Transylvania: Demons, Witches, and Vampires

Synchronicity hints at the unified world behind the illusory veil of the material universe.”

Roger S. Jones, author of Physics for the Rest of Us.

My week in Transylvania had been uneventful. Exploring the home of Romania’s infamous Vlad the Impaler, that Wallachian nobleman rumored to have been the inspiration for the fictional vampire, Count Dracula, had left me determined to know more about the culture of Romania. Specifically, I wanted to understand the history that had inspired such unusual beliefs in demons, witches, and vampires. With visions of these otherworldly creatures occupying my mind, I did not foresee the events that would occur on a January night in Eastern Europe only hours after I departed Sighisoara. I never imagined that in the ancient land of Transylvania I would discover that our love possesses the power to reach across space and time, without our knowledge or participation, in order to protect those we cherish from potential danger.

My daughter and her husband, Vincent, had no knowledge of the events that occurred until I returned to the United States. Yet, the love and respect that we share as a family formed the foundation for a spiritual intervention which left me shocked and in awe of that strange word, synchronicity, of which Roger Jones so eloquently speaks.

My tale does not have demons; nor is there any sign of witches or vampires although its setting is Transylvania, the land notorious for its mystery, gothic horror tales, and famed actor Bela Lugosi who first portrayed the blood-thirsty vampire in film. There are two main characters in my story. The first is a weary old Gypsy woman whose name, sadly, I will never know. She appears to be poverty-stricken; however, by the time one nears the end of my narrative, it will become clear that her riches are not material possessions. Instead, they are empathy for others and a heart filled with kindness. The second character is a handsome young stranger named Amil. Like all good parables, my tale begins with a problem to which there is no immediate solution.

 

Painting Portraying Ancient Sighisoara of Transylvania

Painting Portraying Ancient Sighisoara, Romania

 

Horse-drawn Carts, a Familiar Sight in Transylvania

Horse-drawn Cart, a Familiar Sight in Romania

 

Burgher Houses in Sighisoara Citadel in Transylvania

Sighisoara Citadel

 Lost in Transylvania

The frigid winds that accompanied the severe storm ravaging the countryside cut sharply and painfully through my light clothing as I tugged at my small suitcase. The luggage bounced over the gravelly pathway as I disembarked from the midnight train that only a few hours earlier had left Romania where I had spent the previous week exploring its famed and ancient citadel. The long, unlit path leading from the train was lined on one side by massive concrete blocks. They created stark, eerie shadows in the distance. Farther down the road, I could vaguely make out a large, dimly lit building. Dark gray with faded red panels, its sharp, rigid angles and tiny slits for windows appeared surreal as I peered through the lenses of delicate snowflakes that swirled through the air.

Medias, Romania was not on my itinerary. The truth is, I did not know of the city’s existence. A careless moment had left me stranded in the dead of night, lost and alone in the bowl-shaped basin surrounded by the Carpathian Mountain Range. I was unaware of any potential danger, for my thoughts were occupied by my obsession to understand the historical dynamics responsible for inspiring such darkness in the soul of a nation. The memories of the crumbling tombstones that filled the tiny cemetery overlooking the Sighisoara fortress were still too fresh on my mind. Standing like sentinels over the village and covered with lichen and moss, these time-worn markers are all that is left of the ancient people who lived during the reign of the infamous count and his father, Vlad Dracul.

Located in central Romania, the Sighisoara Citadel is considered to be one of most well preserved inhabited fortresses in Europe. With its 16th Century architecture, nine guild towers, gunnery, and dozens of colorful burgher houses, it is clear why this intriguing fortress was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Built originally in the 12th Century by the Saxons, it rests above the ruins of an ancient Roman fortress. Inviting and mysterious, its cobbled alleys, turrets, steep covered stairways, and Medieval atmosphere cause one to dream of days long ago when life was far less complicated.

A short walk from the citadel will take the tourist into the city center of Sighisoara. Here, one comes face to face with reality. Small barefoot children, ragged and with faces smeared with dust, follow tourists down the streets and alleys, begging. Their mothers sit cross-legged on the sidewalks with a sense of hopelessness in their eyes as if they do not understand or belong to the 21st Century. Without uttering a word, the mothers direct the children toward their chosen targets – the tourists whose arms are heavily laden with packages and whose pockets are filled with jingling coins. With tiny, dirty hands folded as if in supplication to some ancient deity, the children murmur words that seem to be begging the invisible gods to protect and care for the tourists they are targeting. Then they hold out their tiny hands, waiting for the coins to fall into their palms. Some no older than four or five years of age, these children are almost impossible to ignore. Pictures of their unwashed faces floated like ghosts through my thoughts as I struggled to get my suitcase across the icy gravel and into the building where, unknowingly, I would enter into an adventure unlike any I have ever known.

 

ranyslvania: City of Sighisoara, Romania

City of Sighisoara, Romania

 

Sighisoara Clock Tower in Romania's Transylvania

Sighisoara Clock Tower

Behind me, the train shuddered and emitted a loud, mournful wail like a wounded animal, instantly bringing me back to my immediate reality. Then its engine belched, sending  black smoke billowing. Wearily, it chugged on down the tracks, slowly and carefully plodding its lonely way north toward Budapest. It was not the first time I had made an error in my travel plans, as the inability to speak the native language often claims its victim. Anxious to return to Krakow, I had carelessly failed to double check the ticket I had purchased at the Sighisoara train station and had been shocked when I found myself headed for Budapest instead of my destination of Bucharest. I suppose to a Romanian who is seldom exposed to the slow, lazy dialect of  the Southern United States, Bucharest and Budapest could sound very similar. Rescued from my dilemma by the kind crew of the Hungarian-bound train, I had been gently deposited in Medias.

 

Roma Village of Transylvania

Roma Village

 

Romanian Village in Transylvania

Romanian Village

 

The dingy lights of the long warehouse that obviously served as a train station did little to hide the filth, isolation, and merciless cold that awaited me inside. There, because of my carelessness, I was destined to spend seven and one-half hours waiting to be rescued by a different train. Once I boarded the southbound train that would leave Medias in the wee morning hours, I would once again pass back through  Sighisoara. That train would take me to a warm meal and a hot cup of coffee at the Bucharest Airport. There I would relax, read, and await my flight. The first thing I noticed as I entered the train station was that all the doors on both sides of the building were open wide even as the snow was falling and temperatures were plunging dangerously low. The second thing I became aware of was that there was absolutely no heat in the waiting room.

 

 Taxing the Witches of Transylvania

 

I descended the stairs and purchased my ticket for Bucharest. Then I climbed back up the steps, sat down in the large warehouse, and began my dreaded vigil. Determined to take my mind off the cold, I pulled out my Kindle and began to read an article about the 2011 tax placed upon the Romanian Gypsies known as vrajitoares, or witches. The services for which they were taxed included reading tarot cards, placing  curses, and providing blessings for their clientele. Under Soviet occupation witchcraft was illegal. During the 1960’s rule of Nicolae Ceausesecu, although enforcement was relaxed, occasionally witches were prosecuted. In fact, it has been rumored that Ceausesecu’s wife Elena retained her own personal witch nicknamed Mother Caterpillar. Hoping to lessen the frustration I was feeling because of my mistake, I began to read the article published by The Blaze.

Only a few years ago, the Romanian government voted to tax the countries fortune tellers. Queen witch Bratara Buzea, 63, who was imprisoned in 1977 for witchcraft under Ceausescu’s repressive communist regime, is furious about the new law. “Witches from Romania’s eastern and western regions will descend to the southern plains and the Danube River Thursday to threaten the government with spells and spirits……”

Not even a law that implemented taxation on the witches and fortune tellers of Romania could stop my shivering. I was beginning to shake uncontrollably and found it difficult to focus on the article.

“A dozen witches will head to the Danube to put a hex on the government and hurl mandrake into the river so evil will befall them,” said a another witch named Alisia… “This law is foolish. What is there to tax, when we hardly earn anything?”

“Sitting cross-legged in her villa in the lake resort of Mogosoaia, just north of Bucharest, she (Bratara Bizea) said Wednesday that the she planned to cast a spell using a particularly effective concoction of cat excrement, a dead dog, and a chorus of witches.”

Magic in Romania is no laughing matter, the article explained. Centuries-old superstitions are rife and are tolerated even by the Orthodox Church, to which more than four-fifths of Romanians belong.

Having previously read Charles Godfrey Leland’s classic book Gypsy Sorcerers and Fortune Tellers, I checked through my electronic reader archives for a bit of a refresher concerning these unusual characters, the Romanian fortune tellers, about whom I was reading.

“If a Romanian maid……..desires to see her future husband’s face in the water, she has only to step naked at midnight into the nearest lake or river, or, if she shrink from this, let her take a stand on the more congenial dung-hill with a piece of Christmas cake in her mouth, and as the clock strikes twelve listen intently for a dog’s bark. From whichever side it proceeds will also come the expected suitor.”

 

Sighisoara, Romania

Sighisoara, Romania

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that a large lady about my age had entered the train station. Only her eyes and mouth were visible. They were lined with heavy wrinkles from what, I imagined, had been a very difficult life. The stranger’s body was wrapped in a long brown skirt that reached to her ankles, shaggy gray boots covered in matted fur, a heavy woolen coat that had seen better days, thick gloves, and a multitude of dark ragged scarves draped all about her body.

The Romani Gypsy sat down and gazed at me with dark, penetrating eyes. Then, she reached down and patted the chair beside her with a gloved hand, motioning for me to come and sit with her. Having little to lose, I arose, drug my luggage over to the plastic chair, and plopped down.

Tenderly, this  woman from the much vilified Roma culture reached up and gently wrapped her arm and coat about my shoulders. She smiled a toothless grin and sat silently, allowing her body warmth and the woolen cloak to work the magic that I so needed in order to stop my shaking. She finally spoke, but I could not understand a word. I knew that to say “Thank You” in English would mean nothing to her. I dug into my cache of survival gear and pulled out my last bar of Swiss chocolate. She accepted it graciously and stuffed it into the pocket of her coat.

We sat like that for a while, she and I, two strangers from completely different worlds with nothing in common except the intense cold. Suddenly, a train signal shattered the silence of the midnight. My new friend arose, lifted my hand to her lips, and kissed it gently. At that moment it seemed that we had known each other always. The kindhearted old woman walked over to a cart similar to those that we see used by the homeless who roam the back alleys of our major cities. It was filled with ragged cloth bags carelessly stuffed with clothing. She reached the door, paused, looked back at me once more, and smiled. I was sad to see her go for my body temperature had just begun to stabilize. I had been in the freezing temperatures for nearly two hours.

During the next hour my body rebelled against the cold. I continued to empty my suitcase of sweaters and scarves in a vain attempt to repel the frigid night air, wrapping myself like a brightly clad mummy. There were no coffee shops, no restaurants, and few people. Although a few Romanians and an occasional trekker wandered in and out, waiting five minutes or so for their trains to arrive, I was alone most of the time. I dared not leave the building, for the streets were dark and threatening.

Sighisoara Guild Tower in Transylvania

Sighisoara Guild Tower

The third hour passed slowly. Suddenly a tall, young man appeared at the top of the stairway. Dressed in a well-pressed uniform, he looked to be an employee of the train station. He approached my chair and looked at me with obvious curiosity. Like the old Gypsy who had befriended me earlier, only my eyes and nose were visible. He spoke to me in his native language. I responded by pointing to myself and saying, “English,” in a voice shivering so badly that my reply was barely recognizable. I would find out many hours later that this young man’s name was Amil.

“England?” Amil asked me.

“No!  I speak only English,” I told him as I considered how slight the possibility of his understanding me would be in a country where 91% of the population spoke Romanian.

“England?” he questioned with evident confusion.

Once again, I responded. “No, American. I… speak… English!”

“Ahhhhhh…………., American,” he said as his eyes began to light up brightly.

“Yes, American,” I agreed.

“My sister American,” the young man replied. A tiny smile began to appear on his face. It was quite obvious that he had deep affection for his sister.

“It is a small world,” I answered, too miserable and too cold to care that my being an American had made him happy. Just as suddenly as Amil had appeared, he walked out the door and vanished into the night.

I pulled my boots off and buried my toes in the few remaining clothes that I was not wearing, hoping to diminish the tingling pain that I was beginning to feel. There comes a time when the body is experiencing so much discomfort that reading one’s ebook is a complete waste of energy. However, I still attempted to do so, thinking that it would take my mind off my misery. Once again, I returned to the dark world of superstition that is rife among the people of the Carpathian basin.

“The skull of a horse over the gate of a courtyard, or the bones of fallen animals buried under the doorstep are preservatives against ghosts.”

It was becoming abundantly clear to me how this ancient land could have become the fictional dwelling place of the world’s most famous vampire. Originally settled by Neolithic hunters, its past is marked by severe suffering. Romania was first conquered by the Roman Legions and, upon eventually regaining its freedom, came under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. This occupation was followed by more than twenty years during which the population was decimated by plagues of leprosy (Hansen’s Disease). In addition, the impact and fame of Vlad Tepes has played a significant role in the history of this country. The Transylvanian prince gained fame for his successful campaigns against the Turks whose severed heads he proudly displayed atop the poles of the village squares throughout Transylvania.

This history of misfortune and violence would have been enough to plant seeds of superstition into the minds of the Daciens, Romania’s ancient people. Add to this unholy cauldron, the witches who advised would-be brides to stand naked on dung hills. The result of this malevolent brew is an eerie, mystical mindset perfect for breeding tales of witches, demons, and vampires. Bram Stoker could not have selected a more perfect setting for his famous blood-sucking villain than the mysterious land of Transylvania.

Transylvania: Sighisoara Tombstone

Sighisoara Tombstone

 

Ancient Walls of Sighisoara

Ancient Walls of Sighisoara

“My sister a nurse,” a voice said, shattering my contemplation. I looked up from my Kindle and, sure enough, there my young friend was again.

“How nice,” I replied with a voice weak from the cold.

“My sister American,” he added  politely.

By this time my curiosity was peaked. The witches, demons, and even Vlad the Impaler were losing their appeal. “Where does your sister live in America?” I questioned.

“My sister live Texas,” the stranger informed me with a smile as he handed me a card covered with writing.

I looked on the card without understanding its significance.  On it was written the name Luca followed by a phone number that, had I not been so cold, I would have immediately recognized as the area code for Waco, Texas. My curiosity momentarily allowed me to forget my hopeless situation. “Where in Texas does your sister live?” I prodded.

The handsome young man looked at me intently before speaking. “Waco.”

“Waco, Texas?  Oh my gosh, I live in Waco, Texas!” I answered in shock.

Here I was, lost and just about as far from Texas as a traveler could wander without falling off the edge of the globe. What a strange coincidence this is, I thought to myself. I looked up  in amazement, unaware that the ultimate surprise was still yet to come.

For some strange reason, Amil did not seem to be too surprised by this turn of events. He turned to leave again. Then he hesitated. He appeared to be thinking deeply before speaking his next words. He paced the floor, stopping often to glance at me. The words he spoke seemed impossible for me to believe. “My sister  is nurse in hospital Waco, Texas. She is nurse in hospital named Hill…” I looked at him in disbelief as he seemed to be searching his memory for just the right word. ”My sister, she work in hospital named Hill…crest.”

The odds were staggering! This total stranger had just created an unlikely connection  between his world and my own, a land that lay 6,000 miles away. My son-in-law Vincent had only a few weeks earlier left his position as emergency room physician in Hillcrest Hospital where he had worked for several years.

“Oh my gosh!” I responded. “Until just recently my son-in-law was a doctor at Hillcrest!”

“What is your doctor name?” he asked.”

“Dr. Freemyer,” I told him. Amil simply smiled that beautiful, sweet smile that was becoming familiar. Again, the train station employee turned and walked away.
I returned to my misery, digging in my luggage again, looking to see if there was anything left to wrap myself in that would keep out the bitter cold. My mind was racing with questions. Contented to be isolated in my little introvert world, I had not had even one tiny conversation during the entire week I had spent in Romania. I had been immersed in sightseeing and in studying the history of its people.  Then unexpectedly lost, frozen, and helpless, I had been drawn into a conversation with a stranger whose sister lived near my home!

Amil reappeared and was pacing the floor. Suddenly, he turned and said, “Come with me!” I was too cold to wonder where we were going. He carried my luggage and I followed, shaking so violently that I could hardly walk. We wandered for several minutes down a very dark alley. Tall, dark shuttered buildings heavy with fresh fallen snow lined the deserted streets. Finally, he stopped and opened a door leading into a dimly lit entry. I followed, vaguely aware that I could have been putting myself in danger. Suddenly, the warmth wrapped around my body like a heated cocoon. The brutal, freezing night air was left behind. We climbed a flight of stairs, walked down a long hallway, and entered what appeared to be a conference room.

“We must keep you warm,” he explained gently.  “Doctor mother should be safe. All doctor mothers should be safe.” I was still too cold to explain that I was not the doctor’s mother, but his mother-in-law.  Then, as before, he walked back into the darkness. I finally started to relax, only to see him return a few moments later with a phone in his hand. He obviously had called his sister Luca in Waco, and she wished to speak with me.

Her voice had a gentleness similar to that which I found so appealing in the voice of her brother.  Luca inquired about my safety and my comfort. She explained that she had never met my son-in-law personally; however, she knew his name well. “Do not worry. My brother will take good care of you,” she said. “Doctor Vincent’s mother should never be cold, and she should never be  hungry. We must take good care of the mothers of our doctors. Tell Amil of anything you need. He will see that it is provided for you,” she said. Then, she wished me well and ended our conversation.

He slipped quietly through the door a short time later, his arms filled with steaming coffee, hot tea, and warm food. He guarded me carefully throughout that bitter, stormy night, leaving his work often to ensure that my every need was met. Then, just before dawn began to break, as I once again stood waiting by the train tracks, he was beside me. Depositing me safely on board the train, he introduced me to another Romanian who was also traveling to Bucharest. This compassionate stranger, at the request of his friend Amil, did not let me out of his sight. He checked on me throughout the long hours as our train slowly made its way to Bucharest, watching over me like a parent would his child. Upon our arrival in Bucharest, he insisted on hiring a taxi to take us to the airport, and refused to allow me out of his sight until he had seen me through the airport security and safely on my way to Krakow.

Sighisoara Citadel

Sighisoara Citadel

 

Lessons Learned in Transylvania

Today when I think of Transylvania, it is not the demons, the vampires, or the witches that I imagine. It is the simple understanding that we are never alone. The brilliant Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Yung described synchronicity as “the occurrence of two or more events that appear to be meaningfully related but not causally related.” The author, Alex Chua further clarifies this amazingly complex, yet stunningly simple, phenomenon. “With synchronicity, all the resources we need are made available for us at the precise moment that is appropriate. The people who come into our lives are the ones we need at that moment in time. Everything is perfect. We only need to recognize this to tune into the flow. Everything happens for a reason and every experience is a learning experience.”

It is a profound opportunity to see synchronicity in action. A daughter and son-in-law who did not have the slightest knowledge of my situation, but whose purity of hearts allowed them to serve as conduits for the chain of events that took place that evening. A desperately cold night that could have easily been extremely detrimental to my health. A careless mistake that resulted in my being lost, alone, and incapable of finding a solution to my dilemma. Two strangers whose hearts overflowed with love and kindness for their fellow beings.

Life has been likened to a tapestry, an ethereal work of art into which new threads are masterfully and constantly being woven. Each picture within our personal tapestry represents a parable, a lesson for human life on earth. That strange January night in Medias, deep in the countryside of Transylvania, the master weaver wove a new parable into the threads of my life. Within the newly woven scenes, there were no vampires drinking the blood of innocent victims. There were no demons sneering down from ancient Gothic cathedrals to  threaten us with the horrors that await those who commit evil deeds. There were no witches casting curses on government officials. However, if one peers closely at the synchronous chain of events of that bitter, snowy night, it is easy to discern two spiritual beings. The first is an elderly woman who was willing to share what little she had, without any expectations of reward, with a complete stranger. The other was a gentle, kind young man with a heart filled with tenderness. I have come to realize that I was never actually lost in Romania. I was exactly where I needed to be in order to receive a lesson in the power of love.

Suggested Resources

Romania Tourism

National Geographic Gypsies: The Outsiders

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