Vampire Folklore

Our traditional image of the vampire, though born from literature, is based on this folkloric vampire, which dates back as early as the eleventh century, and was (until the 1700's) found exclusively in the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe.

Exhuming the VampireVampire Characteristics

  1. How a person becomes a vampire
    1. vampire from birth
    2. vampire from evil deeds
    3. vampire at/with death
  2. Physical appearance
    1. while animate
    2. while inanimate
  3. Removing/ Preventing the vampire
    1. chuch methods
    2. preventive measures (non-violent to the corpse)
    3. final methods (corpse mutilation)
  4. Saving/ preventing a victim
    1. church methods
    2. "old religion methods"

Where do vampires come from?

The Natural History of the Vampire* gives these examples as possible people who might become vampires in death, as according to old legends: 

  • Dead wizards
  • Werewolves
  • Heretics
  • Outcasts
  • Illegitimate offspring of illegitimate children
  • Anyone killed by a vampire
  • Suicides
  • Unavenged deaths
  • Untimely/ unhappy deaths
  • Witches
  • Murderers
  • Excommunicants
  • Robbers/ villains
  • Accursed
  • An unburied body which has had sun or moonlight fall upon it (Specifically in China)
  • An unburied body that has been leapt over by a cat
  • Those without full rights before death (Slavonic)
  • Children born or conceived on a great Church holiday. (Slavonic)
  • Still born children and unbaptised children (Rise as vampires 7 years after their death, Slavonic)
  • Any animal (including cat) that has passed over an unburied body (Slavonic)
  • Anyone who has eaten the flesh of a sheep killed by a wolf (Slavonic)
  • Perjurers, liars
  • 7th sons
  • Man born with a caul (a piece of the placenta that may become stuck to the child's head as it is born. Easily wiped off, but many cultures have interpreted it as sign, some good, some bad, of what that child will be like when grown.)
  • A pregnant woman who has been looked at (especially after her 6th month) by a vampire, her child as a great risk of becoming a vampire.
  • A shadow of a living man falling upon an unburied body.
  • A nun stepping over an unburied body.

Any of those things cover you? Admittedly, there are a lot of things there that define who might become a vampire when they are dead and/ or buried, but not all of them come from the same places. Though I tired to include specific countries or regions with their myths, when possible, so many of them have been shared and obscured that it is hard to tell where they come from. It is much easier to separate things out by regions, such as Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia, though by far the largest collection of vampire lore is centered in Europe. Most scholars seem to agree that this is because of the plagues and many famines that swept repeatedly across Europe. Where there were no answers, an illness could easily be blamed on a superstitious belief. Where people were starving and quiet acts of cannibalism were taking place, it was easier to create a myth of something that arose from beyond the grave to do horrible mutilations to other bodies, rather than own up to one's deeds. Or perhaps you could even go so far as to say that vampires were born out of the nightmares induced by the horrors people were facing. Or perhaps... it's none of the above, but truth that has been obscured by myth.

How to find that vampire

Once you have a few odd things going on in your local village-- unexplained deaths, often in rapid succession; people becoming pale and weak; people complaining of being attacked by someone or something unknown; having dreams about being attacked and waking up in a cold sweat or feeling weak; or misc. unusual signs-- and you have identified the person who has recently died under suspicion of being a vampire, you need to go seek them out in their grave. There are a few certain signs to be able to tell if that corpse you unbury is just Aunt Mildred or Aunt Mildred with a will to suck the very life out of you in your sleep!

These are a few of the signs of vampirism in a dead body: 

  • Holes in the ground above the grave (Guess even vampires like a little fresh air)
  • Corpse with one or more of the following:
    1. Wide open eyes
    2. Ruddy complexion
    3. No decomposition
  • Nails and hair grown out
  • Bite marks apparent on the neck
  • Shroud (burial cloth) partially or entirely devoured
  • Blood in the veins
  • Coffin containing blood
  • Apparently well fed body
  • Flexible limbs
  • In China, vampires can be identified by the greenish-white hair covering their bodies.
  • Chinese vampires also may fly, have claws, and glaring/ glowing eyes.

And if you can't quite tell which grave contains the vampire (or you fear more than one), then there are two options:

  1. Have a virgin boy ride naked and bareback on a virgin stallion through the graveyard until the horse steps on a grave and goes no further. That marks a vampire's grave. Or...
  2. Lead a white stallion through a graveyard and the grave he will not step on is the grave of a vampire.

    (Not much difference between the two. I suppose it depends on how far you believe you have to take it for it to work, or the availability of virgin boys and virgin stallions in your area.)

What to do now?

Have you found that vampire yet? Yes? Great! Now, let's see what we can do to further mutilate Aunt Mildred to make sure she stays good and dead and in the grave this time. 

  • Unknown murder victims (strangers) and persons who committed suicide were often buried out away from the town or village, along roadsides or near road intersections. This was thought to be far enough away from town to keep them-- as possible vampires-- from coming back around, or to confuse them as to which direction is which so they will become lost and not come into town.
  • As a precaution, some bodies thought to have a very high chance of becoming vampires were staked or pinned into the grave.
  • The head might be severed from the body and placed between the legs or under an arm. (Wonder where the Legend of Sleepy Hollow came from??)
  • The feet and legs might be bound to prevent the body from escaping the grave.
  • The corpse may be dismembered and the pieces buried separately from each other.
  • To get rid of a known vampiric corpse, you could burn the corpse to ashes.
  • Tear out the heart.
  • Throw boiling water or oil onto the grave.
  • It was local customs that dictated the proper stake for spearing your nearest dead kin. Some included: aspen, maple, blackthorn, or hawthorn.
  • Vampiric witch doctors and/ or sorcerers had to be burnt on a moonless night or nailed to the ground.
  • As an extra preventive measure, bodies could be protected from vampiricy by burying them with a cross made of willow under each armpit, chin and chest.
  • The body could be buried face downward and deep to prevent it from knowing right side-up in the grave and escaping.
  • Drive a stake through the heart or navel. (Some say it must be done with only one blow.)
  • Put small stones or grains of incense in all the extremities so that the vampire will have something to eat when it awakens.
  • Place garlic in the mouth.
  • Millet (grains of wheat) could be scattered over the body and throughout the coffin so that the vampire, upon awakening, has to count or eat every piece in there.
  • Wild thorny roses should be strung around the outside of the coffin to make it more difficult for the vampire to escape.
  • Lay out a body several days to make sure it doesn't start acting like a vampire. (Germany)
  • Bury food with the body in hopes that will keep it satisfied.
  • Break the corpse's neck as another preventive measure.
  • Place money in the vampire's mouth (I think this was probably derived from the old Greek custom of giving a body money so the soul passing into Hades would be able to pay the ferryman at the River Styx to cross into the proper afterlife) and cut the name from it's shirt. (Germany)

If you should happen to get bitten...

There are a few things you can do if you suspect you are under attack or have been attacked by a vampire:

Drink the ashes of a burnt vampire to cure vampire-caused illnesses and to prevent further attacks.

Remedy for attacks against children (Italy):

  1. Gospel read over the child's head while his head rests on a priest's robe.
  2. Cross of wax, blessed on Ascension Day (40th day after Easter), hung over the doorway of the house.
  3. A linen bag containing a pinch of salt hung around the child's neck.
  4. Child's hair is cut and a lock is thrown into the fire.
  5. Hinges in the house are sprinkled with holy water.
  6. Credo recited aloud 3 times.
  7. Husband/ father watches for 7 nights for the witch/ vampire.

Or if you fear getting bitten...

  • Mix flour with the blood of a "slain" vampire and make it into a bread and eat it to prevent against vampire attacks.
  • Lay a dead cat or dog at the house's threshold-- the witch or vampire will have to stop and count every hair on the animal, but will have to flee before dawn, or get caught by the sun and die.
  • In Russia, masks were worn by mourners in funeral processions, devious routes were taken on the way back home, and the mourners did not look back as they traveled away from the grave, all in an effort to keep any body that might turn vampire from coming back to town and finding people it recognized.

Vampire Watchers of the World... Unite!

Where are you most likely to see Aunt Mildred and other vampires out dancing and having a good time? Check out these promising vampire siting times...

All Hallow's Eve (Halloween) is a given for the emergence of vampires, witches, warlocks and general evil doers. Other nights fall on the eves of religious holidays such as St. George's and St. Andrew's Days (Roughly April 23rd and November 30th, respectively).

And if those sights freak you out more than you thought they would, you can always take special precautions on those nights. Try lighting bonfires, tolling church bells, painting crosses of tar on your doors, covering your cattle stalls with roses, or garlanding your house with flowers, garlic and/ or thistles to keep away the vampires.


I now give you leave to go on and find out more on your own. There is nothing more I can tell you on this topic. Oh, but there is one last thing: my favorite legend of all. "A vampire bathing brings rain." So, if you're in the middle of a drought in your village, drive everyone out in the middle of the night to bathe in the river. Hopefully one person out of them all will be a vampire and they will bring you rain. Well, it isn't necessarily true that it has to be at night. In Poland and Russia, vampires are out between noon and midnight, whereas the rest of Europe has them out at only between sunset and sunrise. Okay, I swear, I'm not holding anything else out on you. That's all I know on this subject.

*All information contained on this page has been taken from:
The Natural History of the Vampire
By Anthony Masters
G. P. Putnam's Sons, pub.
New York, © 1972

I do suggest you take the time to find this book (I found it in my college library) and read through it. There is so much information in it that I cannot even begin to put it all in here. It is an extremely valuable tool if you really want to learn/research more, especially with old legends and historical accounts.

Source: Written by Keri Amon

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?