Feed on

IUS PRIMAE NOCTIS: The Wedding Godfather and Some Archaic Sexual Customs in Romanian Traditional Culture

This study represents a chapter from my forthcoming book, Sexuality and Society: History, Religion, and Literature. In this paper, I attempt to present a series of arguments that could prove the existence of a special role played by the wedding godfather in the archaic and traditional Romanian culture. This role may be that of sexual initiator of the groom (and the bride) played by the godfather on the wedding night. The data have miraculously survived (as if they were living fossils, as Mircea Eliade named them in an article from 1939) in Romanian folk proverbs, in ritualistic customs from the traditional wedding ceremony, in folk ballads etc.

The Wedding Godfathers Right

Chapter from the forthcoming book by Andrei Oi?teanu: Sexualitate ?i societate: Istorie, religie ?i literatur? [Sexuality and Society: History, Religion, and Literature], to be published in 2013 by Polirom Publishing House.

Anyone who reads monographs regarding traditional Romanian weddings published at the end of the nineteenth century by great folklorists (Simeon Florea Marian, Elena Sevastos and so on) or even less elaborate monographic studies on the same theme (Teodor Burada, Ernest Bernea and so on) will notice the fact that the wedding is one of the most important and ample ceremonies in traditional Romanian culture. It is an unequaled enactment. During some days before the wedding night and some days after this crucial night the entire community is wrapped in a profound state of magical and ritualistic euphoria. Countless ritualistic actions and ceremonial gestures, countless scenographic and stage-manager details (be they behavioral, musical, choreographic, culinary or regarding dress codes, etc.), as well as countless symbolic, magical, mythical and religious significances come together according to traditional customs and habits transmitted from father to son and from mother to daughter.
It is surprising that the behavior of the bride and groom during the wedding night in their sleeping chamber an essential behavior in the economy of the entire ceremony does not seem to be ruled by popular tradition. There are so many rules before and after this inaugural night (a milestone of the marriage temple), yet almost none concerning the wedding night, when the newlyweds remain alone in the bedroom. In fact, some traditional habits of this kind may be said to exist, but they are somehow implied and must be deduced by the ethnologist. In other words, they must be reconstructed.
Writing about the customs linked to engagements and weddings of the Moldavians at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Dimitrie Cantemir makes the following brief comment:
When they reach the grooms house after a few more glasses of wine the wedding godparents lead the young couple to the sleeping chamber (Descriptio Moldaviae, cca 1714) (Dimitrie Cantemir, Descrierea Moldovei [A Description of Moldavia], Ed. Minerva, Bucharest, 1981, p. 220).
Cantemir continues the story by presenting the ceremony of the following day, after the wedding night, without making any reference to what had happened in the sleeping chamber. For now I will focus my attention on the godparents role. Simeon Florea Marians monograph Romanian Weddings (Nunta la romni, 1890) also mentions the fact that the godparents, particularly the godmother, lead the newlyweds to the bedchamber (Simeon Florea Marian, Nunta la romni. Studiu istorico-comparativ etnografic [Romanian Weddings. A Historical-Comparative Ethnographical Study], Edited by Iordan Datcu, Ed. Saeculum vizual, Bucharest, 2009, vol. 2, pp. 151, 163). The bride must be prepared for the great event that will completely change her sexual and social status. Her garments are extremely decorous and there are many accessories in her hair. Usually, the godmother is the one helping her to undress and let down her hair (an erogenous act allowed only in the presence of the groom), especially since in some areas of the country the bride and groom spend their wedding night in the godparents house. Elena Sevastos captures this important moment:
After bringing the godchildren to her house, the wedding godmother strips the ornaments off the bride and dresses her in a new gown [] she puts bread, food and drinks on the table after which she calls the groom from the entrance hall and bids them good night, she says: There you go, godchildren, drink, eat and rest, as you are much weary. I shall see what joy the morning brings me for how much I walked and toiled. And upon leaving the hall she says to the fiddlers who have been playing all this time: Now come and sing to us, the elders. Then she locks the door of the hall and returns to the great table of the feast (Nunta la romni [Romanian Weddings], 1889) (Elena Sevastos, Literatura popular?, Cntece moldovene?ti & Nunta la romni [Folk Literature, Moldavian Songs & Romanian Weddings], Edited by Ioan Ili?iu, Ed. Minerva, Bucharest, 1990, vol. I, p. 338).
An interesting fact is that upon exiting the bedroom the godmother locks it with a key, so that only she or perhaps only she and the godfather can re-enter the bride and grooms chamber. Since the door is locked, the bride and groom cannot get out of the bedroom. Similar habits are found in other Southern European cultures as well (Spain, Sicily and so on). In Dobrogea (South-East of Romania), a young man called deveric? takes part in the wedding ceremony by standing at the door and holding the hook during the wedding night (Elena Sevastos, op. cit., p. 338). In other words, he is on guard, making sure nobody gets in or out the respective chamber. It is very likely that his name comes from the Slav word dver? (door).
After this crucial night, more specifically, after the brides defloration, the godmother helps the girl get dressed in her new clothes, in wifes garments, signifying the modification of her social status. Afterwards, she takes the bride to the big table, where the wedding guests are celebrating (Elena Sevastos, op. cit., p. 346). Obviously, when talking about the next mornings joy, the godmother was referring to the proof of defloration, to the sheet stained with blood during the bride and grooms copulation, the sheet carried through the community like a triumphal flag. I touch upon this habit in another chapter of the book (entitled The Cult of the Brides Virginity vs. The Cult of the Grooms Virility) in which the wedding godparents (it is them again) play an important role. A temporary conclusion is that everything that happens to the bride and groom during the wedding night is managed neither by the grooms parents, nor by the brides parents or other wedding guests, but by the wedding godparents and particularly by the godfather. This is what some peasant-informers from the Dr?gu? village (in Southern Transylvania) declared in 1935:
The godfather is a very important person during the wedding; everything is connected to him; without him nothing is done. The wedding godfather is a leading man. The godfather leads the entire wedding ceremony; he fulfills all purposes; he is the head of everything that is needed. [...] The godfather is the witness of the bride and groom at the wedding; he is responsible for the young couple even more so than their parents. See, this is why he is honored so much. (Ernest Bernea, Nunta n ?ara Oltului. ncercare de sociologie romneasc? [Weddings in the Olt County. An Essay in Romanian Sociology], vol. Studii de folclor ?i literatur? (Folklore and Literature Studies), Ed. pentru literatur?, Bucharest, 1967, pp. 51-136; p. 106. The study was conducted by Ernest Bernea in 1935).
The same idea was asserted in 1845 by the brothers Arthur and Albert Schot, two German collectors of Wallach fairytales from Banat, in the area of the borough Oravi?a:
The wedding godfather is always the baptism godfather and, out of all those present [at the wedding], he holds the greatest function throughout the entire celebration (Arthur and Albert Schot, Basme valahe [Wallachian Fairytales], translation, preface and notes by Viorica Ni?cov, Ed. Polirom, Iasi, 2003, p. 95).
The special status of the wedding and baptism godparents is a complex and interesting theme, yet equally scarcely analyzed by Romanian ethnologists and anthropologists. In the 1930s, a few members of the Sociological School of Bucharest, led by Dimitrie Gusti, tackled this subject without studying it thoroughly, by mentioning specifically the Dr?gu? village in Southern Transylvania. These scholars were Ernest Bernea (Ernest Bernea, op.cit., pp. 51-136) and especially H.H. Stahl, who wrote a monographic article regarding the spiritual kinship of godparenthood, one of the few approaches of this type in Romanian culture. H.H. Stahl maintained that the godfather had an important ritualistic role within the traditional community and that godparenthood was made up of a series of ritualistic acts. To Stahls merit, he managed to go beyond the sociological boundaries of his study, analyzing the theme from a historical-religious perspective as well. In 1936, H.H. Stahl concludes that some of the ritualistic acts peculiar to the traditional institution of godparenthood have their roots in an archaic, non-Christian, cultural and ceremonial sphere:
The system of spiritual kinship sprung out of godparenthood comes to govern much larger spheres that are completely different from those stipulated by the church canons regarding baptisms and weddings. (H.H. Stahl, Rudenia spiritual? din n??ie, la Dr?gu?, n Sociologie romneasc? [Spiritual Kinship of Godparenthood in Dr?gu? Village] in Sociologie romneasc? [Romanian Sociology], editor-in-chief Dimitrie Gusti, Revista Sec?iei Sociologice a Institutului Social Romn [The Journal of The Sociology Section of the Romanian Social Institute], Bucharest, No. 7-9, July-Sept 1936, pp. 25-36. The research itself was conducted in 1932).
Unfortunately, the problem of the institution of godparenthood within the traditional Romanian society has practically remained unsolved. The reconstruction of the archaic system of godparenthood from fragments imposes a paroemiological study right from the start. Some Romanian proverbs refer to the huge prestige of the godfather in folk mentality: Every godfather has his godfather or (in Anton Panns versified form) As the child has a godfather/ So the godfather has a godfather or [Somebody] has found his godfather or The godfather is more respected than the father, etc. (Iuliu Zane, Proverbele romnilor [The Romanian Proverbs], Preface by G.Dem. Teodorescu, Ed. Socec & Comp., Bucharest, I-X volumes, 1895-1903, vol. IV, p. 482; Nicolae Constantinescu, Rela?iile de rudenie n societ??ile tradi?ionale. Reflexe n folclorul romnesc [Kinship Relations in Traditional Societies: Reflexes in Romanian Flklore], Ed. Academiei, Bucharest, 1987, pp. 162-164; S?rb?tori ?i obiceiuri. R?spunsuri la chestionarele Atlasului Etnografic Romn [Holidays and Customs: Answers to the Questionnaires of the Romanian Ethnographic Atlas], vol. I, Oltenia, Ed. Enciclopedic?, Bucharest, 2001, p. 136). In nuce, these proverbs prove the immense authority the godfather benefits from in the eyes of the godson, in all its aspects, spiritual, religious, social and even economic:

Shush, godson, dont worry,
Grandfather takes care of you
And the wedding cost too
(Grigore G. Tocilescu and Christea N. ?apu, Materialuri folcloristice [Folkloristic Materials], Critical edition and introductory study by Iordan Datcu, Ed. Minerva, Bucharest, 1980, vol. I, pp. 99-100).
It is important to note that many Romanian proverbs and sayings make reference to a supposed sexual role of the godfather, apart from the socio-religious one. Here they are, typologically grouped:
1) Only once does the godfather see the goddaughters pussy or Only once does the godfather see the godsons dick (this is said of the things that are not meant to be seen or followed through often) (Iordache Golescu, Pilde ?i tlcuirea lor [Parables and Their Explanation], cca 1832);
2) The godfather sees the goddaughters / brides pussy first or The godfather makes way for the groom / son-in-law;
3) The godfather baptizes, the godfather dares or Dare like the godfather (Iordache Golescu, Scrieri alese [Collected Works], Edition by Mihai Moraru, Ed. Cartea Romneasc?, Bucharest, 1990, pp. 175, 211; Iuliu Zane, op. cit., vol. IV, p. 481 and vol. VI, p. 497; Stelian Dumistr?cel, Dic?ionar. Expresii romne?ti [Dictionary of Romanian Phrases], Ed. Institutul European, Iasi, 1997, pp. 67, 150; Nicolae Constantinescu, op. cit., pp. 160-166).
On the one hand, there are not sufficient data to be sure that the godfather (godmother) has an archaic role of sexual initiator during the wedding night. On the other hand, there are enough data not to exclude this probability. Surprisingly, considering the bashfulness characteristic of Romanian culture, this delicate subject has not been ignored by some Romanian researchers, even though they have only asserted the existence of the phenomenon, without studying it more thoroughly. A few names are worth mentioning in this context: Romulus Vulc?nescu (Romulus Vulc?nescu, Etnologie juridic? [Juridical Ethnology], Ed. Academiei, Bucharest, 1970, pp. 58-59), Nicolae Constantinescu (Nicolae Constantinescu, op. cit., pp. 160-166), Stelian Dumistr?cel (Stelian Dumistr?cel, op. cit., pp. 67, 150), Ion Ghinoiu (Ion Ghinoiu, Panteonul romnesc. Dic?ionar [The Romanian Pantheon. A Dictionary], Ed. Enciclopedic?, Bucharest, 2001, pp. 132-133), Lucia Berdan (Lucia Berdan, Mitologia cuvintelor [The Mythology of Words], Ed. Universit??ii Al.I. Cuza, Iasi, 2003, pp. 190-194).
It is true that no Romanian ethnologist or anthropologist (with the partial exception of Nicolae Constantinescu) has tried to solve the problem of the godfathers sexual role by means of a systematic approach. But their conclusions have been quite firm. Here is the 1970 opinion of Romulus Vulc?nescu, the first Romanian researcher to overtly express his views on this matter:
Some juridical practices and customs have intervened in the act of marriage and their effects and meanings have been lost in time. The wedding godfather has long fulfilled the main role of sexual initiator during the marriage rite. [] The godfathers function in the sexual life of the godchildren is similar to that of the ancient ius [primae] noctis. (Romulus Vulc?nescu, op. cit., p. 58).
In turn, ethnologist Nicolae Constantinescu maintained in 1987 that such sexual practices, characteristic of rites of passage from adolescence to maturity, were still in use in the Romanian Middle Ages:
The limitative meaning of the saying [Only once does the godfather see the goddaughters pussy] must be connected to another Medieval Romanian and Western custom, according to which, the godfathers duty towards the young man also implied his sexual initiation. This role also gave the wedding godfather the right to be the brides first man. (Nicolae Constantinescu, op. cit., p. 163)
It could be said that proverbs such as Only once does the godfather see the goddaughters pussy or the godsons dick do not refer to wedding godparenthood, but to that of baptism. Ethnologist Nicolae Constantinescu brought reasonable arguments against this theory. He also affirmed that the prohibitive, limitative sense of the type of proverbs marked by me above with number 1) [Only] once does the godfather regards the restriction of abuse and the impeaching of transforming a ritualistic right into an ordinary practice. The potential abuse of this sexual right by the godfather through its enactment after the wedding night would go against written civil and religious laws as well as the unwritten rules of the traditional society that considered the union between godparents and godchildren to be an act of incest. (Nicolae Constantinescu, op. cit., p. 164). The possible opportunistic connotation of these proverbs must not be ignored either: an encouragement not to miss the only favorable chance, as there will not be a second one.
The proverbs noted above with number 2) obviously mark a certain advantage of the godfather over the groom. In other words, the former has precedence over the latter regarding the brides defloration: The godfather makes way for the groom This seems to be a manifestation of the ancient practice of ius primae noctis. But in time, archaic mentalities and traditional practices have changed and in a certain historical moment the godfathers right over the goddaughter came to be considered sinful. Nicolae Constantinescus conclusion is legitimate:
What according to the archaic custom was a right of the godfather that had to be accepted as such by everybody, including the godson, became in another historical moment an immoral act, an instance of breaching the norms and laws of the respective times. (Nicolae Constantinescu, op. cit., p. 166).
The godfathers right (lex non scripta) conflicted with the written lay and religious laws. Some popular ballads have captured this change in mentality. The godfather continues to exercise his old right in an abusive manner, but the godson is entitled to protest against his defloration of the bride during the wedding night:

Only I cant forgive you,
You know, godfather, dont you?
When the dawn has come,
During the morning party,
You took your goddaughter,
Into the garden you went,
You gave in to the flesh
And the lust of the eyes! (Balade populare romne?ti (Romanian Folk Ballads), Introduction, thematic index, bibliography and anthology by Al.I. Amzulescu, Ed. pentru literatur?, Bucharest, 1964, vol. III, p. 75).
The type of proverbs marked with number 3) The godfather baptizes, the godfather dares probably make reference to the abusive audacity of the godfather towards the goddaughter (and implicitly towards the godson), the insolence of asking to exercise his sexual right after the wedding night, when it is no longer his due. The sexual relationship between the godfather and the goddaughter or between the godmother and the godson is prohibited not only from the perspective of adultery, but also from that of incest. The prohibition of incest among spiritual kin (apart from that among blood kin) was introduced in the Christian religion sometime between the sixth and the eighth centuries (Amor ?i sexualitate n Occident (Love and Sexuality in the West), Introduction by Georges Duby, Translation by Lauren?iu Zoica?, Ed. Artemis, Bucharest, 1994, p. 154). In the Romanian sphere, this type of prohibition has been certified in public records in the first half of the seventeenth century.
Tell me, son, have you by chance fallen [into sin] with your kin, or with your goddaughter, or godmother or whoever was it? As this is what they call mixing the blood. (Pravila de la Govora [The Govora Book of Rules], 1640) (Dan Horia Mazilu, Lege ?i f?r?delege n lumea romneasc? veche [Law and Lawlessness in the Old Romanian World], Ed. Polirom, Iasi, 2006, p. 399).
Sometimes, in order to avoid committing a sin, the godfather tries to seduce the goddaughter by treating her not like one of his relatives, but like a stranger and ignoring the fact that the spiritual kinship that binds them transforms their erotic relationship into an incestuous one:
Goddaughter, goddaughter, goddaughter [...]
Let me love you like a stranger.
- Godfather, wont this be sin?
You baptized three of my children,
And you blessed my marriage.
(Tudor Pamfile, Dragostea n datina tineretului roman [Love in the Customs of Romanian Youths], Text established by Petre Florea, Ed. Saeculum I.O., Bucharest, 1998, p. 85).
Ultimately, the Romanian short songs (strig?turi) performed in honor of the godfather during the wedding refer to him as an alpha male, an ideal of masculinity and virility (Ion Ghinoiu, op. cit., p. 133), a man with erotic experience who is vigorous and very well endowed sexually:
As the godfathers dick
So is the wolfs tail (Constantin Eretescu, ?tima apei. Studii de mitologie ?i folclor [The Water Fairy. Mythology and Folklore Studies], Ed. Etnologic?, Bucharest, 2007, p. 148).
Godfather, dear godfather,
Twist that moustache
And kiss those wives (Lucia Bredan, op. cit., p. 192)
Were godfather a devilish man,
He would lay godmother down
Give her a nice child (Lucia Bredan, op. cit., p. 193).
Godmother has big hips,
And godfather isnt pleased.
Mine are slender,
Godfather really likes them. (Ion Ghinoiu, op. cit., p. 133),

Or the most explicit text:

Lets toast the godfather
Cause he made love to all his goddaughters (Tudor Pamfile, op. cit., p. 85).
It is not known for certain what the godfathers sexual performance during the wedding night consists in. Originally, he might have had the right (or the duty) to deflower the bride (ius primae noctis) and thus protect the groom from the magical and ritualistic dangers that the contact with the vagina (vagina dentata) or with the hymenal blood could imply. In such cases, the first-born child of the goddaughter could have the wedding godfather as biological father. This is why the marriage prohibitions between the godparents children and those of the godchildren as well as those between the children of goddaughters that share the same wedding godfather seem natural.
Maybe the godfather (and godmother) acted as sexual initiator(s) of the godchildren in order to help them surpass what could be an extremely stressful situation. I have raised this problem in another chapter of the book, the one regarding the sexual (quasi)impotence of the groom. The fiddlers singing at slum weddings knew how to approach such situations of failure:
Dear groom, dear groom,
If it comes down to it,
Take the bride, lay her down,
And kiss her heartily.
Do the right thing,
There was another before you:
When it was down to it,
She asked for it as for him, he wouldnt give it! (Eugen Barbu, Groapa [The Hollow], a novel, 4th edition, Ed. pentru literatur?, Bucharest, 1968, p. 35)
Without the help of the godparents, there are enough reasons for which the wedding night could end uselessly, in failure: the enormous psychological pressure put by the community on the two actors, the stress and fear of the two young people (who were basically two adolescents), their lack of sexual experience, the possible erectile dysfunction of the groom, his alcohol intoxication (and possibly that of the bride as well) etc. [Prince Cantemir states that in Moldavia, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, after consuming alcoholic beverages in great quantity and right before entering the bedchamber, the bride and groom drink yet another few glasses of wine. (Dimitrie Cantemir, op. cit., p. 220). The chance of failing to deflower the bride due to excess of alcohol is high. In his book about Remedy of Love, the poet Ovid understood that Bachus gift consists of aphrodisiac qualities, but after a certain dose can have contrary, anaphrodisiac effects. Wine promotes sexual desire, provided you don't drink to intoxication. Wind fans a fire into flame; wind also puts it out (The Love Books of Ovid, The Art of Love, translated by J. Lewis May in 1930, Forgotten Books, 2007, p. 209). In the same epoch, the Greek doctor Rufus of Efes (first century B.C.) maintained that, generally (not only on the wedding night), sexual intercourse should not be performed after excessive drinking and copious meals (Michel Foucault, Istoria sexualit??ii [Histoire de la sexualit], Translation by B. Stanciu and A. Onete, Ed. de Vest, Timi?oara, 1995, p. 396)].

Either overt or implicit, the erotic relations between the godfather and the goddaughter during the wedding night are also present in Romanian literature. For instance, in the novel Groapa (1959), Eugen Barbu describes the wedding between Lina and Stere in the Cu?aridei suburbs (in the inter-war Bucharest), heavily underlining the erotic relation between the wedding godfather (a baker) and his goddaughter, the teenager Lina:
The baker [= the godfather] had kissed her upon arrival to the wedding, he had looked at her he had taken a beautiful goddaughter, no doubt about it!
To have a goddaughter and to take a goddaughter imply different degrees of possession. In addition, when Perini?a is danced at the wedding, the baker godfather has the audacity to kiss Lina, his goddaughter, on the mouth and even bite her lips in front of the groom, of the brides and grooms parents and of all the wedding guests:
Ultimately, the wedding godfather kneeled in front of the bride. The girl stooped and put forth her cheek. No, the godfather shook his head, give me your mouth!. The guests laughed all around them. She clenched her teeth and he lustfully bit her lips. His mouth smelled of food and brandy. Shocked, Lina lifted the pillow from the floor and sought a place where to escape from the wild round dance (Eugen Barbu, op. cit., pp. 37, 109).
It is interesting that only the goddaughter, a gullible adolescent, is shocked and embarrassed by this (apparently) abusive attitude of the godfather. The other wedding guests laugh conspirationally, winking at one another and thus confirming that tradition and folk mentality allowed the wedding godfather to indulge in such explicitly erotic gestures. The prose writer only sketches this story line, without bringing it to closure, to its final consequences.
This is what the poet ?erban Foar?? (Un mire f?r? c?p?ti [A Groom Without Head], 2007) does in a cruel soap opera (in Foar??s ironic terms), in which he describes a contemporary slum wedding. The story starts with the threat that Gic? the godfather addresses to his goddaughter Marie-Jeanne at the beginning of the wedding:
to which the godfather says, []
roaring drunk,
whispering into his goddaughters mouth,
after a few moments of silence,
I will fuck you tonight (?erban Foar?? & Ion Barbu, Un mire f?r? c?p?ti (rimoroman) [A Groom Like No Other (a novel in rhymes)], Ed. Polirom, Iasi, 2007, p. I).
The wedding godfather knows for sure that he will sleep with the goddaughter and he knows exactly when he will do it: right on the wedding night. To paraphrase Cehov, we can say that what is announced in the first chapter of the soap opera will happen by the end of it. Indeed, the alpha male of the slum, the archifucking godfather will carry out his plan:
Then the weddings that of a faun;
Godfather gets goddaughter into a Ford
Well-heated and hasty too,
Mad as the Nemeea lion,
Makes a woman out of Marie-Jeanne (?erban Foar?? & Ion Barbu, op. cit., p. XXXIV).

The Wedding Godfathers Song

It is worth making a digression here during which I will briefly present the subject of a Balkan folk ballad entitled The Wedding Godfathers Song or Latin the Rich (G.Dem. Teodorescu, Poezii populare romne [Romanian Folk Poems], Critical edition by George Antofi, Ed. Minerva, Bucharest, 1982, pp. 704-709; Al.I. Amzulescu, Cntecul epic eroic. Tipologie ?i corpus de texte poetice [The Heroic Epic Song. Typogy and Reader of Poetic Texts], Ed. Academiei, Bucharest, 1981, pp. 72-74). In the 1970s, ethnologist Petru Caraman wrote a complex monographic study (around 170 pages), published in 1987, after his death (Petru Caraman, Studii de folclor [Studies in Folklore], Edited by Viorica S?vulescu, Ed. Minerva, Bucharest, 1987, Vol. I, pp. 195-365. See also Nicolae Constantinescu, Strategii matrimoniale ?i rezolv?ri epice n Cntecul nunului [Marital Strategies and Epic Solutions in The Wedding Godfathers Song), Revista de Etnografie ?i Folclor [Journal of Ethnography and Folklore], Tome 43, n. 3, Bucharest, 1998, pp. 155-160). Caraimans important contribution lies not only in comparing all the known versions (North and South of the Danube) of this folk song, but also in identifying many literary motives characteristic of the respective text as being echoes of archaic wedding rituals and customs, exercised in traditional South-Eastern European communities.
As early as 1938, Mircea Eliade held that Petru Caraman was one of the best trained Romanian folklorists (Cuvntul [The Word], March 24 1938). At the end of the 1930s, Mircea Eliade published Petru Caraman in the first two volumes of his journal of religious studies, Zalmoxis (Petru Caraman, Xylogense et lithogense de lhomme. Essai sur lorigine et levolution des croyances en Europe orientale, in Zalmoxis, Paris & Bucure?ti, vol. I, 1938, pp. 177-196 & vol. II, 1939, pp. 111-130. See also vol. Zalmoxis: Revist? de studii religioase, volume I-III (1938-1942), Publicat? sub direc?ia lui Mircea Eliade [Zalmoxis: Journal of Religious Studies, published under the Mircea Eliades supervision], Edited by Eugen Ciurtin, Ed. Polirom, Iasi, 2000, pp. 195-207, 333-345). For a good grasp of Mircea Eliades appreciation towards Petru Caraman, one has to see what the goals and prospects of the historian of religions were in those times, as results from Eliades Memoirs:
[In the autumn of 1937] I decided to start Zalmoxis []. I was interested in [] de-provincialzing the studies of folklore and comparative ethnology in Romania. I set myself the task of making Romanian folklorists take seriously the historical-religious value of the materials they gathered and used; in other words, make them pass from the philological phase to the hermeneutic moment. (Mircea Eliade, Memorii. Recoltele solsti?iului [Memoirs. Harvests of the Solstice], Vol. II (1937-1960), Edited by Mircea Handoca, Ed. Humanitas, Bucharest, 1991, p. 15-16).
Petru Caramans professional structure coincided to a very large extent with the model Mircea Eliade had in mind regarding the de-provincialized comparative ethnologist.
The Godfathers Song, which was interpreted by folk musicians during the wedding night, is part of the trials which the hero has to go through. The ballad has the following scenario: a landowners son gets married and his godfather is a Medieval ruler (Who was his wedding godfather? It was Iancu-Vod?). Dimitrie Cantemir records that such customs were natural when it came to Moldavian weddings: When the ruler himself is the godfather (Descriptio Moldaviae XVIII) (Dimitrie Cantemir, op. cit., p. 221).
The bride in the ballad is the daughter of a wealthy Latin (= catholic). Her father is very unpleased about the groom, since he is of Catholic faith, while the groom has a different confession, Christian-Orthodox (See Andrei Oi?teanu, Inventing the Jew: Antisemitic Stereotypes in Romanian and Other Central-East European Cultures, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London, 2009, chapter Dangerous Liaisons, pp. 88-93). So he puts a lock on the gates and stops the wedding cortege. Then he makes the future groom pass through several difficult trials. Like any initiation ritual, the stake is about life and death:
If the groom cant do it,
Ill cut his head off,
The cortege will leave,
Cause hes not good for my daughter! (G.Dem. Teodorescu, op. cit., p. 705).
Surprisingly, the groom will not attempt to go through these trials, feeling completely discouraged, totally frightened and incapable or, to put it bluntly, impotent:
And the groom so it went
Had no power whatsoever (Petre Caraman, op. cit., p. 228).
A wedding guest takes the grooms place and undergoes the trials. In the Slavic, South-Danubian versions of the story, the wedding guest hero is the son of the groom’s sister. In the Romanian versions of the folk ballad (more than fifty of them), the hero who undergoes the nuptial trials in the grooms place is the wedding godfather, taking all the trouble:
The groom was very frightened,
From black eyes he wept,
To his godfather he went (Petre Caraman, op. cit., p. 229).
Paradoxically, the groom remains a wholly secondary character in the economy of the ballad. The godfather is the true protagonist of the folk wedding song. Hence the title, Cntecul nunului (The Wedding Godfathers Song), through which the Romanian ballad is usually rendered.
Dont you worry, my godson,
Everything will be alright!
Godfather will take care of you
Of all the proceedings (Petre Caraman, op. cit., p. 237).
There is an important difference between the Slavic versions and the Romanian versions of the wedding folk song. More precisely, the Romanian ballad under scrutiny brings a new and precious argument supporting the godfathers role as the grooms master of initiation in the wedding night. Moreover, the godfather doesnt actually initiate the groom into going through the specific trials but, taking all the trouble, he is the one who passes through these rites instead of the groom and in his name. The wedding godfather brings all the proceedings to their fulfillment. Lets not fall back and miss the profound (now forgotten) meaning of the Godfathers Song. What sense would such a commonly spread ballad make were if not the expression of a ceremonial reality per se?! In tackling this matter, ethnologist Petru Caramans explanation represents only hinted at: the presence of the godfather-as-protagonist in the Romanian ballad, bearing the role of initiator (replacement) of the groom, was imposed by certain reasons typical of the nuptial ceremony (Petru Caraman, op. cit., p. 301). Thus, the ethnologist eludes referring explicitly to the sexual role played by the godfather during the wedding.
Considering the topic raised, one is entitled to pose the following question: are there, among the initiatory trials that the wedding godfather performs instead of the groom, some which are explicitly or implicitly erotic in character? The answer is affirmative. The protagonist is asked, for instance, to recognize the bride from a group of girls of similar facial characteristics and figure, as well as dressed alike. This is the common trial for all the ballads variants in South-Eastern European countries, including Romania (Petru Caraman, op. cit., pp. 197, 209). See below two stanzas from a version recorded by G.Dem. Teodorescu in 1866:
He took seven girls
Dressed in the same garb
Took them out of the house
And yelled:
Let the groom in,
The groom, the son-in-law,
Let him pick his bride
And go live with her! (G.Dem. Teodorescu, op. cit., p. 708).
Obviously it is not the groom, but the wedding godfather that goes through this initiatory trial and correctly identifies the bride. Yet again, there is a parallel between certain archaic non-Christian practices regarding Romanian wedding ceremonies. Dimitrie Cantemir offers one of the first historical records in this respect (Descriptio Moldaviae, cca 1714). (Dimitrie Cantemir, op. cit., p. 216). According to statements made by Simeon Fl. Marian and Elena Sevastos, such nuptial rituals were still in use or still present, explicitly or not in the Romanian villages of the second half of the nineteenth century:
[A high wedding steward] brings him three girls with their faces covered and the groom must choose his own. [] Of course that the groom easily identifies her due to the ring he had previously given her (Sim.Fl. Marian, op. cit., p. 77. See also Elena Sevastos, op. cit., p. 346).
Guessing the bride out of a group of identical or very similar girls is a nuptial trial that is also present in certain Romanian fairytales. One such example can be found in a fairytale such as Ion Creang?s Povestea lui Harap-Alb (The Story of Harap-Alb):
- So be it, young man, said the [Red] emperor in a sad tone. [] I have an adopted daughter, the same age as my own and they are just as beautiful, with the same height and gait. If you guess who is my real daughter, I give you her hand in marriage and let you take her from my house (Ion Creang?, Pove?ti, amintiri, povestiri [Tales, Memories and Stories], Ed. Eminescu, Bucharest, 1980, p. 124. See Andrei Oi?teanu, Gr?dina de dicolo. Zoosophia [The Garden of the World Beyond. Zoosophia], Second edition, Ed. Polirom, Iasi, 2012, chapter Hieros gamos, pp. 131-132).
As a fine connoisseur of non-Christian folk rituals, Mircea Eliade did not miss the chance to include this motif in his prose. Even if it is only implied, this initiatory-erotic trial can be traced in his fantastic novella La ?ig?nci [At the Gypsy Women]:
You shouldve guessed from the beginning, went on the third girl. Guessed who the Gypsy girl was, who the Greek girl was and who the Jewish girl was. [] This is our game here, at the Gypsy women (Mircea Eliade, La ?ig?nci ?i alte povestiri, (At the Gypsy women and Other Stories), Introductory study by Sorin Alexandrescu, Ed. pentru literatur?, Bucharest, 1969, pp. 452-457).

Coming back to the folk ballad entitled The Wedding Godfathers Song, it is worth noting another initiatory trial that the godfather performs in the grooms place. Accompanied by his cortege, the groom arrives at the brides house. But her father, the Latin (the Catholic), locks and puts chains on the gates to his and the brides household:
What Latin did to me?
He locked his gates
Put bolts on them
And climbed the tower (G.Dem. Teodorescu, op. cit., p. 707).
The groom is challenged by his father-in-law to prove his courage and intelligence by finding the means to enter into the brides locked door. Again, the groom proves to be incapable, terrified by this trial. Once again, the wedding godfather is the one who passes it:
Mihnea [= the godfather] spurred his horse,
Walls he leaped over,
Gates he unlocked
In the yard the wedding guests went. (G.Dem. Teodorescu, op. cit., p. 707).
Monographs regarding Romanian Weddings [Nunta la romni], by Simeon Florea Marian and Elena Sevastos, mention the fact that such practices have survived in Romanian villages until the late nineteenth century:
When they [= the grooms cortege] reach the gates, they cannot go in, since the gates are closed with ropes and chains (Petru Caraman, op. cit., p. 308).
In front of the locked gates, the grooms high steward (vornic, from the Slav dvornic = courtier) recites a special wedding oration called the oration at the bolt. He threatens to force his way in, using canons, pistols, maces, swords or spears:
Well use the canons
And well destroy the fortress
And well smash the gates;
And well shoot the pistols
And well break the bolts
And well have the armies in! (Petru Caraman, op. cit., p. 311).
Afterwards, the wedding guests managed to break into the yard by forcibly opening the locks or jumping from horseback over the chained gate:
In some places, it is said that the grooms high steward should jump from horseback over the chain [...] with which the door is locked from one pillar to the other (Petru Caraman, op. cit., p. 315).
Coming back to The Wedding Godfathers Song, even during this trial that the groom (actually the godfather) must overcome, it is easy to notice the fact that the bravery trial implies certain sexual features. The heroic character of the trial implicitly contains an erotic character. To jump over the gate / fence in order to use the phallic weapons to conquer the brides house is a symbol of her defloration (to jump the stile = to deflower). No soldier equals the dick / And no fortress equals the pussy goes a folkloric song collected in 1935 from the center of Transylvania (Constantin Eretescu, op. cit., p. 135). In this respect, the reader of the present book can browse the chapter entitled The Houses Sexuality and especially the subchapter called The Man and the Beloved Woman, the Soldier and the Wanted Fortress. The heros penetration of the enclosed fortress where the virgin is guarded is an allegory for the penetration of the virgin herself. Ovid, the erotologue poet, produced a witty simile between the conqueror of the fortress and the conqueror of the beloved (the soldier of Venus):
Thy lover is a soldier, and Cupid hath his camp []
The one [= the soldier] lays siege to warlike cities, the other [= the lover] to the dwelling of his inexorable mistress:
One beats down gates, the other doors. (Amores I, 9, 1-20) (The Love Books of Ovid, The Art of Love, translated by J. Lewis May in 1930, Forgotten Books, 2007, p. 36).
The motif of women as castles to be conquered, to be besieged and attacked manu militari, has survived as one that is characteristic of court literature in Western Middle Ages. In his book regarding love in the Middle Ages (Lamour au Moyen Age, 2006), Jean Verdon concludes that The lady [of the fabliaux] can be conquered like a castle. This happens even though both, the lady and the castle, are surrounded by high walls (prohibitions), by deep ditches (the husbands jealousy), by armed guards (the ladys maids) etc. (Jean Verdon, Dragostea n Evul Mediu. Trup, sexualitate ?i sentiment [Love in the Middle Ages. Body, Sexuality and Feelings], Translated by Dana-Ligia Ilin, Ed. Humanitas, Bucharest, 2009, p. 167). After all, the fortress walls are made to be penetrated or broken down. This is done literally by the soldier and figuratively by the lover. Romeo tells Juliet: For stony limits cannot hold love out (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1591-1595).
In a French thirteenth century fabliau (Douin de Lavesne, Trubert) the main character mercilessly pierces the fortress gate of Rosetta with his phallic sword. It is true that in this erotomahia the hero receives an apparently surprising help from within the besieged fortress. He conquers it with the overt help of the heroine herself:
She grabbed the upper half of the member;
He raised his head and she sobbed;
She placed it at the fortress gate;
Holding it straight, she fixed upon it,
And Trubert mercilessly showed himself:
Thrusting it handle-deep. (Jean Verdon, op. cit., p. 160).
In the thirteenth century Roman de la Rose, the hero manages to penetrate the enclosed garden (the vagina as locus amoenus) by forcing his phallic stick into the crack in the fence:
I finally managed to break the fence with my stick; I penetrated the crack [...]. When I shook the bud, I scattered some seeds on it.
If, instead of the brave fighter, there is a devout pilgrim, then the besieged fortress becomes a cathedral, the castle where the maid is guarded becomes a sanctuary and the brave lovers phallic sword becomes the walking stick of the Christian pilgrim. The author simulates a religious speech, but the sexual allusions are obvious. The result is a confusing state we can call erosy (eros + heresy). The scandal triggered by eroticism is echoed by the one triggered by blasphemy:
Full of zeal Ive come to kneel between the two beautiful pillars, for I was burning with desire to devoutly adore the sanctuary [...]. I approached the icon and kissed it piously; after which I wanted to thrust my stick in the ebrasure… (Jean Verdon, op. cit., p. 174).

The Wedding Godmothers Right

I have presented above the wedding godfathers right and the overall role played by him during the wedding. However, the customary and ritualistic traces left in the traditional Romanian culture regarding the wedding godmothers right must not be ignored either. Firstly, this case also allows for Romanian proverbs and sayings, the meaning of which is almost lost: The godmother knows, the godmother should come or The godmother knows/ To do/ And undo everything (Iuliu Zane, op. cit., vol. IV, p. 484; Nicolae Constantinescu, Rela?iile de rudenie (Kinship Systems), ed. cit., pp. 161-162). The godmother seems to be factotum, confident of the bride and groom towards whom she holds no secrets, an irreplaceable character who knows everything and does them all.
Another proverb refers to the role played by the godmother during the wedding night, which might be similar to that of the godfather, the sexual initiator of the newlyweds: Only once does the godmother see the godsons thing (Iuliu Zane, op. cit., vol. IV, p. 483; Nicolae Constantinescu, Rela?iile de rudenie [Kinship Relations], ed. cit., pp. 163). A certified practice in some Southern Carpathian villages allowed for people to resort to the conjugal services of a sexually potent young man in the case in which the groom was unable to deflower the bride on the wedding night. This operation would remain unknown to the entire village community, including the bride. The only ones who knew about it were the the godmother, the groom and the substitute man (Romulus Vulc?nescu, op. cit., p. 58). This type of unusual situation is what one of Mircea Eliades followers, Wendy Doinger, calls bedtrick. (Wendy Doniger, Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, 2000). Apart from the actors themselves, the groom and his substitute in the brides bed, the only person knowing about this big secret is the godmother. She knows because, supposedly, she is the one who has initiated and organized this sexual plot.
Even though sexual relations between wedding godparents and their godsons were considered incestuous and thus forbidden, they were still quite customary. Folkloric productions offer many examples of such inadequate situations. Maybe the archaic role played by the godparents as sexual initiators of the newlyweds has encouraged the continuation of erotic relations even after the wedding night. There is a loose 1967 folk anecdote from Ib?nesti village (Mure? County, Transylvania): The Priest who Appointed the Godfather. It refers to crossed sexual relations: the godfather sleeps with his goddaughter (Oh, how Id like me this goddaughter! says the godfather) and the godmother sleeps with her godson. (Unpublished story kept at the Cluj Folklore Archive, collected and transcribed by Ion Cuceu in 1967. I give thanks to the ethnologist Otilia Hede?an for the transmition of the text.)
In a folk ballad (Varticis Song), when the godmother (the dominators wife) insists on sleeping with her godson (boyar Vartici), the later vehemently rejects her, invoking the sin behind an incestuous relationship.
Godmother, is this not sin?
Are you not afraid of the curse [...]
If we indulge in a kiss? (N. Constantinescu, Rela?iile de rudenie (Kinship Relations), ed. cit., p. 165).
In a folk song called The Godmother and the Godson, collected by G.Dem Teodorescu in 1883, the roles are reversed. Here, the godson insists on sleeping with the godmother, who in turn refuses him by using the same type of rejection.
Dear Godmother Rada,
Leave the door open
And the window wide,
And the curtain drawn,
So I can watch you lie
And if you do it well
I can lie with you; [...]
Green leaf, dry wood
Godson, is this not sin? (G.Dem. Teodorescu, op. cit., p. 392).
Both in the case of the folk songs presented above, in which the wedding godfather has sexual relations with his goddaughter (Godfather, is this not sin?) and when it comes to the union between the godmother and the godson, the folkloric expressions are ambiguous and dubitative: Godmother, is this not sin? or Godson, is this not sin?. The ballads seem to capture an archaic, traditional era in which the folk mentality could not clearly establish whether the relationships between godfather and goddaughter or between godmother and godson were sinful or not.
Yet, if the sin was committed and the incestuous relationship between godparents and godchildren were acknowledged during confession, the priest had to take drastic measures. The folk ballad Goia, collected by Ovidiu Brlea in 1962 (in Teleorman County, South of Romania), confirms this attitude regarding the sexual relations between godson and godmother.
Holy Father, [...]
I have played with my godmother!
When the priest heard him
His book did close
And the Eucharist denied him (Al.I. Amzulescu, op. cit., pp. 419-420).
Published in Archaeus. Studies in the History of Religions, Institute for the History of Religions, Romanian Academy, Bucharest, vol. XVI, 2012, pp. 137-161


ANDREI OI?TEANU is a founding member of the Institute of the History of Religions (2008), serving as researcher and member of the Scientific Council. His main fields of scholarly interest are history of religions and mentalities, ethnology, religious folklore, cultural anthropology, morphology of antisemitism. His recent books are: Cosmos vs. Chaos: Myth and Magic in Romanian Traditional Culture, Illustrated edition, Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1999; Religions, Politics and Myths: Texts on Mircea Eliade and Ioan Petru Culianu, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2007; Il diluvio, il drago e il labirinto: Studi di magia e mitologia europea comparata, Edizioni Fiorini, Verona, 2008; Inventing the Jew: Antisemitic Stereotypes in Romanian and Other Central-East European Cultures, foreword by Moshe Idel, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London, 2009 (the volume was awarded the Prize of the Romanian Academy); Konstruktionen des Judenbildes: Rumnische und Ostmitteleuropishe Stereotypen des Antisemitismus, Illustrated edition, Frank & Timme Verlag, Berlin, 2010; Narcotics in Romanian Culture: History, Religion and Literature, illustrated edition, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2010, 2nd edition, revised and enlarged, 2011 (the volume was awarded the Special Prize of the Union of Writers from Romania); Imaginer le juif: Strotypes antismites dans la culture roumaine et de lEurope centrale et orientale, ditions Non Lieu, Paris (to be published); Rauschgift in der rumnishen Kultur: Geschichte, Religion und Literatur, Frank & Timme Verlag, Berlin (to be published); Sexuality and Society: History, Religion and Literature, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi (to be published).

Leave a Reply

(insereaza codul din stanga)

Toate drepturile rezervate Weblog.ro