Ancient wizards of tremendous power, the Romanian Solomonari (plural of Solomonar) possessed unspeakable arcane knowledge which granted them authority over the cloud dragons (balaurii norilor) and the ability to heal. Mastering these mythical sky creatures enabled the Solomonari to bring – or prevent – rains, hailstones, blizzards or thunderstorms. These wizards were invariably hermits who lived far away from the world, inhabiting isolated areas or dwelling in Tărâmul Celălalt – the “Otherworld”.
Sometimes, however, they would descend into unsuspecting villages disguised as beggars. Since the Solomonari did not need anything the world had to offer, they did this solely to test the hearts of mortals. Depending on their experiences with these villages and their inhabitants, the Solomonari either rewarded them with favorable weather or unleashed devastating ice storms upon them. On rare occasions, the Solomonari would show themselves in their true form, riding a cloud dragon or accompanying the vengeful spirits of murdered children called Moroi.
The Solomonari were easily recognizable by anyone who saw them: unlike the stereotypical wizards of the fantasy genre, the Solomonari were tall, red-haired men with bulging eyes clad in white garments. Wherever they went, the Solomonari carried an inventory of magical items with them. Instead of a wand they carried an axe made from disenchanted iron strapped at their waist. This axe was used mainly to conjure hailstorms, but it also worked as a lightning rod when thrust into the ground.
Next to their axe, these wizards carried a personal copy of the “Tome of Solomonary” (Cartea Solomănăriei in Romanian), a book which contained all their cosmic power and knowledge. Around their neck, each Solomonar had a wooden semantron which was used to summon Vântoasele, the spirits of the wind. Another important item were the reins made of birchbark, which the Solomonari used to tame and direct their cloud dragons. Lastly, in several regions of Romania, the Solomonari were said to sometimes carry bundles of rags called moime that brought bad weather.
Mortals did not usually fear the Solomonari, since they were benevolent by nature, but if they somehow attracted the wrath of one of these wizards, only a Master Stonecutter (Meșter Pietrar) could save them. These “Stonecutters” or “Master Masons” were ancient Solomonari who chose to live among humans while still retaining most of their powers. It is uncertain whether or not the Solomonari were immortal beings since they were born as humans. Regardless, the Solomonari are believed to have lived for centuries.
Solomonanța – the Solomonar School of Wizardry
It was believed that if a child was born with the placenta fused to his head, he was destined to become a Solomonar. According to old Romanian legends, an old Solomonar would come and take him away to the Solomonanță where the child would become his apprentice. Solomonanța – usually rendered in English as the Scholomance – was the fabled school of magic where all Solomonari learned their craft.
A nineteenth century account locates it in Transylvania, under a “small lake, immeasurably deep, lying high up among the mountains south of Hermanstadt (modern-day Sibiu, Romania).” There, at the Solomonanță, the young candidate would be initiated into the mysteries of the Solomonar order, and enter a very rigorous regime of training; only on his 20th birthday could he become a full Solomonar. However, graduating from the Solomonanță was said to be so difficult that only one in seven apprentices achieved the feat.
The Solomonari student-apprentices had to learn all the languages spoken on earth, both by humans and by beasts alike. They had to master every spell and hex there was, learn how to summon and conjure the elements, exorcise and charm spirits and humans, enchant and disenchant items, and also to become masters in the craft of magical healing. Once the students would reach the age of twenty, they would retreat into a secret cave from the mountains, and sit at a table carved from stone. There, they would compile all the knowledge and arcane powers they attained over their years of training into a book – the Tome of Solomonary/Cartea Solomănăriei.
Later retellings of the Solomonari myth sometimes mention Satan as the headmaster of the Solomonanță. In other versions, the headmaster is an arch-demon of hell, while Satan’s lieutenants worked there as professors. These “additions” or “distorsions” were caused by a Christian interpretation of the archaic Solomonari mythos. Such views did not persist and did not alter the image of the Solomonari in the Romanian consciousness: the Solomonari were never seen as evil warlocks or wielders of demonic magic.
Origins and Interpretations
The true origins of these dragon-riding wizards have been lost to time, but it is almost certain that the Solomonari are mythologized versions of the ancient Dacian monastic order of the Kapnobatai or the Ktistai (which means Cloud-Walkers or Smoke-Walkers). The Kapnobatai were a caste of shamans or priests who played an important role in the spiritual life of several ancient peoples, namely the Scythians, Thracians and Dacians, the latter of which are regarded as the ancestors of modern Romanians. In the case of the Dacians, these Cloud-Walkers were ascetic shamans who lived in isolation, usually on the shores of mountain lakes, and they are known to have fired arrows at the sky whenever there was a thunderstorm.
Etymologically, the Solomonari got their name from King Solomon, the fabled son and heir of David, who became famous for his wisdom and primacy over the arcane arts. The term Solomonar itself started to be used in the Middle Ages under the influence of Christianity, being comprised of King Solomon’s name and the addition of the occupational suffix –ar. Unsurprisingly, some Medieval versions of the Solomonari mythos credit King Solomon with establishing their order. How the Solomonari were called before their Christian reinterpretation remains unknown.
Other legends connect the Solomonari to Saint Elijah, telling how they were the adepts of the prophet and his close followers. The association of the two can be seen as somewhat natural, since Saint Elijah is still perceived as a god of thunder in modern-day Romania, whose role was, and still is, similar to that of the Solomonari (i.e. – bringing rain, preventing bad weather, etc). Romanian folklore abounds in legends involving the biblical prophet, many of which seem to blur the line between vernacular Christianity and the Solomonari mythos, or fuse the two together.
In the end, the Solomonari mythos is a syncretic product of a centuries-long fusion of various traditions, beliefs, mythological elements and ultimately Christian concepts, super-imposed on a Paleo-Balkan/Dacian substratum.
Consulted Works and Sources:
- Agrigoaroaiei, E. (1981), Țara neuitatelor constelații: Folclor arhaic românesc, Junimea.
- Oișteanu, A. (2016), Ordine și Haos. Mit și magie în cultura tradițională românească, POLIROM.
- Pop-Curșeu, I. (2013), Magie și vrăjitorie în cultura română: Istorie, literatură, mentalități, POLIROM.
- Dragomir, A. M. (2012). Myth In Romanian Folklore. Themes, Motifs, and Archetypes. In Nipissing University’s Fifth Annual Undergraduate Research Conference Conference Proceedings(p. 72).
- Damian, C. I. The Solomonar: An Enigmatic Figure of the Romanian Folk Mythology.