There are actions on your body long after death. Many I wasn’t even aware of until after seeing “Danse Macabre”. When this first started, I thought… Uh Oh. This is going to be some artsy piece where someone “interprets” the movements of a corpse. No way. Nearly all the movements the actor/dancer portrays seem genuine and believable. I say nearly, because the rigor on the table leading to the fall is staged, but for a good reason. It leads to an incredible image of the person falling down the drain with her blood.
Here are some stills from the film.
I had never considered how a person’s feet would slide after being hanged. This is a detail that is typically lost when we think of a hanged person. Many of the movements in this piece walk the line of morbid and beautiful.
This, as I said, was the most staged position. The rigor led to the body falling off the table. Yet the scene that followed was astounding.
We go from a view of the drain to a shot of the body, curled up, falling away. Stunning.
I had never considered this rather pedestrian movement of the body. Quite literally, it is lowered into a casket. I’d never thought about how the body was placed in there.
The most beautiful, and surprising movement, came from an interior shot of the casket. As it is being moved around, the body slides. I’d never even contemplated that.
We all want vampires to stay away. Who knew that lemons, clocks, and tar would do the trick.
There are many ways to counter a vampire using natural substances. Most repel the undead, keeping the creature at bay. The most common is garlic, but what fun is that. I dare say any vampire worth his fangs knows to keep away from that stuff. Let’s delve.
Lemons placed in the mouth of the corpse would dispose of Saxon vampires. The acidic properties (just like the strong smell of garlic) may be the reason for using this fruit. Likewise, the strong odor of tar would repel the undead. People would apply it to doors in the shape of a cross. Another item stuffed in the deceased mouth was wool. My guess is the prickly quality of the sheep’s hair would discourage the vampire.
Various types of wood had repellant qualities. In addition to carving stakes, juniper was kept in the house to keep the undead out. Like wool, this plant has sharp, needle-like leaves. Holly also keeps the vampires away with it’s pointy leaves. Millet, in addition to catering to the obsessive counting tendencies of vampires, could also repel them. It was rubbed on the face of the corpse.
Blood bread was another tradition that provided protection in Poland. The blood of the corpse was mixed with dough and made into a bread. Partaking of the bread kept the vampire away. In Pomerania the blood was mixed with brandy and drunk.
I found this recipe for blood bread. This uses cow’s blood. Click on the picture to check it out.
According to folklore in Europe, stopping the clock at the time of a person’s death will protect you from that person rising as a vampire. It puts the vampire in a sort of suspended animation. Also, placing a candle, a coin, and a towel in the corpse’s hand will keep it from rising as a vampire.
Iron is a common repellant for many magical creatures. However, you can protect against a vampire by simply keeping iron implements in by your bed. Scissors were common, but anything iron would do. Placing iron objects in the coffin kept the vampire from leaving the coffin.
The Telegraph reported that a skeleton was found in Bulgaria with an iron bar in his chest.
Need fires were used all over Europe in plague times. All other fires in the town needed to be snuffed out. Then huge bonfires were lighted. Typically livestock were marched between the fires to imbue protection. Similarly this could provide protection against disease and vampirism.
Salt was another another excellent deterrent as it had the ability to preserve meats. People carried salt at night to ward off evil creatures or throw it over their left shoulder to blind whatever might be sneaking up behind (goes with the spilled salt superstition). Salt sprinkled around a cradle would protect the infant. In Romania, a woman who ate no salt in pregnancy would curse her child with vampirism.
In the next segment, we’ll look into ways to tying down your vampire, including, but not limited to: carpets, needles, and ignoring the undead.
Learn how knots, dead dogs, and excrement can deter a vampire.
As a lover of all things vampire, my wife purchased me The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires. As I strolled through the expansive volume, I noticed that despite it’s generous supply of information, some details were scattered. I was immediately drawn to Aprotropaics. This is a term coming from the Greek word apotropai, which is something that averts evil.
This is four part series summarizing the four ways to combat evil (specifically vampires): Pacificaiton, Countering, Restraint, and Lethal Aprotropaics.
The goal with pacification was to remove the vampire’s urge to kill or drink blood. Generally this meant feeding the vampire something else to quell his thirst. This is old school vampire lore (non of that Twilight stuff). The kind of stuff Romanians still believe in.
I discovered this with an article about vampires on the loose in Serbia. The date was December 1, 2012. Drinks are left on the grave of a deceased man, in the village of Zarozje, near the Serbian town of Bajina Basta
People thought the world of the dead was similar to that of the living. That means eating. All sorts of food were left in the grave to prevent that person from rising as a vampire. Seeds were common. In Germany alone, folk used to bury or scatter poppy seeds, mustard seeds, oats, linen seeds or carrot seeds. Some of this is related to eating, but it also went back to the believe that vampires were seriously OCD.
Many beliefs in vampirism (Eastern European and Chinese) felt that the undead were compelled to count. Therefore if there were seeds in the grave or sprinkled outside, the creature would have to count them all before rising. Now you might think this a task that could be accomplished in a day or so. Oh no. The Kashubs (in Poland) surmised that a vampire could only count a seed a year, thus keeping him busy for centuries.
Miniature Vile of mothers of millions seeds, dirt and moss. I found this on Etsy by chillerwhale
Although not strictly food, knots were also used as a delaying tactic. The obsessive vampire would stop to count all the knots (or possibly untie the knots). Nets were often buried with corpses to provide them with years of entrainment.
The Macedonian Folklore by G.F. Abbot (1903) a story tells of how a hunter lured a vampire with a pile of millet grains. The vampire was so obsessed with counting that it didn’t resist when the hunter nailed him to the wall.
The OCD aspect of vampires is highly underused. This reminds me of an excellent episode (Bad Blood) on the X-Files where the FBI agent Mulder pacifies a vampire by strewing sunflower seeds. The vampire, aware of his own compulsion, states, “Ooo, I’m going to get you when I’m done.” This gives time for the agent to escape.
A pizza boy attacks agent Mulder. His shoes are also untied (a sign that he’s a vampire).
A similar practice to pacify vampires was to lay a dead dog or cat on your doorstep. Yeah, I know. A bit macabre. The idea was that the undead must count all the hairs on the animal. I’m not sure how long you could pull off this particular protection. Seems a last minute thing to me.
My favorite pacification technique came with the belief in holes. In Eastern Europe, people thought vampires exited the grave via holes in the ground. In Bulgaria villagers would place bowls of excrement near grave holes (and you thought the dead dog was bad). The vampire would eat the excrement. I’m guessing this has to do with the undead being a foul and smelly creature. In any event, the vampire was sated and no longer longed for blood.
Finally, a pacification technique that works well with humans was wine. To keep a corpse happy, Romanians bury it with a bottle of wine. After six weeks, the bottle was dug up and drunk with relatives as a form of protection. Sort of the hair of the dog that bit you. One step further was to bury the dead with whiskey, believing that the vampire would become too drunk to find its way home and drink the blood of its relatives.
This is a detail of a work of art called “126 Whiskey Bottles” by Tara Cooper
On the next post, we’ll tackle countering apotropaics like garlic, lemons, and tar.