Darrell J. Pursiful

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Vampire Vednesdays: Classic Vampires

The Vampire by Philip Burne-Jones (1897)

The quintessential undead bloodsucker is associated with central and eastern Europe. It is known by numerous names: strigoi or strigoi mort in Romanian, izcacus in Hungarian, and a vampir (by various spellings) in Slavic languages.

Not to be confused with Hollywood depictions of Dracula and his ilk, the classic vampire’s main weapon is shapeshifting, of which it is a true adept. It is not necessarily stronger or faster than an ordinary human, but it is nevertheless a formidable foe. These creatures like to socialize with their own kind, though never in groups larger than twelve, but they are not generally inclined to cooperate with each other.

When vampires first rise in undeath, they are disoriented and unaware of their powers. Many of the expected weaknesses we associate with the undead operate in force for these “young” bloodsuckers. They must return to their coffins during the day and are especially prone to obsessive counting. At this stage, peasants can generally make short work of them. They are averse to holy objects (crosses, consecrated Host, etc.). They can be immobilized by a hawthorn stake through the heart. They are repelled by garlic, wild rose, hawthorn, and wolf’s bane. After about a hundred days, however, young vampires shake off their initial disorientation and become much more dangerous. They freely roam without being bound to their coffins, though if their burial shroud is ever lost or destroyed, they lose their powers.

Classic vampires eventually ranged far from their original homeland. The earliest European vampire legend, for example, involved a certain Conde Estuch, a creature of this type who originated in central Europe but operated in Catalonia.

There are several kinds of monster from surrounding regions that mostly conform to the “classic vampire” model, though with notable variations. Here are a few of them:

Blutsauger: This is a vampire from Bavaria and other parts of southern Germany. It is in nearly every respect identical to its Slavic counterpart.

Estrie: First attested in the 1460s, this Jewish female vampire may be a later development from the ancient lilit. They are not impeded by holy objects or places, and their preferred shapeshifting forms are birds (especially screech owls) and cats.

Mullo: This vampire of Roma folklore dresses all in white and has long, white hair that reaches to its ankles.

Obur: This rare Turkic vampire is especially attested in the Caucasus region. In life, it was a powerful wizard that gained its powers from consuming human blood. (Therefore, some oburs would better be classified as “living vampires.”) In death, it continues to prey on the living.

Strega: This Italian term can mean both witch and vampire. It commonly shapeshifts into an owl.

Strigoi Mort: This Romanian vampire, also called a moroi in rural areas, sometimes drains life energy rather than blood. It has poltergeist-like telekinetic powers.

Upir: This vampire from Poland and Russia has a barbed tongue instead of fangs.

Ustrel: On rare occasions, children become vampires. According to Bulgarian legend, this can happen when a child born on Saturday dies before being baptized. Ustrels (or istrals) lack the social skills to conceal their true nature. They are generally too weak to prey on humans, but will feed on livestock and other animals. These creatures are also known in parts of Poland.

Vrykolakas: Vrykolakas (both singular and plural) are native to Greece. They are similar to strigas, but most often drain life energy rather than blood.



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