VAMPIRES, PART III: Corpse Descecration for Beginners

Moraine_le_vampire

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

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

The picture above shows off your typical historical vampire hunters. The destruction of the bloodsuckers was generally something undertaken by local peasants, who would dig up bodies based on conjecture, and then destroy or mutilate them. There’s even a surviving 1737 Croatian court transcript of several men accused with desecrating bodies for this purpose. The offenders were found guilty, fined fourteen ducats, and then charged to make a pilgrimage to three churches while a heavy stone was suspended from their necks by a rope. Croatian judges were clearly a creative bunch.

From accounts like this and various others we can gather a decent amount of information on how people of the past thought vampires should be handled. Unlike in modern vampire fiction, where impaling a vampire’s heart on a wooden stake is generally the way to destroy the monster, a stake was not a way to kill a vampire for the Slavs. It was a preventative step. On the one hand, you were essentially nailing the body to the bottom of the coffin. On the other hand, the heart was considered the most important organ when it comes to blood. How’s the vampire going to be able to process the blood it drinks when there’s a bigass stake through its heart? The idea that the stake was an all-important method of vampire destruction probably goes back to the film version of Dracula; in the book the Count is stabbed in the heart with one knife, while another cuts his throat.

There were a whole host of ways to prevent a vampire from rising. Many were very clever. The peasants, for example, would bury the coffin upside down: That way, if the vampire tried to dig its way out, it’d be trying to dig up but instead would be actually digging further down. But, you might think, if the vampire had memories from its life, it’d know about that practice, right? That’s why they also would sometimes bury the coffin vertically. The vampire might be a crafty fellow and try to second guess the men who inhumed him, but he still wouldn’t be sure which way to go, because he wouldn’t know which way he was buried.

They had lots of other such measures. Nail the body’s clothes to the sides of the coffin. Attach a sickle to the wall of the coffin so the blade rested above the body’s throat: If it tried to sit up, it’d decapitate itself. In later years in Romania, it was traditional to shoot a bullet through the coffin, body and all, before burial. I mentioned in Part I that vampires who had recently drunk their fill were supposed to be so suffused with blood that they were swollen near to bursting. One vampire prevention method is to pierce a body with needles before burial. Sounds like a weaker version of staking, right? Not so. The idea was that if the vampire couldn’t exist if it had holes in it: the blood it drank would leak out, and the vampire would starve.

One of may particularly favorite traditions comes from the Caras district of Romania, where there was a custom of burying the deceased with a bottle of hard whiskey. The idea was that the vampire would get shitfaced and be unable to get out of his grave. Even if he did, it was thought instead of going home to attack his family members, he’d instead slouch to the bar for a refill. Alternatively, there was a belief that if you buried the corpse with a bottle of wine and later believed he had come back as a vampire, you could dig him up and the family members could drink the wine, and this would render them immune to the vampire’s predations. Frankly, the second one seems like a bad idea to me. Wouldn’t the vampire be more pissed because they stole his booze?

At any rate, while there was also a lot of variation on how to permanently destroy a vampire, it always came down to two things: Complete dismemberment, followed by burning. And even burning doesn’t always work, as you will see next week. Vampire destruction and prevention is a minor detail in many ways, but it can give further insight into the nature of the creature in your story. It’s also an easy way to add flavor and to shake up the reader’s expectations on just how a vampire has to be dealt with.

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