Thursday, August 1, 2013

Russian Vampire Lore

Article by Ty Hulse

In the lore of ancient Russia the souls of all people, not just vampires are trapped in their graves, going mad with the weight of the earth on them and the cold of the winter.

There is a Russian Folk Funeral Song which laments that; “Dark and joyless is our prison-house,"

When folklorists would ask about this, or where the souls of the dead lived people answer;

How long would it take for you to be trapped in the freezing
cold earth before you went insane and would do
anything to escape?
Vampire Painting by Vyle-Art
"Stone and earth lie heavy on our hearts, our eyes are fast closed, our hands and feet are frozen by the cold." 

"Especially during the winters do the dead suffer; when the spring returns the peasants say, "Our fathers enjoy repose," and in Little-Russia they add, "God grant that the earth may lie light on you.” (Ralston, 1872)

The soul in Russian folk belief is complex and difficult to understand as there was likely to some extent the belief that there was more than one soul, and that the soul was clearly separate from the body. Consider for example the following; a man "said to his wife the night before his death:

 "What a beautiful bird I heard singing by my bedside to-night." "I well believe it," she replied. To which he answered: "It was my ghost; I cannot live long.”

What we see than is that a person's soul could leave their body just before they died, although presumably the
There were some vampires that took the form
of birds, especially owls.
Picture by Emily Fiegenschuh
bird form of this soul indicates that the soul the man saw in the above tale is the soul which flies off to heaven. (Though this is debatable given other fairy tales in which souls in the form of a bird remain on earth). What's important, however, is that everyone has a soul which stays in the ground and which may potentially come up to haunt mankind.

In "The Dead Mother" a mother comes back from her grave to suckle her baby and eventually drains  away it's life. She than takes the baby's body and it's soul to stay with her in her grave.

It's sorcerers who are truly terrifying, for they have an astounding array of powers and abilities. Indeed Russian peasants often drew very little if any distinction between living and dead sorcerers, for both wrecked havoc upon them in a similar fashion.

Vampires than can be living sorcerers, astral projections of the dead which take solid form to attack people (which is why the  vampire doesn't have to dig their way out of their grave), or they can be risen corpses. The challenge to understanding vampires and any similar idea is that folk beliefs are not usually clear and often confusing as many different people had various ideas about the same thing.

Vampires Rarely Worked Together
In the "The Two Corpses" a poor soldier is walking home on leave when a corpse begins to chase after him, he of course flees as fast as he can and eventually the corpse chases the soldier into a church where another corpse is waiting for the soldier. Rather than eat the soldier, however, the two corpses, being territorial, begin to fight with each other over who the soldier belongs to. Luckily for the soldier they argue for so long that the cock crows in the morning and the two vampires collapse unable to move in the daytime.

Vampires Often Relish Cruelty In all its Forms
It's true that there were elegant vampires
but many were described simply as corpses
Picture by Chris Anyma
Vampires didn't just attack people, they went after people's food source as well, that is they would drain cows of their milk, for without this milk a peasant family could easily starve to death. Vampires would also blight crops to leave a family starving.

In general vampires are fairly vindictive and very cruel creatures, so starving peasants and blighting crops are just two of the many wicked things they love to do beyond simply drinking blood. We can see their cruelty and vindictiveness in “The Fiend” in which a girl falls in love with a charming and suave man (who is really a vampire like creature in disguise). Eventually the man proposes to her and she is of course ecstatic to be marrying the charming man, however, she grows curious about where he lives because she wants to know where she'll live when they are married. So one day she follows the vampire home and discovers that he lives in a graveyard where he eats corpses. Terrified she runs off hoping that he didn't see her, but of course he did and he is furious that she followed in. In revenge he begins to attack and kill her family in order to get her to confess that she followed him, but she continually refuses to say anything and so her family is killed off one by one.

This story provides a dark depiction of a vampire courtship in which the vampire is not attacking the girl he sought to marry directly but is killing off the ones she loves. As her loved one's die around her  the girl finally seeks advice from her grandmother, who tells her that she can die and come back to life on the condition that she can never enter a church again. In this way the girl is able to hide from the vampire who presumes that she is actually dead. Of course, this sort of trickery never works for long in fairy tales and eventually the girl must confront the vampire more directly.

Vampires are Nearly Impossible to Kill
Defeating vampires in Russia usually isn't very easy to do as shown by the story of “The Sorcerer and the Soldier.” In this story a poor soldier is returning home when he encounters a man who convinces him that there will be some good food at a wedding. Hungry the soldier goes with the man to the wedding where he discovers that the man is in truth a vampire figure who kills the wedding guests. In order to prevent the vampire from killing again the soldier hunts him down and battles him until at last day comes and the vampire can't move. At this point the soldier burns the vampire but rats, worms, and other creepy crawlies begin to form from the vampires ashes. Should just one of these things have escaped it could have reformed into the vampire, so in order to slay the vampire the soldier had to capture each of these things and throw them back into the fire.

Other sorcerer type vampires would seek to kill a family member when they died so that they could come back to life. Thus even when a vampire died they usually had a chance to come back to life.