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Vampire Folklore

Arise From the Past!:  I Found A Vampire, Now What?

When one stumbled upon what was thought to be a vampire or living corpse, the first idea that must have run through his or her mind was quite simple.  What was one to do with such a find?  Although many people cannot agree on the correct way to dispose of a vampire, they can all agree that any technique used has to work indefinitely.  Such methods include a stake through the heart, decapitation, burning, the usage of holy items, garlic, and exposure to sunlight.

One of the most common methods for disposing of a vampire is a stake through the heart.  The idea originated in Europe before the use of coffins became widespread.  Any deceased person who was likely to come back from the grave for any reason was staked to keep that individual attached to the ground.  When the practice was first used, the stake was placed anywhere.  It could be driven into the stomach or the back if the corpse was facing downward.  When coffins were introduced, the stake was plunged specifically into the heart as a direct assault on the corpse itself (Melton 580).  The method became even more refined when Slavic stories implemented the strategy of making sure the task was done with a single blow, and any repetition of such a blow could kill the destroyer or awaken the vampire.  Such a precise set of directions came from Slavic stories that always stressed the idea of a hero who must strike a monster once and once only (Masters 107).  Furthermore, Slavic lore specified the use of aspen as the best wood to use for a stake.  Other woods such as ashwood, hawthorne, and maple could be used as well (Guiley 80).  Thus, the stake through the heart as a way of disposal could be very involved.

While a stake through the heart might suffice for some, other would-be vampire hunters would argue that more must be done to properly dispose of a vampire.  The next method of preventing a vampire’s return to the living is decapitation or mutilation.  This practice became commonplace in Germany and Eastern Europe.  When a vampire was indentified, the head was cut off to make sure the body did not receive any direction from the missing fixture.  The head could be placed between the knees or under the arm.  Some people would take the head and bury it elsewhere for greater certainty (Melton 163).  In Slavic lore, it is best to decapitate a vampire with a shovel belonging to a gravedigger or sexton.  A gravedigger’s shovel was supposed to have a supernatural power due to its association with the dead while a sexton’s shovel carried with it the powers of the Christian God.  However, regardless of the tool or placement of the head, one needed to take care to make sure none of the blood sprayed upon the executioner and helpers.  If the blood happened to hit anybody, the people affected would either go mad or die instantly (Guiley 80).

Although a stake through the heart and decapitation could stop or at least hinder a vampire, those affected by supposed vampire epidemics went a step further.  This step involved the burning of the corpse.  The practice of burning the dead started sporadically throughout the world as early as the Stone Age.  It became frowned upon when the resurrection of Jesus Christ was recognized by the Church.  Pagans challenged the resurrection and Christian faith by digging up saints and martyrs and burning them (Gregory 98).  To add to the difficulty of seeking a cremation, bonfires were the chief means of burning, and bodies did not burn well because of their high water content.  As a result, the body may have been further mutilated and cut into parts to make it easier to burn.   Stories differ as to how much of the body should be burned.  Some argue that certain parts, such as the head, need to be burned (Guiley 80).  Other cultures strongly suggest that every last scrap of bone and flesh must be destroyed.  Otherwise, the vampire could rise again (Masters 100).

Besides physically destroying or mutilating a vampire corpse, other remedies exist to assist with the process.

To be continued in April…

Works Cited

Gregory, Constantine.  The Vampire Watcher’s Handbook:  A Guide For Slayers.  New York:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen.  The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters.  New York:  Checkmark Books, 2005.

Masters, Anthony.  The Natural History of the Vampire.  London:  Rupert Hart-Davis    Ltd, 1972.

Melton, J. Gordon.  The Vampire Book.  Detroit:  Visible Ink Press, 1994.