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Posted By Michael Bell

Is this the (a) missing link between Dracula’s shapeshifting into a bat and folklore?  A fascinating addition to #6 (above) not only connects Italian witches and vampires, but also describes their ability to shapeshift into bats, from an 1878 article on Italian folktales (i.e., fairytales). The following text and footnotes are quoted from Henry Charles Coote, “Some Italian Folk-Lore,” Folk-Lore Record 1 (1878):187-215. Coote was dealing with Italian tales that have French counterparts, using texts drawn from Domenico Comparetti’s compilation, Novelline Populari Italiane (1875). Coote believed that Comapretti’s tales were “the genuine traditions of the country side.” (187). Here are the relevant passages (pp. 213-214):

To their rendezvous the French witches repair, after the fashion of their English sisters, astride upon a broomstick. But the gracefulness of antique mythology still adheres to the Italian witch, who has never degraded herself into electing and utilizing so mean a medium for locomotion, or at least very seldom uses it. Before starting the strega anoints her whole body with an unguent, which turns her straightway into a bat. Her body is left on the ground as inert and lifeless as the clothes of which she has divested herself. On her return from her merry-making she re-enters the accommodating matter and becomes herself again. [footnote: In the “Il figlinuolo del re, stregato,” the witches, while they are rubbing themselves over with the ointment, say, “Ointment, make me go three times faster than the wind.” All then take their seats, and a bat coming out of each one’s mouth, they remain there like dead; at three o’clock the three bats return, re-enter their bodies, and begin to eat their supper. . . . “]

This is, of course, a mere matter of subordinate detail.

There is, however, an additional property which the strega possesses to the exclusion of her French sister. She is a vampire, which the other never has been. She sucks the blood of sleeping people through the little finger, thus inducing an inscrutable and therefore incurable marasmus. [footnote: This is inferrible from the “Il figliuolo del re, stregato” (ante). The king is dying in this way through the witches. When the latter are publicly burnt “there arose a stench from their bodies as of the dead in a churchyard, because they ate the blood of the people of the country. [para] In the “I dodici buoi” (Comparetti, p. 206) the witch sucks a girl’s blood through her little finger. In “La Nuvolaccia” (ib. p. 128) it is through a finger, without specification.]

Posted By Michael Bell

Continuing Schierup’s (1986, 179) quote regarding the Wallachian vampire, moroi:

As a rule, moroi haunts close relatives, with whom it has experienced some kind of conflict before death. Moroi can be one who has died to whom the proper ceremonial homage has not been paid, or who has a reason to return in order to redress acts of injustice committed against him or her during life. Moroi never haunt those who have behaved well towards them, but only those who did not pay proper respect. Moroi can take up domicile in the bodies of weaker persons—small children or old people. It will creep into their heart and “eat it up”. People giving shelter to moroi will start bleeding from their nose. These “weaker” people are relatives of the “wicked” persons, whom the moroi persecutes in order to redress injustices (Schierup 1986, 179).

Vampires sometimes are linked to witches and wizards. In Romania, Murgoci found accounts of a “live-vampire type”—a person fated to become a vampire after death who, while still alive, can send out its soul, or even its body, to meet with reanimated corpses at the crossroads. Murgoci observed that this kind of vampire “merges into the ordinary witch or wizard, who can meet other witches or wizards either in the body or as a spirit” (Murgoci 1926, 321). She also documented a belief that vampires cannot drown because they always float on top of the water (Murgoci 1926, 332), connecting Romanian vampires to the witches of colonial New England who were sometimes tested to see if they floated upon being thrown into water. Those who drowned were proclaimed innocent while those who floated were condemned as witches.

In Romania, one might easily confuse strigele, the spirits of witches, with strigoi, the most common name for vampires. The strigele are spirits of either living witches or dead witches unable to find a resting place. According to folk tradition, they are seen as little points of light floating in the air. But in Italy, the strega, or witch, can also play the part of a vampire insofar as “she sucks the blood of sleeping people through the little finger, thus inducing an inscrutable and therefore incurable marasmus” (Coote 1878, 214).  Marasmus is a gradual loss of flesh and strength for no apparent cause, a condition that could very well be ascribed to consumption.

Next we will look at David Hufford’s examination of being “witch ridden” in relation to subjective accounts of vampire attacks.

Posted By Michael Bell

In ancient Greece, the Lamia evolved into a vampire-like succubus. In early Greek folklore, she was a bogeyman who fed on the flesh and blood of children. Stories about her were told to scare young children away from misbehaving. Later tradition transformed her into a shape-shifter who could appear to young men as a beautiful woman. After seducing them, she sucked their blood and ate their flesh.

The Celtic form of the succubus is a female demon who also has sexual intercourse with her male victims before sucking their blood. The following account of an assault by banshees could just as easily have been blamed on vampires:

Four young men were on a hunting trip and spent the night in an empty shieling, a hut built to give shelter for the sheep in the grazing season. They began to dance, one supplying mouth-music. One of the dancers wished that they had partners. Almost at once four women came in. Three danced, the fourth stood by the music-maker. But as he hummed he saw drops of blood falling from the dancers and he fled out of the shieling, pursued by his demon partner. He took refuge among the horses and she could not get to him, probably because of the iron with which they were shod. But she circled round him all night, and only disappeared when the sun rose. He went back into the shieling and found the bloodless bodies of the dancers lying there. Their partners had sucked them dry (Briggs 1976, 16).

Vampires and werewolves also blend, particularly in the folklore of Eastern Europe. Agnes Murgoci describes the regional variation that alternately combines or separates these related creatures of darkness. She points out the general term for a vampire in Macedonia and Greece, vârcolac or vrykolaka, is not commonly used to mean a vampire in Romania, where it typically refers to an animal that eats the moon. In Romania, where the animal significance is paramount, Vârcolac is a werewolf. But in Macedonia, where the human significance predominates, it is a vampire (Murgoci 1926, 337). In both, however, the idea of devouring is an important feature. In his study of vampire beliefs among Yugoslavian Gypsies, T. P. Vukanovic noted that werewolf and vampire at times are interchangable, a circumstance he attributes to the belief that the dead take the shape of a wolf. A man can become a vampire if, after death, “some kind of devilish spirit” enters his body (Vukanovic 1957, 129).

The Wallachian vampire, moroi, “is a human being who has died, but cannot find peace in the grave.”  In this region of northeastern Serbia, the moroi stays close to home, inhabiting the heart of a weaker person for the purpose of settling an injustice.

Posted By Michael Bell

Vampire-like creatures have ancient roots. The first woman apparently was the first vampire. More than 5,000 years ago, patriarchal warriors from central Asia began invading Europe and India. The God of these male-centered Aryans displaced the indigenous Goddess, a change reflected in creation myths. Lilith, the legendary first woman of Hebrew mythology, protests when Adam insists that she always lie beneath him during their lovemaking. She reasons that, since both were created from the same clay, they should be equal in all things. When Adam refuses to concede equality, Lilith leaves the garden to dwell in the depths of the Red Sea. After she is replaced by the subservient Eve, Lilith embarks on a relentless campaign of revenge. Copulating with sleeping men, beginning with Adam, she spawns succubi and demons--"the plagues of mankind." In some legends, Lilith returns to the garden in the guise of the serpent, thus initiating the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In ancient Sumerian and Assyrian depictions, Lilith often has the wings and claws of an owl. In some versions of the Bible, she simply is referred to as the screech owl (Isaiah 34:14).

Lilith's legend continued to grow over the centuries, and her killing powers expanded to include women in childbirth and young children. In a medieval tale, Lilith encounters the prophet Elijah. He asks where she is going and she replies: "I am on my way to the house of a woman in childbirth, to give her the sleep of death and to take her child which is being born to her, to suck its blood, and to suck the marrow of its bones, and to seal its flesh." Elijah evokes the name of God, rendering Lilith powerless and forcing her to reveal her many names. Among the thirteen names is Kali.

Kali is the dark side of Devi, the Great Goddess of the Hindu religion that emerged in the Indus Valley during the second and third millennia B.C.E. Kali suggests the dualism inherent in the old goddesses: she is both creator and destroyer,  birth-giver and blood-letter. Portrayed as the "black petal of night" with blood-stained fangs, Kali is surrounded by skulls and holds human heads. This embodiment of death consumes even the fruit of her own womb. Rivers of blood flow from her, and bloody sacrifices still are made to this terrible goddess known as Sleep, Illusion and Mother Everlasting.

Pre-Columbian traditions in Mexico included Tlillan, the snake woman who lived in darkness. She had sharp teeth of stone and demanded the blood of children. The Aztec Hungry Woman had ravenous mouths all over her body, biting and screaming for the blood of warriors and sacrificial victims. In Japan, the Lady of Snow is a pale woman who materializes through the door as a mist and sucks the breath from her victims. People of the Malaysian Peninsula developed several types of specialized “vampires.” The Penanggalan is depicted as a human head with a dangling stomach, floating through the air seeking to suck the blood of infants. Similar to depictions of Lilith, the Langsuir is represented as an owl, perching on the roof, ready to descend and destroy. Like the succubus, the once-beautiful Langsuir may copulate with men, giving birth to demons.

Posted By Michael Bell

In his monumental comparative study of magic and religion, Sir James Frazer amassed an enormous body of evidence showing a widely accepted belief that the spirits of the dead cause disease and death (Frazer 1977, 1:142). The notion that the dead feed on the living has been documented in ancient civilizations, including Babylonia, Assyria, and Egypt, as well as among more recent peoples such as the Scandanavians, Teutons, Celts, and Saxons. Traces of such beliefs are scattered widely in contemporary times and can be found in a variety of settings. Indeed, they permeate our everyday folklore. While there is no explicit blame placed on the corpse in the following superstition collected in North Carolina in the first half early twentieth century, it does suggest the vampiric connection between living and dead family members: “If a dead man doesn’t get stiff at once, some other member of the family is going to die” (Hand 1964, 7:#5477).  The same belief was collected by Charlotte Latham in West Sussex, England, in 1878, illustrated with a personal experience story:

If a corpse does not stiffen soon after death, it is regarded as a token that another member of the family will soon die.  A woman who was speaking of the great mortality which had occurred in a neighbouring family, where she had lived many years as a servant, told me of this curious superstition.  She said, “The day after my master’s death, one of his sisters-in-law came into the room and asked the nurse if she had ever heard that a limp corpse was a bad sign; and nurse made answer, ‘La, miss! it’s nothing but an old woman’s saying.’  But she winked at me; and when miss was gone she said, ‘I didn’t like to tell her the truth; but master’s corpse not stiffening is a sure sign that death will be knocking pretty soon again at the door of this house for some other of the family;’ and Miss Susan did not live many years after that herself” (Latham 1878, 57).

A Variety of Forms

While we have been conditioned to think of vampires only as undead corpses who leave their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, worldwide folk tradition is not so clear-cut, nor particularly male-dominated. The distinctive forms that the carriers of death might take are diversified yet interconnected, and it is not just the dead or their ghosts who prey on the living. Demons, witches, succubi, werewolves, and vampires at times are indistinguishable in the folklore record. Traditional accounts of their origins and methods of assault, as well as means to avoid their attacks and identify or destroy them, often do not differentiate among the various supernatural creatures of death. Demons, for example, also suck the blood of the living or feed on corpses.