Andrew, who was the first Apostle to preach Christianity in southern Romania, quickly became the protector of the country.
Old legends say that when he arrived in the current territory of Dobrogea, the leader of the Dacian wolves accompanied the saint and guided him to the Grandmother Cave by the Black Sea, where he lived his hermit days, and which now bears his name.
The legend also says that on the Night of the Wolf Saint Andrew descends to Earth. Wolves gather around him and howl, as the Saint goes to each beast and predicts what it will feed itself with for the next year. Legend states that the wolf which the Saint predicted nothing for, would receive only a pretzel and have its teeth clenched together for the following year, unable to feed itself.
The old wolf and the hunter
One legend from Gorj tells of the time a hunter was roaming a forest on Saint Andrew’s Eve. Once nightfall came, he concealed himself in a tree, from where he could watch and kill the wolves which haunted the land. At the foot of the tree, in a small hut, there lived a woodman. Not long after nightfall, the howls of the wolves could be heard from all over, welcoming Saint Andrew.
As he did each year, the Saint began predicting what each wolf would feed on for the winter, telling them which household to prey upon. To the wolves he didn’t foretell, he gave pretzels. One of these pretzels, however, fell through the hut’s chimney and the woodman ate it. An old and halting wolf that didn’t receive a prediction or a pretzel looked up at Saint Andrew begging for something to eat. It was then that the Saint looked at the tree overshadowing the hut where the hunter was still hidden. Saint Andrew decided that the wolf’s food would be the man in the tree.
Overhearing this prediction, the hunter froze with fear. Until the crack of dawn he stood up in the tree, waiting until the halting wolf disappeared. A few nights later, the hunter was camping with some rangers in a meadow. Still fearing the scrawny wolf, he slept in the middle of the people he was camping with. The next day, his fellow campers looked for him in vain, finding only his shoes, hat and clothes. The prophecy of Saint Andrew had been fulfilled. In the dead of the night, the beast took the hunter from the middle of the group, without even touching the other men and their animals.
Light-footed and fearsome, there is no escaping the wolf on the night of the 30th of November.
Rituals and superstition on The Night of the Wolf
Beyond the many legends which surround the Night of the Wolf, ancient beliefs strongly connected to the Dacian Wolf Cult survived over time in the form of rituals and superstitions.
As it is said that the wolf becomes very agile during this sacred night, people pay close attention to their households and animals. If they hear the cattle roaring at midnight, they know that the wolves have started hunting. To protect their cattle from the light-footed hunters, people will craft crosses from wax and stick them to the right horns of their cows, or straight to the heads of their horses and other animals.
Yet, wolves are not the only creatures to fear on this night. Werewolves and otherkin are also conjured by the intense magic of the night. The otherkin turn into “impure animals” and go into a frenzy, hunting for new victims in the village. It is said that if one is damned to an unfortunate encounter with a werewolf or otherkin, they will be bitten and corrupted, both body and soul.
The lifting of the veil and the coming of the strigoii
It is believed that The Night of the Wolf lifts the veil between life and death, and that the spirits of the dead are invited to roam freely among the living. This tear in the cosmic order summons other supernatural forces to come forth and sometimes evil slips through. Alongside the wolves and spirits that come forth this night, strigoii and moroii are released from whatever chains kept them at bay. They nest in abandoned houses and wreak havoc upon villagers.
It is said that the spirits of the dead rise from their graves and the alive strigoii leave their bodies to gather in order to choose a new leader for the year to come. When strigoii are done violently fighting each other, they go for the houses and farms of the villagers, where they look to quench their thirst for blood. Garlic, smeared on one’s head and body, is thought to offer protection. The doors, windows and chimneys are likewise protected with garlic, and are blessed with the sign of the cross. Pets and animals can also fall prey to the strigoi as well.
The Guardian of the Garlic
To protect themselves against the forces of evil during the Night of the Wolf, young people gather in the biggest house in the village during the day and smear the doors and windows with garlic. They celebrate until dawn without ever leaving the house. During this celebration, they perform what is known as the ceremony of the Guardian of the Garlic.
Each girl attending the celebration must bring three cloves of garlic, which are put into a vase. An old woman is assigned to guard the vase at candlelight while the young celebrate. Completely isolated from the world outside, which is now under the rule of the forces of evil, they dance, sing, eat, drink, and joke. The Night of the Wolf wouldn’t be complete without the ritualistic beverage especially made for this occasion: Covasa, made from wheat and millet flour.
As soon as the sun rises, the celebration is over. When the young people leave the house, one of the young men dances on the garlic. Then, the garlic is shared with everyone who celebrated the night. Similar to a New Year’s celebration, this marks the beginning of a new year for the young villagers. They carry the garlic to their homes, where they keep it in the most sacred place of the house. The garlic is kept throughout the following year and used to treat illness, disease, hexes and to banish evil spells.
On the Night of the Wolf, garlic has the power to repel entities wishing to bring harm to the living.
Love rituals: predicting the future
The Night of the Wolf is not regarded as a good night for fighting the forces of evil, as is practised do on other sacred nights in Romanian folklore. As it is the night of darkness and cold, a battle with forces that naturally dwell in the cold darkness would be reckless. Not only that, it being it the night of the cold and dark, means that there is no better night for hexes and curses to prevail.
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Yet, some girls do use the intense magic of this night to foretell their future. One ritual involves girls baking patties made from very salted dough. They will eat half before going to sleep, so as to make them thirsty, and place the other half under their pillows until morning. If the young woman who performed this ritual was to be wedded that year, it is believed that her destined lover would appear in her dream that night, to bring her water to quench her thirst.
A night of great darkness
Many regard the Night of the Wolf as the Romanian version of Halloween. And, indeed, there are some similarities. However, make no mistake – with this night comes great darkness. For as the wolves bring forth the winter, strigoii seek to prey on their close relatives. They raise from their graves and hunt their families, desiring to suck the blood and life from them. The Night of the Wolf is the night when suffering and illness may befall those unlucky in their encounters.
As well as smearing garlic to repel evil spirits, tradition dictates that on the night of Saint Andrew’s, the man of the house must tie down all sharp objects, thus all the kitchen work involving knives should be finished before midnight. For women and girls, this means that the comb is also a forbidden object – lest its sharp edges find its way into the hands of a strigoii.
Above all, one must not say “lup” (Romanian for “wolf”) during the Night of the Wolf, for thirsty beast will be summoned your way.
Be safe tonight. Shut your doors and windows, smear garlic on your forehead, and stay inside. If anyone knocks… do not open.