Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Vampire Mythology: Vampire of Romania

Strigoi - Vampire of Romania

Out of all the Countries in the world, none is known greater for the vampire than Romania. It is here in the divisions of Transylvania, Wallachia, and Moldavia that the tales of vampires are the most verdantly abundant than anywhere else. Surprisingly, the Romanian folklore concerning the vampire remained infallible despite the many foreign interventions that were continuously present from the Romans (who referred to Romania as Dacia), the Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks. Romania possessed precise rules and regulations to preventing the dead from coming back to life, and can also be identified closely with the preventive measures taken in other lands, in which was most likely adopted from the Romanians.

Signs of Being a Vampire in Romania

The Romanians believed that the first and foremost sign of one being, or becoming a vampire, was at the birth of a child who was born 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, lest they rise 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 a 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 numerously 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.

Vampire Activity Peaks During Religious Holidays

Vampires were believed to be most active on the eve of two religious holidays, the Feast of St. George (Julian calendar, May 4-5 Gregorian calendar April 22-23) and the Feast of St. Andrew . (Julian calendar, November 23-24. Gregorian calendar, November 29-30) The explanation of two calendar dates are given because Romanians used the old Julian calendar, while as displayed in Stoker’s novel, the modern Gregorian calendar was used. The difference in time between the two calendars was 12 days. Also, it should be noted that the lag time between the old Julian calendar and the modern Gregorian calendar increases one day every century.

The Feast of St. George was a very important festival in honor of St. George. Also known as the "Great Martyr," George was a beloved Saint. Not only was he acknowledge as the patron of England, but many other countries as well. He was also the patron of horses, cattle, wolves, and all enemies of witches and vampires.

It was on St. George's eve that vampires all the forces of evil were most exquisite. People would remain in their homes with continuous light throughout the night. They placed thorns across thresholds, painted crosses on their doors with tar, put thistles on windows, lit bonfires, and spread garlic everywhere they could. Through out the night, prayers would be recited repeatedly and naked blades placed beneath their pillows. If the night went well without any occurrences , the saint's feast was celebrated with much exuberance that day. The thorns and garlic were then replaced by Roses and other flowers. Bram Stoker, having done his research on vampire lore for his 1897 novel Dracula, included the fear of the villagers on St. George's Eve to warn Jonathan Harker that at midnight "all the evil things in the world will have full sway."

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.

Romanian Precautions with Vampires

Romanians took every precaution of one becoming a vampire or harming anyone if they did become one. Graves were carefully watched for any signs that signified a vampiric 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.

Romanian Vampire Species

Strigoi/Strigoii: There are actually two different spellings that I have come across while researching this type of vampire. In The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the undead; Second Edition,by J. Gordon Melton, it is referenced as Strigoi, but in The Vampire Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson, it is referenced as Strigoii. Which of the two is the correct form, I have not been able to narrow down. But for the sake of being politically correct, I have included both forms of the spelling divided by a /mark in between the two variations. This also applies to the term moroi (Melton) and moroii (Bunson).

Strigoi: (female - strigoaica) is closely related to the Romanian word striga(a witch), which in turn was evolved from the Latin strix, the word for a screech owl used by the Romans in reference to a demon, witch-vampire that preyed upon children in the night for their blood, as acknowledged in many medieval laws and decrees. As time passed, strix most likely evolved into striges. The striges were said to have the ability to transform itself into a night bird, specifically mentioned, a crow. The Striges has always been classified as a type of vampire, specifically a living vampire, since it was clear that they were alive while active. Which brings us to the second term, moroi/moroii(female, moroaica), considered a more appropriate term for a living vampire, also known as murony, muroni, and muronal in some older references, appears to be the most common term used in Wallachia.

Muroni: The muroni(murony/muronal) is known for it’s ability to shapeshift into various forms such as cats, dogs, fleas, or spiders. While in this transition, the muroni/murony/muronal, victimizes it’s prey with much ease, leaving behind marks that conceals the identity of it’s true nature. The only evidence is the fact that the victim is left entirely drained of blood without the presence of the usual puncture wounds. Anyone who perishes suffers the damnation of becoming a vampire, and there is absolutely no preventive measures that can be taken. The recommendation in destroying this type of vampire is to pound a long nail through the forehead or a stake through the heart.

Strigoi/Strigoii Morti: The Romanians also distinguish between the Strigoi/strigoii vii (plural, strigoi/strigoii), or living vampire, and the strigoi/strigoii mort, a variation of the Slavic vampire (plural,strigoi/strigoii morti was a dead vampire). The strigoi/strigoii vii were said to have distinguishing features such as red hair, blue eyes, and the presence of two hearts, they were also said to be witches who are destined to become vampires after death and who can send out their souls and/or bodies at night to consort with the strigoi/strigoii mort. The live vampires tend to merge in thought with the striga (witches), who have the power to send their spirits and bodies to meet at night with other witches.

The other ways of becoming a strigoi/strigoii mort (plural,strigoi/strigoii morti) were suicide, criminal activities, perjury, death at the hand of a vampire, being the seventh son or seventh daughter, being stared at in the womb by a vampire, or dying unmarried with an unreciprocated love. In addition, the ropes used in burial must be positioned near the body and should not fall into the hands of someone who practiced the black arts who might use them to turn a relative into a vampire. A body that was transforming into a strigoi/strigoii will have it’s left eye open and staring. To prevent against becoming a strigoi/strigoii during transformation, was to stab the heart with a sickle and the sticking of nine spindles into the ground to pierce the creature as it rises. Wine was also mentioned as a powerful shield against any attacks. This type of vampire was a revenant of the dead that possessed the ability to enact poltergeist like activity, especially with moving household objects.

This type of vampire was seen as impulsive, prankish, and very draining. All in all, these type of vampire attacks where rarely noted with actual biting and the consumption of blood from it’s victim. The strigoi/strigoii instead, drained the energy from it’s victim by a process known as psychic vampirism. The description of one of these attack from a strigoi/strigoii, where often given in a pragmatic metaphorical language, which in turn was taken in a literal sense by non-Slavic interpreters who, in that time, misunderstood the phenomenon of the Slavic vampire.

Works Cited
Melton, Gordon J. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Canton,MI. Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Bunson, Matthew. The Vampire Encyclopedia . Gramercy, 2000.

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