VAMPIRES, PART II: The Logic of Superstition and Vampire Watermelons. Yes, I said ‘Watermelons.’

Millet

PART I: In Which You Learn All Drunk People are Secretly Undead Monsters

There is a lot of weird logic associated with vampires. Today we’re going to explore a few examples. Consider this not just as a microcosm of vampire beliefs, but folklore and myth in general. It’s often bizarre, and founded in ignorance, but if you look closely you can see the reasoning of the people who came up with it.

For starters, vampire folklore has a great deal of diversity in terms of how vampires can be created. If you’re born with a caul, you’ll become a vampire after death. If you’re a drunk, or a suicide, or a criminal, you’ll become a vampire after death. It’s not just as simple as “vampire bites you = you become a vampire.” Of these many weird variations, my favorite is that a vampire could be created if a cat jumped over the corpse before burial. A bit odd, right? Well, apparently there’s a widespread Slavic belief that the human soul sometimes appears as a tiny silver mouse with blue eyes. As such, the cat is an evil spirit attempting to eat the human soul and replace it, thereby animating the corpse. The logic is obviously based on superstition but it’s still a reasoned out cause-and-effect.

Another weird one you see all the time is that vampires are compelled to count seeds, so peasants will fill the coffin with millet or mustard seeds, as well as spread them around the entrances to their houses. The vampire will be so busy gathering the seeds, the sun will come up and he’ll flee. It’s strange, but consider the symbolism, because that’s what nine-tenths of magical thinking is about.

Vampires consume life. There are plenty of examples of them not drinking blood. Romanian vampires eat hearts, Ruassian/Ukranian vampires eat the flesh of corpses, Bulgarian vampires eat hair, toenail clippings, and feces before they graduate to blood; all byproducts of living things. A seed is a symbol of potential life; it will in time grow into a living thing, and can provide sustenance to other living things. The vampire stops to gather these seeds because they represent the thing the vampire desires. It’s not as good as blood and flesh but it’s still sustenance the vampire can use, and using this symbolism Slavic peasants at some point reasoned out what they thought was a logical anti-vampire precaution.

I know the explanation for the seed thing is a bit esoteric, so here’s a slightly more straightforward idea. Ever heard of vampire watermelons and pumpkins? It’s a Roma belief, first recorded in the 1940s. If you leave pumpkins or watermelons out during a full moon, they’re supposed to start writhing around at night and seem to ooze blood. The practical explanation is just that overripe melons start to leak some of their red innards.

It’s a silly example, but it reflects a genuine tradition. The Slavs believed that a person or certain objects (especially lawful possessions) could become an unclean spirit. There’s actually a similar bit of folklore in the Japanese belief in the Tsukumogami, inanimate objects that manage to exist for over one hundred years, thereby acquiring a soul. Umbrellas in particular were supposed to be very cranky. Even today, people assign life to inanimate objects. They name their cars, boats, computers, even project personalities onto them. It’s a similar concept, only in the case of vampires it’s a decidedly negative sort of life.

You’d be surprised how useful this particular outlook on folklore can be. Not just for better understanding the ideas you’re using in fiction, but also for creating your own. If you want to design fictional belief systems, or make up your own mythologies, knowing what sort of reasoning created them is a good place to start.

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