Bizarre Ways to Become a Vampire

When you step outside the films and popular fiction, vampirism gets a little wonky. In Eastern Europe you don’t get bit to become a vampire. Often, you’re born a vampire. Say what? True, many people equate vampirism to a curse. And there are plenty of ways to get cursed.

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A child born with a caul (a piece of membrane that covers a newborn’s face) would become a vampire after dying. To prevent this, the caul needed to be removed, dried, and ground up. Then the child would eat the powdered caul on his or her seventh birthday.

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A very common cause of vampirism is to die without ever being baptized. This leaves the person vulnerable to malicious spirits.

Suicide is the number one cause of vampirism nearly everywhere (Europe, Africa, China). Similar to being unbaptized, suicide was considered a sin against God. The person was buried away from the village, not on hallowed ground. The English had an interesting tradition of interning the corpse at a crossroads with a steak through the heart. The stake prevented the body form being animated by evil spirits.

In Germany, people who died from an accident risked becoming a vampire. Just a little to the south, in Bavaria, simply leading an immoral life could turn you into a vampire after death. Werewolves were closely related to vampires. Therefore, anyone who ate meat from an animal killed by a wolf would become a vampire.

Finally, is anything disturbs your grave, you will rise as a vampire. If an animal runs across your grave, you’re a vampire. Strangely, if a nun crosses your grave, forget about it. Vampire. This begs the question, how many nuns are traipsing through the cemetery?

Be careful folks. Multiple mistakes with your life (or death) can transform you in to the living dead.

Tim Kane

The Vampire that Ate the Moon

Almost every culture has superstitions about eclipses. Then there’s Albanian and Romanian folklore, where a vampire infects and eats the moon, sucking the life out.

A shot of the Hessian corpse from the Sleepy Hollow movie.

A shot of the Hessian corpse from the Sleepy Hollow movie.

Albanians believe that when a wicked or miserly person dies, he will become a lugat (a sort of ghost vampire). Apparently, holding too tightly to money seems to be sin. One legend has that the ghost of a miser (called Kukudh) haunts his old house. Anyone who sleeps in that house risks being killed by this evil spirit. However, if you can survive the night, you will inherit the miser’s fortune. What a way to earn a living.

A lugat is a form of poltergeist that leaves the corpse every night (except Saturday’s) to smash windows in homes and be a general disturbance. Some versions state that it flies around in the skin of a dead person. Now that puts the white sheet ghost archetype to shame. Imagine seeing a skinned person floating in your hallway. Other versions have that a lugat is a long fingered ghost that possesses a corpse. Wolves seem to be the only force that can drive this creature back into the grave.

As a ghost, a lugat is indestructible. However, if you can catch it in the grave, you can destroy it. First you need to figure out which corpse is the culprit. It’s usually a relative. (They never leave you alone, even after death.) To narrow down your options, get yourself a white stallion and go trotting through the graveyard. Whichever grave the horse balks at is the winner. Dig up the corpse, stuff the grave with brush, and light it ablaze.

Be careful, if you don’t get corpse burning soon, then a lugat will mature into a kukudh. These demons are almost human-like and can travel out in daylight. They are heavyset, short with a goat’s tail. The only way to destroy this form is with a noose of grapevines.

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A lugat can also eat the moon to create an eclipse. Villagers would shoot at the moon to scare the lugat away. Pregnant woman needed to stay indoors, least their unborn child be infected with the disease. The word kukudh comes from the Greek word for plague or pestilence.

Romanian Sleeping Spirits

This evil spirit possess people, possibly still alive. The victim has a pale face and dry skin. When the varcolac spirit gets hungry, the person will fall into a deep sleep. The spirit slips out of the mouth and devours the moon. Sometimes when a red hue covers the moon, people thought that the varcolac was at work. If the host body is moved or roused, the sleep becomes eternal because the spirit cannot find the body again. I’m guessing that this was a warning not to disturb grandpa when he dozes off after too much wine.

Next time you witness an eclipse, start looking for sleeping people or grab yourself a white stallion and head to a graveyard. Cause if you don’t, you may never see the sun again.

Tim Kane

A Stumble of Zombies: Collective Nouns for Monsters

One of my favorite books that I read to my daughter (I’m stealing it the first chance I get) is A Dignity of Dragons by by Jacqueline Ogburn and Nicoletta Ceccoli.

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What this book does is address the much needed names for collective nouns of mythical creatures. What the heck is a collective noun? Well, back in the nineteenth century, Victorians got awful bored with out any television or internet. They played a game where they thought up clever names for groups of animals. The idea was to get a name that encompassed the spirit of the animal. Some of my favorites are a crash of rhinos or a flamboyance of flamingos. Get the idea?

Jacqueline Ogburn came up with all sorts of collective nouns for mythical creatures, like: a bolt of hippogriffs, a splash of mermaids, and a dazzlement of Quetzalcoatls. I wanted to continue this trend, only with creatures from horror. Specifically classic monsters. Here’s what I came up with.

  • a stumble of zombies
  • a coffin of vampires
  • a howling of werewolves
  • a bolt of Frankensteins*
  • a tanna of mummies**
  • a caldron of wiches
  • a clang hunchbacks
  • an ectoplasm of phantoms
  • a haunting of ghosts
  • a glow of will-o-whisps
  • a bottle of djinn***
  • a trample of kaiju****
  • a decapitation of headless horsemen
  • a tinker of gremlins
  • a hunger of ghouls
  • a husk of scarecrows
  • a marrow of skeletons
  • a translucence of invisible men
  • a beaker of mad scientists
  • a lever of henchmen
  • a scream of victims
  • a probe of aliens
  • a circuit of robots

If you can think of any to add to the list (no serial killers or the suck, just classic monsters) then add to the comments below.

Tim Kane

*Yes I know that the doctor is actually Frankenstein, but in the sequel it called the Bride of Frankenstein, and she’s intended for the monster, so… Let’s just settle on Frank as the monster’s name.

** Tanna leaves were a device introduced in the later mummy movies as a way of controlling the creature.

*** I know lamps are more common, but a lamp of djinn sounds weird.

**** This is the name for the giant Japanese monsters like Godzilla and Mothra. Go ahead, check out the wiki site.

Vampire Apotropaics Part 4: Die Vampire Die

We all want vampires dead, but what to do when it’s the middle of night and there are no stakes nearby? Why, reach for a sock, of course.

By far the most common method to off a vampire is with a stake. Van Helsing uses it, why shouldn’t you? However, you don’t always have to chop up grandma’s antique chair. A needle also works. Romanians believe (present tense, mind you) that a needle inserted into the navel will kill a vampire. Why the navel? That’s where the second heart lies. It has to have a second one, because the first one went kaput when the person died. The second heart is what keeps the vampire alive after death.

Vampire blood was so evil that any person who came in contact with it would become insane. Therefore during staking, an animal hide was placed over the body. Vampires were seen as squishy blood balloons, so this form of protection helped minimize splatter.

Click on the picture to bring up the YouTube clip.

Steven Weber (playing Jonathan Harker) could have used a bib in Mel Brooks’s “Dracula Dead and Loving It.” Click on the picture to bring up the YouTube clip.

A consecrated bullet would kill a vampire, but not in the way you think. Shoot it through the coffin. One reason for this might be that it spoiled the coffin and gave the vampire no place to rest. A version of this can be seen in Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula where they ruin the vampire’s coffin but placing holy wafers in the dirt. The idea that sunlight can kill vampires is an invention of film. In Poland and Prussia, the creatures can hunt the living from noon till midnight. Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula could function in daylight.

1943 Son of Dracula played by Lon Chaney Jr. just before sunlight strikes him.

1943 Son of Dracula played by Lon Chaney Jr. just before sunlight strikes him.

The first film to have a vampire to die by sunlight is Son of Dracula with Lon Chaney Jr. as the vampire. The rays of dawn strike his body and he fades from sight. A few months later, Return of the Vampire showed Bela Lugosi (playing a vampire called Armand Tesla) succumb to sunlight. Though this isn’t really fair, as he was simultaneously being staked by his werewolf servant. The film did depict the first image of a vampire melting in the sun.

The first face melting of a vampire in sunlight (or from staking, who's to say).

The first face melting of a vampire in sunlight (or from staking, who’s to say).

If you suspected that your kin were a vampire the solution was simple. Dig up the body, dismember, burn to a crisp and drink the ashes. A pretty hefty cure if you ask me. Boiling oil was another method to destroy the undead.

Vampires were considered terribly OCD (counting knots or grains of rice). The final method of demise plays off this weakness. Steal the vampire’s left sock (I’m assuming this is the evil one with the Latin name for left being sinister). Then fill it with rocks and toss it into a river or other running water. The creature will go after it (possibly crying, “Who took my sock.”) and the moving water will be its downfall. Moving water was long believe to destroy vampires.

That’s it. Now you know all there is about how keep vampires out. If, however you’re yearning for a midnight nibbling, you know not to take the guy’s sock. He needs that.

Tim Kane

Vampire Apotropaics Part 3: Undead Bondage

In this segment learn how carpets, oil or a bowl of cold water can keep a vampire in his place.

This segment of vampire aprotopaics deals with constraint or restrictive measures. The goal is to make sure the undead cannot move or leave its grave. The most obvious implement were ropes. In some areas of Eastern Europe the knees were bound or the whole body tightly tied with rope. Finally, binding the corpse in a carpet completely immobilized it, thus preventing the vampire from rising from the dead.

Sharp items, meant to injure or weaken the vampire were also common. Many corpses were buried with knives or the more infamous sickle (possible the reason we associate death with a sickle). Usually the sharp item was positioned to cause damage to the undead. With the sickle, it was placed over the neck so that if the vampire should rise, he would slice off his head.

A 19th century image of the reaper

A 19th century image of the reaper

In Morocco steel, iron, or silver daggers were left in the grave while the Slavs used hairpins. Thorns also did the job, though being much smaller, these were inserted in key points: under the tongue or in the navel. Some corpses were bound with thorny briars. On possible reason for this was to keep the body from swelling (a key sign of vampirism). In Eastern Prussia, a bowl of cold water was placed under the boards were the corpse lay in rest. Additionally, tin spoon were laid on top to weigh the body down.

Explorer VI:Vampire ForensicsNGC US- Ep Code: 4816

In 2006, a team excavated a mass grave from the 16th century in Venice. They discovered a skeleton with a brick jammed between it’s teeth. Possibly another restraint to keep the vampire from attacking.

Iron has always been though to repel evil. In Romania, iron forks were sometimes stabbed into the heart, eyes, and breast of the deceased while the Bulgarians drove a red-hot poker through the heart. Boiling oil, poured around the grave, was believed to prevent the vampire form leaving. So too, bowls of of excrement and poison.

Sometimes just ignoring a vampire was enough to protect yourself. In Romanian lore, it was believed that vampires could only ask a question one time. The superstition arose that you should only answer someone if they call upon you three times. If you answer a vampire’s request, then he will have power over you.

In Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me Mustafa (played by Will Ferrel) must be asked a question three time for him to answer it. Not really a vampire, but it sprang to mind. Click the picture for a link to the scene on YouTube.

In “Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me” Mustafa (played by Will Ferrel) must be asked a question three time for him to answer it. Not really a vampire, but it sprang to mind. Click the picture for a link to the scene on YouTube.

In the final segment, we explore ways to destroy the vampire, including but not limited to drinking ashes, a needle, and a sock (yes, a sock).

Tim Kane

Vampire Apotropaics Part 1: How to Pacify Your Vampire

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.

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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

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 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

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.

Tim Kane

The Modern Madame Bathory

Ah Madame Bathory, the Countess who took the term “blood bath” to a whole new level. If you’re unfamiliar with the lady, she was a sixteenth century royal in Hungary who decided create her own fountain of youth from young woman’s blood. Specifically, she drained them and bathed in the blood.

She might have been on to something. Now it seems that researchers have found evidence to support that young blood can restore metal health (to mice at least). They swapped blood between an older mouse and a younger mouse. The younger one’s brain began to age more rapidly and the older one (with the newer blood) showed more elasticity in thinking. It was able to solve water mazes quicker with fewer mistakes.

This is a frightening prospect, not for the scientific advancement (which is terrific) but the implications for us. We already have fang bangers who dress and act like vampires. Some even delude themselves into believing they are the living dead. Now, bolstered by scientific evidence, will they round up the youngsters, Bathory style, and drain them to renew their flagging vigor? Don’t laugh, it’s a real possibility.

Until then, keep a close watch on your children. The vampire wannabes are out there.

Tim Kane