Maria Spelleri, State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota Dept. of Language and Literature
Many European cultures have legends of a creature resembling a kind of revenant or vampire. These legends did not start with Stoker’s Dracula , but rather some have seeds in ancient times or late antiquity, and there are certainly early modern stories documented from the 16 th century C.E. and onward. In Greece, the revenant legend known as the vrykólakas in most of the country and katakhánas in Crete (Summers 221) is one of the oldest documented vampiric legends of Europe. It is also one of the most interesting legends because of how widespread and long-lasting it has been throughout Greece.
Research into the vrykólakas legend of Greece can take one down many paths. One potential path is scientific, such as a belief generated by the mysteries of illness, plague, or primitive understanding of death processes; another is socio-political, as connected to the psyche of a nation torn between modernity and the returning specter of it its “dead” classical past. Another possible research path is to probe the philosophical depth of Greek beliefs throughout history regarding the body and soul, and the relationship of the dead and the living, or perhaps a folkloric approach, looking for archetypal symbols in vrykólakas traditions. Yet another research direction is psychological, the belief in the vrykólakas as a satisfier of unconscious needs, or to go a step further, anthropological, as a satisfier of unconscious or unexpressed societal needs.
The bibliography annotated at the end of this brief paper provides resources for many of these research avenues, the great potential of research tracks identified only after study of these resources and consideration of the contributions they make to piecing together the very complex picture of the belief in the vrykólakas. Beginning researchers may find this collection useful because in addition to sources that are direct inquiries into the vrykólakas , there are other sources which, while only briefly mentioning the vrykólakas in relation to a wider field, for example, of law, or linguistics, or Freudian psychology, allow the scholar to place the vrykólakas legend within a specific theoretical framework. Moreover, to determine how the vrykólakas is unique or similar to revenants of other European cultures, there are also a few sources that provide a more general background into the vampire phenomenon; however, many well-known and general texts and papers on vampires have been omitted from the bibliography as they can be found in other annotated lists. Overall, the collection defined in this bibliography is a solid starting point for generating research questions related to the Greek vrykólakas .
Manifestation of the belief in the vrykólakas appears throughout all the regions of Greece and has endured several centuries. One theory accounting for its persistence is that the "existence" of the vrykólakas provides an important benefit to the local community. However, before examining the societal benefits that have allowed the legend to persist, it is important to note the essential “Greek-ness” of the belief. This is because despite many contributing factors to the evolution of the belief, the Greek vrykólakas is not an imported phenomenon and is not within the typical sphere of the legends of undead in Europe. It is a uniquely Greek creation and quite possibly the first vampire legend found in Europe.
To begin, we can leave aside the ancient superstitions of creatures and demons that populated the highways, forests, and mountains of the pre-modern Greek landscape; these existed in most ancient cultures but belief in them has since died out in modern nations. The lamia and empousia , while having some similarities to later descriptions of vrykólakoi (plural), cannot stand alone as evidence of intact survival of the myth because there is a great deal of difference between these ancient creatures and later vrykólakas, the most important of which is that the vrykólakas is a revenant, or a returned dead, while no such traits exist for the lamia and empousia who seem to have only the violent, destructive, or blood- thirsty qualities in common with a vampire. In later antiquity, however, there are brief mentions of humans who have returned from the dead, not as ghosts, but in body. Phlegon, for example, who in the 2 nd century C.E. relates the tale of a “returning” young woman (qtd. in Lawson 413-414) that would later inspire Goethe’s “Bride of Corinth” is but one example that shows the existence of predilection in the Greek belief of corporal return of the dead.
The next factor that one might logically accredit to building the belief in the vrykólakas is syncretism from the Slavic invasion of the 6 th century C.E. and following Slavic influences on Greece, especially in the north.
In fact, some researchers trace the word vrykólakas to Serbian or Bulgarian origins (Melton 305). While the Slavs rather famously have a vampire legend, again, there are many differences between the Slavic vampire and the Greek vrykólakas , most noticeably of which is the extreme violence and bloodlust of the Slavic creature and its somewhat random choice of victim. The Slavic vampire is much more a bringer of death and slaughter than its Greek counterpart, which more often ranges between annoying, troublesome, and terrifying, only sometimes brings death, and only rarely drinks human blood (Lawson 384; Blum and Blum 71-76). Clearly the Greek legend came from a different root. In fact, the earliest Greek revenant that can be found outside of antiquity is what the Greeks called the tympanaíoi, or “drum-like” revenant, a bloated, swollen corpse, with skin tight as a drum, found undissolved in its grave. The most well-known of this type of Greek revenant was Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, whose undissolved and tympanic nature after death in the 13 th century was attributed to his excommunication by the Orthodox Church (Hartnup 216). These bodies which refused to “melt” (as the Greeks at that time said) were thought to become animated by the devil, yet did little more than terrify the villagers, upset order, and pollute water and food. Melton surmises that post-Christianization interrelations between Slavic nations and Greece starting in around the 11 th century C.E. may have resulted in the grafting on to the vrykólakas the attributes of the “classic” Eastern European vampire- the stalking, the violence, the drinking of human blood ,which did not previously exist to any great extent (308). Thus, prior to Slavic influences on Greek revenant belief, the belief in a fairly benign revenant, the tympanaíoi , was in existence, and only later as the word tympanaíoi began to disappear from the lexicon did the Greek revenant take not just the name from the Slavs, but also some of their more fearsome attributes.
Therefore, regardless of the influence of mythology from early antiquity, portions of which may or may not have survived, and despite the lexical designation and later violent characteristics that came from the Slavic culture, the Greeks clearly had a long-standing and unique revenant of their own making in the vrykólakas . To proceed with the primary research question, then, why is this particular legend so persistent throughout the centuries, and so pervasive throughout the country? The main reason is because belief in the vrykólakas , even at the most modern, self-mockingly superstitious level, helps many Greek communities and even individuals connect to a social order that provides them with a comforting sense of identity and satisfies their unconscious need for social stability as evidenced through traditions.
Naturally, it is not the vrykólakas itself that helps create the self-identification, but rather the apotropaic rituals and events that bind the individuals to the social order they need for stable self-identification; in fact, the persistence of the vrykólakas legend in Greece can be interpreted as the result of a subconscious fear of the breakdown of a successful community. This breakdown can occur when people disrupt the order imposed by the Church and its adjacent folk-religion identity, or when they disrupt the various social structures and unwritten rules that provide an order agreed upon by the community. Maintaining the right relationship with these proscribed orders will result in maintenance of the community, and thus the individuals within the community will cement their Greek identity needed to form the community and satisfy their need for traditions that result in social stability. Fear of the vrykólakas has historically been an important surface and conscious motivator to undertake the traditions and adhere to norms that maintain the order of the community.
First, the vrykólakas belief enables the community to fill in the gaps left by the church while adhering to the proscriptions of the church, thus maintaining the correct order in the relationship with Orthodoxy, the most important identifying factor for Greeks. Beliefs that sprang up parallel to Orthodoxy and then became entangled with it can be considered “popular” or “folk” religion (Hartnup 6). The vrykólakas belief dwells in the realm of popular religion and is used to link the deeply engrained and complicated Greek concept of the relationship between the soul and body and how they separate from each other after death, with the teachings of the church, something so mysterious that church apparently cannot fully answer to the satisfaction of ordinary people (Hallub 69). For example, there is an ambiguity about the location of the soul of the recently deceased, with popular religion adhering to the belief that it remains attached to the body and the living for forty days (Dawkins 133), or even longer- until the body has decomposed. This was a dangerous time, for as long as the body was not completely decomposed, the soul would likely be in the vicinity and had to be encouraged to continue on its way. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the body decompose completely and swiftly lest the soul be inappropriately linked to it, resulting in a vrykólakas . The responsibility for the “delicate series of manoeuvers” (Blum and Blum 224) that helped the soul separate correctly was laid by the church onto the community, and in many respects remains their responsibility today (Kenna 31-32). If the devil reanimated a corpse, (which was the church’s explanation for the vrykólakas ), the Church could claim it was because the community did not abide by the Church’s laws (Hartnup 197), or perhaps the deceased himself had not received forgiveness for his sins.
In Ottoman times, not only did belief in the vrykólakas result in strict adherence to Church laws, but it also cemented the power of the Church in the local community since the Church could create vrykólakoi either directly, through excommunication, or indirectly, via the death of an unbaptized person, or by anathemizing those conceived on a major holy day (Blum 320; du Boulay 221). Additionally, the Church could also rid a community of a vrykólakas through reversal of the excommunication, as related by Christophorus Angelus (in Summers 227), and in other cases through proper ritual (Hartnup 188-189). This snug connection between the Church and the vrykólakas , while not in the conscious of modern Greeks, certainly has lasted by linking birth and death rituals with folk religious traditions, and perforce, with Orthodoxy. Further research needs to be conducted to determine if the Greek exhumation or “second burial” tradition began due to a truly Church-driven belief or due to the need to verify dissolution- either for the sake of the soul of the departed or for the safety of the community.
The link between folk religious traditions and Orthodoxy is a boon to the local community because it ties social benefits of the present to religious benefits of the afterlife. The responsibility of how to care for the dead and how to assist the soul of the dead is placed into the hands of the community, behind the robes of a singularly Greek leader and expert on the unseen and unknowable- the Church. The priest is summoned at every step, including steps in the process that occur years after death, maintaining his authority and indispensability in the community, for who would want to risk a loved one becoming a vrykólakas because the house was not properly purified with incense and holy water, the jug of water was left unpoured, the kolyva (wheat mixture food offering at memorial services) was not blessed, or the last bit of flesh was not washed off the bones with oil? These are but some of the many death rituals requiring the presence of a priest in various regions of Greece (Kenna; Blum and Blum; du Boulay; Summers; Hartnup). Maintaining the correct manner and order regarding religion, especially folk religious traditions relating to vrykólakas , enabled Greeks to maintain a sense of order and ritual that strengthened their group identity.
But there are more benefits to the society that believes in the potential existence of vrykólakoi. Belief in the need to keep the vrykólakas in abeyance through various apotropaic methods adds greatly to the social order of the community in a variety of ways. Namely, those who believe in the vrykólakas know that some of the ways to become one after death is to act in a socially unacceptable manner, that is, to murder, to cheat the church or family members, to die while under the curse of a family member, or to be generally disliked in the community due to a vile demeanor (Lawson 375). The Blums also noted other anti-social behavior such as those who lie to their parents or give “the five-fingers,” (a rude hand gesture) to others (72). Whether the threat of a too active afterlife is enough to stop this kind of behavior is unknown, but clearly the society speaks unanimously when it threatens anti-social members with the most horrific of curses: “May the earth not receive thee” (Lawson 388), or in other words, “May your body remain undissolved and therefore, your soul bound restlessly and tragically to your corpse.”
Perhaps more importantly are the many familial obligations that emerge after death: the care of the body, the service and burial, the rituals of mourning and memorials, the dividing of property, the taking care of the widow/widower. As mentioned, all of these were at one time strictly guided by tradition and to a great extent remain so in Greek villages and close community groups (Kenna 32-33). For indeed it is also possible to become a vrykólakas if the survivors have not done things properly to help the soul separate from the body (du Boulay 221). Furthermore, since the Greeks believe the soul remains in a liminal state somehow connected to the body until dissolution, we can also surmise that people would fear the return of the deceased if that person sought vengeance, for example, for lack of respect due him, or for failing to honor his wishes, many of which obviously would be related to care and respect for his survivors and division of his property (Kenna 32-33). Many of these rituals serve the main purpose of maintaining a social order in the community; each family member has a role to play in the service, burial, and memorials of the dead, community members have obligations toward the surviving spouse or children regarding fair treatment, debt repayment, etc., and agreements made by the deceased prior to death are to be carried out according to social contract. Not to honor the wishes of the deceased, or to somehow cheat him or his family after his departure risks his vengeful return. Thus with the deep psychological need to provide the deceased with a “good” death in order to ensure his quiet and uneventful afterlife, the community undertakes rituals and actions that benefit the community itself. In fact, in earlier times the very act of handling death correctly protected the community who believed they were helping themselves avoid the horror of a vrykólakas.
In addition to the post-mortem familial and communal responsibilities, a pre-mortem responsibility exists in which it is clear how the belief in the vrykólakas benefits the community: another way to become a vrykólakas is to die alone (Blum and Blum 314). Through their wish to avoid the disruption of a vrykólakas in the community, community members perform a great service for each other in assuring the elderly or ill are not abandoned. It is possible that over time, while acting to prevent a supernatural occurrence, communities subconsciously internalized that their actions had many other benefits to the society as well. Without the threat of vrykólakas, would villagers have nonetheless articulated the need to continue with these traditions, which in fact, are actually rules of behavior that maintain order in the community?
It is interesting to note that the Greek vrykólakas , unlike his counterpart in other cultures, primarily troubles or attacks his own kin (Marin 7; Rouse 173). This unique feature can be interpreted as another way the belief maintains a sort of social order. When order, custom, and tradition are defied, what was comfortable and familiar (the living family member) is now threatening and strange (the returned vrykólakas) . In the same way, society recognizes the threat it places upon itself by giving up its traditional ways, ways which identify and connect individuals as members, not just of a community, but of a Greek community.
Du Boulay (1982) especially has noted the connection of the vrykólakas with the act of maintaining proper societal norms by adhering to the written and unwritten rules regarding marriage within kinship groups. Her complex interpretation of a death ritual in the Greek village of Ambeli and nearby areas concludes that the community’s many rituals over the corpse, including the direction of movement around it, washing the house after the body is removed, and traditional sayings regarding blood are symbolically linked to the concept of katameria , a complicated multi-generational set of kinship ties that prohibit unions which cross back and forth between two sides of a family once the initial cross-tie (husband to outside wife) has been made (239-241). The concept is linked to “returning the blood,” or crossing back to the side of the family from which a wife had come in order to find another spouse. Violating katameria is generally met with great discomfort and seen to be against socially acceptable way of doing things, or the “natural order.” Clearly, breaking katameria is symbolic of potential danger involving the “blood” of families- the threat of consanguineous marriage which was a common danger in village communities. For du Boulay, the threat of vrykólakas is a manifestation of the fear of what happens to a community that has suffered intermarriage, but to the local believers, protecting against the vrykólakas seemed to provide satisfactory results simply because order and stability, in the form of healthy offspring, and perhaps also through less inter-family conflict, was preserved in the community.
To paraphrase Hobsbawm, the British historian, a cultural tradition will not survive if it does not provide some sort of benefit to the community. A persistent and pervasive belief in the possibility of the returned dead, vrykólakoi , has been a widespread part of Greek tradition for centuries, especially in rural areas. While obviously greatly on the decline, this belief exists among some Greeks even to this day. Recorded anecdotes from 2013 from the island of Alonissos narrated by a forty- year old Athenian woman who worked on the island for several years included this comment: “All the time people talk about these things. Not a single discussion about a death happens without people whispering about ghosts and vrykólakoi.”
The vrykólakas has benefitted Greek communities over the centuries by society’s desire to keep it away. Avoiding the danger of the vrykólakas has aided community survival by unifying community members in a Greek identity of tradition, Orthodoxy and folk religion, and encouraging and promoting behaviors and actions that served the community by maintaining a stable social order. Ironically, successful dissolution of the body results in non-dissolution of the local community, and “loosening” the soul from the body results in the binding of community members through the traditions of their Greek identity.
Blum, Richard H., and Eva Blum. The Dangerous Hour: The Lore of Crisis and Mystery in Rural Greece. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970. Print.
Blum, Richard H., and Eva Blum. The Dangerous Hour: The Lore of Crisis and Mystery in Rural Greece. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970. Print.
This book is dedicated to an understanding of the Greek psyche as it relates to times of crisis, uncertainty, the unknown, and the unfathomable. It is an exhaustive collection of folk narratives from rural inhabitants of Greece in the mid 20 th century classified according to theme, and the narratives are analyzed by the Blums as to what they might reveal about rural Greek attitudes and beliefs. There is a large section devoted to narratives regarding the vrykólakas , (referred to by the Blums as revenants), mostly in the form of personal quotes from many research subjects. Not only do the narratives relate the unfiltered superstitions about how one becomes a vrykólakas , how the community can identify a vrykólakas , and what can be done to put a vrykólakas to rest, but some of the subjects also provide their own simple, yet profound analyses regarding why the subject believes vrykólakoi are still in existence. The authors also attempt to show some survivals in beliefs from antiquity, as well as brief comparisons with other Mediterranean “peasant” communities. The first-hand accounts are of immense value since they allow the researcher to develop his or her own interpretations regarding their symbolic, psychological, or historical meaning. While the Blums acknowledge that they are not folklorists, they explain that they became interested in the Greek attitudes toward the unknown while undertaking previous research in the health of rural Greece, when time after time they encountered stories and explanations for illness and death that revealed deep beliefs in ritual and magic. Their research was conducted in one region, for which they only provide a pseudonym, and included three main population centers of that area. They received assistance in their research from two Greek social workers, as well as from the Greek government.
Dawkins, R. M. "Soul and Body in the Folklore of Modern Greece." Folklore 53.3 (1942): 131- 47. Web. 2 Feb. 2013.
This reprint of a lecture delivered at Oxford University emphasizes the parallel beliefs held by modern Greeks: the beliefs of Orthodoxy, and the often contradictory folkloric, non-Christian beliefs, held by the same person. The lecture thoroughly explains the Orthodox beliefs surrounding the mystery of death, including details derived from post-Biblical church writing. Much of the church writing designates ritual mourning days, activities that are to take place on each of the days, as well as the critical importance of the quick decay of the bodily flesh, which if it fails to happen is the essence of the vrykólakas legend in Greece. Dawkins’s lecture provides essential background since an understanding of the Greek tradition of body and soul is necessary when researching the vrykólakas. He also looks at the practice of exhumation as a custom that pre-dates the currently held view that modern Greek exhumation is due to a lack of space in cemeteries, and discusses the death struggle- the metaphorical fight between Charos and the dying, which sheds light on the Greek imagery surrounding death and blood and the importance of the living in assisting the soul on his or her journey, assistance, which, if not properly administered, could result in the failure of the soul to move on. The concepts explained by Dawkins illuminate rather puzzling aspects of Greek beliefs and concepts of death and after-death states, understanding of which is necessary to fully understand the holdover of the vrykólakas into modern times.
du Boulay, J. 1982. “The Greek Vampire: A Study of Cyclic Symbolism in Marriage and Death.” Man 17: 219-238. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.
As an anthropologist, du Boulay undertook extensive fieldwork in Greece, in the region of North Euboea. Aware of the strong belief in the vrykólakas legend in this area, du Boulay’s research attempts to prove her theory that the vrykólakas belief and the extensive and detailed death rituals associated with it is a manifestation of the community’s sub-conscious awareness and fear of breaking the rules of katameria , a complex set of kinship and marriage relations that protect against close marriage among relatives. Far too complicated to do justice to in a brief summary here, du Boulay theorizes symbolic connections between the Greek prohibition of “crossing the corpse”, (any movement counter-clockwise, or over, or above the corpse), the making of a vrykólakas from the recently deceased, the phrase gyrise to aima , or “the blood returned/turning back the blood”, and the community danger of marrying back into a blood line instead of out of it. Thus the proscribed traditions for attending to the recently deceased serve the primary purpose of keeping the community safe from both vrykólakas and intermarriage. This study is useful to research into the persistent presence of vrykólakoi (plural) in Greece as it posits an anthropological explanation that shows how the legend potentially benefits a community. Although du Boulay is careful to point out that her research was limited to a specific geographical area, her fieldwork from 1971-1973 is evidence that the legend was still strong near the end of the twentieth century in some parts of Greece, an important point if discussing longevity of the vampire legend into recent modernity.
Dundes, Alan. "The Vampire as Bloodthirsty Revenant: A Psychoanalytic Post-mortem." The Vampire: A Casebook . Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1998. 159-71. Print.
Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California, Berkeley, presents this primarily Freudian, metaphorical-symbolic interpretation of the vampire phenomenon. He draws on concepts such as object loss, family dynamics, ambivalence of feelings toward the dead and the guilt and anger that accompany that, infantile sado-masochism, and interpretations of symbols such as tomb/womb. At the core of Dundes’s proposal is the “thirsty” vampire as a result of the interpretation of death as a rebirth. Dundes’s connects the thirst of a vampire with the dryness associated with death, a concept found as far back as ancient Greece and Babylon, and possibly related to a Greek funerary tradition of pouring water on a grave. Completely theoretical and interpretive in nature, this essay nonetheless provides deep psychological background in order to interpret the vrykólakas story in Greece, and also allows researchers to clarify potential links with some modern Greek death customs involving providing sustenance for the dead. Moreover, the focus of Dundes’s article on how the actions and traits of the vampire may be interpreted by the living provides a link to discovering the value the legend adds to any community that hosts it.
Gelder, Ken. "Vampires in Greece: Byron and Polidori” and “Vampires and the Uncanny: Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’.” Reading the Vampire . London: Routledge, 1994. 24-64. Print.
In this scholarly book written by a professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia, the vampire as a cultural phenomenon is placed in various contexts of eras, criticisms, and psycho-social interpretations. Chapter two, “Vampires in Greece: Polidori and Byron”, and chapter three, “Vampires and the Uncanny” are of use to research on the topic of the vrykólakas . In the analysis of and explanation for the vampires of early 19 th century literature, the chapter traces the journey of the Greek vampire from the stories of the peasants to the pages of Western European poetry and prose. It focuses on the political and social situation of Greece in its war of independence and discusses how the formation of modern Greek identity could have impacted the tales of vampires recounted in Greece. Gelder’s analysis then moves to connect Freud’s theory of the uncanny with the uncertain identity of the emerging modern Greek nation, and posits that there may be less of a gap between the Self and the Other in Greece in the early 19 th century than in other time periods or other nations. This interpretation set with the background of modern Greek history offers a unique perspective that links the vampire to the modern fears and discomforts of the society that it feeds upon. Although these chapters and this book focus primarily on the depiction of the vampire in the creative and popular culture of different time periods, Gelder’s explanation of the background of those fictional depictions is useful to understanding possible theories on the persistence of the vrykólakas legend.
Hallab, Mary Y. Vampire God: The Allure of the Undead in Western Culture . Albany, NY: SUNY, 2009. Print.
Rather than chronologically, this text is organized thematically with sections like “Vampires and Psychology: Body, Soul and Self”, “Vampires and Society”, “Vampires and Science.” While the entire book provides excellent background into better understanding of approaches to vrykólakas research, most useful are the first two sections mentioned above. Hallab explores the relationship of the vampire (and also in particular the vrykólakas ) and the norms of society within both the context of Greek and Russian Orthodoxy and common tradition. The author, a professor of English Literature at the University of Central Missouri, also draws links between vampires and a society’s mixed feelings about the past, both revering it for its sense of security, and willingness to move past it for the benefits of modernity. While early vampire literature comes from Western Europe, Hallab points out the Greek connection to many vampire stories, offering a literary angle to research into the reasons why Greece figured so prominently in these early stories.
Hartnup, Karen. "On the Belief of the Greeks": Leo Allatios and Popular Orthodoxy . Boston: Brill Leiden, 2004. Print.
Leo Allatios, a 17 th century Greek humanist, medical doctor, ecclesiastical scholar, and advisor to the Vatican, was an Orthodox Greek who converted to Catholicism. Moreover, he is considered to be the foremost scholar on traditions and customs of Greeks of the early modern period and wrote extensively on the exotica of the country. In addition to collecting accounts and listing the great variety of exotica , Allatios distinguishes them by type and discusses them within the context of Greek society and Christianity. He delves deeply into Greek popular religion and provides commentary both from his Catholic point of view and his Orthodox heritage. Hartnup has given an analysis of Allatios’s writing, including De Graecorum hodie quorundam opinationibus (Some Ideas of the Greeks Today , 1645), the body of Allatios’s work that most closely focuses on vrykólakas and tympaniaios (a type of revenant that some scholars distinguish the vrykólakas ). Hartnup shows that on the whole Allatios disavows the majority of the folk beliefs of the Greeks; however, he does stand very clear on certain religious aspects such as belief in the power of demons and the devil and how those beings in different form may be mistaken for the exotica of Greece. Hartnup’s analysis of Allatios is very enlightening because it collects and attempts to explain within the social and religions context of the time some of the earliest modern accounts of the belief, and provides concurrent analysis and commentary on two levels- Allatios’s in the 17 th century, and Hartnup’s in our time. In addition to the chapters exclusively on the topic of vrykólakas, Hartnup, a Professor of Medieval History at University of Edinburgh, also extensively explains the authority of the Church and its relation to the Ottoman Empire at this time of Greek history, as well as how the Church worked as an intermediary between the people and the government. This background material adds necessary insight into the mentality of the Greeks at this time and may be used to understand how the Church could actually have fanned the flames of vrykólakoi belief throughout Greece at the same time it tried to deny their existence.
Jevons, F. B. "Greek Law and Folklore." The Classical Review 9.5 (1895): 247-50. Web. 2 Feb. 2013. Jevons pursues law and custom related to funerals and disposal of remains in ancient Greece in this article. Quoting from Cean and Solonic law, comparing Plato’s comments on burial with the Christian church writing, and finally drawing parallels between ancient Greek practices and other eras in other countries, Jevons makes the distinction that what had been considered simple sumptuary laws regarding the extravagance of funerals were in fact laws that served to “control” the soul of the deceased, guide it to its intended purpose, and prevent unfavorable outcomes like the return of the deceased in the form of a vampire. Of particular interest to the researcher on a broader scale than just within Greece is the Spelleri 11 comparison between Platonic advice such as burying the body of a suicide at a crossroads with much more recent customs and laws in northern Europe. While the article assumes a working knowledge of Latin and Greek, Jevons points the reader directly to the relevant lines of ancient works so translations can easily be found. Additionally, because of the age of the article, it can be difficult to follow in-text citations due to stylistic changes and the lack of a bibliography or list of sources. Yet the richness of the minute detail of information regarding ancient and late-antiquity treatment of the dead, especially conjectures on the transition from cremation to inhumation and the interdisciplinary approach to the topic are well-worth the effort of reading this short and unique paper by the late University of Durham professor of classics, philosophy, and comparative religions.
Kenna, Margaret. "Houses, Fields and Graves: Property and Ritual Obligation on a Greek Island." Ethnology 15.1 (1976): 21-34. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
In this paper resulting from fieldwork on two Cycladic islands, Professor Kenna of University College of Swansea describes traditions of naming, inheritance, and burial. In the section about burial, the article uses original quotes from islanders to illustrate the local belief of the journey of the soul and the author concludes these beliefs cement a tradition of moral obligation among family members, and to some extent, the community. Of particular use to vrykólakas research is further example of belief in the importance of the decomposition, preferably within three years of death, for without this the deceased is suspected of being a revenant. Thus this article provides another piece of evidence of the existence of this belief in the late 20 th century, in yet another location of Greece. Furthermore, the research shows the importance of familial obligations in the death arrangements, even to the level of the appropriate words and responses to say that satisfy familial obligation, which supports the hypothesis correlating vrykólakas belief and maintenance of familial traditions.
Kittredge, George L. "Arm-pitting among the Greeks." The American Journal of Philology 6.2 (1885): 151-69. Web. 2 Feb. 2013.
This older paper explains a very specific and largely unknown ancient Greek practice of maschalismata , or arm-pitting, in which a dead body was mutilated by removing the extremities, stringing them together, and securing them under the armpits of the corpse by hanging them around the neck. Kittredge, a philologist, Harvard professor, and leading literary influence of the early American 20 th century, quotes from several classical Greek sources to support his thesis that destruction of the body was related to the disabling of a destructive spirit, primarily the spirit of someone who had been gravely wronged and who might seek vengeance. The author proceeds to relate the ancient connections of body and soul with more modern cultures and their similar belief of the condition of the spirit mirroring the condition of the corpse. Speaking exclusively of vampires, Kittredge gives many examples of modern corpse mutilation as an apotropaic against either a physical vampire or a spiritual revisitation of the dead and compares them to the ancient Greek practice. This unique paper is a challenge to read, replete with untranslated Greek, Latin, and German. However, it provides very specific ancient source quotes which facilitates finding online translations of the Latin and the Greek sources. For research on the topic of the vrykólakas, Kittredge’s paper offers pertinent information into possible early sources of modern Greek beliefs in the potential power of the dead.
Lawson, John Cuthbert. Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals . New York: University, 1964. Print. Rpt. n.p. (1910).
Lawson spent two years in the field in Greece studying modern Greek customs and superstitions and took the work that had been up to that point the domain of Greek researchers like Politis to the next level by delving into similarities between modern traditions and ancient practices, finding the connection between classics and ethnography. Lawson’s theme makes a case for “survivals”, or remnants of ancient in the modern. However, this research is not idealized philhellenic romance but rather meticulously detailed, footnoted, and bilingual reports, hypotheses, and explorations of topics including pagan deities, legendary spirits and beings found in nature, concepts of soul, body, and afterlife, non-canonical expressions of Orthodoxy, cremation and inhumation, and bodily dissolution. That being said, however, Lawson does follow the tradition of his time which is to peel back what he considered modern syncretism and reveal the “true” and ancient Greek sources, a method which we know today to not be entirely accurate. Lawson’s approach, while possibly leading to incorrect conclusions, does nonetheless provide extensive learned research. The author, conducting research for Pembroke College, Cambridge, has devoted more than one hundred pages to his investigation into the vrykólakas , trying to tease out its linguistic and topical birthplace, its ties to ancient beliefs, influences on the belief over the centuries due to region and migration, and the peculiar condition of the strength of the belief within the simultaneous sphere of Christianity. Lawson’s painstaking research, copiously references to ancient texts as well as modern publications from all over Europe, is perhaps one of the most thoroughly researched sources that treats the vrykólakas as a uniquely Greek phenomenon arising from within Greece itself, and not imported from elsewhere. Furthermore, the chapter on cremation and inhumation provides a variety of material for the vrykólakas researcher to pursue with regard to the Greek custom of exhumation and its connection to vyrkólakoi .
Lee, D. Demetracopoulou. "Greek Accounts of the Vrykólakas." The Journal of American Folklore 54 (1941): n. pag. Web. 27 Jan. 2013.
In the 1930s, Lee interviewed Greeks who had been living in Massachusetts for many years about their understanding of the vrykólakas . She recorded narratives of Greeks who had origins in Asia Minor as well as the region of Arcadia and noted that their accounts were often personal and made no distinction between folklore and reality, and even though they “sometimes feel bound to doubt their stories”, their stories still “carried conviction.” These brief narratives show the persistence of the belief by Greeks even outside of Greece, although it is interesting to note that all accounts of vrykólakoi occurred in Greece itself. While a disadvantage of this report is lack of detail regarding the research setting and technique and no attempt to interpret or draw conclusions from the narratives, researchers can use these narratives to explore the belief’s connection to the boundaries of land versus its connection to a mobile tradition, if further study of immigrants is pursued.
Marin, Alvaro Garcia. "Haunted Communities: The Greek Vampire, or the Uncanny at the Core of Nation Construction." Inter-Disciplinary.net . N.p., Aug. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.
Drawing on the foundation of Anderson’s theory of imagined communities, Bergland’s concept of haunted communities, and Freud’s theory of the uncanny, Marin suggests the vampire of Greece is a psycho-social phenomenon resulting from the varied and often opposing forces at the heart of Greek nation-building: the Philhellenes of Western Europe and the Orientalist/Balkinist element, both of which offer their own deviations from attempts at self-identification via Orthodoxy. The paper explores the idea that belief in the vrykólakas is a manifestation of a haunting by the acclaimed ancient civilization of Greece that impedes the country’s full acceptance of and movement to modernity, and symbolizes the uncanniness of a “resurrected Greece,” a revenant that is both familiar and strange to modern Greeks. Marin’s thesis is supported by many historical notes, including the increase in vrykólakas stories and reports at the time of Greek independence and again at the time of demoticism. Allegorically, Marin draws from Derrida’s hauntology to explain the prevalence of vrykólakas stories both within Greece and of other origins but with Greek connections. Marin, a Marie Curie Fellow at Columbia University, describes a unique perspective that ties the persistent vrykólakas belief to theories of nation-building and a search for self and national identity.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead . Detroit: Visible Ink, 1999. Print.
Melton’s 900-page tome is a compendium of everything vampiric. The author, who founded the Center for the Study of American Religion and is in the department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, created the collection because of his dissatisfaction with modern researchers’ over-reliance on the work of Wright and Summers. Melton’s encyclopedia had as its starting point the collection of resources at the University of California, Santa Barbara and his personal collection of more than two thousand titles on vampires. The encyclopedia entries, ranging from a paragraph to several pages in length, cover the vampire phenomenon from every angle- chronological, geographical, psychological, medical, anthropological and folkloric, historic, literary, popular media and cultural, religious, gender and sexuality, and more. Melton’s volume is recommended as a starting point for the vrykólakas researcher. It spreads before the reader the enormity of possible directions in which vrykólakas research might proceed. In addition, each entry has its own source list which may lead the researcher to even greater depths, while on the other hand the entries themselves provide a quick reference for items only alluded to in other publications.
Pashley, Robert. "Chapter XXXVI (untitled)." Travels in Crete, Vol. II . London: John Murray, 1837. 189-234. Google ebooks. Web. Mar. 2013 .
Pashley, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, contributes to Greek vampire research the most detail about the legend on the island of Crete. Chapter XXXVI is dedicated to the belief in the katakhánas , the Cretan term for vampire. The name difference, Pashley claims, is evidence of the indigenous origin of the belief, since not even language or the name of the creature was influenced by Slavs, who did not penetrate to the island. Pashley also relates a popular vampire story from the island, and the addition of the idea of the vampire eating human livers, a unique belief not found elsewhere in Greece. This chapter also elaborates on many instances of blood-sucking and flesh-eating from ancient Greek sources, with all original sources clearly cited for easy reference in English. The ancient sources provide an interesting bloody aspect to the Greek revenant, which in the majority of other sources does not bring a blood-drained death but often death of an undescribed or undisclosed cause. Those researching the vampire in Greece will find Pashley’s chapter replete with brief but highly unique facts untold in other regions of Greece, such as the belief that those dead from war never become vampires. The author’s footnotes themselves are a wealth of detail and supplementary information, often linking to other cultures and languages. As with many academics of his time, Pashley leaves the reader a significant amount of untranslated Greek and Latin, although the main Cretan anecdote is found in both Greek and English.
Rouse, W. H. "Folklore from Southern Sporades." Folklore 10.2 (1899): 150-85. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
From research conducted on the island of Kos, the author itemizes a host of superstitions, curses, and images in order to bring benefits, protection, and health to the believer or to wish problems on enemies. Useful for vrykólakas research is the second part which differentiates between the kalikantzari and vrykólakas with respect to specific contrasts, activities, origins, apotropaic devices and various expressions and sayings connected to each type of creature. In addition, the author cites nomocanones , or Ecclesiastical law, in original Greek, and while this assumes knowledge of the language, it also allows for a greater sense of authenticity of sources. Most interestingly, the nomocanones also acknowledge the church’s interest in and dealings with local beliefs in exotica , or the sphere of the non-normal, non-human, spirit/beast/creature that inhabits much of Greek rural belief.
Sugg, Richard. "Pre-scientific Death Rites, Vampires, and the Human Soul." The Lancet 377. February (2011): 712-13. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. This article, while brief, gives several examples from European cultures about the belief in the liminal state between life and true death, when the (mainly)pre-Christian concept of the spirit exited the body, but did not go far. Citing examples from both Greece and Rome, Sugg highlights some death rituals that were connected to that belief, as well as common beliefs that the soul might return and reanimate the body. In fact, the author purports that as late as the 1600s the state and location of the soul was the determinant of death, and not necessarily any physical mechanism of the body. To researchers on the Greek vrykólakas , this article makes a useful point about the psychological condition of the survivors who are actually the ones existing in a liminal state in the immediate days after the death of a family member. The article emphasizes the psychological reason that some cultures may hold the belief of vampires.
Tozer, Henry F. “The Vrykolaka, or Eastern Vampire.” Researches in the Highlands of Turkey, Vol II. London: John Murray, 1869. 189-234. The Internet Archive. Web. Feb. 2013.
Tozer is an early source of information of first hand European encounters with the Greek belief in vrykólakas . Chapter XXI in the second volume of Tozer’s two volume account of extensive travels throughout Greece is titled “The Vrykolaka, or Eastern Vampire”, and relates both an experience in the village of Aghia, on the plain of Thessaly, as well as a collection of other reports, many earlier, from throughout Greece, including Mykonos, Mytiline, and Epirus. The author, a tutor and fellow at Oxford University, has interesting details to add to vrykólakas research, including its connection to lycanthropy, both in the linguistic morphology of the word vrykólakas , and in some aspects of the beliefs in the behavior of the creature and how one may become one. Tozer also makes a distinction between the “more malignant” form of revenant and the simply bothersome and fear-inducing variety, and gives details that can be utilized in vrykólakas research to trace the evolution of the belief and the impact of Slavic influences on the original Greek legend.
Stewart, Charles. Demons and the Devil: Moral Imagination in Modern Greek Culture . Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1991. Print.
Stewart, a social anthropologist and The George Seferis Chair of Modern Greek Studies at Harvard University, builds on the work of Lawson and others. Stewart writes from the perspective that a study in survivals is not enough, but rather scholars should enquire as to why some of these survivals exist. His research from the island of Naxos and other parts of Greece hypothesizes that the old superstitions and beliefs in supernatural and exotica serve as a source of expression for modern Greeks in everyday life. The exotica become the Other that the Greeks, insular in their villages, hesitate to label each other because of their shared religion and ethnicity. Furthermore, tales of vrykólakas and other legends often act as parables that explain, excuse, justify, or warn of behaviors and/or norms that are part of the accepted village code but may not be accepted at the same level by the Church. This synthesis of history, folklore, and religion offers insight into the mentality of those who believe in exotica like the vrykólakas . Stewart also makes connections between the Church and exotica , claiming that they are not necessarily outside of the structure of Orthodoxy, but rather dwell in an interstitial space between man and deity. The vrykólakas researcher finds in Stewart’s text an anthropological perspective on the disemic state that allows modern Greeks to exist in a rational modernity while at the same time hanging on to deep-seated and seemingly irrational beliefs.
Summers, Montague. The Vampire in Europe . New York: Grammercy Books, 1996. Print. Rpt. Originally Published by Senate Press, London, 1929.
Summers, a graduate of Trinity College, Oxford, and ordained Anglican priest, was an independent scholar and researcher who became an expert in the field of Restoration and Gothic literature and also pursued interests in the supernatural. From the 1920s through the 1940s, Summers published over ten titles, the most popular of which were his extensive research into the supernatural, including the first English translation of the witch hunter’s manual Malleus Maleficarum . While this author was definitely a unique character, believing in all manner of the occult himself, he published exceptional detailed, multi-lingual and scholarly texts (he ended up himself the subject of several autobiographies), and his peculiar personality should not negate the value of this particular text to those interested in researching vrykólakoi . Summers discusses the European vampire, including the Greek vrykólakas in all manner of minutiae. Chapter 1, “Ancient Greece and Rome” and Chapter 4, “Modern Greece”, in particular focus on material most useful to vrykólakas research. Some details include translated scraps of church writing, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic, the difference between non-dissolution of a corpse in the case of a saint and in the case of an unholy situation, comparison of European vampire traditions and beliefs with ancient cultures like Assyrian and Egyptian as well as with other cultures like Indian and Chinese, with each chapter followed by several pages of notes pointing to Latin, Greek, French, and German ancient and medieval texts, most of which can be found online for original source reading if not provided in the text itself. Many of his anecdotes and accounts are dated to the day, month, and year, and are often immediately cross- analyzed if not cross-referenced with similar traditions, accounts, experiences, etc. in other eras or locations. Summers includes long translated Babylonian poems as well as short Greek curses. While bearing in mind that Summers believed much of what he wrote regarding cursed corpses, the returned dead, and a variety of demons, this book still maintains research value because of the plethora of names, places, events, and sources of information from classical to early 20 th century that it provides, as well as because of the very obscure references to specific churches and bishops, popular religious anecdotes and village traditions, which are not found elsewhere.