The folklore related to vampires has a lengthy historical timeline and remains one of great fascination which continues today. Within literary novels of the past like Abraham Stoker’s “Dracula”, to present day books, films, movies and television the theme continues and has woven itself into distinct subcultures. These words and recordings show people through depictions and paintings that even in today’s world images of a ravenous reanimated corpse both frightens and terrifies us. The vampire rises from the grave under cover of night to return to steal the life force from his family, friends or neighbours.
The vampire images and folklore appear to have originated in Eastern Europe and later became popularised through Abraham Stoker’s “Dracula” novel written in 1898. “The Vampire: A Casebook,” published by Alan Dundes on September 24th, 1998, presented various case studies that predate the reemergence in popular culture. Alan Dundes combines psychoanalytic and folkloristic approaches. I have chosen to review the literature from this author and others I have found during the summer rather than my earlier project due to life’s circumstances unfolding as they wish and not as I had planned. My focus will remain on the original folklore rather than its modern variations.
For most of us today, when we hear the word “vampire” we think of Transylvania or Hungary. We might think of terms to describe them drawn from recent media such as “Interview with a Vampire,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Angel.” Each new wave of stories, whether via novels or media, add something new to the legend, which has proven very adaptable over the centuries.
Linguistic analysis demonstrated that the first recorded instances of the word indicate that it was neither Hungary nor Romania, and there are several schools of thought of the country of origin, including Turkey, Serbia, and Slavic roots.
Jessica Wilson notes that the first use of the word in English comes from “Travels of three English gentlemen from Venice to Hamburg, being the Grand Tour of Germany in the year 1734.” Pope Benedict XIV thought the belief in vampires was rooted in folklore belief and superstition and was “not easy to extirpate.” Pope Benedict XIV wrote about his concerns of the mutilations of corpses believed to be vampires by local peasants. This chapter mentions that victims feel as if they are suffocating during the attacks.
Jessica Wilson also states that the Russian word “vampyr” may have originated in either German or French from the cognates of vampire, upir, and upyr. These were later shown to be of Bulgarian origin. It seems most likely that it originates within the Slavic community. The earliest recorded uses of the term appear in French, English and Latin referring to vampirism in Poland, Russia and Macedonia (Southern Yugoslavia). It later appears during the vampire epidemic recorded in the years 1725-1732.
Paraphrased from Agnes Murgoci: “Russia, Roumania and the Balkan states carry an idea that the soul does not finally leave the body to go on its journey to Paradise for forty days after death. In some cases believing that the soul may linger for longer periods which then delays decomposition of the body who then becomes a vampire. Once the bones are white and clean, the soul has entered paradise. Bones are then washed in water and wine and put in clean linen, a religious ceremony is held and the bones are reinterred.”
Agnes Murgoci writes that it was once believed that some were born to be vampires after death and might be able to send out their souls, and maybe bodies, to wander at crossroads and were known as “live-vampire” type. There were various periods in which bodies would be disinterred, according to the age at death. If a corpse was not completely decomposed, it had become a vampire, according to Romanian custom, yet, another folklore belief in vampire types is that of the “varcolac,” which eats the sun and the moon during eclipses.
Adding to the confusion is the concept of a “striga” or “strigele,” who are not “real” vampires but spirits of living witches, and are sent out as a little light or of dead witches who have found no peace. Most vampires are known as “strigoi” and the term “miroii” is also used. These combine with witches, wizards and devils in Romanian folklore. A video we watched during the workshop showed that even into the 1930s the folklore surrounding vampires remained strong, and if a family suffered multiple deaths after a single death, it was believed that the vampire had risen from the grave to bring his friends and family back to him in the afterlife.
Throughout our readings in our texts and the associated additional readings, how to destroy a vampire methods and practices include the use of an axe to crush the chest; a hawthorn stake through the heart; a metal needle into the body; cutting off the head and placing it between the feet; removing the heart and liver, which were then burnt to ash then mixed with water and given to the sick to drink as a cure; reburial or destruction of the corpse completely with fire.
Felix J. Oinas writes about the distinctions between what should be done to a vampire including how to distinguish between a live and dead one and also the varying beliefs from the peasant folklore at the time. It is believed that a vampire can bewitch you, or steal milk, or hens, or take the power of bees and give them to a mistress. Living vampires (generally women) have powers to do things and take power from animals or humans.
On Saint George’s Eve it is thought that vampires take the power of rain to the boundaries of villages and bestow beauty upon women willing to pay for it and cause rivalry between men.. They can steal milk from women and turn into horses, dogs, cats to scare people.
Vampires in Romania can not drown and so can harness the rain through various methods. Their power is greatest at the full moon and wanes with the moon. They may be at their worst by Easter, but then prayers subdue them. Before Saint Andrew’s Day and Saint George’s Day they may have more power.
Anointing rooms with garlic in the form of a cross, garlic on the floor and all over the house and cows in the cowshed rubbed with garlic can prevent them troubling you. Never answer someone (at night) until the person calls you three times, as vampires can only ask twice. If you fail, you may have your mouth turned askew, the vampire can make you dumb, cut off your foot or kill you.
The understanding of what is a vampire and what is a witch is confusing and muddled, changing from town to town and rural to the country.