Firtat & Nefirtat

Romanian cosmogony

Fârtat and Nefârtat (=Brother and Non-Brother; in Christianism-influenced versions also known as God and the Devil/Satan)

According to Ana Chelariu: “From the perspective of the Indo-European mythological data the Romanian creation myth presents the mythical motif of the divine twins, under the names of Fîrtat and Nefîrtat, preserved as metaphoric manifestations of light/water in the character of Fîrtat, and land/darkness in that of Nefîrtat. They are similar and probably related to the Iranian Avirdada ‘lord of the waters’, and Amirdada, ‘lord of the trees’, relatives of the Indians Haurvatat and Ameretat, (Darmesteter 1875) and in the same class with the pair Mitra/Varuna, and Ohrmazd/Ahriman.

These twin deities, representative of the Indo-European (IE) pantheon, are symbolizing waters and plants, implicitly dirt: one is luminous, the other dark, one is kind and just, the other terrible and unjust, one represents universal totality and vital force, the other immortality. Similarly, the Romanian twins display these recognizable traits: Fîrtat, who emerges from the primordial waters as a butterfly and then as a young man, is a luminous handsome deity, whereas Nefîrtat, the worm, a dark figure, metaphorical manifestation of an earthly divinity, as Avirdada, a divinity of plants, is wild and quickly resorts to tricks. They are united in an inseparable relation expressed by the symbolic images of worm and butterfly, metaphorically linked in an eternal circle of transformation. They immediately enter in conflict over the creation of the Earth: Nefîrtat refuses to give in to his counterpart, Fîrtat, symbolizing water and light without which plants could not grow.
Fîrtat could not act alone, and only when Nefîrtat agrees and becomes the acting entity in this duality can creation occur. As metaphorical manifestations of water and soil, fertility and growth, the twin divinities must act together for the creation of the Earth. Fîrtat cannot create the earth alone, and Nefîrtat acting in his name alone loses mud through his fingers because he is Ne-Fîrtat, non-Life. This story sheds a glimpse of light on some important beliefs in the divine bi-unity, coincidentia oppositorum (Eliade 1972), perhaps an old Indo-European principle. As West states, “One may say that bipolarity (not trifunctionality) is the fundamental structuring principle of Indo-European thought” with its “ability to create negative compounds with the prefix *ṇ-…” (West 2007, pp. 100-101).

Contrary to the general understanding that in the IE cosmogonic drama one twin kills the other in order for the world to be created, in this myth the creation happens only when the two divinities agree with each other, and enter into harmony. Perhaps as an archaic agrarian society, the Romanian understanding of creation reflects their basic beliefs in harmony of nature. There is no doubt that time and the fluidity of human thought acted upon the metaphors and symbols from myths and fairy tales brought to us by oral tradition. Out of their initial context, such metaphors collapse onto new social conditions and acquire new connotations: Fîrtat/Nefîrtat, the divine metaphorical manifestation from the Romanian myth, have lost their earlier agrarian significance of land and water, resurfacing as Christian deities, and becoming God and Satan. Under their newly acquired names, these divinities are a good example of collapsed metaphors: while they keep their imaginative force, they receive new connotations. Thus, we could recognize Fîrtat in the Christian God, associated with light, creator of the Earth, while Nefîrtat, the former partner in creation, is perceived as an underground divinity, guardian of Hell and its fires, the fallen angel. Nefîrtat, the trickster, a metaphor of the darkness and the ground, has collapsed and resurfaced in Satan, the devil, the fallen angel of the underground, a manifestation of evil.

Remarkably, the Christian storyteller solved the conflict between the old understanding of the myth and the new one in which the two characters received the Christian names, by adding a segment at the beginning of the story, a paragraph in which the two divinities introduce each other with their previous names, Fîrtat/Nefîrtat, but in the course of the story their new names God and Satan are used.

The Sun and the Moon
The Earth