Romanian Divine Feminines: Baba Dochia, Sânzianele and Drăgaica

Photo from JR Korpa on Unsplash.com

Who was Baba Dochia?

The playful bringer of Spring, the wise witch who manipulates the weather, and cheekily blesses us either with warm sunlit skies or sudden flukes of snow, Baba Dochia is a mythical female figure that is celebrated each year in March in Romania. Not she is not the equivalent of Baba Yaga, just to clear this up from the start 🙂 although in some regions of Romania she is also known as Baba Marta. While Dochia might not completely be an original Romanian creation – echoes of her revitalizing power are also present in Ukrainian and Bulgarian folklore as well – she does have a very ‘neaoș‘ (meaning authentic in Romanian) or culturally-specific way of being celebrated in Romania.

Each year from the 1st until the 9th of March, it is said that one must choose a day that Baba Dochia blesses. Then according to how the weather plays out during that day, it is said that your year will be under similar conditions. Usually people add up the number of their birth-date to pick the day that represents them. Let’s say you were born on the 01.11.2001, well then your fated March day would be the 6th of March. Then according to how the weather plays out on the 6th of March, you’ll get some foresight on the year ahead. Alternatively, you could simply choose a day. It’s easier though to go by birthdate than by choice, just in case you get a rough-weather day to assuage the guilt of having needlessly interfered with the Fates and your own luck 🙂 Not interfering with what the Divine has pre-ordained is a big theme in my culture.

To make matters even more fun and crowded, celebrating Baba Dochia overlaps with two other events in Romanian culture: a) the 1st of March is the Day of the Mărțișor (or little March), the bringer of Spring when mostly women and children but also increasingly more men wear a special white and red thread of protection either as a brooch or as a bracelet to usher in good luck. It is recommended to discard the tiny double-bound threat at the end of the first week of March by tying it to the branch of a tree; and b) the 8th of March, which represents Women’s Day and during which especially Mothers are celebrated. So condensed in just a bit over a week, are some pretty powerful rebirth and feminine energies that are celebrated by both city and countryside-dwelling Romanians. In some regions, she presides over the first 12 days of March, rather than just 9, but across regions these days are known as ‘Babele’ (or the Old ladies). The reason the numbers vary, is because there are two competing folk tales circulating in the collective knowledge of her origins.

The Mărtisor double thread bound to the branches of a tree

In the first story, Baba Dochia was a beautiful young princess who lived independently and refused to wed, thereby breaking the hearts of a number of suitors. One of them was so smitten with her that he waged a war against her father and ended up defeating Dochia’s dad. When Dochia heard news that this bold young man wanted to claim her, Dochia covered herself in 9 different coats and ran away to hide in the mountains. As she walked she gradually started to shed each of her 9 coats day by day until she reached the top of a mountain and was safe.

In the other story, our Baba Dochia was a mean mother-in-law that treated her daughter-in-law poorly. When her daughter-in-law sought out the help from an Angel to break free from her daily misery, our Baba Dochia was tricked into going to the mountain side to seemingly gather some berries. Because it was very cold outside she put on 12 coats and gradually took them off as she was scrambling to gather berries. When God saw her pushing the hand of fate by searching for berries in the frost It had ordained, God turned our Baba and her sheep into slobs of stone. Apparently, some rock formations in the mountainous region of Ceahlău who look like a person and her flock, stand testimony to this day to Dochia’s material legacy:

The Ceahlău Mountains in the Romanian landscape that resemble Baba Dochia and her flock of sheep

Overall, our Baba Dochia is the Empress of Blessings of Chaos. She governs over the tempestuous change of seasons which takes place each year in the middle of the Sun’s transit through the constellation of Pisces, and as the Earth’s rotation around the Sun ushers in the green and warmth of Spring in the Northern hemisphere. I see her as a wise, independent and playful Divine Feminine, who represents the energy of rebirth and new beginnings. She spins the wheel of fortune for you, if you allow her to predict your future, but because she is playful she might trick you into having a mixed-feelings kind of year. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that our Baba Dochia bears a close resemblance to the Roman goddess Demeter (the mother of Kore-Persephone), which while not necessarily a symbol of harvest does embody that strong Earth-bound and maternal vibe:

The Goddess Demeter as depicted in the Legendary Ladies Oracle together with the Wheel of Fortune cards from the Muse Tarot and the Lightseeker’s Tarot

Who were the Drăgaica & her Sânziene?

Photo by Allison Archer on Unsplash.com

The Sânziene (or Ielele, as the forest-dwelling feminine Spirits that appear on Midsummer night) are celebrated each year a few days away from the summer solstice (21st of June), on the night between the 23rd and 24th of June, a time considered the rich and warm middle of summer (this tradition is shared by other cultures such as the Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and the English). An interesting aspect is that it was believed that the death of Baba Dochia (on the 9th or 12th of March) helped usher in the birth of the Drăgaica, who would grow until the 24th of June into a beautiful bride, crossing the fields of plenty along with a group of fairies, the Sânziene.

So Sânzienele were a group of fairies or fairy-like maidens, strongly linked to the spirits of the fields and forests and to the season of summer. They were represented in geto-dacic mythology as a string of dancing women holding hands in what is known as a ‘hora’. Some ethnologists believed that they initially worshipped the Sun, while others discuss their allegiance to the Diana/Artemis the Greek/Roman Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt (because in the Ardeal region of Romania, the locals celebrate ‘Sancta Diana’ on this day). The interesting part is that originally this might have been a dual Artemis and Apollo form of pagan worship, since Apollo represents the Sun in Greek mythology and was Artemis’ twin brother, but somewhere along the lines of time the worshipping of Apollo as part of the celebration of midsummer was lost in Romanian folklore.

The energies of these Summer fairies were modelled based on a specific plant that blooms in summer in Romania fields: the Yellow Bedstraw or Ladies’ Bedstraw (Galium verum). Judging by the name of the plant I think you can already guess its role in the magic love rituals that young women would perform in this final week of June. It was said that if a young woman would go to sleep with a bunch of Yellow bedstraw under her pillow, she would dream of her fated beloved. Older women had a more macabre ritual, in that they would throw bunches of yellow bedstraw on the top of their houses and by seeing if the bunches stayed put on the roof or fell down, the position and placement of that fall would tell them when they would die. Similar themes, of elderly death in conjunction with youthful fertility, were explored in the 2019 film ‘Midsommar‘.

More recently products on the Romanian market are borrowing from the wisdom of these folk-tales to sell nostalgic products

So our Drăgaica was imagined as a Beautiful Cosmic Bride, a woman who would be so mesmerizing and full of light, that she would make any man instantly fall in love with her. She is also a metaphor for the sweetness and bounty of summer, and represents a reward, a time to stop and enjoy life, to fall in love and create, since she brings blessings of fertility. Some would view the Drăgaica as the Divine Feminine incarnate, the protagonist and the fairies were her hand-maidens, her light-bearing servers. However, the Drăgaica herself was worshipping another goddess and many thought it was either Artemis or the Greek/Roman goddess Ceres, who governed over the fields and the grains (herself, an avatar of Demeter which we saw earlier was strongly linked to Baba Dochia). If you are wondering by now why so many Greek/Roman references in Romanian folklore, it’s mostly because at origin we are a Latin folk, even if geographically most people would see us as belonging to Slavic cultures, rites and beliefs. We’re a bit of a ‘cocktail’ of all these influences, to paraphrase Shakira 🙂

To add to the already cluttered metaphoric wisdom, the pagan celebration of midsummer and of the Drăgaica and her Sânziene/Iele, coincided with the Christian-Orthodox celebration of Saint John the Baptist (who might’ve replaced the original worship of Apollo). We see here a beautiful theme of blending the Divine Feminine with a Divine Masculine, one that transcends romantic preoccupations and reminds us more of the connection between the land and Spirit, and through the means of the Earth and Water elements. Saint John the Baptist used water as a medium to heal and offer blessings, while the Drăgaica walks barefoot on the earth, spreading her beautiful bounty and helping the crops grow and flourish – this is a strong Empress & King of Cups tarot cards energy:

The Empress card from the Lightseeker’s Tarot and the King of Cups card from the Dreaming Way Tarot

Ultimately, the pagan image of our beautiful Drăgaica and her fairies inspired other creations such as the image of Ileana Cosânzeana (a Rapunzel-like Princess who is the protagonist in a number of local fairy-tales known as ‘basme’), and then in the writings of one of our most celebrated and well-known writers, Mircea Eliade who wrote a book called ‘Noaptea de Sânziene’ (The Sânziene’s Night):

Book cover to Mircea Eliade’s novel ‘Noaptea Sânzienelor’ and Cosânzeana as illustated by Oana Befort

Keep in my mind this post was written by a socio-psychologist and astrologer and not by an ethnologist. So this is my knowledge so far about these wonderful Romanian folk-tales. I’ll share more with you as I continue to explore my cultural roots in the next two years, since Saturn and Jupiter are just about to cross the threshold into my 4th house (the house traditionally ruled by Cancer which symbolizes our Soul, our emotional roots and cultural heritage). And to keep this conversation flowing, feel free to share in the comments section below: What folk-tales about Divine Feminines, do you enjoy from your own culture?

Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash.com

With universal love,

Lexi <3


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