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Rusalii (Pentecost) – traditions, customs and superstitions

Pentecost (Rusalii or Rusaliile), also called Whit Sunday and Whit Monday, are important customs in Romania that are celebrating the Christian belief in the Holy Ghost’s descent upon Jesus Christ’s disciples. Pentecost is a Christian tradition, always commemorated on Sunday, 50 days after Easter.

In popular belief, Rusaliile are the charmed spirits of the dead which, after they left the graves on Maundy Thursday and spent Easter with the living, they are refusing to come back in the underworld and begin to do bad things to people. To appease them, people avoided telling them Rusalii and gave them different names: Iele, Zane (Fairies) or Frumoasele (Beautiful ones). These spirits live near the springs, being able, through their songs, to take people’s minds and sicken them. The illness resembles a hypnotic trance that cannot be defeated but with the magical power of Calusari (a Romanian hobby horse dance done by members of a sworn brotherhood in wild steps). The Calusarii dance is a healing and protecting ritual – they would dance in people’s yards or on the street. The custom is still kept in traditional Romanian villages, especially in South Romania.

Elders say that if you are sick, you can get better on Rusalii only if the leader (vataf) of Calusari goes and walks over you.

The Romanian tradition says that whoever does not respect the feast of Pentecost will be dealing with the Ielele (Fairies), evil spirits that cause the disease popularly called ‘taken from Pentecost’.

In some villages there is the tradition that believers must go to church with walnut and lime twigs (protects the gardens from hailstone) to be sanctified. With these holy branches they will adorn their homes and icons because they say they have the power to ward off evil spirits. In some areas, in addition to lime and walnut, believers still use lovage, garlic and wormwood. Also, people tend to wear the plants in their pockets.

In Transylvania, for women to be healthy and beautiful throughout the year, the tradition says they should be sprayed with water the day after Rusalii.

Besides the traditions and customs there are lots of superstitions linked to this feast:

  • You shouldn’t go to work the field because Ielele can catch you and punish you;
  • On Pentecost Day you do not enter the vineyard, do not go into the wilderness, forests or next to fountains because you can meet the evil spirits;
  • Who works on Pentecost Day will be punished by the power of the Fairies, because they didn’t properly honor and cherish the day;
  • 9 weeks from Rusalii one shouldn’t pick remedy herbs;
  • You shouldn’t quarrel on Rusalii;
  • Doors will be brushed with garlic and thus houses will be protected from evil and bad luck all year long;
  • Evil spirits are banished through noisy rituals and crackling with lime branches.



About Ramona Ciortescu