Clear characteristic are hard to be attributed. Most of the times they are described as virgin fairies (zane in Romanian), with great seduction power over men, with magic skills, attributes similar to the Ancient Greek Nymphs, Naiads, Dryads, etc. The Iele live in the sky, in the forests, in caves, on isolated mountain cliffs, in marshes, often bathing in the springs, or at crossroads. From this point of view, the Iele are similar with the Ancient Greek Hecate, a three headed goddess of Thracian origin, which guards the crossroads. They mostly appear at night, under the moonlight, as dancing Horas, in seclusive areas like glades, the tops of certain trees (maples, walnut trees), ponds, river sides, crossroads or abandoned fireplaces, dancing naked, with their breast almost covered by their disheveled hair, with bells to their ankles, and carrying candles. In almost all of these instances, the Iele appear acorporal. Rarely, they are dressed in chain mail coats. The effect of their specific dance, the Hora, has similar characteristics with the dances of the Bacchantes. The place where they had danced would after remain carbonized, with the grass incapable of growing on the trodden ground, and with the leaves of the surrounding trees scorched. Later, when grass would finally grow, it would have a red or dark-green color, the animals would not eat it, but instead mushrooms would thrive on it. The Iele don’t live a solitary life. They gather in groups in the air, they can fly with or without wings; they can travel with incredible speeds, either on their own, or with chariots made of fire.
The Iele appear sometimes with bodies, other times only as immaterial spirits. They are young and beautiful, voluptuous immortals, their frenzy causing delirium to the watchers, and with bad tempers, but not being necessarily evil. They come in a group of unknown numbers, either in a group of seven, and sometimes in groups of three. This version is mostly found in Oltenia, were these three Iele are considered the daughters of Alexander the Great, and are called Catrina, Zalina and Marina.
They are not generally considered evil genii: they resort to revenge only when they are provoked, offended, seen while they dance, when people step on the trodden ground left behind by their dance, sleep under a tree which the Iele consider as their property, drink from the springs or wells used by them. Terrible punishments are inflicted upon the ones who refuse their invitation to dance, or the ones who mimic their movements. The one who randomly hears their songs becomes instantly mute. A main characteristic is their beautiful voices which are used to enchant their listeners, just like the Sirens from ancient Greek mythology. Invisible to humans, there are however certain moments when they can be seen by mortals, like during night, when they dance. When this happens, they abduct the victim, punishing the “guilty” one with magical spells, after they previously caused him to fall into sleep with the sounds and the vertigo of the frenetic Hora, which they dance around their victim. The one abducted, and who had the unfortunate inspiration to learn the songs of the Iele, disappears forever without a trace.
The Iele are also believed to be agents of revenge, of God or of the Devil, having the right to avenge in the name of their employers. When they were called upon to act, they hounded their victims into the middle of their dance, until they died in a furor of madness or torment. In this hypostasis, the Iele are similar to the Ancient Greek Erinyes and the Roman Furies.
Dimitrie Cantemir describes the Iele as ‘’Nymphs of the air, in love especially with young men’’. The origin of these beliefs is unknown. The name iele is the Romanian popular word for "they" (feminine). Their real names are secret and inaccessible, and are commonly replaced with nicknames based on their characteristics. The names based on epithets are: Iele, Dânse, Drăgaice, Vâlve, Iezme, Izme, Irodiţe, Rusalii, Nagode, Vântoase, Domniţe, Măiestre, Frumoase, Muşate, Fetele Codrului, Împărătesele Văzduhului, Zânioare, Sfinte de noapte, Şoimane, Mândre, Fecioare, Albe, Hale, etc. But there are also personal names which appear: Ana, Bugiana, Dumernica, Foiofia, Lacargia, Magdalina, Ruxanda, Tiranda, Trandafira, Rudeana, Ruja, Păscuţa, Cosânzeana, Orgisceana, Lemnica, Roşia, Todosia, Sandalina, Margalina, Savatina, Rujalina, etc. These names must not be used randomly, as they may be the basis for dangerous enchantments. It is believed that every witch knows nine of these pseudonyms, from which she makes combinations, and which are the basis for spells.
To please the Iele, the people had dedicated to them festival days: the Rusaliile, the Stratul, the Sfredelul or Bulciul Rusaliilor, the nine days after the Easter, the Marina etc. Whomever doesn’t respect these holidays will suffer the revenge of the Iele: men and women who work during these days would be lifted in spinning vertigos, people and cattle would suffer mysterious deaths or become paralyzed and crippled, hail would fall, flooding would happen, the trees would wither, and the houses would catch fire.
But the people also invented cures against the Iele, either preventive or exorcistic in nature: garlic and mugwort worn around the waist, in the bosom, or hung from the hat; or hanging the skull of a horse on a pole in front of the house. In this category, the most important cure is the dance of Căluşari. This custom was the subject of episode of the popular TV series, The X-Files (see The X-Files (season 2))
The same common Indo-European mythological base is suggested by the close resemblance with the Nordic Elves, youthful feminine humanoid spirits of great beauty living in forests and other natural places, underground, or in wells and springs; having as a sacred tree the same maple tree; and with magical powers, such as having the ability to cast spells with their circle dances. The elves too leave a kind of circle were they had danced, the älvdanser ("elf dances") or älvringar ("elf circles"). Typically, this circle also consisted of a ring of small mushrooms. Arguably, Iele are the Romanian equivalent of the fairies of other cultures, like the nymphs of Greek and Roman mythology, the vili from Slavic mythology, and the Irish sídhe.