Sacred and Profane: Why you should stick a knife into the ground rather than using an umbrella next time is raining
I am from a pretty romantic country, Romania. What I mean by that: if you want to go back in time a few centuries you don’t need a time machine, just jump in the car and drive a few hours from Bucharest. Not only the houses and people’s way of living are archaic but for them, all the myths and traditions are as real as taxes are.
I should unravel something more about me, the old traditions are very much alive in my family. I used to spend a lot of my childhood in the countryside at my grandparents, and even if I always tried to skip household work because I loved reading, I pick some things up from my grandmothers such as what plants to collect and how each of them has to be prepared in order to do something; I collected legends, myths and traditions and not to say that my father’s grandmother inspired my passion for occult, she had a wich friend.
It is funny to see how our grandparents influenced us over time, I am more pragmatic than my sister, I know more legends, rituals and myths than her (not only Romanians) but unlike she, I don’t live the magic. My sister, and also my mother have this ritual when they need “divine” help, they light up a candle, my mom does it in our house but my little sister goes to church. Now don’t think of my sister as a maiden, she is far from that, on contrary my mother tells us when she is either angry or proud of us “Out of the Devil can only come out a Devil” (in Romanian sounds better, and it’s like a compliment in a twisted way of thinking ) Sometimes she would say to encourage us “You can’t kill a devil’s child”. When I was little I thought she would refer to my father as a Devil, we are as “bad” as him (stubborn, conceited, hard-working, passionate etc.) but I realized a few months ago that she would refer to my grand-grandfather who was a haiduc*.
*Haiducii are some kind of freedom fighter — bandits in the Balcanic area. Something like a Robin-Hood but more Slavic.
Going back now. My mother, grandmother and sister all live the rituals and traditions, Romanian or orthodox but as I see over time, unlike me they don’t need to understand them in order to perform them. If you ask them why you do this, they say it is the way it is done. I never was happy with this kind of answers so I did my research, as usual, and I think I started to understand them from a sociological, historical-political and psychological point of view. As I understand more, I felt them less. But I never lost that deep feeling our songs and rituals gave us or the respect for them.
I think now more than ever, when the world around us lost it sacred, it is impetuous to understand our traditions in order to transform them. We need them because they are the manifestation of our collective consciousness (or unconscious) , and we need to integrate it in our daily lives due to the fact that we are not rational beings, we are ritualic ones (emotional ones).
I know, I tend to be very confusing because my speech many times has a lot of deviations. Usually, examples help me understand so I’m going to give you one.
When there are clouds outside and it seems a storm is coming, usually our grand-parents take a big knife that is used to cut animals and which is made out of iron and stick it to the ground while saying a prayer. Most of the time, this is done by the people who live in the countryside and the ritual is performed in the front of the house.
When I asked “Why you do this?”, everybody said “That is the way it is done”, like the ritual was self-explanatory, it was something like “Are you stupid? What didn’t you understand, a storm is coming so you take this big knife and stick into the ground and talk with your imaginary friend”… sure, how didn’t figure it out sooner?
Living the joke aside, if you really analyze this ritual there is a lot to it:
- the storm is a symbol of destruction and chaos as a consequence, humans feel the need for stability and organization, therefore “you fix the ground underneath you”. (In ancient beliefs, I think in India but I am not sure, it was thought that underneath the ground there lived an enormous snake -symbol of inconvenient, and chaos- and when it moved, earthquakes happened. Thus before building a house, you would pinpoint the snake not to move and put a knife in the ground. Or something like this, I have a bad memory )
- the knife, made out of iron and used to slaughter animals. It definitely a masculine element associated in this case with protection and power. It can mean the power of the “human” to stand the storm (chaos). This knife is magical because it is fused with the energy from the “animal sacrifices”. Iron usually is associated with the god Mars, which reenact the protection and order in chaos meaning of the ritual.
- the fact that is placed in front of the house is to protect it from the unknown and destruction. Hose a symbol of order, of human creation against the power of nature, the unknown, destruction.
-the prayer is another interesting way of mixing pagan beliefs and the orthodox ones (not uncommon in Romania, for Christmas we basically made sacrifices to an ancient pagan god). It has the role to invoke the divine powers in order to protect oneself and one’s belongings.
Don’t take for granted what is written above, that is just my view. “That’s the way it is done” seems a decent explanation too.
I think that I need to reckon more on the idea that is a pity that we lost the true meaning of those rituals. It may be the fact that they undergo a transformation process or maybe they are dying. Otherway, from my perspective is a loss.