The “undead dead” have always been an interesting aspect of global folklore. Many cultures seem to have at least a few popular creatures or mythic beings that are near to a Vampire. However, each culture seems to have its own “version” on the common creature.
I didn’t know the Greek Vrykolakas, whose journey from human to vampire, and their life afterwards, is really interesting.
While most vampire legends tend to involve drinking human blood as part of the mythos, in Greece, it does not. A person doesn’t become a Vrykolakas by being bitten, and one can become one of these creatures fairly simply: it is said that if you live a sacrilegious life, were excommunicated, or were buried in unconsecrated ground that you run the risk of joining the undead. Of course, there is one more curious way to become a Vrykolakas…by eating mutton that was previously injured or eaten by a werewolf (!!!)
The word “Vrykolakas” itself derived form the older Slavic term “vblk’b dlaka”, meaning wolf pelt wearer.
The earliest uses of the word seem to be around the mid-1600s. In 1645, Leo Allatius wrote: “The vrykolakas is an evil and wicked person who may have been excommunicated by a bishop. Its body swells up so that all its limbs are distended, it is hard, and when tapped it thrums like a drum.” It has also been reported, along with the rise of the Greek Orthodox Church, that the Vrykolakas had to do with evil (or the devil) inhabiting a body of the already-dead, causing it to move.
One story about these creatures was also told by Phlegon, a freedman who lived during the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. About six months after her death, Philinnon, the daughter of Demostratus and Charito, had been observed entering into the room of a young guest named Machates. When Charito questioned Machates the next morning about his visitor, he admitted that the girl’s name was Philinnon. He then showed them the accessories she had left behind: a ring and a breast band. The parents immediately recognized the objects as belonging to their late daughter. The next night, Philinnon again came to Machates’ room, but this time, her parents, anxious to see her, dropped in. Philinnon reprimanded them for interrupting her time with Machates. She had been given three nights with him, but because they interfered, she would die again. Before their eyes, her body once again turned into a corpse.
Phlegon was a town official called to keep the rumor of Philinnon’s revival hushed up before it spread all over town. Upon examination of her burial vault, he found several gifts she had taken from her visit with Machates, but no body. A local wise man advised that the body be burned and given the appropriate purification rituals and propitiatory rites to the deities.
If the Vrykolakas does not turn people with a bite, it would spread death through disease.
In order to draw people out, it would knock on doors, only to disappear if the person answered on the first knock, but that person would then be condemned to death soon after and would become a vrykolakas themselves. The legend lingers to this day: a traditional Greek household will only open the door upon the second knock!
However, it also seems that not all Vrykolakas wanted to kill everyone they came into contact with. Sometimes, they were people who had died unfortunate or violent deaths and had to attend to some unfinished business, and you can get rid of a Vrykolakas much the same way you’d get rid of an Eastern European vampire – a stake through the heart, some kind of impaling, cremating the corpse, etc. Sometimes also an exorcism is also said to work….