Vampires – Animated Corpses by Brian McKinley
This is what most people in Western culture think of when they hear the word vampire. But, as you’ll see, there are nearly as many varieties of animated corpse vampires as there are every other kind.
The Vetal of the Indian subcontinent is an example of a vampire who straddles categories. It’s a spirit that possesses and animates corpses and in many tales it has sorcerous powers. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Vetal are said to be a race of divine vampiric beings who appear half human and half bat. However, like other vampires we’ve seen, the Vetal can possess a human corpse in order to disguise itself, using fresh blood to keep the body from decay. Feeding on the intoxicated, the insane, and others whom society would not be likely to believe, the Vetal enters a home by use of a magic thread down the chimney—so those of us with central air are safe. Not content simply with blood, it consumes intestines and excrement as well.
Despite this unsavory aspect, the Vetal is far from a mindless killer. In fact, its’ most famous appearance is in the tale of King Vikram in which one of these creatures thwarts twenty four attempts to capture it by telling tales which all end in a riddle. Later, the vampire gives the king advice on how to turn the tables on a trap which his enemy has planned.
In some versions, a Vetal is created when a child dies and doesn’t receive proper funeral rites. This is similar to creation methods found in vampires of surrounding regions like the Greek peninsula, China, and the Balkans. Turning our attention to China, no survey of vampire folklore would be complete without the Jiangshi, the infamous hopping vampire.
One of the most distinctive and memorable tales from around the globe, the Jiangshi is created in a number of ways: cats jumping over fresh corpses, moonlight shining down on fresh corpses, and black magic. In its early form, it is literally just a corpse stiff with rigor mortis who hops around and attacks either on its own or under the command of a sorcerer. It is difficult to destroy in this form, but relatively easy to capture or elude, as it fears running water, can’t move in anything but a straight line, and has a compulsion to stop and count rice, peas, or iron filings thrown in its direction. While doing that, you sweep them away and the Jiangshi follows so that it can resume counting.
As it ages, however, it is said to grow long white or green fur, limber up, and gain the ability to fly and shape-shift into mist and animals. Now, a lot of these traits—aside from the fur—sound pretty familiar, right? My personal theory is that the Chinese incorporated elements from other vampire legends into their own. Anyway, by this point, Jiangshi are nearly indestructible and need to be burned completely in order to be rid of them.
Which brings us to Greece and the Vrykolaka. These can be created by a person living a bad life, being excommunicated by the church, committing suicide, and many of the other typical methods we’ve seen. One unique method is simply by being a werewolf in life, which is a condition one is born with in Greek culture. When those come back from the dead, they’re called Varkolaks. When Vrykolakas rise from the grave, it looks every bit like the bloated, animated corpse that it is. It will go to the homes of the people it knew in life and knock upon their doors. Whoever has the misfortune to answer, the vrykolaka will ruthlessly attack by day or by night. Victims who happen to survive the attack of a vrykolaka will become this type of vampire themselves when they die unless they eat some of the dirt from the grave of the body that attacked him.
The vrykolaka can be prevented from attacking if its resting place is found. Decapitating the vampire and hiding its head where it cannot be found is used in modern times, but the traditional method of rendering the body to ash is the most certain and effective. The only way to destroy a vrykolaka that was created through excommunication is to have a priest perform a special ceremony over the body followed immediately by either of the methods of destruction previously mentioned. Honestly, though, this one has more regional variations than almost any other.
The Draugr of Iceland was a fearsome revenant exists solely to guard its treasure, which Viking warriors were traditionally buried with. Draugrs could do strange tricks like increasing their body weight and growing or shrinking, move freely through earth and stone, conjure storms, and see the future. What’s more, draugrs were said to be impervious to mundane weapons and that the only way they could be killed was by being wrestled into submission by a hero and then beheaded. Some scholars believe that Grendel of the Beowulf saga was a draugr, and others think that we get the concept of the ogre, troll, and dragon from these legends as well.
Finally, we come to the guy that most of us think of when we think of a traditional vampire: the Upyr. Known by many regional variations including Upire, upior, upiri, vapir, and wampyr, this is most likely the word that eventually gave us the term vampire. Russia’s version has iron teeth that allow it to chew out of its grave and eat the heart from its victim’s chest. Unlike our modern version, though, it tends to be active between noon and midnight—kind of like me. The Polish variety has a stinger on the end of its tongue to drain blood with and it likes to sleep in a bath of blood. In Germany, it resembles the Greek Vrykolaka but needs to be destroyed with a stake made of mountain ash in a single blow. Call Buffy for that one. In other Slavic countries, the body has to be dug up and re-buried face-down so that the suspected vampire can’t dig its way out anymore. In other areas, you hear about garlic, prayers, and holy water.
And that most famous of vampire terms, Nosferatu? Where’s he? Well, there’s some debate about that. The term itself comes from Greek and means plague-bearer; many believe that it had nothing at all to do with vampires until Emily Gerard used it in her book on Transylvania, which Bram Stoker based much of his folklore in Dracula on. Others insist that there is a particularly sexually oriented vampire by that name in central and Eastern Europe, known to return to its home and try to resume its old life. To me, this also sounds a lot like some of the stories of the Vrykolaka, but I could be wrong.
In any event, you’ve probably noticed that almost none of these types fit all the tropes of the modern vampire archetype and that’s true. Today’s vampire is an ever-changing amalgamation of various folklores and that’s what makes them so captivating.
Brian McKinley doesn’t really exist. He’s a constructed mortal identity used by a relatively young Vampyr in order to publish the truth about The Order. Due to the world-wide influence of The Order and its minions, these accounts must all be published as fiction. Sometimes the names and sequence of events have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and to keep from getting sued.