It’s time for a big one: let’s discuss what was and wasn’t a weakness for folkloric vampires.
Please note that this post will not include every vampire weakness as found in folklore and pop culture, as that would be absolutely massive; it will cover the most common ones. I’ll save the full list for when I publish my own book on vampires in folklore.
So, like I did in my post on werewolf weaknesses, let’s break them down.
Appeared in folklore
- Stake – The trusty stake, the old standby. Yes, vampires were very often staked in folklore to finally end their nightly rampages.
- Needles – Less common than the stake concept, but still a thing: pin a vampire’s body to a coffin using needles and you won’t have a vampire problem anymore. Sometimes it was through the heart, sometimes through the palms or fingers, sometimes various other places and sometimes lots or sometimes just one or two.
- Obsessive counting – Kind of funny that this makes Sesame Street fairly folklore-accurate: a lot of vampires in legend were obsessed with counting. Spill a bag of beans behind you as you run away from a vampire, and that vampire will just have to stop and count those beans. Can’t resist.
- Garlic – Yes, garlic – along with various other types of herbs and some types of wood – warded off vampires. This wasn’t a pop culture creation. It was, however, often the garlic flowers that warded them off.
- Holy symbols – Although some modern media backs off this one, but it was definitely a thing in folklore. You can ward a vampire off with a holy symbol. The symbol in question was, generally, a cross, as many of the stories from which we draw our primary vampire concepts are Christian.
- Holy water – Also a thing.
- Running water – Vampires, whether we count them as spirits or not, have something in common with a lot of different kinds of spirits in that they cannot cross running water. This appeared in several stories.
- Invitation – Can vampires really not cross the threshold without being invited in? Yes, that did actually appear in some folklore.
And under “not really a weakness but was still a thing,” I will file…
- Fire – I wouldn’t really consider this a vampire weakness, seeing as how – more often than not – it isn’t actually used against vampires that are currently up and about feeding on people, at least as far as folklore is concerned. However, it is used to burn parts of immobile vampires, such as to burn their corpses/bodies and to burn their heart, after it’s removed from the body, so it does work in that capacity, of course. It’s often important to dispose of the ashes properly, as well.
- Mirrors/Lack of reflection – Vampires in a lot of folklore had no reflection at all, and mirrors are of course the most obvious way of showing that. It was a way of revealing a vampire, and vampires often tried to avoid mirrors as a result. This has nothing to do with any quality of the mirrors themselves. They just have no reflection, because they have no soul (i.e., they are often demons, in folklore).
- Wine – Corpses and corpse parts, such as bones, were often washed in wine to cleanse them of evil and protect them from curses. Wine often had holy connotations and purification abilities in various cultures and religions, including but not at all limited to Christianity.
May or may not have appeared in folklore, but probably didn’t
- Any water (varied by vampire legend) – This varies a lot. Some vampires are burned by all water, really, as if it’s acid. Others, not so much. Others only care if it’s running water. Some actually live in swamps and will drown people. So this is very much a variable thing.
- Decapitation – The most commonly seen method for finally destroying a vampire and making sure they don’t come back isn’t decapitation, though we see that occasionally – but it is almost always accompanied by cutting out and destroying the vampire’s heart, which is more important than anything related to their head.
Did NOT appear in folklore
- Sunlight – I covered this one in much more depth in my vampire fact about sunlight, but nope, it wasn’t a weakness for vampires in folklore.
- Corpse blood – Vampires in folklore never really encountered problems with drinking blood from corpses, as their solution was simple: they didn’t do that. This is a modern pop culture vampire hunter thing about somebody tricking a vampire into drinking old blood somehow, and it didn’t really come up in folklore. It is, of course, implied in folklore – obviously – that a vampire has to drink living blood, but we don’t see vampires being defeated by corpse blood somehow.
- Silver – I’m not convinced this one appeared in folklore until someone actually shows me the source for it, because I can’t find one. Werewolves, of course, are not sensitive to silver in folklore and that comes from Hollywood. It seems to me that this was put on vampires because of the weird often-muddied nature of werewolves and vampires in some media. Now, some people say vampires are associated with Judas Iscariot and that silver is associated with said vampires because of the silver coins he was given to betray Jesus, but I can’t really find much about that other than people mentioning it, so where exactly are the legends where vampires are associated with Judas? Until I find some definitive primary sources about this, I’m going to leave silver on the “no” list, especially because it feels like such a product of pop culture.
So there you have it! As I mentioned, this obviously isn’t every single potential weakness in everything ever, but this covers most of the major/more common ones you see around.