02 October 2009


A curse upon your enemy: "May the earth spew you forth."
Many of the creatures commonly considered as vampires from Greece "were not vampires in the same sense as those of Eastern Europe. They were spirit beings rather than revivified corpses. The ancient Greeks, however did have a class of revenants, vrykolakas, which would develop into true vampires" over the years (Melton 305).

Leo Allatius "described the vrykolakas, the undecomposed corpse that has been taken over by a demon, and noted the regulations of the Greek Church of the discernment and disposal of a vrykolakas" (Melton 9). In the earliest legends, the identity of the vrykolakas was known, and cremation of the body could stop its nocturnal visits. "It was necessary to burn up the vrykolakas entirely" in order to ensure its permanent riddance of the creature (de Tournefort).

"The ancient revenant was, however, not yet a vampire, or even an object of much fear. The revenant often returned to complete unfinished business with a spouse, a family member, or someone close to him or her in life...In later centuries, stories would be told of....vrykolakas who resumed life in the family. Occasionally, there would be a report of a revenant who...remarried and fathered children" (306).

"Early in the twentieth century, John Cuthbert Lawson spent considerable time investigating the vrykolakas in Greek folklore. He noted its development in three stages, beginning with that of pre-Christian times." In the ancient stories, "the return was by divine consent for a specific purpose," and at times, the "revenant status" was "punishment for human failure." Some myths note instances "when people were cursed with an incorruptible body, meaning that in death the individual would be denied communion with those on the other side of the grave."

After the rise of Christianity, and the development of the Greek Orthodox Church, the idea was framed in the context of religion. The "church taught that a curse could ...prevent the natural decay of the body which at the same time became a barrier to the progress of the soul....[A]s the church came to dominate Greek religious life, it proposed that the dead might become vrykolakas if they died in an excommunicated state, if they were buried without the proper church rites, or if they died a violent death...To these it added two other causes: stillborn children or those who were born on one of the great church festivals" (307).

As the Eastern Orthodox Church spread into other lands, foreign beliefs entered Greece "and began to alter...the understanding of the revenant, transforming it into a true vampire. The significant concept was that of the werewolf...Some Slavic people believed that werewolves became vampires after they died." Scholars argue that "the Slavonic term came into Greece to describe the werewolf..., but gradually came to designate the revenant or vampire" (307). Although it's a point of contention, most believe that the term vrykolakas "was derived from the older Slavic compound term vblk'b dlaka, which originally meant wolf pelt wearer" (305). This compound word is still in use as "the exact equivalent of our 'werewolf'...[T]he reason for the transition of meaning" from 'were-wolf' to 'vampire' lies "in the belief current among the Slavonic peoples...that a man who has been a were-wolf in his lifetime becomes a vampire after death" (Lawson 378).

As the Greeks adopted the Slavic word, they also "absorbed a Slavic view of the possible vicious nature of vampires. The ancient Greek revenant was essentially benign...on occasion it committed an act of vengeance, but always one that most would consider logical. It did not enact chaotic violence" (308). The bloodthirsty and wonton vampire of the Slavs was contrary to the passive Greek revenant. "Gradually, the view that vampires were characteristically vicious came to dominate Greek thought about the vrykolakas" (308).


De Tournefort, Pitton. Vrykolakas.
Lawson, John Cuthbert. Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion...
Melton, J Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia...


  1. Interesting post. Indeed, Greek folklore has mentions for different blood-sucking creatures, such as the Lamia, or the vrykolakas, mentioned above.
    That's probably due to the fancination of Greek people with death, in my opinion, as we never believed it was the end.
    Now, for the vrykolakas. As a vampire "groupie" (in lack of better words to show my fancination) I've stumbled upon many of those myths. I should probably add something my grandmothers/fathers/elder relatives used to say, and some things I've learnt by old encyclopedias the previous relatives had.
    Magical causes: people became vrykolakas when their corpses were stepped on or over by an enemy, a cat, a dog or a chicken before it was buried.
    Religion related causes: one that wasn't buried by an orthodox priest, one that was kicked out of his church, the un-christened child, the one that changed his religion or the one that was cursed by an enemy while dying.
    Ethical causes: the unfair, the killer, and the one that didn't manage to finish a task before dying had also chances to become vrykolakas.
    Logical causes: one would become vrykolakas upon finding violent death, by an accident, or the one that had a wish and didn't manage to fulfill it.
    The abilities Greek people gave then are also extraordinary. They could get out a tiny hole, that they opened on their graves and transform into a ghost or an animal. They could easily hurt people, especially relatives. (there's a quote saying "he became a vampire and he eats from his kin" or something like that.)
    Greek people also believe vrykolakas sneak into sleeping people and animals, drink their blood and cause their death, strangle babies on their cradles, break furniture at night, throw stones at people that walk at night, and drink the oil that burns on the "candles" over the graves. Some other times the vrykolakas were held responsible for ilnesses that spread on whole villages or fields and animals.
    Some rare times, they were responsible or good things. For example, one could become vrykolakas and go to his house and work to help and bring money.
    But most of the times the means people used to protect themselves were extreme. Pentagramms or coffin nails on their doors, not answering the door unless they're called twice (because a vrykolakas can call only once, and when one answers he will die imediately) etc.
    Upon realizing the presence of a vrykolakas, they throw stones with their left hand, mumble spells or call the priest to "read on their grave".
    That's probably as much as I know for Greek vrykolakas. I hope I added something more to your readers, Ana.


    P. S. The text is really bad translated because I have no time!!! I just had to comment. Forgive me for that.

  2. I give you many thanks, Fairy. Your comment is informative and detailed. I appreciate the fact that you mention the varied character of the vrykolakas, because these revenants are rather unique in that respect. Some are bad, most are neutral, and a very few resurrect for noble purpose.

    With sincere thanks,

  3. When my college finally lets me teach Vampires in Literature again, your well written and informative source will be a hit with my students.

    Thanks :)

    thegrammarian (also known as Leslie)

  4. Is it wrong that I love this title bit?
    A curse upon your enemy: "May the earth spew you forth."
    Sounds awesomely powerful. Good work.

  5. many many names can they be the same person .cain juda drake vladmir dragulle nasforatsu .words from jesus himself st.john.6 53 "except ye eat the flesh of the son of man and drinketh his blood ye hath no life in you .54 Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life .55 For my flesh is 'meat' indeed and my blood is 'drink' indeed.56 he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and i in him . "