White and black magic, cult of the dead and pre-Christian rituals are the cultural backbone of the Vlachs in Eastern Serbia. A close-knit community that entrusted shamanesses with spiritual mediation
Following the discovery of Balkan werewolves’ supernatural world in the Netflix series Wednesday, we are going to go deep in this mystical, sociological and somehow magical reality. Serbia is the country where we can discover some specific ancestral cultural traditions that still survive modernity. More specifically, Eastern Serbia. Here we find a close-knit community, that has made pagan magic the backbone of its identity. And this key element has been entrusted to women. Today, we open the door to Vlachs of Serbia and – respectfully – we are going to discover their mysteries.
With special thanks to Marija Stevuljevic and Giorgio Fruscione
An ancestral community
Although the derivations of the word Walhōs have branched out across Europe over the centuries – from English Wales to Dutch Waols (Walloon), Hungarian olasz and Polish włoch (Italian) – ‘Vlach’ is probably the most famous one. From the 13th century onwards, all the peoples between the Danube and the Carpathians agreed to recognize themselves under the common root ‘Vlach’. And the region became Wallachia.
Wallachia shares with Serbia the Southern border of present-day Romania. In the 18th century, Eastern Serbia (part of the Ottoman Empire) experienced large migration movements towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Abandoned villages in Eastern Serbia were occupied by people from the Principality of Wallachia (Ottoman Empire), who brought their Romance language with them. This is why two Serbian words referred to Vlach people: vlasi lived on the present-day Romanian side of the Danube, while rumuni lived on the present-day Serbian side of the river.
The habit completely changed after the unification of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia in 1859 and the birth of the United Romanian Principalities (the core of the Romanian nation-State) three years later. Between the mid-19th century and the entire 20th century – including the Yugoslav time – the word ‘Vlachs’ identified the Romance-speaking people on Serbian territory, denying them any connection with Romania. Linguistically speaking, the Vlachs are divided into two groups: ungureni are closer to the Banat Romanian dialect, while tărani are closer to the dialect of the historical region of Wallachia.
According to the 2002 census, 40 thousand Vlachs live in Serbia. However, as reported in a study by the University of Novi Sad, it is estimated that they could be 250 thousand, if we take into account the mother tongue declared by the citizens in Eastern Serbia. Although the process of assimilation is taking over in what was once a nomadic herding society, today the Vlach communities in Eastern Serbia continue to keep their language and culture alive in rural areas.