Romanian Vampires


I borrowed this picture from Transylvania Tours. If you visit their website, I’m sure they’ll fix you up with a trip to Romania to find out for yourself if vampires are real. 

Dracula came from Romania, Transylvania in fact, though in the times when Stoker was writing Transylvania was part of Hungary and the area has been claimed by the Hungarians, Romanians and Ukrainians at different times.

Romanian is a language descended from Latin, while Hungarian descends from the language of the Huns who invaded this area towards the end of the Roman Empire.

In Romanian there are legends of the Moroi and Strigoi .  Moroi is either from the Latin root mort – death, dead, which is still mort in Romanian or from a Slavic root with the sense of nightmare.  The Strigoi  (probably from the same root as the Latin stryx  “he who screeches” = an owl,  or in mythology bloodsucking birds with golden beaks) are not quite our modern idea of vampires. They are sometimes dead and sometimes alive. They are sometimes witches and sometimes monsters.  We should be clear that monsters in folklore can change their qualities from time to time and place to place, or even be confused in the minds of those who believe in them. In my home area, the word boggle (related to goblin, boggart, and even hobbit via Tolkein – also the the Slavonic word Bog “God” and the word bug.) has the general idea of a spirit, usually malevolent, that haunts certain places.  Boggles can be columns of sparks, amorphous black shapes, monstrous pigs, huge black hens, or pretty much anything you like that’s scary.  In the same way, I wouldn’t try to pin down Romanian moroi and strigoi  as precisely this or that kind of monster.

Shapeshifting Demons

Patrick Harpur wrote a fantastic book called Daimonic Reality where he talks about how these things are really manifestations of the Collective Unconscious and because the unconscious is ever shifting (As a test of this, close your eyes, wait for an image to swim into your mind and try to hold it without it transforming into something else).  You remember Tam Lin?  He was a Knight from Carter Bar on the Scottish Border with England:

But tonight is Hallowe’en and the faery folk ride
Those that would their true love win at Miles Cross they must buy

So first let past the horses black and then let past the brown
Quickly run to the white steed and pull the rider down

For I’ll ride on the white steed, the nearest to the town
For I was an earthly knight, they give me that renown

Oh, they will turn me in your arms to a newt or a snake
But hold me tight and fear not, I am your baby’s father

And they will turn me in your arms into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear not and you will love your child

And they will turn me in your arms into a naked knight
But cloak me in your mantle and keep me out of sight”

 It is the nature of denizens of the Otherworld to shift their shape when you are trying to fix them.  As Harpur points out – it’s true for quantum particles who are never exactly anywhere and sub-atomic particles who are so obliging that as soon as physicists imagine a new one, up it pops!   Harpur thinks these are the new faery folk.

Strigoi and Stuff

But I digressed from Romanian vampires. I’m allowed to do this, and in fact can’t stop. But back: –  Strigoi could send out their souls and consume the blood of livestock or their neighbours.  Again, local to where I live in Bowness on Solway, just over a hundred years ago, farmers would keep elfshot – prehistoric arrows, which they believed the elves used to shoot their cattle with and make them sicken.

If you were a strigoi when you died, you would rise as an undead one after you passed away. There were also a myriad other ways of becoming one of the strigoi while you were alive, such as not eating salt or being crossed by a black cat.  Remember the devil doesn’t like salt, and vampires don’t like garlic – both preservatives against food rotting.  Romanian vampires would bite their victims over their heart or between their eyes.

The female Strigoacia is simply a witch. The Strigoi Viu is a living sorcerer, but the Strigoi Mort is an undead demon who rises from his grave and visits his family until they die.

The Roma people are found in Romania and across Europe are not Romanian, but descend from wandering folk who left Pakistan centuries ago. The name “Gypsy” comes from the mistaken idea they originated in Egypt. The Roma had ideas about mullo people who returned from the dead to drink blood.  Very interestingly dogs and cats and even agricultural tools! could become vampires.  The Roma believed that vampires could be invisible and they would only be spotted by twins.  I have twins…

Among the Slavs, there was an idea that someone could have two souls and while he was sleeping, the evil soul would wander abroad and drink blood.

Modern Vampires

And the idea of the vampire is not dead in Romania.  In 2011, Mark Dorr wrote an article about his time in Romania after the fall of the Communist regime there. He was there for several years and he comments on the natural beauty of Transylvania (which I would second). He does note he saw the hugest bat he’d ever seen emerge from an old castle. He also says that intelligent locals would take the ideas of vampires very seriously. Sadly, he only briefly notes the two types:

One is like a vampire that comes out at night and drinks blood (a bit like the Slavic idea of the two souls, discussed above.  The second is a psychic vampire that can be around in daylight and saps your energy. Importantly Mark notes that the vampire has to avoid the mid-day sun because it is then when the sun is closest to the earth. If we have said that vampires are creatures of the subconscious, of night and nightmare, then the sun represents the full flowering of the conscious mind that scrutinises things and sends them scurrying away – at least as long as it’s light.

Elsewhere, I have discussed the modern Romanian vampire of Petre Toma, who died at the end of 2003. In February 2004, his niece revealed he had been visiting her.  I am reminded here of the Polish woman from Highgate who was visited by the Highgate vampire in 1969-70 as documented in Sean Manchester ’s book.

In any case, the family dug up Petre Toma’s coffin, cut out his heart, burned it, and all together the vampire hunters drank the nasty tea.  The Romanian government didn’t like this kind of press and they imprisoned the vampire hunters for six months for “disturbing the dead.”  The family might argue that they wouldn’t have disturbed the dead, if the dead hadn’t disturbed them first.



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