This month we look at something that’s quite the popular topic in pop culture (or at least it used to be) – vampire hunting!
Does the concept of “vampire hunting” have any folkloric precedent, unlike “werewolf hunting”? Stick around and find out!
(gif originally made and posted by tumblr user duchessofhastings)
So, really, vampire hunting wasn’t really much of a thing… except in Greece.
In fact, at one point, hunting vampires was considered a career so important and high in society in Greece that it was about equal to healers and scribes. Supposedly, people born on a Saturday could see things like spirits and have “influence” over vampires and thus often hunted them. In his book From Demons to Dracula, Matthew Beresford cites a bunch of ways the Greeks especially on the island of Mykonos would ward off vampires.
And there are still more examples scattered around. According to Montague Summers, in his book The Vampire in Lore and Legend, on page 217…
In no country has the Vampire tradition more strongly prevailed and more persistently maintained its hold upon the people than in modern Greece. To the confirmation and perpetuation of this and cognate beliefs, a large number of factors have lent their varying influences, and not the least remarkable of these has been the quote furnished by the popular superstition of antiquity, legends and practices which were even in Pagan days more or less covertly accepted and employed …
Bear in mind that Summers’ “modern” Greece is in the 1950s, as this book was originally published in 1961. Also bear in mind that Summers is not the nicest or least biased man in the world. At all. Still, he collected great scholarship and went on many travels to different regions to study, even if he wasn’t the best at organizing and sifting through everything.
At any rate, this leads us to the Greek term for “vampire,” which has always been a subject of very hot debate. But that’s not the topic of this post, so instead of going into detail about all that, I will say this instead…
Something to bear in mind: a lot of this is retrospective scholarship. In other words, were they really what we think of as “vampires” today? Probably not, even if they may have had a few similarities (though never things like fangs). I know I always mention this in my posts, but it’s always important to note for all readers that folklore is very hard to pin down – it isn’t possible, really – by modern standards and that when scholars refer to something as a “vampire” or a “werewolf” or even a “dragon” or almost any other creature, chances are it’s a myth that’s been translated to fit into one of those categories. There were certainly situations in which creatures may have been referred to as their name we think of them as today (though they basically never fit all of our new pop culture standards), but that’s especially complicated with the term “vampire” in particular.
Because the creatures in Greece were not referred to as “vampires,” which isn’t surprising at all, and their origins, history, and etymology are very complicated. Again, though, this post is about vampire hunters, so that isn’t something I’ll be going into right now. I did, however, go into it a fair amount in this post, if you’re interested! It’s all very regional and seems to mean a werewolf or a vampire in different regions, or sometimes a werewolf who has become a vampire, or sometimes just a vampire, or… Yeah, it’s all very complicated.
Either way, scholars of today now group some of these Greek concepts with vampire legends thanks to various influences and similarities, so now we have the Greek concept of a vampire hunter. In particular, we have some writings from the seventeenth century that detail some vampires and how to slay them.
Summers then mentions a Professor N. P. Polites of Athens University, who wrote about how Santorini was where people “sent” vampires, and “that the inhabitants of this island enjoy so vast a reputation as experts in effectively dealing with vampires and putting an end to them” (Summers 228).
Summers then goes on to give such a lengthy and detailed set of examples of vampire hunts and slayings (almost all of them cremations, at least at some point after other actions are taken) that to replicate them here would lead to me writing a chapter of my own. And since I try to keep folklore facts at least relatively concise unless I’m doing a particularly large one, maybe I’ll retell those stories in a vampire folklore book of my own someday instead.
It wasn’t, however, always within the law to be a vampire hunter or to cremate people for being a vampire, unlike another case…
Here’s another fun one: until only as recently as 1823 when the law was finally repealed, it was totally legal in England to drive a wooden steak through the heart of someone you suspected of being undead. Yes, any undead, not necessarily “vampires,” which is actually an important note. The law came into being during the Anglo-Saxon period, and people must have been doing that a fair amount for there to be an entire law about it – and one that went overlooked for so long. So, during the Victorian era, we still could’ve had people staking someone under the claim that they were undead, and they could legally get away with it if they could back up their claims somehow.
Did that make anyone an actual “vampire hunter” instead of just people staking their neighbors under claims of them being undead? Not really. So, so far all we really have still is Greece and its vampire hunting profession.
There may have been more “vampire hunters” in the modern sense than we really think about, with events in Eastern Europe related to vampire slaying (not necessarily “hunting” or in a professional sense) even as recently as 2007.
So there you have it! Vampire hunting was, at a few points anyway, actually considered a real profession. This is a very unusual case in folklore and makes vampires quite the unique creature for being so prolific in certain regions – namely Greece – as to have their own dedicated hunters.
Monsters aren’t really what we think of them as being in something like D&D, where there are these categorized creatures arguably overpopulating the entire countryside and you can make an entire profession doing nothing but hunting “monsters,” how ever one may define that. Still, there is surprisingly a little bit of precedent for that with vampires, which one can’t really say with most creatures in folklore, like werewolves. Vampires are one of the only creatures in folklore, even if it was pretty much only in Greece, to have their own dedicated, professional hunters.
Until next time!
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