Vampire myths go back thousands of years and occur in almost every culture around the world.
Their variety is almost endless; from red eyed monsters with green or pink hair in China to the Greek Lamia which has the
upper body of a woman and the lower body of a winged serpent; from vampire foxes in Japan to a head with trailing entrails
known as the Penanggalang in Malaysia.
However, the vampires we are familiar with today, although mutated by fiction and film, are largely
based on Eastern European myths. The vampire myths of Europe originated in the far East, and were transported from places
like China, Tibet and India with the trade caravans along the silk route to the Mediterranean. Here they spread out along
the Black Sea coast to Greece, the Balkans and of course the Carpathian mountains, including Hungary and Transylvania.
Our modern concept of the vampire still retains threads, such as blood drinking, return from death,
preying on humans at night, etc in common with the Eastern European myths. However many things we are familiar with; the wearing
of evening clothes, capes with tall collars, turning into bats, etc are much more recent inventions.
On the other hand, many features of the old myths such as the placing of millet or poppy seeds at the
gravesite in order to keep the vampire occupied all night counting seeds rather than preying on relatives, have all but disappeared
from modern fiction and film.
Even among the Eastern European countries there is a large variety of vampires.
SLAVIC VAMPIRES:The Slavic people including most east Europeans from
Russia to Bulgaria, Serbia to Poland, have the richest vampire folklore and legends in the world. The Slavs came from north
of the Black Sea and were closely associated with the Iranians. Prior to 8th century AD they migrated north and west to where
they are now.
Christianization began almost as soon as they arrived in their new homelands. But through the 9th and
10th centuries the Eastern Orthodox Church and the western Roman Church were struggling with each other for supremacy. They
formally broke in 1054 AD, with the Bulgarians, Russians, and Serbians staying Orthodox, while the Poles, Czechs, and Croatians
went Roman. This split caused a big difference in the development of vampire lore - the Roman church believed incorrupt bodies
were saints, while the Orthodox church believed they were vampires.
The origin of Slavic vampire myths developed during 9th C as a result of conflict between pre-Christian
paganism and Christianity. Christianity won out with the vampires and other pagan beliefs surviving in folklore.
Causes of vampirism included: being born with a caul, teeth, or tail, being conceived on certain days,
irregular death, excommunication, improper burial rituals etc. Preventative measures included: placing a crucifix in the coffin,
or blocks under the chin to prevent the body from eating the shroud, nailing clothes to coffin walls for the same reason,
placing millet or poppy seeds in the grave because vampires had a fascination with counting, or piercing the body with thorns
Evidence that a vampire was at work in the neighbourhood included: death of cattle, sheep, relatives,
neighbours, exhumed bodies being in a lifelike state with new growth of the fingernails or hair, or if the body was swelled
up like a drum, or there was blood on the mouth and if the corpse had a ruddy complexion.
Vampires could be destroyed by staking, decapitation (the Kashubs placed the head between the feet),
burning, repeating the funeral service, holy water on the grave, exorcism.
ROMANIA:Romania is surrounded by Slavic countries, so it isn't surprising
that their vampires are variants of the Slavic vampire. They are called Strigoi based on the Roman term strix for screech
owl which also came to mean demon or witch.
There are different types of strigoi: strigoi vii are live witches who will become vampires after death.
They can send out their soul at night to meet with other witches or with Strigoi mort who are dead vampires. The strigoi mort
are the reanimated bodies which return to suck the blood of family, livestock, and neighbours.
A person born with a caul, tail, born out of wedlock, or one who died an unnatural death, or died before
baptism, was doomed to become a vampire. As was the seventh child of the same sex in a family, the child of a pregnant woman
who didn't eat salt or was looked at by a vampire, or a witch. And naturally, being bitten by vampire, meant certain condemnation
to a vampiric existence after death.
The Vircolac which is sometimes mentioned in folklore was more closely related to a mythological wolf
that could devour the sun and moon and later became connected with werewolves rather than vampires. The person afflicted with
lycanthropy could turn into a dog, pig, or wolf.
The vampire was usually first noticed when it attacked family and livestock, or threw things around
in the house. Vampires, along with witches, were believed to be most active on the Eve of St George's Day (April 22 Julian,
May 4 Gregorian calendar), the night when all forms of evil were supposed to be abroad. St Georges Day is still celebrated
A vampire in the grave could be told by holes in the earth, an undecomposed corpse with a red face,
or having one foot in the corner of the coffin. Living vampires were found by distributing garlic in church and seeing who
didn't eat it.
Graves were often opened three years after death of a child, five years after the death of a young
person, or seven years after the death of an adult to check for vampirism.
Measures to prevent a person becoming a vampire included, removing the caul from a newborn and destroying
it before the baby could eat any of it, careful preparation of dead bodies, including preventing animals from passing over
the corpse, placing a thorny branch of wild rose in the grave, and placing garlic on windows and rubbing it on cattle, especially
on St George's & St Andrew's days.
To destroy a vampire, a stake was driven through the body followed by decapitation and placing garlic
in the mouth. By the 19th century people were shooting a bullet through the coffin. For resistant cases, the body was dismembered
and the pieces burned, mixed with water, and given to family members as a cure.