Vântoase of Romanian Folklore

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At the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, you'll find the country of Romania, a place with a complex history and cultures deeply intertwined in the very landscape.

Google Map showing the location of Romania as southwest of Ukraine.
Everyone already knows where Romania is on a map because Dracula has always been a...pointed...reference.🧛♂️ I hope you're picturing Nicolas Cage telling that joke while wearing fake plastic vampire teeth.
Nicolas Cage wearing fake plastic vampire teeth.
I was going to make a joke here but decided to tell you that if you haven't seen the 1988 film Vampire's Kiss starring Nicolas Cage, drop everything and watch it.

One of the many pieces of Romania that I've always found fascinating is its folklore, which seems to have arisen from the region's layers of civilizations, conquests, and influences from all over Europe, including Dacians, Slavs, Scythians, Romans, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, and countless others.

History of Romanian Folklore

Romania is one of the few countries with such rich folklore—specifically dark and horrific—that I could easily write an entire series of books just on that one niche topic.🤔

The ancient Dacians, one of the predecessors to modern Romanian people, were polytheistic and believed that nature is sacred, reflected in the legends and lore we have today. Around the 2nd century AD, the Roman Empire conquered Dacian lands, bringing new architectural designs, administrative systems, and mythologies—resulting in a unique blend of both cultures' lore. You'll find striking similarities between ancient Roman tales and ones still around today in Romania.

Romanian vs. Roman

"Romans were an Italic group from the Italian peninsula who colonized and assimilated almost all of the pre-Roman inhabitants of western and southern Europe. Romanians are the descendants of the Romanized populations from the Roman province of Dacia. Romanians are the only major Romance group to retain their language into the modern era after the Slavic invasions of the Balkans."

— Thanks, Tonio Butera

Over the centuries, waves of invasions and occupations swept through the land, each leaving its mark and adding to the complexity of the developing Romanian folklore. The Ottomans introduced stories of djinn and Eastern magic, while Slavic legends brought legendary forest creatures into the mix.

A small village in the lush Romanian countryside. In the center of a tall wall is a large church.
Fortified church in Biertan village, Transylvania, Romania.

One of the legends from Romania is a wind spirit known as Vântoase, a type of "iele" from Romanian mythology, which, as I mentioned above, shares a striking resemblance to a few things from Roman (and Greek) mythology. Keep your Romanians and Romans straight here because we're about to dive head-first into some folklore that's not so widespread outside of specific regions in Romania.

How to pronounce Vântoase — Forvo.com.

What Are Vântoase?

The name "Vântoase" can be translated as "Windy Ones" or "Wind Maidens." And, as the name indicates, they're spirits strongly associated with the wind. The Vântoase are said to be beautiful beings, often young women, that are ambivalent about humans and can bring us good or bad fortune depending on their mood or the circumstances of an encounter. They live in the forests, the air, deep lakes, and other remote areas. Their nature reflects the unpredictability of, well...nature. Some say the Vântoase can bring dust storms, thunderstorms, and strong winds.

Warning: What you're about to read is not déjà vu.

In Romanian folklore, there's a group of supernatural creatures known as "iele"—which overlap quite a bit with the traits of Vântoase. The iele are also described as beautiful, often young women and sometimes simply unseen. They are said to live in the sky, forests, caves, and other remote places. The iele, much like the Vântoase, can be benevolent or malevolent, depending on their mood or circumstances of an encounter. I'm sure all that sounds quite familiar, considering you read it one paragraph earlier.

From what I've gathered, the Vântoase might be considered a type of iele, which would account for all of those similarities. And, while there's not a lot of information available about the Vântoase, there's quite a bit more about the iele.

The iele are said to dance in secluded areas under the moonlight. They dance naked, and the ground they dance on becomes scorched, leaving behind a circle where usual plant life can't grow. Sometimes, mushrooms will start to grow in these dancing grounds, outlining their dance area. You may have seen these strange areas around forests before. I know I have—and nowhere near Romania.

If you are unfortunate enough to stumble upon dancing iele, you may be drawn in to watch, driven mad, and possibly killed. The iele really don't seem to like voyeurs. The good news is that there are known ways to pay respect to them, and Romanian folklore even has a few tricks to use to ward off their evil intent if you suspect they might be after you.

A few festival days are dedicated to iele, like the Rusaliile, the Stratul, the Sfredelul or Bulciul Rusaliilor, the nine days after Easter, and the Marina. Anyone who doesn't observe these iele dedicated days is likely to draw their ire and might experience vertigo, paralysis, get hit with a sudden hailstorm or flood, have their house burn down, or just drop dead. So it's not really a celebration that you want to miss.

Those tricks I mentioned to ward off their evil intent are pretty interesting if you think about it, too—considering observing their holidays kind of gives you an automatic pass. Anyway, if you wear garlic or mugwort or proudly display a horse's skull on a pole outside your house, it's like the spiritual equivalent of putting up a "MONITORED BURGLAR ALARM" sign on your front door.

Echoes Around the World

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, but you've never heard of iele or Vântoase, you might just be recalling other pieces of folklore you've encountered from another part of the world. That's one of the interesting things about folklore: it's never quite as isolated to a specific region as you might think. Which, really, opens up a whole series of questions.

As far as the iele and Vântoase go, plenty of other legends around the world share some similarities. The Anemoi from Greek myths are gods of the wind—and each direction has its own deity. And like the iele, the Anemoi's moods affect the winds and changing weather patterns. Similarly, the Hopi tribe (in modern-day northeastern Arizona) has tales of The Wind God, Yaponcha, who can bring fortune or misfortune.

Or, over in Japan, there's the word "kamikaze," meaning "divine wind." Kamikaze has a somewhat modern military meaning, but the term has been used as far back as the 13th century when the Mongols led by Kublai Khan tried to invade on two separate occasions. Both times, sudden typhoons devastated the invading forces, and the Japanese believed the winds were sent to protect them.

It doesn't stop there, though. Both the Greeks and Romans had legends of harpies, which are said to be personifications of storm winds with temperaments similar to iele. It really does make you wonder how all of these cultures ended up with similar tales. Perhaps the wind itself carries them.

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