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.
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.
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 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.
On the next post, we’ll tackle countering apotropaics like garlic, lemons, and tar.