In the first part I presented briefly some ancient beliefs concerning vampires and werewolves – they came from Egypt, Middle East, Greece and Italy. Now let’s progress to more familiar eras and countries – those of Southern, Eastern and Northern Europe where basic concepts and myths of vampires crystallized during Middle Ages and later periods. This second historical trip through ages and strange places will be a bit longer but I hope it will still remain interesting. The first part of my history with fangs can be found clicking here.
From the Middle Ages to the 18th century
Misunderstood satanic beasts
As time passed on and Christianity grew in popularity, the belief in a redemptive value of blood became common. Holy Communion, which includes drinking wine symbolizing Christ’s blood and eating a wafer, symbolizing his flesh, was at times taken quite literally. Some people, confusing pagan beliefs with transubstantiation (meaning the literal presence of Christ’s flesh and blood during Communion) took part in feasting on human flesh and drinking human blood. During the 11th Century, witches and doctors alike prescribed virgin blood to cure all illnesses. Also during this time, some corpses found intact all over Europe began a huge vampire scare. The belief came about that people who died without a chance to receive last rites or those who had committed suicide or had been excommunicated were destined to return to the earth as revenants. And feed on the rest of living population.
Various accounts of the discovery of vampires can be read in books such as The Diabolical Dictionary (Dictionnaire Infernal) by the Bishop of Cahors; the Courtiers Triflings (De Nugis Curialium) by Walter Map, and the History of England(Historia Rerum Anglicarum) written by William of Newburgh. The stories of William Map is in fact nothing else than a collection of anecdotes and trivia, containing court gossip and a little real history, written clearly in a satirical vein. The vampires he described arguably bear some resemblance to East European monsters so now we will move to the beautiful Slavonic and Nordic countries to meet their vampires.
In Slavic lore, causes of vampirism were numerous, including being born with a caul, teeth or tail, being conceived on certain days. Also any “unnatural” death, excommunication, and improper burial rituals might create a vampire. Evidence that a vampire was active in a given locality included strange death cases of cattle, sheep, relatives or neighbours; an exhumed body being in a lifelike state with new growth of the fingernails or hair; a body swelled up; or blood on the mouth coupled with a ruddy complexion.
Many Serbians believed that even having red hair could be a vampiric trait. Preventive measures included placing a crucifix in the coffin, placing blocks under the chin to prevent the body from eating the shroud, nailing clothes to coffin walls for the same reason, putting sawdust in the coffin (so that the vampire awakens in the evening and compelled to count every grain of sawdust, which occupies the entire evening, so he will die at dawn) or piercing the body with thorns or stakes. In the case of stakes, the general idea was to pierce through the vampire and into the ground below, pinning the body down. Certain people would bury those believed to be potential vampires with scythes above their necks, so the dead would decapitate themselves as they rose. Vampires, like other Slavic legendary monsters, were afraid of garlic and could be also destroyed by decapitation (the Kashubs placed the head between the body’s feet), burning, repeating the funeral
service, sprinkling holy water on the body, or exorcism.
Image via Wikipedia
Scandinavian countries enjoyed their own vampires – the Old Norse draugr is another medieval example of an undead creature. A draugr or draug was also known as aptrgangr (lit. “after-goer,” or “one who walks after death”). The original Norse meaning of the word is “ghost”, and in older literature one will find clear distinctions between sea-draug and land-draug. Water seemed to be their natural element as draugar (the plural form of “draug”) were believed to live in the graves of dead Vikings, inhabiting the body of the dead. Views differ on whether the personality and soul of the dead person lingered in the draugr as well. As the graves of important men often contained a good amount of wealth, the draugr jealously guarded his treasures and if a thief came then he was his dinner (or supper).
Tales of vampiric entities were found among the ancient Romans and the Romanized inhabitants of eastern Europe, Romanians (known as Vlachs in historical context). Romanian tradition described a myriad of ways of creating a vampire – usually it meant people didn’t have the slightest idea how such a creature could be created but tried to “familiarize” themselves with the topic at hand. A person born with a caul, an extra nipple, a tail, or extra hair was doomed to become a vampire. The same fate applied to someone born too early, someone whose mother encountered a black cat crossing her path (imagine the fate of black kittens in such a community), and someone who was born out of wedlock. Others who became vampires were those who died an unnatural death or before baptism, the seventh child in any family (presuming all of his or her previous siblings were of the same sex), the child of a pregnant woman who avoided eating salt (sic!), and a person who was looked upon by a vampire or a witch. Moreover, being bitten by a vampire meant of course certain condemnation to a vampiric existence after death.
Romanian vampires are called Strigoi, based on the ancient Greek term ‘strip’ for ‘screech owl’, which also came to mean demon or witch. There are different types of Strigoi. Live Strigoi are live witches who will become vampires after death. They have the ability to send out their souls at night to meet with other witches or with Strigoi, which are reanimated bodies that return to suck the blood of family, livestock, and neighbours. Other types of vampires in Romanian folklore include Moroi and Pricolici.
Image via Wikipedia
To get rid of a vampire, one could hire a Dhampir (the son of a male vampire and his widow) or a Moroi to detect the vampire. To ward off vampires, Gypsies drove steel or iron needles into a corpse’s heart and placed bits of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears and between the fingers at the time of burial. They also placed hawthorn in the corpse’s sock or drove a hawthorn stake through the legs. Further measures included driving stakes into the grave, pouring boiling water over it, as well as decapitating or burning the corpse. The Varcolac, which is sometimes mentioned in Romanian folklore, was more closely related to a mythological wolf that could devour the sun and moon (similar to Skoll and Hati in Norse mythology), and hence later became connected with werewolves rather than vampires. (A person afflicted with lycanthropy could turn into a dog, pig, or wolf.)
According to the late Serbian ethnologist Tatomir Vukanovic, Roma people in Kosovo believed that vampires were invisible to most people, but could be seen “by a twin brother and sister born on a Saturday who wear their drawers and shirts inside out.” Likewise, a settlement could be protected from a vampire “by finding a twin brother and sister born on a Saturday and making them wear their shirts and drawers inside out. This pair could see the vampire out of doors at night, but immediately after it saw them it would have to flee, head over heels.”
Some believe that vampires may have the attributes of aliens thus some think they are not of Earth at all. They would rather be considered demons as the 13th century folklore may have suggested.
The phenomenon of Vampirism continued through the Renaissance era only sporadically, but again grew to epidemic proportions in the 14th century, mainly in central European Regions of Prussia, Silesia and Bohemia (now Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic). The bubonic plague was thought to be the work of vampires (and once again it indicated that people didn’t understand neither the illness itself nor its causes so they blamed anything and everything). Panic and fear of infection led people to bury their dead without completely verifying that they were truly deceased. Small wonder so many encounters of vampires rising from their graves were reported during that time. A person buried alive would try to claw his way out of the grave and most likely would be discovered covered in blood from the wounds he had inflicted upon himself by doing so. This, of course, would label him or her as a vampire instantly and provide more scary stories to be repeated over and over again.
In the late 17th and at the beginning of the 18th century vampires originating in folklore were widely reported mainly from Eastern Europe. These tales formed the basis of the vampire legend that later entered Germany and England, where they were subsequently embellished and popularized. One of the earliest recordings of vampire activity came from the region of Istria in modern Croatia, in 1672.Local reports cited the local vampire Giure Grando of the village Khring near Tinjan as the cause of panic among the villagers.A former peasant, Guire died in 1656. However, local villagers claimed he returned from the dead and began drinking blood from the people and sexually harassing his widow. The village leader ordered a stake to be driven through his heart, but when the method failed to kill him, he was subsequently beheaded with better results.
During the 18th century, which was called the Age of Enlightenment, the belief in vampires increased
Killing a vampire via Wikipedia
dramatically, resulting in a mass hysteria. There was simply a frenzy of vampire sightings in Eastern Europe, with frequent stakings and grave diggings to identify and kill the potential revenants; even government officials engaged in the hunting and staking of would-be vampires. The panic began with an outbreak of alleged vampire attacks in East Prussia in 1721 and in the Habsburg Monarchy from 1725 to 1734, which spread to other localities. Two famous vampire cases, the first to be officially recorded and investigated, involved the corpses of Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole from Serbia. Plogojowitz was reported to have died at the age of 62, but allegedly returned after his death asking his son for food. When the son refused, he was found dead the following day. Plogojowitz supposedly returned and attacked some neighbours who died from loss of blood. In the second case, Paole, an ex-soldier turned farmer who allegedly was attacked by a vampire years before, died while haying. After his death, people began to die in the surrounding area and it was widely believed that Paole had returned to prey on the neighbours.
The two incidents were well-documented: government officials examined the bodies, wrote case reports, and published books throughout Europe. The hysteria, commonly referred to as the “18th-Century Vampire Controversy”, raged for a generation. The problem was exacerbated by rural epidemics of so-claimed vampire attacks, undoubtedly caused by the higher amount of superstition that was present in village communities. Although many scholars reported during this period that vampires did not exist, and attributed reports of vampire-sighting to premature burial or rabies, superstitious belief increased. In his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire wrote:
These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The persons so sucked waned, grew pale, and fell into consumption; while the sucking corpses grew fat, got rosy, and enjoyed an excellent appetite. It was in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria, and Lorraine, that the dead made this good cheer.
He was an educated philosopher, not a simple peasant, though. The controversy only ceased when Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her personal physician, Gerard van Swieten, to investigate the claims of vampiric entities. He concluded that vampires did not exist and the Empress passed laws prohibiting the opening of graves and desecration of bodies, sounding the end of the vampire epidemics. Despite this condemnation, the vampire lived on in artistic works and in local superstition.
Vampires were believed to be most active on the eve of two religious holidays, the Feast of St. George (Julian calendar, May 4-5 Gregorian calendar April 22-23) and the Feast of St. Andrew . (Julian calendar, November 23-24. Gregorian calendar, November 29-30). The Feast of St. George was a very important festival. Known as the Great Martyr, George was a widely-known and beloved Saint. Not only was he acknowledge as the patron of England, but many other countries as well. He was also the patron of horses, cattle, wolves, and all enemies of witches and vampires. It was on St. George’s eve that vampires all the forces of evil were most exquisite. People would remain in their homes with continuous light throughout the night.They placed thorns across thresholds, painted crosses on their doors with tar, put thistles on windows, lit bonfires, and spread garlic everywhere they could. Throughout the night, prayers would be recited repeatedly and naked blades placed beneath their pillows. If the night went well without any occurrences , the saint’s feast was celebrated with much exuberance that day. The thorns and garlic were then replaced by Roses and other flowers.