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Jan Perkovski Vampires of the Slavs

Jan Perkovski Vampires of the Slavs

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07/31/2012

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In Slavic belief the soul is a being quite distinct from the
body, which it is free to leave even during life, so that there are
many stories of human souls coming forth from the bodies of
sleeping persons and either dwelling in trees or, in the shape of
white birds, fluttering about in the world and finally returning to
their normal habitations. It is inadvisable to go to bed thirsty, lest
the soul, wearied by its search for water, may weaken the body.
If a man faints, his soul leaves his body and uneasily flutters
about the world; but when it returns, consciousness is likewise
restored. Some individuals have lain like dead for three days,
during which time their souls dwelt in the other world and beheld
all that might be seen either in heaven or in paradise. A soul
which leaves the body when asleep and flies about in the world is
called Vjedogonja or Zduh, Zduhacz (“Spirit”) by the Serbs; and
not only the souls of sleeping persons, but even those of fowls
and domestic animals, such as cats, dogs, oxen, etc., may be
transformed into Zduhaczs. These genii, regardless of
nationality, sex, or age, assemble on mountaintops, where they
battle either singly or in troops, the victors bringing to their
countrymen a rich harvest and success in breeding cattle; but if a
man’s soul perishes in this fight, he will never awake. In
Montenegro a distinction is drawn between Zduhaczs of land and
sea, the former causing drought, and the latter rain, so that the
weather depends on which of these two wins. A sudden storm
points to a battle among such Zduhaczs; but in all other respects

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these genii are considered good and sensible and stand in high
repute.

The Montenegrins personify the soul as Sjen or Sjenovik
(“Shadow”), this being a genius which has charge of houses,
lakes, mountains, and forests, and which may be a man or a
domestic animal, a cat, a dog, or more especially – a snake.
It is a general Slavic belief that souls may pass into a
Mora, a living being, either man or woman, whose soul goes out
of the body at nighttime, leaving it as if dead. Sometimes two
souls are believed to be in such a body, one of which leaves it
when asleep; and a man may be a Mora from his birth, in which
case he has bushy, black eyebrows, growing together above his
nose. The Mora, assuming various shapes, approaches the
dwellings of men at night and tries to suffocate them; she is
either a piece of straw, or a white shadow, or a leather bag, or a
white mouse, a cat, a snake, a white horse, etc. First she sends
refreshing slumber to men and then, when they are asleep, she
frightens them with terrible dreams, chokes them, and sucks their
blood. For the most part she torments children, though she also
throws herself upon animals, especially horses and cows, and
even injures and withers trees, so that various means are
employed to get rid of her.
In Russia the Moras, or Kikimoras, play the role of
household gods (penates). They are tiny female beings who live
behind the oven; and at night they make various noises, whining
and whistling, and troubling sleeping people. They are very fond
of spinning, hopping from place to place all the time; and they
tangle and tear the tow of women who rise from the spinning-
wheel without making the sign of the cross. They are invisible
and do not grow old; but manifestation of their presence always
portends trouble.

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Among the Slavs, as well as among many other peoples,
there is a widespread belief that certain persons can assume the
form of wolves during their lifetime, like the English werewolf,
the French loupgarou, the Lithuanian vilkakis, etc., such a man
being termed Vlkodlak (Vukodlak, Vrkolak, Volkun, etc.). A
child born feet foremost or with teeth will become a Vikodlak;
and a man may undergo transformation into such a being by
magic power, this happening most frequently to bride and
bridegroom as they go to church to be married. A person turned
into a Vikodlak will run about the village in the shape of a wolf
and will approach human dwellings, casting plaintive glances at
people, but without harming anyone; and he will retain his
wolf—like shape until the same person who has enchanted him
destroys the charm.

Among the Jugo-Slavs (“Southern Slavs”) there still
lingers an old tradition, dating from the thirteenth century, of a
Vukodlak who followed the clouds and devoured the sun or the
moon, thus causing an eclipse; and accordingly, on such an
occasion, drums were beaten, bells rung, and guns fired, all this
being supposed to drive the demon away.
The Vlkodlak can transform himself nor only into a wolf,
but also into hens and such animals as horses, cows, dogs, and
cats. At night he attacks cattle, sucks the milk of cows, mares,
and sheep, strangles horses, and causes cattle to die of plague; he
may even assail human beings, frightening, beating, and
strangling them. The Slavs in Istria believe that every single
family has its own Vukodlak, who tries to harm the house; but
the house also possesses a good genius, the Krsnik (Kresnik,
Karsnik), who protects it from the Vukodlak and battles with
him. In popular tradition the Vikodlak is frequently identified
with the Vampire, and similar stories are told concerning both
beings.

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The Slavs universally believe that the soul can leave the
body in the form of a bird (a dove, a duck, a nightingale, a
swallow, a cuckoo, an eagle, a raven) or else as a butterfly, a fly,
a snake, a white mouse, a hare, a small flame, etc. For this
reason, whenever a man dies, the window or the door is left
open, thus freely enabling the soul to come and go so long as the
corpse remains in the house. The soul flutters about the cottage
in the shape of a fly, sitting down, from time to time, upon the
stove and witnessing the lamentations of the mourners as well as
the preparations for the funeral; and in the courtyard it hovers
around as a bird.

That the soul of the dead might suffer neither hunger nor
thirst, various kinds of food or drink were put into the coffin or
the grave; and besides other presents, small coins were given to
the deceased, thus enabling him to buy a place of his own beyond
the tomb. At the banquet celebrated after the burial a part of the
meal was put aside for the soul, which, though invisible, was
partaking of the feast; and during the first night after the funeral
the soul returned to the house to see it once more and to re fresh
itself. Accordingly a jug of water was placed under the icons, and
on the following day it was inspected to as certain whether the
soul had drunk or not, this practice sometimes being continued
for six weeks. In Bulgaria the head of the grave is sprinkled with
wine the day after the funeral, in order that the soul may not feel
thirsty; while in Russia and in other Slav countries wheat is
strewn or food is put upon the place of burial.
For forty days the soul dwells on earth, seeking for places
which the deceased used to frequent when alive; it enters his own
house or those of other persons, causing all sorts of trouble to
those who had been enemies to the de parted, and it is either
invisible or else appears in the form of an animal. Bulgarian
tradition speaks of the soul as approaching the body on the

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fortieth day, trying to enter it and to live anew; but being
frightened by the disfigured and decaying corpse, it flies away
into the world beyond the grave. The belief that the soul remains
for forty days in the places where it had lived and worked is
universal among the Slavs. According to Russian tradition it then
flies upward to the sun, or the moon, or the stars, or else it
wanders away into forests, or waters, or mountains, or clouds, or
seas, etc.

The souls of the deceased often appear as jack-o’-
lanterns flickering about in churchyards or morasses, leading
people astray in swamps and ponds, or strangling and stupefying
them. Woe to him who ridicules them or whistles at them, for
they will beat him to death; but if a wanderer courteously asks
their guidance, they will show him the road that he must follow.
In Slavic belief the souls of the departed maintained, on
the whole, friendly relations with the living, the only exceptions
being the ghosts of those who had been either sorcerers or
grievous sinners in their lifetime, or who had committed suicide
or murder, or who had been denied Christian burial. The souls of
sorcerers, whether male or female, are loath to part with their
bodies and cannot leave in the usual way by door or window, but
wish to have a board in the roof removed for them. After death
their souls take the shapes of unclean animals and enter houses at
night, worrying the inmates and seeking to hurt them, the same
enmity toward the living being shown by the souls of those who
have committed suicide, since they endeavor to revenge
themselves for not having been properly buried. In ancient times
the bodies of suicides, as well as criminals, drowned persons, and
all who had met with a violent death or were considered
magicians, were refused interment in the churchyard, their
corpses being buried without Christian rites in forests or swamps,
or even thrown into pits. The lower classes believed that the

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souls of such persons caused bad harvests, droughts, diseases,
etc.; and, therefore, a stake was run through their hearts, or their
heads were cut off, despite the efforts of the ecclesiastical and
secular authorities to put an end to this sort of superstition.
The belief in Vampires (deceased people who in their
lifetime had been sorcerers, bad characters, or murderers, and
whose bodies are now occupied by an unclean spirit), which may
be traced back as far as the eleventh century, is still widely
current among the Slav population. The name, which also
appears as Upir, Upior, etc., is probably derived from the Turkish
uber (“enchantress”); but other designations are likewise used,
such as Wieszczy and Martwiec (Polish), Vedomec (Slovenian),
Kruvnik (Bulgarian), Oboroten (Russian), etc.
The Southern Slavs believe that any person upon whom
an unclean shadow falls, or over whom a dog or a cat jumps, may
become a Vampire; and the corpse of such a being does not
decay when buried, but retains the color of life. A Vampire may
suck the flesh of his own breast or gnaw his own body, and he
encroaches even upon the vitality of his nearest relations, causing
them to waste away and finally die.
At night the Vampires leave their graves and rock to and
fro upon wayside crosses, wailing all the time. They assume
every sort of shape and suck the blood of people, whom thus they
gradually destroy, or, if they have not time to do that (especially
as their power ends at cock-crow), they attack domestic animals.
Various means of riddance, however, are known, and there is
ample evidence of exhuming the corpse of a man supposed to be
a Vampire, of driving a stake of ash wood (or wood of the
hawthorn or maple) through it, and of burning it, these acts being
believed to put a definite end to his evil doings.

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CHAPTER II

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