The Almighty Healing Garlic of the Ancients

“The almighty healing garlic” may sound pretentious, yet I assure you the Ancients would agree 100% with such a statement and for many good reasons as you shall see. One of the oldest cultivated plants on Earth, garlic has been regarded for thousands of years and much appreciated for its medicinal properties as noticed through empirical use. The objective of this review is to examine briefly the medical uses of garlic throughout the ages and cultures, as well as the role that it was considered to play in the prevention and treatment of diseases. First will have a look at the ancient medical and literary texts that talked about the healing properties of the garlic.

The garlic’s journey

Garlic has been in use for such a long time that one cannot pinpoint with certainty its place of origin. Various sources consider that garlic originated in western China from around the Tien Shan Mountains to Kazakhstan and Kirgizstan; from there it spread first to the Old World and then to the New World. According to different sources quoted by The Cambridge World History of Food, the cultivation of garlic in Western Europe is usually thought to have been stimulated by the Crusaders’ contacts with East in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. However, much earlier, Charlemagne (724-814) listed garlic in his Capitulare de Villis and mentioned it as of Italian origin.

The Spaniards are responsible for introducing the garlic to the Americas. In Mexico, Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) apparently grew it, and by 1604, it was said in Peru that “the Indians esteem garlic above all the roots of Europe”. By 1775, the Choctaw Indians of North America were cultivating garlic.

By the nineteenth century, American writers mentioned garlic as among their garden esculents. It is also known that garlic grew wild in southwest Siberia and spread through southern Europe down to Sicily.

The Alliaceae family

Along with onions, leeks and shallots, garlic is a species in the plant family named Alliaceae. Garlic is low in calories and very rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Manganese. It also contains trace amounts of various other nutrients such as Selenium, Fiber and decent amounts of calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B1. Garlic also contains antioxidants that protect against cell damage and ageing.

There are more than 100 varieties of garlic grown worldwide, but they are generally split into two major types. There are two major types of garlic (Allium sativum), hard-necks (Ophioscorodon) and soft-necks (Sativum), each one has its own varieties and sub-varieties.

Soft-neck garlic is most commonly seen garlic in grocery store. Its names derives from the multiple layers of creamy white or bright papery parchment covering the bulb and continuing up the neck. Hard-necked varieties are often much easier to peel than their soft-necked cousins.  

  • Soft-necked garlic — artichoke garlic (e.g. Applegate, California Early, California Late, Chamiskuri, Galiano, Italian Purple, Red Torch etc.) and silverskin garlic (e.g. Chet’s Italian Red, Inchelium, Kettle River Giant, Polish White, Creole etc.)
  • Hard-necked garlic — porcelain garlic, rocambole garlic, and purple stripe garlic.
  • Elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) — another member of the Allium clan, elephant garlic, may look like a good buy because it is so large, but its flavour is very bland and tastes more like a leek; in fact, its flavour is slight and its healing properties are inferior to those of other garlic varieties.

The healing garlic – Romania’s strongest natural antibiotic

Just as in many other parts of the world, garlic has been used for centuries not just a great condiment for traditional dishes, but also as an effective medicinal plant which can treat a series of health problems. In Romania, it is said that garlic is our strongest natural antibiotic and there are many natural remedies made using garlic used for fighting back coughs, cold or bronchitis.

When used in different mixes or tinctures (with water, alcohol, ginger, vinegar, oil, etc), garlic can help with hypertension, liver or rheumatic pains, cleaning blood vessels, or regenerates hair growing. A potion especially prepared of garlic and vinegar is a great natural disinfectant for scratches, small wounds or cuts.

The ancient stories of all-mighty healing garlic

As already said, garlic has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties and not surprisingly, it all started with Ancient Egypt. Vodex Ebers (1500 BC), an Egyptian medical text, mentions 22 different treatments which included garlic prescribed for  abnormal growths, parasites, circulatory ailments, insect infestation and general malaise; garlic macerated in oil for was used by Egyptian Copt Christians for skin diseases and for the new mothers after childbirth to stimulate milk production. Assyrians also used garlic as an antibiotic and to pack in rotten teeth cavities.

The Ancient Greeks

It was the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) who said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Although he was not referring to garlic, I thought this would be a great quote to use as the Ancient Greece texts have a generous number of references regarding the use of herbs and condiments used to treat various health problems, and garlic makes no exception. Known as the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates recommended garlic for pulmonary ailments, to aid in the release of the placenta, to treat sores, as a cleansing or purgative agent, and for abdominal growths, especially uterine.

Theophrastus (371-287 BC), a brilliant Greek connoisseur of alchemy, biology, physics, ethics and metaphysic,  reported that garlic was used by workers harvesting roots of the poisonous plant hellebore to prevent the ill effects of the toxic plant.  

Almighty garlic ailments

In his Historica Naturalis, the Greek physician Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), also recommended garlic for 23 different ailments which treated toothache, hemorrhoids, consumption, animal bites (including shrew and scorpion), bruises, ear aches, tapeworms, epilepsy, insomnia, sore throat, poor circulation, lack of desire and neutralizing the effects of the poisonous plants aconite and henbane.  

Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 AD), the Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, author of De Materia Medica and chief physician of Roman emperor Nero’s army, recommended garlic to thin mucus and relieve coughing, to expel worms, for protection against viper and dog bites, to stimulate menstrual flow and to heal ulcers and leprosy.

Jews – the garlic eaters

Jewish regard themselves as “garlic eaters” or “garlic munchers”. In his book called “Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and The Science”, Eric Block  says that

“garlic was so indelibly associated with Jews that the Nazis issued buttons of garlic plants to demonstrate the wearer’s ardent anti-Semitism and that ‘the mere mention of garlic by a Nazi orator caused crowd to howl with fury and hatred.”

Levi Cooper from The Jerusalem Post, also reports that eating garlic was so part of Jewish identity that the Mishna rules that if someone pronounces a vow prohibiting benefit “from those who eat garlic,” the one who pronounced the vow may not derive benefit from a Jew. The Mishnah (Mishna), the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions, also known as the “Oral Torah”

The first Biblical reference to the garlic is when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and complained to Moses:

“We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge; the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.” (Numbers 11:5).

The Talmud, as well as other Jewish sages, mention several qualities of garlic: it satisfies hunger, it warms the body, it illuminates one’s face, it kills parasites in the intestines;  garlic also affects a person’s mental health as it gladdens the heart and therefore eliminates jealousy.

As you read in my previous article, The Magical Garlic, Prophet Mohammed did not favour garlic consumption, yet he does recommend it to be applied externally on the sting of the scorpion or the bite of the viper.


The use of garlic in China dates back thousands of years and it was prescribed for removing poisons from the body, preventing plague, supporting respiration, helping digestion, treating diarrhea, fatigue, headache and insomnia, and controlling worm infestations.

It may have been used as a treatment for depression and to improve male potency. Chinese also used garlic as a food preservative, believing that it can eliminate the noxious effects of putrid meat and fish and to treat unwholesome water.

India – garlic, “a poor man’s gold”

In India, garlic is known as “a poor man’s gold” due to its healing qualities. 3000 years before Christ, Charak, the father of ayurvedic medicine, stated that garlic strengthens the heart and maintains blood fluidity. Garlic is extensively used in the three leading medical or healing traditions, the Tibbi, Unani and Ayurvedic. Just like in other parts of the world, applied externally garlic helped heal cuts, bruises and infections. Garlic was also appreciate for both its anti-aging (“Rasayana”) and aphrodisiac qualities.

There are also other medical Indian texts that talk about the use of garlic in treating various health problems:

  • Charaka-Samhita (written around 400-200 BC) recommends garlic for the treatment of heart disease and arthritis;
  • The Bower manuscript (300-550 AD) mentions that garlic is used to treat weakness, fatigue, infections, infestations, worms, and digestive problems;
  • Dymock, in Pharmacographia Indica (1890), reports that garlic was used to treat many ailments such as coughs, mucus, gonorrhoea, colic, fevers, swellings, rheumatism, worm infestation, hysteria, flatulence, sciatica, and heart disease;

Strength & courage

We could easily say that garlic was one of the earliest “performance enhancing” substances. A portion of garlic was daily given to pyramid workers as it was believed to improve their strength and stamina. Roman sailors and soldiers also loved the garlic for giving them strength and courage. Just like the Egyptians, Greek athletes and workers used garlic to increase strength. The story goes as far as saying that the Olympian athletes chowed down on the fragrant herb before they competed.

This would be all for now about the healing properties of the garlic. Soon I’ll be back with the second part of this article. I’m sure it will raise men’s interest. It’s called The Almighty Aphrosidiac Garlic.

READ MORE: Garlic Stories

This series of articles is dedicated to the almighty garlic. That was not my initial intention, but that’s how it turned out. The things I found out while doing my research were far too fascinating, so I thought they worth sharing. So, you have several articles based on well-researched and selected information about garlic, vampires, myths and its medical use.  


1. Aggarwal, Bharat B. Mirodenii vindecatoare. Brasov: Adevar Divin, 2016. Print

2. Ahn, Karen. The ultimate garlic cheat sheet: which type goes best with what, 2014. 

3. Block, Eric. Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and The Science. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015. Kindle.

4. Christopher, John. R. Garlic: Man’s best friend in a toxic world.

5. Ciausanu, Gh. F. Superstitiile poporului roman. In asemanare cu ale altor popoare vechi si noi. Bucuresti: Saeculum Vizual, 2014. Print.

6. Fischer, Eugen. Dictionarul plantelor medicinale. Bucuresti: Gemma Press, 1999. Print.

7. Garlic as an aphrodisiac. 

8. Garlic plant structure. 

9. History of Garlic.

10. The Guardian. The best garlic varieties: a guide, 2013.  

11. Johns, Jason. Growing Garlic – A Complete Guide To Growing, Harvesting and Using Garlic. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017. Kindle.

12. Kiple, Kenneth F. The Cambridge World History of Food, Volume 2 (Part 2), 2000. Kindle.

13. Leech, Joe. 11 proven health benefits of garlic, 2017. 

14. Nordqvist, Christian. Garlic: Proven health benefits, 2017.  

15. Popescu, Lidia Maria. Ciuperci, plante si rezine biblice. Utilizari terapeutice. Bucuresti: Tehnoplast, 2007. Print.

16. Porritt, Gwen. Garlic. 2007.

17. Rinzler, Carol Ann. The Wordsworth Book of Herbs and Spices. New York: Curmeberland House, 1990. Print

18. Smith, Dylan. Exposing the biggest myths in Ayurveda: onion & garlic are prohibited. 2016. 

The Magical Garlic – Vampire Stories


Called everything from ”stinking rose”, “rustic cure-all”, “Russian penicillin”, “Bronx vanilla” to “Italian perfume“, garlic has been loved and despised throughout history for its taste and other mysterious properties. Garlic’s healing properties started a conversation thousands of years ago that still goes on. Though, the most fascinating stories surrounding the garlic have all to do with its magical attributes. This article tries to summarize the most important magical aspects as revealed by the Romanian folklore and traditions, while also taking into account what other cultures across the world have to say about it.   

The birth of the garlic’s legend

Romanian saying about garlic

The amazing world of folklore and mythology gives us a very different answer regarding garlic’s origin. In the Romanian folklore, garlic is not just a simple aromatic and medicinal plant. According to Elena Niculina Voronca, one of the most respected Romanian folklore experts, it is believed that “garlic is human; it has a head a cross, and it’s wears clothing”, and the garlic leaves are named “căței” (“puppies”). Garlic is a Christic plant as “it bears on it the sign of the cross”. It’s also a sacred plant: “God made garlic and it’s a pity to step on it. When you peel the garlic and throw the sheaths in the fire, don’t let them fall down.” 

The Indian tradition gives garlic a sacred origin as it is said that it was born from a drop of amrita (divine ambrosia) unintentionally left behind by tired Garuda, a large bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s vehicle, drives away evil spells, black magic influences, negative spirits and removes all poisonous effects in one’s body.

A Mohammedan legend states that when Satan left the Garden of Eden, garlic sprang from the place where his left foot stepped and onion from his right foot. The Bowers Manuscript, a fifth-century Buddhist medical treatise, includes a tale that says the first garlic appeared from the blood of a demon.

According to Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the ancient Egyptians at the taking of oaths. Archaeologists discovered clay garlic bulbs placed in Egyptian tombs with the dearly departed, yet they are unsure whether they were intended as funds for the afterlife or as idols to appease the gods.

Garlic – the vampire repellant

Dracula's Castle
Bran is also known for being Dracula’s castle

Although Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, had a lot to do with making famous Romania’s belief that garlic wards off the vampires, the truth looks a little bit different from this side of the world. With all due respect for those of you who think that garlic is just Romania’s vampire repellant, allow me to tell you that this is not quite accurate. Montague Summers, author of Vampires and Vampirism: 

“Certain trees and herbs are hateful to him, the whitethorn (or buckthorn) as we have seen, and particularly garlic. Often when the Vampire is decapitated his mouth is stuffed full with garlic; garlic is scattered in and all over the coffin by handfuls; and he can do no harm. In China and among Malays to wet a child’s forehead with garlic is a sure protection against vampires.”   

Obviously, there are numerous vampires, vampire-like creatures and all sorts of evil spirits present in worldwide mythology. Consequently, it’s not surprising that this far-reaching fears of such beings needed an all-mighty resource to ward them off, but … 

“In truth garlic is not a universal deterrent; other common foods that can be used to thwart a vampire attack are poppy seeds, grains of rice, sesame seeds, iron shavings and peppercorns. Each of these items when thrown or left for a vampire to discover will compel it to stop and count each one. Ideally, this obsessive counting will take the monster all night, stalling it long enough for the sun to rise and destroy it; this is believed to be true of the Sucoyan of the West Indies.” (Theresa Bane)          

Vampires – not a Romanian invention

It seems that term “vampire” appeared for the first time as “upir” (in Old Russian, 1047) in an old note written by a priest who transcribed a book of psalms. There he referred to “the evil upir”. It is also assumed that the word “upir” comes the Tatar word “ubyr” which means “witchcraft”. Another mention of the eleventh century goes back to Saint Gregory who talks about the pagan worship of the “upirs”.

Legendary healer Melampus and Theophrastus (c.371- c.287 BC) both suggested in their writings the Greeks’ belief that garlic protects people from witchcraft and vampires. Yet, if you go far much deeper and search the literature, you will realize that the term “vampire” was never actually used in the Antiquity’s texts. True, in the ancient texts across the world there are many references to supernatural creatures who feed on blood or human flesh. Vampires were presented as demons or malefic spirits. Here are just a few examples of such creatures that had vampire-like features:

    • Vetalas and goddess Kali in the Indian mythology;
    • Empusae, Lamia and Strix in Greek-Roman mythology;
    • In the Scriptures of Delphi, a collection of myths and legends attributed to Babylon era, but gathered as a collection around 1700, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to vampires;
    • Xortdan (Hortdan) is creature in the Azerbaijani mythology which raised from its grave and could transform in any kind of animal;
  • The Vrykolakas or Kallinkantzaros have been in ancient Greek history for centuries.

Not just vampires, but also different evil spirits

The full list is extremely long, but, that does not mean, all evil creatures of the worldwide mythology qualify as vampires in the current definition of the word. Theresa Bane, the author of Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, also makes in her extremely documented book distinction between “vampires” (e.g. Agta, energy vampire in the Phillipines, Abchachu in Bolivia) and “vampiric spirits” (e.g. Chochonyi in Argentina, or Aipalookvik in Alaska, Greenland and Nothern Canada). As she also very well underlines, not all these creatures feed on blood and neither can be ward off only with garlic.

The Romanian mythology abounds in supernatural creatures. In his “Romanian Mythology” book, Tudor Pamfile talks about 46, out of which 37 (84%) are malefic creatures or evil spirits, while 8 % are benevolent and 8% neutral. Therefore, one can say that in the study of Romanian mythological supernatural beings, those with evil or malefic characteristics dominate.

Romanian ethnologist Romulus Vulcanescu, identifies few major categories of such creatures, namely “strigoi”, “moroi”, “pricolici”, “tricolici”. Their names are impossible to translate in English; the closest terms I would choose are ghosts, phantom or wraiths. It would not be accurate to say that they are the exact equivalent of what is generally understood as “vampire”.     

Garlic – the ancient antidote for the evil spirits

Garlic protection
Garlic protection

According to Theophrastus, garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at crossroads, as a supper for Hecate, the goddess of magic, witchcraft, the night, moon, ghosts and necromancy. The reason behind this superstition is linked to the fact that the garlic placed at crossroads protects travellers from evil spirits and disorientates demons.

Montague Summers also mentions the use of garlic against evil spirits or witchcraft: The West India negroes today smear themselves with garlic to neutralize the evil charms of witches and obeah men.”  On the other hand, Buryat people of Mongolia believe that the presence of the women who died during birth, and who is known for coming back at night to torture the living, can be recognized by the garlic smell they spread around.

The Korean folklore mentions the garlic in the foundation myth of the ancient kingdom of Gojoseon, when eating of nothing but 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of Korean mugwort for 100 days, let a bear be transformed into a woman. There are also mentions that eating garlic repels tigers while eating pickled garlic for those travelling dangerous mountain passes frequented by striped predators.

Romanian traditions

The ethnology and cultural studies report many customs and traditions related to garlic, yet most of them are related to specific areas, regions or villages across the Romanian land, so we cannot consider that they refer to the entire population. As in the case of other plants, popular traditions related to garlic’s magical powers are connected with some important religious celebrations (St.George’s Day, Pentecost, Saint Andrew’s Day, Christmas, New Year, etc), but not only. Garlic garlands are also seen around the houses even today.

Generally speaking, in Romania garlic is believed to be a magical plant which keeps safe people, animal stocks and households from dark or energies, evil spirits, ghosts, evil-eye and various diseases. Mainly on St.Andrew’s Day (November 30), Christmas (December 25) and New Year’s Eve locals use garlic juice to make a Christian cross sign on the door frames and locks, window frames, house eaves, stables and barns to protect themselves from evil spirits. Here are just a few examples I’ve found:   

    • In Transylvania it is said that those who eat garlic gloves on the eve of important religious celebrations (Christmas, Baptism of the Lord, Easter and others) will have nothing to worry about being bothered by the ghosts;  
    • To drive away ghosts you can ignite incense and garlic in a brass pot;
    • In Moldova, on St. Andrew’s Day (November 30), there’s a traditional party where young people who are not married gather; in the meantime, one or two old women guard the garlic brought by the girls, so men won’t steal it; at sunrise, in some villages takes place what’s called Hora Usturoiului (The Garlic Dance); following this, they believe the garlic gets miraculous powers, meaning it’s good for healing;  it is also believed that this garlic it’s good to be kept with them by travellers and while doing business or negotiations;   
    • When you are on a field and suddenly smell the garlic, it means there’s a snake nearby;
    • In some regions of the country (e.g. Suceava, Valcea, Bihor), there’s a belief that if you lubricate the udder of the cows with garlic juice, they will give good milk the entire year;  
    • To protect the castles from being attacked or bitten by snakes or weasels, people in Olt country hang garlic yarns (threads) in the stables;
  • In Hațeg county, people put garlic cloves in the dead’s coffin so it won’t turn into a ghost.

READ MORE: Garlic Stories

Initially, I wanted to give a short reply to BBC’s article Why Romanians are obsessed with garlic. That was my initial intention, but that’s how it turned out. I ended up with a series of articles is dedicated to the almighty garlic. All the things I found out while doing my research were far too fascinating, so I thought they worth sharing. So, you have several articles based on well-researched and selected information about garlic, vampires, myths and its medical use.  


  • Aggarwal, Bharat B. Mirodenii vindecatoare. Brasov: Adevar Divin, 2016. Print.
  • Bane, Theresa. Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology. McFarland, 2012. Kindle.
  • Block, Eric. Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and The Science. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015. Kindle.
  • Chevalier, Jean & Gheerbrandt, Alain. Dictionar de simboluri. Bucuresti: Artemis, 1995. Print
  • Ciausanu, Gh. F. Superstitiile poporului roman. In asemanare cu ale altor popoare vechi si noi. Bucuresti: Saeculum Vizual, 2014. Print.
  • Cooper, Levi. World of the sages: garlic breath. 2008.
  • Craznic, Oliviu. Despre strigoi si vampiri. 2011.
  • Evseev, Ivan. Dictionar de magie, demonologie si mitologie romaneasca. Timisoara: Amacord, 1998. Print.
  • Gorovei, Artur & Ciausanu, Gh.F. Credinte si superstitii romanesti. Bucuresti: Humanitas, 2013. Print.
  • History of Garlic.
  • Johns, Jason. Growing Garlic – A Complete Guide To Growing, Harvesting and Using Garlic. CreateSpace, 2017. Kindle.
  • Pamfile, Tudor. Mitologie romaneasca. Bucuresti: All, 1997. Print.
  • Porritt, Gwen. Garlic. 2007.
  • Stanculescu, Catalin. Strigoi vii, morti, moroi si pricolici in mitologia romaneasca. 2017.
  • Summers, Montague. Vampires and Vampirism. New York: Dover Occult, 2005. Kindle.  
  • Voronca, Niculita Elena. Datinile si credintele poporului roman adunate si asezate in ordine mitologica. Iasi: Polirom, 1998. Print.
  • Vulcanescu, Mircea. Mitologie romana. Bucuresti: Editura Academiei, 1985. Print.

The Evil Eye

Just as the garlic has been thought to ward off vampires or other evil spirits, it is also found in the mythology of countries as a repellant for what is generally known as Evil Eye. This was first recorded in Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago in cuneiform on clay tablets, but it may actually have originated as early as the Upper Paleolithic age.

The belief in Evil Eye is much present in the Roman times when it was named Oculus Malus, turpicula or fascinus and authors such as Hesiod, Plato, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, Tertullian, Saint Augustin and others often mention it in their writings.

In other parts of the world, the Evil Eye is known as: Mal ojo (Spanish), mati (Greek), Ayin Ha’ra (Hebrew), Ayin Harsha (Arabic), Bla Band (Farsi), Nazar Boncugu (Turkish), Mal Occhio (Italian), Böser Blick (German), Droch Shuil (Scottish) or Mauvais Oeil (French).

What Romanian tradition says …

The Evil Eye
“The Evil Eye, just like other diseases, is seen by Romanians as a being, an evil spirit.” – Gh. F. Ciausanu

The belief in the Evil Eye is still very much present in the Romanian society, yet it’s also spread across many cultures, from Jewish, Christian and Muslim to Buddhism and Hindu societies. Romanian ethnologist Gh.F.Ciausanu comments that “The Evil Eye, just like other diseases, is seen by Romanians as a being, an evil spirit.”

Given intentionally or not, the malevolent glare can cause yawning, headaches, heartaches, fever, back pains, insomnia and an overall feeling of exhaustion. Animals and plants can also get this evil look.

To protect against the Evil Eye Romanians have many incantations (Romanian “descântece”) and a very old one I know mentions “red garlic in the eyes of the one who gave me this spell” (Romanian “Usturoi roșu în ochii tăi, celui ce-ai fîcut această făcătură”). Ciausanu also mentions an old protection phrase: “Garlic between my eyes to protect me from the Evil Eye” (Romanian “Usturoi între ochi, să nu-mi fie de deochi!”). A garlic clove hanged with a red thread around the neck of the baby or on its cap will protect the newborn from getting the Evil Eye.

What the Ancients believed about it

Ancient Greek and Romans also believed garlic can serve as a protection talisman against the Evil Eye. For the same reason, ancient Greeks used a triangular amulet containing coal, salt and garlic. An old Macedonian tradition says that for the newborn to have good luck and be protected against Evil Eye and bad spirits, one must put in his/her clothing a garlic clove, three lemon seeds, a piece of bread and a ring.

Eric Block, a chemistry professor at Albany University and author of more than 220 papers, 5 patents, 4 books, mentions the way Sephardic Jews used garlic as a way of protecting themselves against Evil-Eye. When a neighbour came and said something complimentary about her neighbour’s child she would often add “May the evil eye not fall” or “let it go to the garlic.” Blocks also adds:

“Their houses were protected with crocheted bags with five tiny finger-like sacks each holding a single garlic clove. The bags were placed outside a window or in a balcony just like a mezuzah.”

The possible explanation why, as you have seen, so many cultures believe that garlic has the power to protect against us from evil or “dark energies”, including the Evil Eye, also comes from Block:

“the view that garlic and its relatives are impure and linked to the underworld suggests that these same plants are especially suited for offerings to underworld forces, e.g., evil spirits, in seeking their protection, or eliminating the evil they brought on.”

Regardless it’s a Mezuzah, garlic or other herbs, potions, rituals, “icarros” (Peru, Bolivia), ancient “descântece” (Romania) or other symbolic objects, it’s clear that across cultures the belief in what is generally called “evil spirit” or “bad energy” is a common one.

The Mezuzah

Those who read my blog know I am fascinated by myths, symbols and traditions. Those who do not know can check my posts about the magic garlic, vampires, Garuda etc. This time I shall talk about the mezuzah. It is a sacred object is of biblical origin, being mentioned twice Deuteronomy, and therefore carries great weight for any Jewish family. The Hebrew word mezuzah means “doorpost”.

The mezuzah itself consists of a small scroll of parchment (k’laf ) contained in a decorative case and inscribed with specific Hebrew verses from the Torah. To be more specific, on the scroll are written two biblical passages. The scroll contains the first two paragraphs of the “Shema” prayer, declaring the oneness of God. It also commands Jewish people “to write [these words] on the doorpost of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9). The second passage (Deut. 11:13-21) teaches that Jewish destiny, both individually and nationally, depends upon fulfilling God’s will.

Different types of Mezuzah

The parchment is inscribed on only one side. On its reverse side, only one word appears Shaddai, one of the Hebrew names used for God. Shaddai is an acronym for “Guardian of the Doors of Israel“. The container of the scroll can be made out of different materials such as copper, stone, wood, metal etc.

According to tradition, affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost at the entrance of a Jewish home fulfils a biblical commandment:

“You shall write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:9).

It’s a daily reminder and a public declaration of Jewish identity and faith. It is also placed at the entrance to each of the interior rooms except for the bathrooms.

Not a protective device …

It’s important to know that a mezuzah is not meant to be a protective device. It reminds people that a home is a holy place and that they should act accordingly. When you enter a house and when we leave it to go out into the world. It’s a sign and reminder of the Covenant, of the love and commitment and the willingness to create a Jewish household.

Eric Block, a chemistry professor at Albany University, mentions that Jewish used to put a single garlic clove “outside a window or in a balcony just like a mezuzah” to protect themselves from Evil Eye.

For more details regarding the meaning of mezuzah, I recommend the following online resources:

Garuda’s Protecting Power

If you travel to Bali, you will see him everywhere … templates, at the front door entrance of the houses, in the masks hanging on the walls of most souvenir shops etc. That’s not without a reason … Balinese people believe Garuda will protect them from all bad things and evil.

Garuda – Kecak dance in Uluwatu Temple

In Kecak Dance story I’ve shared with you there’s a character named Garuda, a large bird-like creature, or humanoid bird that appears in both Hinduism and Buddhism. When researching a little bit about him, I realized he deserves special attention as Garuda represents the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu.

Mahabharata identifies Garuda as the younger brother of Aruna, the charioteer of the sun god, Surya. His mother, Vinata, mother of the birds, was tricked into becoming the slave of her sister and co-wife, Kadru, mother of the nagas (serpents). The lasting enmity between the birds, particularly Garuda, and the serpents is attributed to this. The nagas agreed to release Vinata if Garuda could obtain for them a drink of the elixir of immortality, the amrita, or soma. He performed that feat, thus giving the snakes the ability to slough off their old skins, and, on his way back from the heavens, he met Vishnu and agreed to serve him as his vehicle and also as his emblem.

The one who drives the aways the evil

Garuda is Lord Vishnu’s vehicle, as the King of Birds, he knows the secrets of death and the beyond. He drives away evil spells, black magic influences, negative spirits and removes all poisonous effects in one’s body.

Another wood painted carving of Garuda

Throughout the Mahabharata, Garuda is invoked as a symbol of impetuous violent force, of speed, and of martial prowess. Powerful warriors advancing rapidly on doomed foes are likened to Garuda swooping down on a serpent. Defeated warriors are like snakes beaten down by Garuda.

Garuda is also the Hindu name for the constellation Aquila. The brahminy kite and phoenix are considered to be the contemporary representations of Garuda.

Garuda – painted wood carving

When you travel to Bali you cannot help being dazzled by the amazing detailed wooden statues and masks of Garuda. Both there and in Java, the mythical creatures has become a cultural symbol.

It is worth mentioning that in Bali, you can see the tallest Garuda statue in Wisnu Kencana complex. It’s about o18 meters tall and made from tons of copper and brass.

The modern symbolism of Garuda

In Indonesia, India and the rest of Southeast Asia Garuda stands for the eagle symbolism. Garuda is today a national emblem of Indonesia.

The Coat of Arms of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila and it was designed by Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak. On February 11, 1950 it was adopted as the national coat of arms

Garuda as represented today on Indonesian’s national flag.

The main part of the Coat of Arms is the golden mythical bird Garuda with a shield on its chest and a scroll gripped by its leg bears the national motto: “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”, roughly means “Unity in Diversity”. The shield’s five emblems represent Pancasila, the five principles of Indonesia’s national philosophy. The numbers of feathers were meant to symbolise the date of Indonesian Proclamation of Independence; 17 feathers on each wing, 8 tail feathers, 19 upper tail feathers (under the shield, above the tail), and 45 neck feathers; all symbolise 17-8-1945; 17th August 1945. Garuda Pancasila was designed by Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak and was adopted as the national coat of arms on February 11, 1950.

To conclude this brief story about the king of birds, there’s one more thing I do have to mention especially for those travelling to Hindu countries. Don’t be surprised if you’ll see him along the way. With the spread of Hinduism to Nepal and to Southeast Asia, where Garuda is frequently depicted on various monuments, sculptures or temples.

Kecak Dance

“Cak! Cak! Cak cak cakcakcakcakcakcakcak…,” when you hear that sound, it means that Kekac dance performance has begun in Pura Uluwatu Temple. Along with Barong and  Janger dances, Kekac is an icon of Balinese performing art. It is one of the “must see” things once you get to the island.

The origins of Kekac dance

Not known exactly where Kecak dance originated and which was first developed, but there are some kind of agreement on the Balinese Kecak, as additional knowledge Kecak was originally a song or music that is resultant from a combination sounds that make up melodies that are usually used to accompany the sacred dance Sanghyang. And can only be staged in the temple. Then in the early 1930s by artists from the village of Bona, Gianyar trying to develop a Kecak dance by taking the story of Ramayana who danced as a substitute for Sanghyang Dance so this dance could eventually be displayed in public as a performance art. Part of the Ramayana story in which the first is taken as Goddess Sita was abducted by King Ravana (Rahwana).

Kekac’s origins are not known for sure, yet there’s a certain agreement that it was first developed into a performing arts in the village of Bona, Gianyar. At that time the dance could only be performed in the temple as the dance was rooted in an old ritual dance called sanghyang or trance dance. In sanghyang dance, a person in a state of trance communicates with the deities or ancestors. The dancer acts as a medium to communicate the deities or ancestors’ wishes. In the early 1930s artists from Bona developed further the Kekac dance by taking the story of Ramayana who danced as a substitute for Sanghyang Dance. Therefore, this dance could eventually be displayed in public as a performance art.

Kekac dance routine

The routine as seen today is performed by a group of around 40-60 men bare-chested, swathed in the distinct Balinese sarongs (black-and-white checkered fabric). They enter the stage chanting “cak” in organized rhythm and harmony while raising their hands to the sky and stomping their feet.

Kekac dance

What makes this dance particularly unique is that the drama uses no artificial backdrop, no musical instrument. The concentric circles of men sitting cross-legged around a set of torches in the center form a chorus that continuously chant “Cak! Cak! Cak!” or “Keh-Chak” in polyrhythmic sounds during almost the entire performance. In other words, they perfectly imitate the sounds of “gamelan” orchestra which usually accompanies other Balinese traditional performances.

In Bali, as in other parts of the world, a traditional dance is more than just an art form. It’s an expression of gratitude, a way to thank the gods for all their blessings and kindness. There are dozens of different dances – all part of the fascinating Balinese cultures. I was especially impressed with the way the hand movement of the dancers and the way it harmonizes with their face expressions. And it’s impossible not to be dazzled by the beauty and intricate embroidery of the costumes. You can see this in some of the pictures I had taken.  

There are many things I liked about Kecak dance in Uluwatu, yet what I most loved about Kecak, is not just the tens of voices harmonizing in one impressive “Cak! Cak! Cak! Cakcakcakcakcakcakcakcak…” song, the masks, the make-up or costumes, the talent of the actors and actresses, but most of all I loved the meanings, the deep-rooted symbols of Hindu mythology.

Rama and Sita – the lovers

The story is a fragment from the Ramayana, the Hindu epic which finds its expression in many forms, not only in dance, but also in painting and carving. It’s a story about good overcoming evil.

Princess Sita
Princess Sita, Rama’s beautiful wife

Rama is King Dashratha’s eldest son and heir to the throne of the kingdom of Ayodya. He marries Sita, a beautiful and graceful princess. Bharat, Dashratha’s wife and mother the mother of his eldest wants her son to inherit the throne. As a result of trickery Dashratha is compelled to exile Rama, Sita and Lakshman (Rama’s brother) and make Bharat successor.

For years Rama, Sita and Lakshman make their home in the forest in a little cottage – a perfect refuge for them in their banishment. But their quiet life ends once day when the demon king, Rahwana (or Ravana) tries to kidnap Sita. He tries all sorts of tricks to take her away from his beloved husband until he finally succeeds it. He takes Sita to his home island called Lanka.

Garuda and Rahwana

Disguised as an old man, devil king Rahwana, King of Alengka, tries and succeeds to kidnap beautiful princess Sita, but only using an old trick. He disguises himself has an old priest and begs Sita for some food as he is cold and hungry. Sita falls for for his trick and Rahwana grabs her and takes her to his palace. Once back in his palace in Alengka, Rahwana tries everything he can to seduce Sita, but without any luck.

Rahwana, the evil king who kidnaps Princess Sita

In Hindu epic Ramayana, Rahwana or Ravana is presented as as the Rakshasa (demon) king of Lanka. He is a great scholar and follower of Shiva, but wished to overpower the benevolent supernatural beings (Devas). In our story, as well as in Ramayana, Ravana kidnaps Rama’s wife Sita to exact vengeance on Rama and his brother Lakshmana for having cut off the nose of his sister Shurpanakha.

Garuda, the King of Birds

Garuda, the bird-king is one of those trying to stop Rahwana to steal away Sita and he’s wounded. This is extremely symbolic as Garuda represents the mount (vahana) of the Lord Vishnu. He drives away evil spells, black magic influences, negative spirits and removes all poisonous effects in one’s body. Garuda is also known for being Lord Vishnu’s vehicle. The king of birds knows the secrets of death and the beyond. He’s a protector, a defender against all evils.

Hanouman, King of White Monkeys

Rama searched his wife for years, but he failed to find her until one day he crosses paths with Hanouman (or Hanuman) the king of white monkeys with his magic powers plays a major role in Sita’s reunion with Rama. He is the one who gathered an army of millions of monkeys and also the great bears to look for Sita. It took years, but thanks to Hanuman special powers (he could fly like a bird), he found where Ravana was keeping Sita, imprisoned on his island.

One of the most dramatic scene of the drama is is portrayed when Hanouman is captured by Rahwana’s troops and put inside a circle of fire to burn him alive. Instead of burning to crisp, the white monkey warrior remains unharmed and breaks out only to burn Rahwana’s palace instead. Although caught in the middle of the fire and injured, Hanouman survives.

Hanouman & the fire dance
Although caught in the middle of the fire and injured, Hanouman survives.

Hanouman, also known as Mahavira or Bajrangbali, is a Hindu god and an ardent devotee of the god Rama. Several Hindu texts also present him as an incarnation of the god Shiva. He is the son of Anjanaand Kesari, and is also described as the son of the wind-god Vayu.

As it always happens when evil fights against good, the latter wins, so our story all ends well. There’s a happy end for Rama and Sita, as they get back together thanks to Hanouman’s help and magic powers.

The fire of Kecak

Kecak Dance is not just one of Balinese artistic masterpieces in the form of a dance and musical drama, but a truly dazzling performance you definitely don’t want to miss.

It is regularly performed in many places all over Bali Island. However, the best place to watch this spectacular show is at the Pura Uluwatu. The dance can also be found at Tanah Lot, GWK Cultural Park, Pura Dalem Ubud, Padang Tegal Stage, Batubulan, Umadewi Stage, and more.

If you would like to find out more about Uluwatu Temple, I invite to read The Unexpected Lesson in Uluwatu Temple. For those who have not got to Bali yet, you can enjoy more pictures I took there.