The informant is a Romanian American who was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1957. At age 19, my informant left Ceausescu’s Romania and arrived in the United States in 1976. She is a real estate agent who currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
My informant told me the story of the Iele at the dinner table during a family get-together. Several of my family members and family friends (all originally from Romania) were recounting memories from their childhood. My informant began speaking about how her grandma used to tell her all sorts of stories as a child (as early as when she was around 6 or 7). Her grandmother lived in Bucharest, Romania, but had parents that lived in a village about 15 kilometers outside of Bucharest, that told her stories about the Romanian countryside. At some point in the conversation, my informant mentioned the Iele. I asked my informant if she could speak more about the Iele, which resulted in the below piece of documented folklore in the “Item” section of this post.
When I asked her why she thinks she believed in the Iele, my informant told me how as a kid, the thought of Iele sounded so beautiful and thought it made sense that one would be tempted to get up and dance with the Iele. She also mentioned how she grew up in Bucharest and that she would never see anything like the Iele in the city, but only in a remote and beautiful place like the countryside. Furthermore, whenever as a kid she went on vacations to the countryside, there would often be a fog that would rise from the ground up, and that also convinced her as a kid that it was true.
(Audio recording transcribed)
“So in small villages in Romania, they…have this story about what happens in the summer. During the night, when it’s really nice and warm out, and sometimes people like to stay out late on their porch…you have to be very careful because close to midnight, sometimes you can see this beautiful…groups of beautiful girls with long, flowing hair, dancing to beautiful music. They all dance like they are in a hora. And as they dance, they do such a…it’s like they’re floating in the air, and they invite you to go dance with them, but you have to be careful not to do that because if you do, you’ll never be able to speak or see – you go blind and mute. And the one way you know that they’re not real…you have to look really closely when they’re dancing in the grass, and you’ll see that you won’t see their feet because…it all looks as if they’re floating, and that’s because you can’t see their feet, and that’s how you know whether they’re real or not. And their names are Iele. And I actually believed it when I was little.”
The story of these legendary creatures known as Iele seemed to appeal to my informant because it seemed to speak to her fondness of the countryside, that she liked this beautified, mystic ideal of the Romanian countryside. My theory is that on a larger scale, the legend of the Iele might speak to a desire of those who live in the countryside to pass on their belief in the beautiful and mystical quality of nature, passing it on in the face of more Romanians moving to the city, more Romanians acclimating to modern society, and the phenomenon of the culture of industrialized society become the dominating culture.
One should also recognize that the legend of the Iele is strikingly similar to the legend of the mermaids, which is worthy of noting as it speaks to the nature of folklore to have multiplicity and variation as it’s collected throughout the world.
For another version of this, please see:
“Haunted Forest/Alux.” Destination Truth. Writ. Neil Mandt and Michael Mandt. Dir. Neil Mandt. NBC Universal Television Distribution, 2009. DVD.