Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Romanian Vampires

The day after I had posted Recounting the Pontianak, I received an inquiry from a reader who wanted to know that "despite the Dracula story and Vlad the Impaler legends, why Romania was more frequently associated with vampires when the phenomenon has been recognized worldwide?" I thought it was a fair question so I decided to look at the references available:

Since the Middle Ages, Romania has be renown for vampires. In the kingdoms and dominions of Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia that the tales of vampires are the more abundant than anywhere else. The Romanian folklore remained infallible despite interventions that were historically present from the Romans, the Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks. Romania maintained absolute rules and regulations in obstructing the dead from coming back to life.

Traditional Romanians believed that the initial sign of one being or becoming a vampire was the birth of a child under abnormal circumstances. Some of these circumstances included a child being born out of wedlock, born with a caul (the amniotic membrane that surrounds a fetus), or death occurring before a baptismal could be performed. If a person was aware of their irregular births, they would leave instructions upon their deaths to have the necessary precautions taken, preventing them from rising again as one of the undead. It was also believed that if a woman was with child and did not consume salt, or was to be gazed upon by a vampire, especially one past her 6 month of pregnancy, that her child was doomed to eternal damnation of becoming one of the undead. The only way to redeem the unborn child’s soul was to seek the blessing of the Church. Yet another belief regarding vampires and the birth of a child was to be born the seventh son of the seventh son, or likewise, the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter. They were said to sometimes be born with a tail and could eventually become a vampire.

Although odd births were the most prevalent in beliefs of one becoming a vampire in Romania, it was not the only way one could become a member of the undead. If someone was bitten, they could become a vampire. If someone lived a wicked life such as practicing witchcraft, committed suicide, had sworn a false oath, was excommunicated by the Church, or their corpse was leaped over by a cat, they were prime vampire candidates.

A vampire was always suspected if sudden death struck consistently in a family or livestock followed by the passing of either a family member or of someone who was questioned about being a vampire. It was said that vampires were known to appear to their families on occasion, especially females, since they wanted to be around their children. They would return to their mortal residency and make their presence known by throwing items around, or getting into the food. The vampire would then began to assault family members and livestock and then move it’s way on to the villagers. If the vampires were not annihilated, they could possibly move on to more distant villages and also other countries where they would reestablish themselves into society as mortals, and no one would be the wiser.

The Feast of St. Andrew, accompanied with the Feast of St. George and Easter was acknowledged as one of the most feared times of the year in Romania. The Feast of St. Andrew was in honor of St. Andrew who was the patron of wolves and donor of garlic. It was on St. Andrew’s Eve, in certain parts of Romania, that the vampire was believed to be the most active and dangerous. The vampires was also believed to continue their activity through out the winter and rest at epiphany (January). During these perilous times, it was considered wise to rub garlic on the doors and windows to protect families within the residence from any vampire attacks. Livestock was also at risk of an attack, so precautions were taken with them as well by rubbing them down with garlic.

Romanians took every precaution against becoming a vampire or harming anyone if they did become one. Graves were carefully watched for any signs that signified a disturbance. Such signatures of a vampire’s presence could be a small hole located near the headstone. It was believed that a vampire could enter and leave their grave through this hole. Upon observing this, the deceased would be exhumed. If the corpse was found to be red in the face, it was without a doubt, a vampire. Other signs of the corpse being a vampire was if the corpse was found laying face down in the coffin accompanied by fresh blood upon it, or, on occasion, traces of corn meal would be found. Also, one foot might be found pulled in at one corner of the coffin. Another customary practice amongst the Romanians was to disinter the graves of the departed three years following the death of a child, four to five years following the death of a young person, and seven years following the death of an adult. If only skeletal remains were found, they would be cleansed and returned to their graves, but if the corpse was found to be fleshly preserved, it was then believed to be a vampire, and dealt with in the manner as all vampires were.

If while alive, one was believed to be vampire prone, many precautions were taken with their burial upon their death. Sometimes Garlic would be placed in the corpse’s mouth, or millet seeds would be placed in the coffin to postpone the vampire, who would have to go through a lengthy process of eating them before they could rise from their grave, or a thorny branch of the wild rose may be placed in their coffin. Once the vampire prone deceased member was buried, a distaff would be driven into the ground above the grave in belief that the vampire would impale itself it tried to rise from it’s grave. On the anniversary of the death of a vampire prone subject, the family would walk around the grave. More harsher preventive measures would be to stake the corpse with iron or wood, either in the heart or the navel. Sometimes, the body would be buried face down and reversed in the coffin. And, on more extreme levels, the corpse would be removed from the grave and to the woods to be dismembered. The heart and liver would first be removed, and then the rest of the body would be burned, piece by piece. The ashes would then be preserved and mixed with water and given to the family members to drink to prevent any vampire attacks. - www.darknessembraced.com

In 1926, Agnes Murgoci wrote in The Vampire in Roumanie the ways to determine if any dead man is a vampire:

- 1. His household, his family, and his live stock, and possibly even the live stock of the whole village, die off rapidly.
- 2. He comes back in the night and speaks with the family. He may eat what he finds in dishes and knock things about, or he may help with the housework and cut wood. Female vampires also come back to their children. There was a Hungarian vampire which could not be kept away, even by the priest and holy water.
- 3. The priest reads a service at the grave. If the evil which is occurring does not cease, it is a bad sign.
- 4. A hole about the size of a serpent may be found near the tombstone of the dead man. If so, it is a sign of a vampire, because vampires come out of graves by just such holes.
- 5. Even in the daytime a white horse will not walk over the grave of a vampire, but stands still and snorts and neighs.
- 6. A gander, similarly, will not walk over the grave of a vampire.
- 7. On exhuming the corpse, if it is a vampire it will be found to be:
1. red in the face, even for months and years after burial,
2. with the face turned downwards,
3. with a foot retracted and forced into a corner of the grave or coffin.
4. If relations have died, the mouth will be red with blood. If it has only spoilt and ruined things at home, and eaten what it could find, the mouth will be covered with maize meal.

The most common vampire species in Romania were the Strigoi. The strigoi are a breed of undead vampire (compared to the Romanian living vampire, the moroii). A strigoi is said to have red hair and blue eyes, moves very slowly, with their right eye closed but they left eye always open. Sometimes the vampire would look bloated with blood. The strigoi drank blood like most vampires but could also eat normal human food. It is said to also be able to draw energies from people, leaving them weak, sickly and helpless. Other than attacking people the strigoii would also spread disease.

In 1985 biochemist David Dolphin proposed a link between the rare blood disorder porphyria and vampire folklore. Noting that the condition is treated by intravenous haem, he suggested that the consumption of large amounts of blood may result in haem being transported somehow across the stomach wall and into the bloodstream. Thus vampires were merely sufferers of porphyria seeking to replace haem and alleviate their symptoms. The theory has been rebuffed medically as suggestions that porphyria sufferers crave the haem in human blood, or that the consumption of blood might ease the symptoms of porphyria, are based on a misunderstanding of the disease. Furthermore, Dolphin was noted to have confused fictional (bloodsucking) vampires with those of folklore, many of whom were not noted to drink blood. Similarly, a parallel is made between sensitivity to sunlight by sufferers, yet this was associated with fictional and not folkloric vampires.

Methods of vanquishing the fiend or protecting yourself from it are: Drinking wine...it is said to be a powerful shield against the vampire, especially lesser quality wine since it taints the blood making you undesirable to the strigoi. Eating strong onions was also said to taint your blood. Scatter the grave of a strigoi with poppy seeds. Like many other vampire species the strigoi are thought to be incredibly obsessive and if you leave poppy seeds (or mustard seeds) at its grave, it will be compelled to stop and count each one before it can move on, which would take most of the night leaving local people safe. In order to destroy the strigoii, cutting off its head and stuffing the mouth with herbs was performed as well as exposing it to sunlight...traditionally described in most Gothic and horror stories (except for the novel 'new age' vampires that sparkle in the sunlight).

The tomb of Petre Toma
There is a modern-day account concerning the death of a Romanian man named Petre Toma.

The authorities in Craiova, south-west Romania, opened an investigation against six people alleged to have impaled the body of a villager who, according to them "had transformed himself into vampire" and "sucked blood from them during the night."

The body of Petre Toma had been unearthed six weeks later by his brother-in-law in the presence of several other members of the family, including his widow and her grand-daughter. According to several testimonies, they made an incision in the chest of Toma to extract his heart before burning it. One report states that, in accordance with a local custom to protect against vampires, they dissolved the ashes in water and drank it.

An autopsy carried out by the authorities in Craiova confirmed that "the heart was indeed taken."

The six people explained that after the death of Toma they had felt "weakened," as if they did not have "any more blood."

"One night I saw it in my room, and in the morning I could not arise; so much was I weakened", said the grand-daughter of Toma, Mirela Marinescu. According to her, as soon as the exorcism ritual was performed the dead body "did not come any more to haunt" its family.

The Sunday Times reported that several villagers affirmed that this exorcism ritual was known and practiced for a long time in the area, and that it each time had appeared "effective against vampires."

“For centuries we have had to protect ourselves against these creatures by finding the graves of the undead and risking our lives by ripping out their hearts,” said sixty-eight-year-old Tita Musca, a local farmer. You can read more on this incident at The Case of Petre Toma.

As we can see, the traditional beliefs in evil and the undead instinctively prevail in Romania and eastern European society. For the sake of those interested in the paranormal and folklorists, let's hope the beliefs continue.

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