Greek vampires

The ancient Greeks did not believe in people returning from their graves with a need to prey upon the living. This belief came about at some time after the Greece had become solidly Christian.

The most common name for the undead vampire in Greece seems to be vrykolakas. On some of the small islands of the Greek Archipeligo, this vampire has such names as vurvukalas and vrukolakas. On Crete, the vampire is called the kathakanas.

At least from the 17’th century to the early 20’th century, it was a common belief in Greece that the undead vampire was essentially a corpse possessed and animated by a demon. It was sometimes believed that the vampire only had to return to grave on Saturday and that he could go about even during the day time, though in most tales he is most active at night. There were several ways to deal with such a vampire.

Usually the first means resorted to was to exhume the corpse and have a priest exorcize the demon from it. If this method failed, the corpse might be exhumed and reburied on a desert island – it was often believed that the vampire could not cross sea water. The ultimate way to get rid of the vampire was to cremate the corpse.

According to Greek beliefs, those most likely to become undead vampires include:

  • Those who were stillborn or otherwise died without having received baptism.
  • Those who were conceived or born on a holy day.
  • Those who died excommunicated.
  • Those who died while being heretics or apostates.
  • Those who died after having led sinful lives
  • Those who died who were practitioners of sorcery or witchcraft.
  • Those whose corpse an animal had jumped over before burial.
  • Those who did not receive a proper religious burial. Those who had eaten the flesh of an animal that had been killed by a vampire.
  • Those who died as victims of a vampire, espececilly true when vampires were blamed for a plague or an epidemic of disease.This list of criteria generally applies to most other Eastern European countries as well. But in some of these other countries there are additional ways that a person can become an undead

An interesting description of a process by which a victim of vampire becomes a vampire occurs in the writings, published in 1898, of a priest on the island of Crete concerning the Greek vampire, the vrykolakas:

“It is a popular belief that most of the dead, those who have lived bad lives or who have been excommunicated….become vrykolakes; that is to say, after the separation of the soul from the body there enters into the latter an evil spirit which takes the place of the soul….it keeps the body as its dwelling place, and it runs swift as lightning wherever it lists….And the trouble is that it does not remain solitary, but makes everyone, who dies while it is about, like to itself, so that in a short space of time it gets together a large train of followers. The common practice of the vrykolakes is to seat themselves upon those who are still asleep and by their great weight to create an agonizing sense of oppression. There is great danger that the sufferer might himself expire, and himself too be turned into a vrykolakas….This monster, as time goes on, becomes more audacious and blood-thirsty, so that it is able to devastate whole villages.”

(This quote can be found in Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion by John Lawson, and in The Vampire in Europe by Montague Summers.)