Chances are when you think of vampires you’ll think of Carmilla, Drusilla, Akasha, or any of the other fanged creatures-of-the-night that populate modern culture, including Mara from Love Lies Bleeding. The vampires we’re familiar with are (generally) human looking, powerful, often charismatic and attractive, with a thirst for blood and a dislike of stakes. But that wasn’t always the case. History and folklore are full of types of vampires that are nothing like what we’ve come to expect. Here are five examples…
A cross between a vampire, shapeshifter, and witch, the soucouyant (also known as soucriant, lougarou, Die-Higue, Asema, or simply hag) is known throughout the Caribbean, as well as parts of South America, and Louisiana in the U.S. During the day the soucouyant appears as an old woman, but at night she sheds her skin and takes the form of a fireball. In this form the soucouyant can enter any home through the smallest opening. Soucouyants suck the blood from sleeping victims, leaving telltale blue-black marks. Besides these marks, their victims become pale, weak, and tired. If she drinks too much blood from a person, they will either become a soucouyant themselves, or will simply die, allowing the creature to move into their skin. Soucouyants also practice black magic, exchanging blood for demonic powers. Evil monster or enterprising #girlboss? You decide. To temporarily stop a soucouyant, pile rice or salt in the house or at a crossroads– she will be forced to stop and count every grain. To kill a soucouyant, her skin must be destroyed with coarse salt (although some claim the rising sun will destroy her skinless body).
Thanks to Bram Stoker, our modern ideas about vampires stem in large part from the Romanian strigoi, or restless spirits that rise from the grave at night to drink fresh blood. Strigoi can also be living witches or sorcerers, but with the same thirst for blood (especially infants’ blood). Far from being mere folklore, actual people have been accused of being strigoi, starting with the first known case: Jure Grando, a 17th century villager from what is now Croatia. Locals, including his widow, claimed Grando terrorized his village for 16 years after his death. When his coffin was finally opened, revealing his perfectly preserved body (apparently with a smile on his face), he was exorcised and decapitated. When Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed in 1989, he wasn’t given a proper burial, putting him at risk of becoming a strigoi, so his apartment was carpeted with braids of garlic. In the early 2000s, Romania banned the practice of digging up suspected vampires, so some areas started preemptively staking the dead before burial. There are a few things that can lead to someone becoming a strigoi after death, including living a life of sin, never getting married, or dying by suicide or execution. To prevent a strigoi from rising, nail their coffin securely shut; stake the dead through the chest or belly; or behead the dead and put the head in the coffin facing down. To get rid of a strigoi on the loose, exhume their body and destroy their heart before placing them face-down in the coffin. Staking or burning the body also works. If all else fails, place thorns across the threshold, fill the room with garlic, leave the lights on, and pray.
Those of you with a bird phobia might want to skip reading about the impundulu, also known as the lightning bird, a vampiric bird from southern Africa. Taking the form of a human-sized black and white (or possibly iridescent) bird, the impundulu is usually a witch’s familiar that can summon thunder and lightning to attack the witch’s enemies. It also has an insatiable thirst for blood. Sometimes it takes the form of a beautiful man so that it can seduce and feed on women. Like most vampires, the impundulu is immortal, being passed down from witch to witch, serving each in turn. Impundulu without a witch to serve are known as Ishologu, monsters that spread chaos and destruction without anyone to control them. When in human form, the impundulu will feed on human blood, but when in bird form, it feeds on animals. Although it rarely kills its victims, it harms them in other ways, notably by infecting them with tuberculosis, or leaving them infertile (victims that do die must be buried a special way; otherwise, a drought will follow). The only way to destroy it is with fire.
Gallu is a type of demon originating in Mesopotamia, closely associated with Lilith and the Lilitu. They never stop drinking blood, although unlike most vampires, they also eat human flesh (fun fact: their name is where we get the word “ghoul”). In Ancient Greece they were known as gello (later pluralized to gelloudes) and were exclusively female and preyed on children. By the 11th century CE they were described as sucking the blood and vital fluids of infants. Over time they were also blamed for the deaths of pregnant women and fetuses. Early methods of repelling gallu/gello involved amulets and charms, such as red coral or a head of garlic. As the belief in gallu/gello persisted over the centuries, new methods of protecting against them developed, including baptizing infants and placing religious symbols in their cribs. Since they are demons, gallu/gello can also be exorcised (or invoked!)
Like so many creatures in Greek mythology (including Gello, above), Empusa (also spelled Empousa) started out as an individual woman (or in this case, the daughter of the Goddess Hekate, known for biting children, or possibly even the Goddess Herself in disguise), but ended up morphing into an entire group of beings over time. Empusa (plural: empusae) take the form of beautiful women to seduce and feed on men. It’s also claimed that they wait by roads to harass and attack passing men. In her true form, Empusa has a single leg: either a brass, bronze, or copper prosthetic leg, or a donkey leg (some sources say one of each); and flaming hair (which, let’s be honest, should have been the form she kept because– awesome!) Empusa targets sleeping men, enticing them before drinking their blood and devouring their flesh. The only references I could find to repelling empusae involve insulting them. According to one relatively recent source, Zeus killed an (or The) Empusa when she attacked Him while He was disguised as a traveller. The only advice for protecting oneself from empusae is to resist their advances, no matter how tempting.
Have you heard of these vampires? Which do you think is scariest? Tell me in the comments…
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Aspasía S. Bissas