by Lois H. Gresh (author of BLOOD AND ICE, a futuristic vampire thriller — January 2011)


From the far east, vampire lore spread from China, Tibet, India, and the Mediterranean to the coast of the Black Sea, and from there, to Greece and the Carpathian mountains:  Hungary and Transylvania.

Most vampires in film and literature are based on the Eastern European variety, that of a blood-sucking, sexy creature who returns from the dead.  These vampires wear gorgeous clothes and sumptuous capes, and they can turn into bats, at will.

Some of the richest vampire lore comes from Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Poland:  the Slavic people.  The word, vampir, is related to the Russian word, peets:  to drink.  When the Slavs migrated from north of the Black Sea, they started converting to Christianity.  During the ninth and tenth centuries, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Catholic Church were battling for control of overall Christianity.  In 1054, the two churches formally divided from one another, and the Russians, Serbians, and Bulgarians went with the Eastern Orthodox Church, while the Croatians, Polish people, and Czechs went with the Roman Catholic Church.  The Eastern Orthodox faction decided that the living dead were vampires.

In the beginning, the Slavic people thought that vampires were created from people who were born “on the wrong day,” who died under strange circumstances, who were excommunicated from the church, who were buried improperly.  Some people also believed that people born with tails or odd teeth could end up being vampires.

To protect the dead from turning into vampires, the deceased were buried with crucifixes, with their chins held upright with blocks, and with poppy seeds so the numerically obsessed vampires could count and count rather than cause trouble.  Other dead were pierced with stakes to protect them.  Yet others had their clothes nailed to the sides of their coffins.

To destroy vampires who were roaming the countryside, sucking the blood from villagers, people used stakes, holy water, and exorcism.  They also decapitated presumed vampires and burned them.  Garlic left in the church was said to expose vampires.  Later methods of destroying a vampire included driving a stake through its heart, decapitating the remains, and putting garlic into the mouth.  And even later, methods became more gruesome, including bullets, dismemberment of the body, and burning of the remains, with the ashes given to people as preventive medicine.

–Excerpted from Exploring Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials by Lois H. Gresh  (St. Martin’s Press, 2006)

Lois Gresh
New York Times Best-Selling Author – 6 times
Publishers Weekly Best-Selling Paperback Author
Publishers Weekly Best-Selling Paperback Children’s Author

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