02 August 2009

Vampires in Russia

A week ago I wrote an article about malaria in Russia, but I forgot to write the corresponding article on vampires in Russia...me ineptum.

In 1047 AD, a Russian priest penned the term Upir' Likhyi in reference to a Novgorodian prince. This is widely believed to be the first mention of the term 'vampire'. "There is a host of ideas about the origin of vampires. The most common is that sorcerers, witches, werewolves, excommunicates, and those who died unnatural deaths (such as suicides and drunkards) become vampires at their death. People can, however, be destined from birth to become vampires" (Dundes 50). In Russia, "The Upir [is] described as a vampire or werewolf and connected in folklore with wise women and witches" (Hubbs 16).

"The tendency to confuse vampires with werewolves is noticeable...in Russia, as indicated by a curious piece of information pertaining to vampires" (Dundes 50). Felix Oinas reported a "belief in Russia that while a dead vampire destroyed people, a live one, on the contrary, defended them. Each village had its own vampire, as if it were a guard, protecting the inhabitants from his dead companions." Kretzenbacker also "reports that the Russian villages are said to have two kinds of vampires--one bad and the other good" (Green 842). "The tendency of people to believe in good werewolves who counteract the reign of evil [vampires] through their powers of good" is indicated in these accounts. Another possible explanation is that of the dhampir (Balkans), which is an offspring of a human and a vampire. Often, a dhampir is a vampire hunter that protects humans by destroying vampires yet cannot fully assimilate into the human society.

In recent centuries, the term Upir has become almost unheard of in Russia; however, vampires still lurk in the country. "Father Gabriel Rzaczynski...in 1732, affirms, that in Russia...dead bodies, actuated by infernal spirits, sometimes enter people's houses in the night, fall upon men, women, and children, and attempt to suffocate them; and that of such diabolical facts his countrymen have several very authentic relations" (Green 8). In 1889 in Russia, the corpse of an old man who was suspected of being a vampire was dug up, and many of those present maintained that they saw a tail attached to its back" (48). Furthermore, reports of a vampire epidemic are prevalent beginning in "the late seventeenth century" in Russia. "One case from Belgrade in the 1720s involved an individual named Arnold Paole who "died an accidental death, after which several people died suddenly of what had been traditionally viewed as 'vampirism'. Forty days after his burial, Paole was exhumed:
[It was found] that he was complete and incorrupt, also that completely flesh blood had flowed from his eyes, ears, and nose...since they could see from this that he was a true vampire, they drove a stake through his heart, according to their customs, whereupon he let out a noticeable groan and bled copiously.

During this 'epidemic' "numerous cases of the mishandling of corpses believed to be vampires have become known" (50). In Russia, "the treatment of the revenant was somewhat different" from other corpses. "Vampires were apt to be disposed of in a desolate area, but not buried, and often were thrown into a body of water." This does not have to do with the idea that water restricts the vampire, instead it is "derived from the vampire's habit of causing droughts."(Barber 37). This superstition indicates the belief that the dead "influence the weather" and the vampires are particularly powerful with the gift of drought (34).

As in many other countries, "suicides, murder victims, people who drowned, and even victims of stroke were particularly at risk" for becoming vampires (Barber 34). Furthermore, there is an interesting belief about fatal communicable diseases that circulates in Russia. The tale indicates that "the first victim of a disease is a vampire" and will then cause the deaths of others in its vicinity (37).

"There are clear indications that the beliefs in vampires have deep roots among the Slavs and obviously go back to the Proto-Slavic period. These beliefs are...well documented among the early Russians" (Dundes 54). Countless stories exist, and I cannot tell them all here, but I will explain some other references that may be of interest to you. Creatures related to vampires in Russia are the Erestun, Eretiku, and the Kornwolf. The Kornwolf most obviously refers to a werewolf. And the Erestun and Eretiku (also known as Xloptuny; male and female respectively) is the "spirit of an evil sorcerer--one who has either learned to split his soul into separate but functional halves, or one who through some great misfortune has lost his mortal body" and possessed the body of "a person at the brink of death." Erestun attacks the friends and family of the host and "takes only a little blood, leaving the victim alive but weakened." Also, the Erestun can be killed by being "staked, beheaded and burned" (Maberry 113). These methods of eradication still echo in the vampire fictions of modern day. Is there truth behind it, or is it simply legend?

Do svidanja,

Barber, Paul. Vampires, burial and death: folklore and reality.
Dundes, Alan. The Vampire.
Green, Thomas A. Folklore.
Hubbs, Joanna. Mother Russia.
Maberry, Jonathan. Vampire Universe.

1 comment:

  1. i have maintained for my entire life that i am only half a soul, the other half though connected to me, is a separate entity, that on occasion will do things for me. these things have ranged from watching over loved ones to attacking my enemies. a few have seen him, i always do. it is a state of constant reincarnation in which i am always reborn and he always follows.