FROM THE SLAVES’ ROAD TO THE SKY FOREST:
AN INCURSION THROUGH THE AMAZING ROMANIAN TRADITIONS ABOUT THE MILKY WAY
By Andrei Dorian Gheorghe and Valentin Grigore
August 2, 2022, Runcu Stone.
The 30th edition of SARM’s Perseid event opened the 30th year in the existence of this organization.
The last presentation in this camp is reproduced below.
The Milky Way (Calea Lactee in Romanian)… a wonder tenderly veiling us and displaying its magic over us… a wonder in which we were born and where we live, but we use to forget it, seduced by the delusive comfort of civilization…
In 1907, the founder of Romanian astromythology, Ion Otescu, wrote in his book “Romanian Peasants’ Beliefs in Stars and Sky”:
“The Milky Way’s appearance seems to move us, seems to inculcate a kind of respect to the sky, seems to fill our hearts with a kind of greatness, as if believers enter a majestic temple…”
In 1913, the founder of the first Romanian astronomical magazine (“Orion”, 1907) and the first Romanian astronomical society (1908), Victor Anestin, wrote in his book “How to Learn the Stars” (Bucharest, 1913):
“There are magnificent evenings, especially on the autumn time, when we remain spell-bound because of the Milky Way’s beauty. The impression is deeper when we know that the luminous belt is composed of millions and millions of stars close to each other, of immense masses of hydrogen and helium.”
Regarding the Romanian traditions, we find in Otescu’s book that the Milky Way appeared when the milk transported by Man’s army (the constellation Hercules and other constellations and big stars, representing friends, agricultural utensils and domestic animals), which defeated the Devil’s army (the star Alcor and constellations representing bad beasts) in a celestial battle, poured out in the sky.
Other researches of Ion Otescu on this theme show us that the usual Romanian popular name for the Milky Way (especially in Muntenia province) is the Slaves’ Road, or Trajan’s Way, or simply “Troian”, because the people of those times thought that it was the road on which Emperor Trajan had come to conquer Dacia (the ancient name of the current Romanian territory) and then he had come back to Rome with many slaves, but some of them had escaped and had returned home, following the same way.
In time, the Christian influence adapted that belief as the road on which all the slaves go to the heavenly kingdom, or the road on which all the people - slaves of God - will go to the Final Judgment, or the way on which the mortals’ souls climb towards the Paradise.
Another variant, inspired by the Bible and collected by Nicolae Densusianu in 1895 in Oltenia - a historical province in South-West Romania - says that the Milky Way is the road showed by God to Moses in order to save his people.
It is interesting that, later, this belief found historical and geographical adaptations:
-in Moldavia (a historical province in East Romania), the Slaves’ Road became the way of captivity and return of the people after the attacks of the Tatars (who had their headquarters in the Crimea Peninsula at the Black Sea, and were nicknamed ogres - “capcauni” in Romanian, or people with heads of dogs);
-in Muntenia and Oltenia, the invaders were Ottomans (who owned the Balkan Peninsula in the south of the Danube River).
Sometimes, through a phonetic confusion, the Slaves’ Road (“Drumul Robilor” in Romanian) became the Blinds’ Road (“Drumul Orbilor” in Romanian), and in North Moldavia another name for the Milky Way was the Sky Forest.
Ion Otescu also presents a variant from Oltenia, in which the Milky Way represents the straws stolen by a man from another, put by God in the sky as the sample of a sin.
An almost identical variant was collected in 1895, in the same province, by Nicolae Densusianu - this was later certified in Muntenia and Transylvania too - and here, a man carries his straws in a chariot, but he loses them on the road, so the Milky Way and the Great Chariot (an asterism from the Big Dipper) become “the Road of Straws” and “the Heavenly Chariot”.
Other similar variants were collected by:
-Pericle Papahagi (“Aromanian Tales”, 1905) from the Romanian communities that lived in the south of the Danube River: here, the thief is even the godson of the loser;
-E. Petrovici (“Folklore from the Locals of Scarisoara”, 1939) from the Occidental Carpathians, Transylvania: here, the thief is a gipsy;
-Tudor Pamfile (“The Sky and Its Ornaments”, 1915) also from the south of the Danube River: here, a man steals his godfather’s milk, which is poured out on the road by God’s Angel.
And finally, a really enchanting variant was collected in Transylvania by Elena Niculita Voronca (“Studies of Folklore”, 1908), in which a child convinces God to let him take his sinful mother from Hell with the help of a blanket, which she had used in the past to save a few frozen tomcats, and just that rope-blanket becomes the Milky Way.
In the end, we propose a short astropoetic moment about the Milky Way with the authors of this presentation:
Let's transform our souls
into the flight of Cygnus the Swan
and migrate on the Path of Light...!
-Valentin Grigore (the founding president of SARM and the Astronomers Without Borders national coordinator for Romania)-
I live in the Milky Way,
But some wine would be OK!
-Andrei Dorian Gheorghe (the cultural counselor and the Cosmopoetry Festival director of SARM - an astro-tipuritura-strigatura that is a traditional species of poetry for parties in Maramures and Oas, North Romania)-