Saturday, January 30, 2010

Legends and Lore - Slavic Vampires

Vampire myths have been passed down for generations. These legends of the undead, unfairly based largely in rumor and ignorance, are staples at every fireside chat in every culture throughout the world. In fact, if there is one common thread that bonds every person on earth, it is their fear of the vampire.The modern day stories that have brought the vampire myth into the mainstream were largely based on observations of the mentally unstable or strangely deceased, creating a stigma that many real life vampires deal with today.

I am sure that most people are familiar with Bram Stoker's Dracula, a great romance novel that rightfully captured the populace in 1897. However, Stoker's tale stretched the realities of vampirism and created a false fa├žade that overwhelms the true origins and beliefs of the myths. Stoker was neither the first nor the last author to pen accounts of the vampire. Lord Byron introduced (and maybe influenced) the common elements of vampirism in his 1813 poem, The Giaour. An epic poem the acted as a precursor to the first book on the subject, The Vampyre, penned by Lord Byron's personal physician John Polidori.

Even today, writers such as Ann Rice and Stephen King have embellished these myths to shock society into a biased view of the undead. From the outset of recorded history the Slavic people have had a history packed full of vampiric lore. A unique distinction when you consider the vast split in their religious make-up. During the 9th and 10th Centuries, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches battled for a foothold on Slavic society, before finally   breaking apart in roughly 1054, a change that severed the face of vampiric lore in this vast region. In the Orthodox doctrine, the incorrupt bodies of the deceased were viewed as vampires, while the Roman Catholic doctrine held these bodies on a pedestal, as saints.

These religious differences aren't the only ones that exist in this region of the Adriatic Coast; remnants of pre-Christianity Paganism still stand side-by-side with visions of modern day Catholicism. One journey through the Coastal town of Split, Croatia provides a dynamic snapshot of the culture as identified above and re-enforces the underlying currents of the legends. Split, one of the largest cities along the Adriatic, started as a retirement retreat for Caesar Diocletian, who built a giant fortress along the sulfur hot springs that populate this region in the fourth century. Remains of Diocletian's Palace exist today, housing not only the oldest cathedral known to man, but a combination of early Egyptian statues and other agonistic relics.

Walking along the cobblestone pathways in this city, or in any port along the Western Adriatic Coast, you can almost sense the history and lore that made this region a hotspot of vampiric activity centuries ago. In 1672, one of the first recorded vampire epidemics took place in Croatia. It has been reported that Giure Grando, from Khring on the Istrian Peninsula, returned from the dead to torture his family. Older writings record reports of two different types of vampires in Croatia, the Pijawika and the Kuzlak. Grando would have most certainly been considered a Pijawika, having been decapitated with the remains of his head placed between his legs, the proposed way of killing a Pijawika. The Kuzlak is a bit more interesting. The belief is that one is created when an infant is not breast-fed enough, taking their place with the undead at an early age.

To the North, Yugoslavia is home to an incredible amount of vampiric history, dating back centuries. In fact, in 1725 a similar case to the 1672 Croatian outbreak took place in Kisilovo, part of the Vojvodina Region of Serbia. In this case, Peter Plogojowitz returned from the grave to terrorize his former neighbors. This encounter set the stage for many recorded encounters, introducing the word "Vampire" into the Slavic vocabulary for the first time.

This was followed closely by the introduction of the French word "Vampyre" in 1732 when Arnold Paole was accused of killing herds of cattle and numerous people around the small town of Medvegia, Serbia. Legends state that Paole was actually bitten and turned into a vampire while serving the Turkish front in Kosova. This encounter and the detailed description of the exhumed and then decapitated corpse (Fresh blood stains, full complexion and growing hair), ranks as one of the best selling government reports in Yugoslavian history.

Throughout history, three different vampiric entities continually appear in this culture, the Vikodlak, Mulo and Vukodlak. The Serbian Vikodlak has a drunken appearance of a man in his early 20s. The legend states that this creature of the night can exist for only seven-years before having to repeat the process. Killing this eclipse causing creature can be a chore, having to pierce its naval with a hawthorn branch and then lighting it on fire with vigil candles. A Mulo is rarer and a lot more sinister. It is a dead gypsy, dressed all in white, that is said to boil women alive, filleting their flesh until death. If you happen to encounter one, you will need to summon a Dhampir (a vampire degenerate's son) to battle the Mulo to death.

The Montenegrin Vukodlak actually shares similarities with the modern werewolf (another common piece of Slavic folklore). This undead creature comes out only at night on a full moon. This creature is also very similar to the Blautsauger from Bosnia-Herzegovina (also along the Adriatic Coast). The Blautsauger is a hairier version with no skeleton. It has the ability to shape-shift into a rat or a wolf, luring people to its tomb in an attempt to have them digest dirt. The digestion of dirt is said to speed their transformation into the undead.

While it is not known who recorded these accounts of vampirism, it is quite possible that famed Croatian historian and writer Marko Marulic (1450-1524) encounter these same legends while documenting his accounts of mythology. Regardless of who captured these interludes into the supernatural, they have left lasting impressions on society as we know it.

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