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My grandmother was a village witch. She knew how to make the sheep give birth easier, how to cure cows with gas, how will the weather be this year, when was the right time to plant potatoes and corn and whether or not there will be wolves attacking the village this winter.

In the winter, she would walk in the forest to get wood for the fire. She always came back with a large bundle of fallen branches. Everybody believed she went into the forest to talk to the wolves.

When someone in the village died, they called the priest to give him the last rites and then they called her to perform a millenia’s worth of customs. Small pieces of a specifically made aromatic cake with herbs so the departed could feed the dogs of St Peter, a silver needle through the heart so he won’t return as a strigoi or moroi. She and other elderly women in the village then guarded the departed for three days and at each midnight they sang old songs in a language I couldn’t understand telling the mountains and the forest and bizarre supernatural figures the soul would meet on his way to St Peter about the good deeds he did when he was alive. How he went to church when he could, treated people right, never deceived anybody, never beat his wife, never took God’s name in vain.

The priest knew and understood these things mattered to the people of the remote village where she lives as much as the Christian service.

When they needed to dig out a new fountain they asked her to go find the water vein, because the land is bad and the water is scarce. She had a small stick fashioned from an almond branch and she followed it, and she always found water.

She looked like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Big nose, hunched back, shaped as a triangle with a walking stick as the longest side. She never wore shoes- she said she needed to feel the breath of the earth so she was barefoot from March til November and in the winter she wore opinci- a traditional peasants’ footwear which is basically a piece of leather ties to your feet with strings.

She knew how to catch trout by hand, had a loom she had inherited from her mother in which she made unbelievable translucent marame- a thin silk from silk worms she tended to with more love than she ever showed me.
On New Year’s Day she put on a bear pelt with the  head still attached and went to knock on the doors of other elders in the village. They all walked to the centre of the village wearing the bear pelts while someone beat a drum. They danced the dance of the bears which our Dacian ancestors danced  to warn away  sickness, and drought and war and invasion in the following year.

When she died she was 97. The entire village followed her coffin, carried uphill to the cemetery on a carriage drawn by 12 horses- half the horses in the village. Everybody kissed her cold dead hand and the priest in his service mourned the fact there was nobody to take her place and carry on her knowledge.

My land in a land of mysticism and legend, and that mysticism has  served us well. It is the link between us and the mountains and the forest who hid us from invaders and the wide serpent of the Danube who kept the armies of Darius at bay.

My grandfather on my mother’s side taught us what plants were good to heal what, which were good to eat, where to find mushrooms, how to find a spring in the forest and how to build shelter if you were caught by rain in the remains of the Crazy Forest- the Deliorman.

This mysticism is nothing more than the remains of ancient European animism and shamanism- we still say the Forest is the Romanian’s Brother, and believe it. Many a company involved in the deforestation of the Carpathians found themselves set on fire because our trees are ours.

When Chevron tried to drill for shale oil in Romania the locals did what their ancestors always did- set the installations on fire and chased away the intruders. A quiet war that lasted a year and saw Chevron leave quietly, tail wedged firmly between their legs.  An old priest in the village nearby had preached at length about how foreigners had no rights to despoil our land because if the land wanted to give us oil it’s have given it already (Romania had large reserves of oil between wars. The Allies bombed most of that).

The link with the land is sealed and enforced by stories, legends and customs. What you call superstition I call ritual, and we all know rituals work.

Moving to the West, I perceived the acute lack of ritual as painful. The people seemed monocoloured, the land was alone and unloved.

How could the people of the West defend their lands when they don’t even know what their land is? Potted plants know nothing about having roots that go tens of metres into the soft black thick as butter Earth. You can move a potted plant, but you can’t move an oak, and that’s why so many Westerners are potted plants.

What do the people of asphalt and concrete know about land? How could they love it? Land’s nothing to them. The people in the villages in Europe still carry on the old traditions and rituals because a ritual is a covenant. But the people in the city have no idea what the rituals mean.

You leave milk and cookies for St Nikolaus because in the ancient stories he was the demon Krampus, and if you left him food he wouldn’t eat your children.

You leave the first milk of a cow out in a saucer so pixies will not make your cow sick.

You chew a fistful of earth to know when you need to rotate crops. You listen to the birds’ song to know if it’s gonna rain.

This is ancient knowledge. This is the bond with our land.

And this is why the West is empty and lost. Because it broke that bond. The West is dying because some centuries ago people of another tribe told them that the old stories and traditions are bad, and that knowledge is cold and unchanging.

And yet if these people knew so much, how come they couldn’t even keep the land they claimed to be theirs?

Why did you listen to them? Why did you lose the mystery and the ritual and the love, why did you abandon your lands’ wisdom for strangers’ words?

The people without land, changing as the wind with roots nowhere came and told you lies and you uprooted yourselves to follow them.

They turned you all into potted plants, easily moved but who die alone without someone else to water them.

They took away your roots.

And if you want to survive, you need to take your feeble potted plant roots and go find a tree. Plant your roots in the land and tell it “I am yours, I am home, please take me back because I’m dying without you”.


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