What’s the first thing you think of when hearing the words Eastern Europe? Strong booze? Adidas tracksuits? Or the smell of cigarettes? Don’t cancel me for saying that, I’m an Eastern European myself. And I have to admit — those are the first things I think of when I think of home. I can tell you what the last thing is: vampires. Yup, they haven’t been on my radar since I’ve grown out of my Twilight phase, and even though Dracula himself was from Eastern Europe, there’s no real connection between these two in my brain. However, there is actually an impressive number of eerie vampire legends tied to this part of Europe, especially found within the pages of its history. So, let’s learn a little bit more about them in time for Halloween!
Eastern European Vampires
Let’s make one thing clear: Eastern European vampires are nothing like Edward Cullen. They don’t have multiple doctorates, they don’t play the piano, and they sure as hell don’t glisten in the sun. Eastern European vampire folklore came to life thanks to the imagination of villagers, townsfolk, and storytellers. And that makes them both diverse and an intriguing part of the region’s cultural identity. So let’s go over the most common types of Eastern European vampires.
In the heart of Romania, strigoi are dreaded vampiric spirits believed to rise from the grave to harm the living. They aren’t nearly as sophisticated as the OG Romanian vampire Dracula. Instead of fancy clothing, they would more commonly resemble a much more intimidating version of Harry Potter’s Dobby. Let’s call it Dobby on steroids. To safeguard against their twisted intentions, people in Romania would use protective measures such as garlic, holy water, and the use of thorns.
Slavic folklore also introduces the upyr, a creature bearing vampire-like traits such as blood-drinking tendencies and shape-shifting abilities. These beings were often portrayed as cunning and perilous, requiring vigilance to outsmart. If Strigoi resembles Dobby, then Upyr resembles Smeagoll from LOTR. Thin hair, rotten teeth, and a malicious smile on their face. Edward Cullen could never.
The term “nosferatu,” commonly used as a synonym for vampires, traces its roots to the Romanian “nosferat,” signifying “unholy” or “undead.” This term underscores the eerie and ominous nature attributed to these creatures. It’s not as specific as the previous two, but if you ever do your own research on Eastern European vampire folklore, then you’ll probably also come across this term.
Vampire Hunting and Protective Measures
Now, let’s learn a bit more about how Eastern Europeans protected themselves from these scary vampires in their classic superstitions and legends. Let me just say — they took the threats quite seriously. So it comes as no surprise that they’ve created a wide range of protective measures. Here are some of the most common ones.
Burial Rituals: To forestall a corpse from transforming into a vampire, individuals placed objects like garlic, coins, or stones in the deceased’s mouth. In some cases, the body was even decapitated or staked through the heart to prevent its return.
Vampire Hunting Kits: Travelers traversing regions known for vampire lore sometimes carried kits equipped with items like crosses, holy water, and wooden stakes—tools of defense against potential vampire encounters.
Avoiding Eye Contact: Folklore cautioned against making eye contact with suspected vampires, as it was believed that their gaze could hypnotize or exert control over individuals.
The Modern Legacy of Vampires
Needless to say, Eastern European vampire legends persist even today. However, primarily as part of cultural heritage and a magnet for tourism. While the terror of real vampires has waned, the fascination with these supernatural beings continues unabated. Tourists flock to destinations like Bran Castle in Romania, famously associated with Count Dracula, to immerse themselves in the ambiance of vampire lore.
It’s worth noting that not all Eastern European vampire legends are characterized by darkness and dread. Some folklore paints a more compassionate picture of vampires, suggesting that these immortal beings can be redeemed or freed from their accursed existence. In such tales, love and empathy triumph over the shadows that encompass them.