Monday, March 28, 2016

Extirpation of Vampires



The commonest methods of the extirpation of vampires are –
(a) beheading the suspected corpse;
(b) taking out the heart;
(c) impaling the corpse with a white - thorn stake (in Russia an aspen), and
(d) burning it. 

Sometimes more than one or all of these precautions is taken. Instances are on record where the graves of as many as thirty or forty persons have been disturbed during the course of an epidemic of vampirism and their occupants impaled or beheaded. Persons who dread the visits or attacks of a vampire sleep with a wreath made of garlic round the neck, as that esculent is supposed to be especially obnoxious to the vampire. When impaled the vampire is usually said to emit a dreadful cry, but it has been pointed out that the gas from the intestines may be forced through the throat by the entry of the stake into the body, and that this may account for the sound. The method of discovering a vampire's grave in Serbia is to place a virgin boy upon a coal - black stallion which has never served a mare and marking the spot where he will not pass. An officer quartered in Wallachia wrote to Calmet as follows, giving him an instance of this method: 

"At the time when we were quartered at Temeswar in Wallachia, there died of this disorder two dragoons of the company in which I was cornet, and several more who had it would have died also, if the corporal of the company had not put a stop to it, by applying a remedy commonly made use of in that country. It is of a very singular kind, and, though infallibly to be depended on, I have never met with it in any Dispensatory. 

"They pick out a boy, whom they judge to be too young to have lost his maidenhead, and mount him bare upon a coal - black stone - horse, which has never leaped a mare. This virgin - pair is led about the church - yard, 2tnd across all the graves, and wherever the animal stops, and refuses to go on, in spite of all the whipping they can give him, they conclude they have discovered a vampire. Upon opening the grave, they find a carcass as fleshy and fair as if the person were only in a slumber. The next step is to cut off his head with a spade, and there issues from the wound such a quantity of fresh and florid blood, that one would swear they had cut the throat of a man in full health and vigour. They then fill up the pit, and it may be depended on that the disorder will cease, and that all who were ill of it will gradually get strength, like people that recover slowly after a long illness. Accordingly, this happened to our troopers, who were attacked with the distemper. I was at that time commanding officer of the troop, the captain and lieutenant being absent, and was extremely angry at the corporal for having made this experiment without me. It was with great difficulty that I prevailed with myself not to reward him with a good cudgel, a thing of which the officers of the emperor's service are usually very liberal. I would not, for the world, have been absent upon this occasion, but there was now no remedy." 

A Bulgarian belief is that a wizard or sorcerer may entrap a vampire by placing in a bottle some food for which the vampire has a partiality, and on his entry in the shape of fluff or straw, sealing up, the flask and throwing it into the fire.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Vampir-platenik

Vampir-platenik (incarnated vampire)
(Illustration taken from: Krassimir Mirchev. Vampiri, gunduratzi, zmey. Sofia,  Panorama Publishing House, 1998. Illustrated by Viktor Paunov)

Vampires have hovered over Bulgaria since ancient Slavic times. In fact, the Bulgarian word "vampir" comes from Latin, which means that the "genealogy" of this evil creature dates back to much earlier times.

In its 19th century version, a vampire is the incarnated soul of a dead person that had been jumped over by a cat, dog or some other animal. That is why before being buried, each dead person's body is closely guarded by the relatives - lest even a human shadow falls on the corpse, which can prove to be fatal too. Moreover, those who have been hanged, stifled or cursed, while still living, may also become vampires.

The appearance of a vampire is not specific, all the more that it is invisible. According to some people, it looks like a "shadow of a human being, a cat, a dog, a hen", etc. Some other people believe that a vampire resembles the dead person, whom it has come from, but has no bones or flesh, and is made only of skin, full of blood. In a modern book for children, it is described in the following picturesque way: "In the thorn-bushes near the graveyard a skin is squatting - with short legs, small claw feet, black holes instead of eyes, with a bony nose and iron teeth. The skin is full of blood, it is a vampire."

How terrible!... The monstrous thing comes out of its grave at night. It often comes back to the house, where it had lived before, squeezes and strangles its dear people in their sleep, raves in the attic, sweeps the bowls off the shelves, soils the milk and the water. The vampire drives the cattle away to the fields, sometimes sticks to the cattle's abdomens and sucks their blood, which makes its victim grow weak. But on the other hand, it is also rather silly - if the owners of the house have sprinkled millet on the floor, it is carried away and begins to count the millet grain by grain. Besides, it can be cheated in a countless number of ways. And as soon as the cocks begin to crow, it hurries to retire to its grave.

In fact, a vampire is as frightful as it is faint-hearted and vulnerable. It is afraid not only of light, but also of fire, water, thorns, and iron, of wolves, of animal sculls. Lightning would easily kill it.
If it manages to survive till its fortieth day, and has sucked enough blood, a vampire stops running wild, gains power and becomes embodied, it becomes 'platnik' (embodied vampire). It looks like every other human being, but has no fingernails, its bones are soft like cartilage, and its eyes - red. In such cases it usually leaves for some far off village, where gets married and has children. This 'platnik' can also be transformed into a dog, a wolf or some other animal, it is disposed to attacking its wife, biting and torturing her in broad daylight.  Still, the embodied vampire never stays too long in the human world, since if only it pricks itself, all the blood that fills up its skin leaks away.

It is interesting to note that the offspring born of such marriages, have also red eyes, and not only can see vampires, but are their most severe hunters. They are known as 'vampirdzhii' (vampire-chasers).  Vampire-chasers are also people endowed by Heaven with the power of disclosing (as a rule, with the help of an icon) and killing vampires. Vampire-chasers of the two types would catch the monsters, boil them in large cauldrons, or kill them with a briar picket, only a jelly stuff or some clotted blood being left of them. The grave of someone who has turned vampire can be known by its sunken surface, or the hollow in it. Such grave should be opened, and the corpse, the abdomen or the head of the dead person, pierced with a hot spike. This should be made only on Saturday - when the souls of the dead do not leave their bodies.

All these beliefs were still current among many a superstitious Bulgarian in early 20th century. Researchers, who deal with this subject, point out that many locations in the country have their 'own' vampire stories. They are always related with a particular person, who, while still living, had been known to everybody.






 

Platnik




A vampiric being from Bulgaria, the platnik has a measurable and precise life cycle. After the body is buried, the spirit spends the first nine days of its unlife in the grave, and as it develops, the surface of its grave begins to sink in. As soon as that time has passed, the platnik rises from its grave as a spirit and begins attacking its family members for the next 40 days. In spirit form it looks like the shadow of a dog, hen, or person. Platnik attacks will range anywhere from break- ing dishes to running off the cattle at night to vandalizing homes as well as physically assault- ing people. To prevent a platnik from attacking while still in its spirit form, one must utilize the things it is afraid of: animal skulls, fire, iron, light, and wolves-it will not stay in an area where these things are present. Unfortunately, only a bolt of lightning will kill it, and the chances of that happening are rather slim. Ex-huming the body on a Saturday and then piercing the corpse with a red- hot poker may also work.

If the spirit vampire can manage to drink enough blood and not get itself destroyed in the process, at the end of its 40-day rampage, it will become a platnik: a full- blown, solid- form vampire. It can now pass for a normal person except for having no fingernails and red eyes; furthermore, it will have the ability to shape-shift into a dog or wolf. Its new body does not have bones, but rather a cartilage- like substance. The first thing a new platnik will do upon developing its body will be to seek out its widow and attack her in broad daylight, torturing her to death. As soon as she is dead, the platnik will leave town and seek out a new place to live as far from its old community as possible. Once established in a place where no one will know it is a REVENANT, it will marry and have children. The offspring will be born VAMPIRDZHII. If the platnik is discovered for what it is, it can easily be killed. Any simple cut will prove to be fatal, causing it to bleed out and die. Its blood will be thick, dark, and jelly- like and is called pixtija.

Vampirdzhii
In Bulgaria there is a living, vampiric half-breed called a vampirdzhii, born from the union between a human and a PLATNIK. Blessed by God, this red-eyed being can reveal a vampire for what it is by using holy icons. The vampirdzhii's preferred method of destroying vampires is to prick them with a briar thorn or by boiling the vampire to death in a large cauldron. They are similar to other vampire hunters such as the DHAMPIRE, PLATNIK, and the VAMPIRDZHIJA.

Vampirdzhija
From Bulgaria comes another type of vampire hunter known as a vampirdzhija. It specializes in the hunting and destruction of a type of vampire known as an USTREL. Using a highly ritualistic ceremony, on a Saturday morning all the fires in a community with a vampire are extinguished. Then, at the crossroads, the vampirdzhija builds two bonfires that are set aflame with "new fire," that is, fire that is created from the rubbing together of two sticks. Next, all the cattle and sheep are gathered together and herded to pass between the twin bonfires, as the mature USTREL lives in the space in between the animals' horns. The USTREL, rather than being singed, or worse, will leap off the animal and run into the countryside, where wolves will find and devour it. After all of the animals have passed through the bonfires, a fagot of new fire is taken into the community and used to relight all of the fires there.

DRACULA BETWEEN FICTION AND HISTORY.


By Dinu Matei, Calgary, Canada.


First published in "Calgary Philatelist", issue #34, February 1999, pp.3-6.



Vlad Tepes, pronounced 'tzepesh', or Vlad the Impaler, ruled the Principality of Wallachia (part of Romania) in 1448, 1456-1462, and 1476. Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, published in 1887, made this Romanian prince famous worldwide and attributed to him an exaggerated cruelty. In Dracula, Vlad Tepes was portrayed differently from the real Vlad of history.


Vlad Tepes was born in 1428 in Sighisoara, Transylvania. His father is known in history under the name Vlad Dracul. In Romanian, 'drac' means evil. However, there are no documents reporting how evil he was. The nickname 'Dracul' came from hid membership in the Order of the Dragon. This was a military and religious brotherhood founded by the Sigismund of Luxembourg (King of Hungary) with the objective to protect the church against heresy and the Turks. In German the order is named Drachenorders, while in Latin Societates draconistarum. Members of this order wore a black cape and a medallion depicting a dragon. In the Middle Ages it was easy for ordinary people, extremely religious, to mistake the dragon with the evil, so from this confusion came the name Dracul. Vlad Tepes inherited this name from his father, and his descendants bear it as a family name. Real descendants of this family still exist today. The nickname 'the Impaler' came from the fact that Vlad Tepes used to impale his enemies. Reputed to be an evil and bloodthirsty man, he was just one of several more-or-less fierce leaders in a time when cruelty was the norm.


Romanian principalities Wallachia and Moldova shared a border with the Ottoman Empire in the Middle Ages. This empire was one of the most powerful in the world and was trying to expand towards Europe. In order to gain trust from the Sultans, many children from the noble Romanian families were sent voluntarily to Istanbul as hostages. Vlad and one of his brothers were no exceptions. Vlad Tepes returned to Wallachia after his father was killed and another brother was blinded with a burning stake and buried alive. These two facts are said to be the origin of Vlad Tepes' cruelty. As mentioned earlier, torture and cruelty was normal in the whole Europe during the Middle Ages.


Other cruelties attributed to Vlad Tepes were killing 'unchaste' women and 'bad' wives, killing entire families suspected of disloyalty, killing poor, blind, crippled, sick, vagabonds, and beggars, nailing hats to heads of disrespectful visitors, and cannibalism. This came from an intense propaganda campaign launched by Matei Corvin (King of Hungary at that time and one of his big enemies) due to envy of Vlad's successes against the Turks, and by German merchants from the city of Brasov (Kronstadt in German) who were opponents to Vlad Tepes' economic politics. Turk and Russian traditions also depict Vlad Tepes as a cruel and bloodthirsty man.


During Vlad Tepes' time, Wallachia was a crime-free country. The Turks wanted to invade the country but were defeated several times and kept at the south of the Danube River (in Bulgaria nowadays). For his successful military campaigns against the Turks, Vlad Tepes was named "magnifico Vlad voivoda" in an Italian document. He was not considered a vampire during this time, but a hero and strong ruler of his country. He is first mentioned as an extremely cruel man in a book published at L├╝beck, Germany, in 1471.


Bram Stoker never visited Romania. He was inspired by the evil deeds of Countess Elizabeth Bathory who lived in Transylvania about 150 years later than Vlad Tepes. She used to kill young girls and used their fresh blood to take baths, hoping this would help her to remain forever young. For these crimes she was sentenced to death and walled alive into a castle room in 1610. For similar accusations a French nobleman was beheaded in France during the same period.


Vlad Tepes' tumultuous life as well as the harshness of his punishments tempted many writers. A fashion of Dracula the Vampire Count was born with great success, and many books and more than 100 movies were done on the subject. We can assume that Count Dracula was created thanks to the inspiration provided by Transylvanian history, where old castles such as the one attributed to Dracula set the mood for bloody ghosts and terrifying vampires. Bram Stoker possibly chose the name Dracula because it suggested the macabre. He needed a male hero for his novel, published at a time when the crimes committed by Jack the Ripper in London were on the front pages of British newspapers. The novel Dracula has very few historical truths in it. Bram Stoker himself knew very little about the real Vlad Tepes. The action of the book takes place in Transylvania, but he never ruled that province, just Wallachia. The title of Count did not exist for Romanian noblemen during the Middle Ages; Vlad Tepes was in fact a Royal Prince. However, Bram Stoker's description of the Romanian localities and many geographical places are real.


Located on a cliff in the Carpathians, 'Dracula's Castle' is actually named Bran Castle, after a pass between Transylvania and Wallachia. It was built by the German merchants from Brasov in 1377 to keep under control the inland and outland commercial traffic. Restored several times, in this century the castle was the residence of Queen Maria of Romania in the 1920s, and is now converted into a museum.


Vlad Tepes was depicted on Romanian stamps on several occasions. First was in 1959 when Bucharest, the capital of Romania, celebrated 500 years since it was for the first time mentioned in a document, signed by Vlad Tepes himself. This document is kept in the National History Museum of Romania, in Bucharest. It, along with the portrait of Vlad, is depicted on a beautiful engraved miniature sheet issued by the Romanian Postal Administration. This portrait is the only known portrait of Vlad and is kept in an Austrian monastery in the Tirol. Based on the same painting, Vlad Tepes' figure appeared on a stamp issued by Romania in 1976, when 500 years since his death were commemorated. Two more stamps were issued in Romania in 1997, one depicting him as a Prince of Wallachia and another depicting him as Dracula. Bran Castle and Poenari Castle (one of the real residences of Vlad, now in ruins) are depicted on two labels that separate the stamps. Bran Castle was depicted also on a stamp issued in 1929, while images from Vlad Tepes' home town appear on a set issued in 1997. Several special postmarks, postal stationery, and postcards depicting him and/or Bran Castle were issued over the years. Matei Corvin, King of Hungary, who kept Vlad Tepes imprisoned for ten years and who finally executed him, is pictured on several stamps issued in Hungary. Vlad Tepes in buried at the Snagov Monastery, near Bucharest.