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Vampires in Romania

The folklore of vampires is of special interest from the light it throws on primitive ideas about body and soul, and about the relation of the body and soul after death.

In this section we present a selection of vampire stories from Romania gathered by Tudor Pamfile (one of the most competent folklorists Romania has ever had) in the Ion Creanga, and cite by Agnes Murgoci in "The Vampire in Romania".

The Vampire in Romania

(by Agnes Murgoci - selections)

In Russia, Roumania, and the Balkan states there is an idea - sometimes vague, sometimes fairly definite - that the soul does not finally leave the body and enter into Paradise until forty days after death. It is supposed that it may even linger for years, and when this is the case decomposition is delayed. In Roumania, bodies are disinterred at an interval of three years after death in the case of a child, of four or five years in the case of young folk, and of seven years in the case of elderly people. If decomposition is not then complete, it is supposed that the corpse is a vampire; if it is complete, and the bones are white and clean, it is a sign that the soul has entered into eternal rest. The bones are washed in water and wine and put in clean linen, a religious service is held, and they are reinterred.

In Bukovina and the surrounding districts there was an orgy of burials and reburials in the years 1919 and 1920, for not only were people dying of epidemics and hardships, but also the people who had died in the early years of the war had to be disinterred.

It is now considered to be exceptional that a spirit should reanimate its body and walk as a vampire, but, in a vampire story quoted below, it is said that they were once as common as blades of grass. It would seem that the most primitive phase of the vampire belief was that all departed spirits wished evil to those left, and that special means had to be taken in all cases to prevent their return. The most typical vampire is therefore the reanimated corpse. We may call this the dead-vampire type.

People destined to become vampires after death may be able in life to send out their souls, and even their bodies, to wander at crossroads with reanimated corpses. This type may be called the live-vampire type. It merges into the ordinary witch or wizard, who can meet other witches or wizards either in the body or as a spirit.

A third type of vampire is the vârcolac , which eats the sun and moon during eclipses.

A typical vampire of the reanimated-corpse type may have the attributes of a lover, as in Scott's William and Helen. The zmeu may also be such a lover.

The strigele (sing. striga ) are not really vampires, but are sometimes confused with them. They are spirits either of living witches, which these send out as a little light, or of dead witches who can find no resting place. These strigele come together in uneven numbers, seven or nine. They meet on rocky mountains, and dance and say:

Nup, Cuisnup,
In cas a cu ustoroi nu ma duc.

[Nup, Cuisnup, I won't enter any
house where there is garlic.]

They are seen as little points of light floating in the air. Their dances are exquisitely beautiful. Seven or nine lights start in a line, and then form into various figures, ending up in a circle. After they break off their dance, they may do mischief to human beings.

As regards the names used for vampires, dead and alive, strigoi (fem. strigoica ) is the most common Roumanian term, and moroii is perhaps the next most usual. Moroii is less often used alone than strigoi . Usually we have strigoi and moroii consorting together, but the moroii are subject to the strigoi . We find also strigoi , moroii , and vârcolaci , and strigoi and pricolici used as if all were birds of the same feather. A Transilvanian term is siscoi . Vârcolaci ( svârcolaci ) and pricolici are sometimes dead vampires, and sometimes animals which eat the moon. Oper is the Ruthenian word for dead vampire. In Bukovina, vidme is used for a witch; it covers much the same ground as strigoi (used for a live vampire), but it is never used for a dead vampire. Diavoloace, beings with two horns and spurs on their sides and feet, are much the same as vidme.

The nature spirits (ielele and dansele) usually have disenchantments of their own, for they work apart from vampires and wizards, who are beings of human origin. While the peasant groups nature spirits apart from the more human workers of evil, he groups the living and the dead together, for the caster of the evil eye and the bewitcher are living men, though prospective vampires. The vampire, in fact, forms a convenient transition between human workers of evil and the devil, who resembles the dead vampire in not being alive in the flesh.

The vampire (a reanimated corpse) and the devil (a spirit) ought not, strictly speaking, to be alike, but the peasant, finding it difficult to imagine a spirit without a body, thinks of the devil in the form of a crow or a cat, or even in a quasi-human form. The devil is a target for the thunderbolts of St. Elijah, and can be transfixed by one. Even the spirit of a living man, if separated from his body, must have some body or form. In Transilvania it is thought that many people can project their soul as a butterfly. In Valcea souls of vampires are considered to be incarnated in death's-head moths, which, when caught, should be impaled on a pin and stuck to a wall to prevent their flying further. A small, graceful thing which flutters in the air like a butterfly or a moth is as near as these peasants can get to the idea of pure spirit. The peasant in Siret goes a step further when he conceives of the soul as a little light. He has got beyond what is tangible.

The belief in vampires has often caused trouble to the rulers of Roumania. Ureche, in his History of Roumania, quotes the following:

In 1801, on July the 12th, the Bishop of Siges sends a petition to the ruler of Wallachia, that he should order his rulers of provinces to permit no longer that the peasants of Stroesti should dig up dead people, who had already been dug up twice under the idea that they were vârcolaci [term here used instead of strigoi].

In the Biserica Orthodoxa Romana (an 28) there is the following:

The Archbishop Nectarie (1813-19) sent round a circular to his higher clergy (protopopes) exhorting them to find out in what districts it was thought that the dead became vampires. If they came on a case of vampirism they were not to take it upon themselves to burn the corpse, but to teach the people how to proceed according to the written roll of the church.


The tests to determine whether any dead man is a vampire, or not, are as follows:

  1. His household, his family, and his live stock, and possibly even the live stock of the whole village, die off rapidly.
  2. He comes back in the night and speaks with the family. He may eat what he finds in dishes and knock things about, or he may help with the housework and cut wood. Female vampires also come back to their children. There was a Hungarian vampire which could not be kept away, even by the priest and holy water.
  3. The priest reads a service at the grave. If the evil which is occurring does not cease, it is a bad sign.
  4. A hole about the size of a serpent may be found near the tombstone of the dead man. If so, it is a sign of a vampire, because vampires come out of graves by just such holes.
  5. Even in the daytime a white horse will not walk over the grave of a vampire, but stands still and snorts and neighs.
  6. A gander, similarly, will not walk over the grave of a vampire.
  7. On exhuming the corpse, if it is a vampire it will be found to be:
    1. red in the face, even for months and years after burial,
    2. with the face turned downwards,
    3. with a foot retracted and forced into a corner of the grave or coffin.
    4. If relations have died, the mouth will be red with blood. If it has only spoilt and ruined   things at home, and eaten what it could find, the mouth will be covered with maize meal.

Agnes Murgoci - The Vampire in Roumanie 1926

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