The belief that ill-mannered humans can metamorphose into werewolves is quite common in Central and Eastern European rural areas. Even Italians and Sicilians have, in their folk stories, a similar belief in lycanthropy, or the ability to assume the form and characteristics of a wolf. Furthermore, the werewolf legends of Romania are no less important for understanding folktales about such mythological creatures. The Romanian name for werewolf is vârcolac, later replaced by pricolici. The former is more commonly used in popular culture and urban settings, while the later is used in folk studies and rural parts of Romania.
The Werewolf Legends and the Vampire Connection
What werewolves and vampires have in common is the full moon. They both love darkness, and eating the moon is the werewolf’s mythological role. Thus, the conventional explanation of moon eclipses comes about, at least in the Slavic folklore. Moreover, in the Slavic lore, the term vukodlac, a word sounding more like the Romanian vârcolac, has been limited to the vampire meaning in its modern uses.
Besides the same etymology, the folk believes both werewolves and vampires emerge at a specific season of the year. According to the werewolf legends of Romania, these mythological creatures appear on Christmas, New Year, Easter and Pentecost.
Also, the legends tell of children conceived on Christmas Eve or Easter Eve or born on Easter, who eventually become werewolves. It so happens due to their parents’ transgressions of religious canons or their curse. In the same time, vampire and witch behavior predilection for occurrence begins on the eve of Saint Andrew’s feast, that is November 30.
The Night of the Wolf
Notable is the also the difference between werewolves and vampires, also known as strigoi or moroi. In the Romanian folk imagination, on the one hand, the werewolves are living beasts. On the other hand, vampires and strigoi are undead creatures or monsters that have risen from the dead. Haunting people, the strigoi is a mythical monster that brings illness to them and even sucks their blood.
All these creatures: the cursed wolf-man, the bloodsucking vampires, and the shape-shifting moroi gather at once on the Night of the Wolf. Correspondingly, the eve of Saint Andrews feast is the Night of the Wolf. Locals had been using this denomination in pagan times before Saint Andrews became the patron saint of Romania. To restore the orderliness of life on Earth and remain protected during the Night of the Wolf, people hang garlic on doors.
Romanian mythology does not focus on the vampire legends or vampire facts. Sometimes it does not even mention the word vampir (Romanian for vampire). The vampire history began a lot later, in the18th century. Further, along with the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel, in 1897, vampires became representative of Romania. Werewolves hold a more special place in Romanian folklore rather than vampires. Even more striking is the fact that the real Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, ruled in Wallachia and not in Transylvania, as one might believe.
As restless spirits of violent men, the Romanian werewolves are still prevalent in the folk imagination. Peasants still hold apotropaic rituals to ward off these mythical creatures. In a country that still has a large population of wolves, no wonder the werewolf legends exceed the prestige of the vampire stories.
Do Werewolves Exist?
No, they don’t. Nobody transforms into a werewolf when the full moon lights the sky. Werewolves do not exist in reality. Besides, there are no monsters that suck blood and eat human flesh, so why the need for their presence in folk tales and legends?
Well, werewolf facts tell us there are human illnesses that make people look like lycanthropes. One of them is rabies, evidently. The bite of a rabies-infested wolf or wild animal used to be an explanation for werewolf transformations and the aftermath madness expressed by contaminated humans. Porphyria is another one, and it is a widely spread justification for vampirism, as well. Excess facial and bodily hair also known as hirsutism has been associated with the werewolf appearance.
The Romanian werewolf lore depicts the monstrous animal as a dying ill person with pale and dry skin. In Romanian oral tales, the werewolf’s weakness is the deathlike sleep it falls into whenever it sends its spirit to the moon through its mouth. They should not be moved for they will die. That is because the returning spirit will not be able to find the mouth out of which it came. Is it moon eating by werewolves or just natural space eclipses? The folk never stopped creating myths and legends to explain the surrounding world.