Vampires page 2
The notion of vampirism has existed for millennia; cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans had tales of demons and spirits which are considered precursors to modern vampires. However, despite the occurrence of vampire-like creatures in these ancient civilizations, the folklore for the entity we know today as the vampire originates almost exclusively from early 18th century Southeastern Europe, when verbal traditions of many ethnic groups of the region were recorded and published. In most cases, vampires are revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but they can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire. Belief in such legends became so pervasive that in some areas it caused mass hysteria and even public executions of people believed to be vampires.
Description and common attributes
It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in colour; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood. Indeed, blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin and its left eye was often open. It would be clad in the linen shroud it was buried in, and its teeth, hair, and nails may have grown somewhat, though in general fangs were not a feature.
Other attributes varied greatly from culture to culture; some vampires, such as those found in Transylvanian tales, were gaunt, pale, and had long fingernails, while those from Bulgaria only had one nostril, and Bavarian vampires slept with thumbs crossed and one eye open. Moravian vampires only attacked while naked, and those of Albanian folklore wore high-heeled shoes. As stories of vampires spread throughout the globe to the Americas and elsewhere, so did the varied and sometimes bizarre descriptions of them: Mexican vampires had a bare skull instead of a head, Brazilian vampires had furry feet and vampires from the Rocky Mountains only sucked blood with their noses and from the victim's ears. Common attributes were sometimes described, such as red hair. Some were reported to be able to transform into bats, rats, dogs, wolves, spiders and even moths. From these various legends, works of literature such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the influences of historical bloodthirsty figures such as Gilles de Rais, Elizabeth Báthory, and Vlad Ţepeş, the vampire developed into the modern stereotype.
The causes of vampiric generation were many and varied in original folklore. In Slavic and Chinese traditions, any corpse which was jumped over by an animal, particularly a dog or a cat, was feared to become one of the undead. A body with a wound which had not been treated with boiling water was also at risk. In Russian folklore, vampires were said to have once been witches or people who had rebelled against the Church while they were alive.
Cultural practices often arose that were intended to prevent a recently deceased loved one from turning into an undead revenant. Burying a corpse upside-down was widespread, as was placing earthly objects, such as scythes or sickles, near the grave to satisfy any demons entering the body or to appease the dead so that it would not wish to arise from its coffin. This method resembles the Ancient Greek practice of placing an obolus in the corpse's mouth to pay the toll to cross the River Styx in the underworld; it has been argued that instead, the coin was intended to ward off any evil spirits from entering the body, and this may have influenced later vampire folklore. This tradition persisted in modern Greek folklore about the vrykolakas, in which a wax cross and piece of pottery with the inscription "Jesus Christ conquers" were placed on the corpse to prevent the body from becoming a vampire. Other methods commonly practised in Europe included severing the tendons at the knees or placing poppy seeds, millet, or sand on the ground at the grave site of a presumed vampire; this was intended to keep the vampire occupied all night by counting the fallen grains. Similar Chinese narratives state that if a vampire-like being came across a sack of rice, it would have to count every grain; this is a theme encountered in myths from the Indian subcontinent as well as in South American tales of witches and other sorts of evil or mischievous spirits or beings.
Many elaborate rituals were used to identify a vampire. One method of finding a vampire's grave involved leading a virgin boy through a graveyard or church grounds on a virgin stallion—the horse would supposedly balk at the grave in question. Generally a black horse was required, though in Albania it should be white. Holes appearing in the earth over a grave were taken as a sign of vampirism.
Corpses thought to be vampires were generally described as having a healthier appearance than expected, plump and showing little or no signs of decomposition. In some cases, when suspected graves were opened, villagers even described the corpse as having fresh blood from a victim all over its face. Evidence that a vampire was active in a given locality included death of cattle, sheep, relatives or neighbours. Folkloric vampires could also make their presence felt by engaging in minor poltergeist-like activity, such as hurling stones on roofs or moving household objects, and pressing on people in their sleep.
Apotropaics—mundane or sacred items able to ward off revenants—such as garlic or holy water are common in vampire folklore. The items vary from region to region; a branch of wild rose and hawthorn plant are said to harm vampires; in Europe, sprinkling mustard seeds on the roof of a house was said to keep them away. Other apotropaics include sacred items, for example a crucifix, rosary, or holy water. Vampires are said to be unable to walk on consecrated ground, such as those of churches or temples, or cross running water. Although not traditionally regarded as an apotropaic, mirrors have been used to ward off vampires when placed facing outwards on a door (in some cultures, vampires do not have a reflection and sometimes do not cast a shadow, perhaps as a manifestation of the vampire's lack of a soul). This attribute, although not universal (the Greek vrykolakas/tympanios was capable of both reflection and shadow), was utilized by Bram Stoker in Dracula and has remained popular with subsequent authors and filmmakers. Some traditions also hold that a vampire cannot enter a house unless invited by the owner, although after the first invitation they can come and go as they please. Though folkloric vampires were believed to be more active at night, they were not generally considered vulnerable to sunlight.
Methods of destroying suspected vampires varied, with staking the most commonly cited method, particularly in southern Slavic cultures. Ash was the preferred wood in Russia and the Baltic states, or hawthorn in Serbia, with a record of oak in Silesia. Potential vampires were most often staked though the heart, though the mouth was targeted in Russia and northern Germany and the stomach in northeastern Serbia. Piercing the skin of the chest was a way of "deflating" the bloated vampire; this is similar to the act of burying sharp objects, such as sickles, in with the corpse, so that they may penetrate the skin if the body bloats sufficiently while transforming into a revenant. Decapitation was the preferred method in German and western Slavic areas, with the head buried between the feet, behind the buttocks or away from the body. This act was seen as a way of hastening the departure of the soul, which in some cultures, was said to linger in the corpse. The vampire's head, body, or clothes could also be spiked and pinned to the earth to prevent rising. 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. In a 16th-century burial near Venice, a brick forced into the mouth of a female corpse has been interpreted as a vampire-slaying ritual by the archaeologists who discovered it in 2006. Further measures included pouring boiling water over the grave or complete incineration of the body. In the Balkans a vampire could also be killed by being shot or drowned, by repeating the funeral service, by sprinkling holy water on the body, or by exorcism. In Romania garlic could be placed in the mouth, and as recently as the 19th century, the precaution of shooting a bullet through the coffin was taken. For resistant cases, the body was dismembered and the pieces burned, mixed with water, and administered to family members as a cure. In Saxon regions of Germany, a lemon was placed in the mouth of suspected vampires.