#FolkloreFriday Some Vampires are stubborn! (aka When a Stake Just Won’t Do)

A screenshot of the 1922 film, Nosferatu. Thou...
A screenshot of the 1922 film, Nosferatu. Though the film is in the public domain in the US, It is not in the public domain outside of US (and it’s origin). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m back to set you straight on more vampires factoids.

1) A vampire can be killed by a stake through the heart.

Not a bad theory, if you want a 1 in 10 chance of winning. Also some legends claim that when slaying a vampire with a stake, the first blow will kill the vampire but a second thrust will revive the creature. So, how do you kill a vampire?

Generally, the best way to kill a vampire is to burn the corpse to ashes. If even a small trace of the body remains, the vampire may return. Sometimes piercing a corpse with a stake or mutilating the body will prevent it from leaving its grave, but stubborn vampires are known to overcome such things.

Other methods of killing vampires vary widely. The only way to kill a kathakano, a Cretan vampire, is to decapitate it and boil the head in vinegar (tasty). The Russian erestun is destroyed by whipping him to death and then driving a stake of aspen through his back between the shoulders.

Certain animals, especially the wolf have been said to possess the ability to destroy vampires.

2) Vampires have fangs.

Again, it depends on the origin, but rarely did vampires have fangs. Some had a barbed tongue as I mentioned last week, and the callicantzaros, a Greek vampire, attacks victims with long, sharp talons. Both Dracula, Varney (of Varney the Vampire a Victorian gothic horror), and Orlock (of Nosferatu) had fangs, so this is a trait created for literary vampires.

3) Vampires must sleep in coffins.

No folklore tradition indicates that vampires need to sleep in a coffin or return to their native earth. This aspect did, however, appear in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The coffin symbolizes a separation of the dead from the living, and great pains were taken to ensure that the dead stayed there–placing iron bars over coffins, burying corpses facing downward to disorient them. Likewise, the dead are usually somehow tied to their burial place.

4) Garlic repels vampires–oh, as do roses, crosses, holy water, salt, silver. . .

Oh boy, what doesn’t repel a vampire? Greeks believed that vampires were adverse to the color blue, so painting window and door frames blue would prevent vampires from entering a house.

Depending on how you look at it, these associations are actually true, but the effectiveness depends on the culture involved. For instance, wild roses again their power against evil because they are associated with Christianity, if we’re talking about a non-Christian culture the wild rose has no power.

  • Garlic has generally been regarded as protection against supernatural entities. It was used to prevent evil spirits from entering a house or attacking a person. Sometimes it was also stuffed in the mouths of corpses or scattered in coffins to prevent vampires from rising. Such beliefs in the power of garlic are widespread.
  • The cross is one of the oldest amulets against evil and predates Christianity.
  • Water in general is associated with the ability to purify. According to European lore a vampire can be destroyed by running water.
  • Silver is associated with the moon and has been used since ancient times as a ward against the supernatural. It can repel spirits and in some cases kill supernatural creatures.
  • Salt is a protective agent against most evil creatures because of its purity and importance to life and health and it’s preservative qualities. In fact, Romanian folklore held that if a pregnant woman didn’t eat salt, her child would be a vampire, which leads us to . . .

5) A person is turned into a vampire by being bitten by a vampire or by drinking a vampire’s blood.

Traditionally, most vampires resulted from untimely deaths, not vampire attacks or intentional transformations. Vampires are associated primarily with the returning dead, and have been associated with many illnesses and plagues, untimely death (murder, suicide), sin and crime. There are also living vampires who possess supernatural powers–congenital vampirism–usually people born with obvious and unique physical traits or those associated with sorcery. Other vampires, as I mentioned last week, were believed to be corpses possessed by evil spirits. Some corpses are left open to possession because an animal or bird walks over the corpse after death.

6) Vampires have the ability to control your mind.

Ideas of hypnosis weren’t at all common until maybe a century before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, but it’s unclear whether or not he was the first to associate this ability with vampires. Some European legends suggest at a hypnotic power that vampires used to overpower victims, but other legends indicate that sleeping victims were usually targeted, and even if the victim did wake during the attack it would be attributed to a bad dream.

That’s it for this round. Have I left any associations unturned?


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