Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Romanian Vampire Folktales

The Romanian vampire has also become the subject of a number of folktales. Folklorists have noticed that many relate to the cases of couples in which one has recently died. Frequently reprinted was the story of “The Girl and the Vampire” (which also exists in a Russian variant) in which the boy committed suicide following his failure to gain the marriage blessing of his girlfriend’s parents. As a result of his manner of death, he became a vampire and began to visit the girl at night. The girl spoke with a wise elder woman in the village who instructed her to attach a thread to his shirt. She then traced the thread, which led to the graveyard and disappeared into the grave of her late boyfriend.

The vampire continued to visit the girl, and they continued their sexual liaison, when her parents died. She refused the vampire’s request for her to tell what she had seen the night she followed him to the graveyard, and the girl soon also died. She was buried according to the wise woman’s instruction. A flower grew from her grave, which was seen by the son of the emperor. He ordered it dug up and brought to his castle. There, in the evening, it turned into a maiden. Eventually she and the emperor’s son were wed. Sometime later, she accompanied her husband to church and had an encounter with the vampire. He followed her into church where she hid behind an icon, which then fell on the vampire and destroyed him. The story served as a discouragement to out-of-wedlock sexual relations while at the same time reaffirming the wisdom of older people and upholding the church as a bastion against evil. Similar values were affirmed in other stories.

It was once the case, according to one folktale that “vampires were as common as leaves of grass, or berries in a pail.” They have, however, become more rare and confined to the rural areas. In the mid-1970s Harry Senn had little trouble locating vampire accounts in a variety of Romanian locations. Admittedly, however, the vampire suffered during recent decades from both the spread of public education and the hostility of the government to tales of the supernatural. The importance of vampires in the overall folk belief of Romanians was also demonstrated in a recent study of a Wallachian immigrant community in Scandinavia.

The strigoi morti, the Romanian vampire conformed in large part to the popular image of the vampire. It was a revenant of the deceased. It had powers to product poltergeist-like phenomena, especially the bringing to life of common household objects. It was seen as capricious, mischievous, and very debilitating. However, the vampire’s attack was rarely seen as fatal. Also, it rarely involved the literal biting and draining of blood from its victim (the crux of the distortion of the vampire’s image in films in the eyes of Romanian folklorists). The strigoi usually drained the vital energy of a victim by a process of psychic vampirism. The description of the strigoi’s attack, described in vivid metaphorical language, was often taken in a literal sense by non-Slavic interpreters who then misunderstood the nature of the Slavic vampire.

Of contemporary note, Mircea Eliade, the outstanding Romanian scholar of world religion, was fascinated with vampires, and among his first books was a vampire novel, Dominisoara Christina (“Miss Christina”). This obscure work was rediscovered years later by Eliade fans in France and Italy and republished in both countries.

In the 1990s, Romania became the focus of vampire tourism, and several tour companies emerged to support vampire related visits, especially in October. A new Dracula hotel in the Borgo Pass was created to serve Dracula-thirsty visitors. Attempting to provide a more nuanced appropriation of Romania’s vampire-related culture was the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, which annually sponsors a scholarly seminar on a folklore-related subject. The country has also tried to promote itself as the site for movies, the most notable ones being the half dozen Subspecies vampire movies produced by Full Moon in the 1990s.

Sources: Eliade, Micea. Domnisoara Christina Bucharest, 1935. French edition as: Mademoiselle Christiana. Paris: Editions de l’Herne, 1978. Italian edition as: Signorina Christiana. Milan: Jaca Book, 1984. Gerard, Emily. The Land Beyond the Forest. 2 vols. London: Will Blackwood & Sons, 1888. Kreuter, Peter Mario. Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa: Studien zur Genese, Bedeutung und Funktion. Rumänien und der Balkanraum. Berlin: Weidler, 2001. Murgoci, Agnes. “The Vampire in Romania.” Folk-Lore 27, 5 (1926): 320–349. Perkowski, Jan L. The Darkling: A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, 1989. 174 pp. ———, ed. Vampires of the Slavs. Cambridge, MA: Slavica Publishers, 1976. 294 pp. Schierup, Carl-Ulrik. “Why Are Vampires Still Alive?: Wallachian Immigrants in Scandinavia.” Ethnos 51, 3–4 (1986): 173–198. Senn, Harry A. Were-Wolf and Vampire in Romania. New York: Columbia University Pres, 1982. 148 pp. Summers, Montague. The Vampire in Europe. 1929. New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1961. 329 pp.

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