​A Creature of the World

If you ever find yourself vacationing on the majestic Islands of the Cyclades archipelago, perhaps overlooking the beautiful beaches of Santorini, or maybe on the ancient cobblestone steps of Mykonos and you hear an unexpected knock at your door after dark, it might be wise, as the locals would tell you, to wait for a second knock, least you become a victim of the isles ancient and most wicked inhabitant, the vrykolakas. Seeming to be the most impatient of monsters, if the first call is not answered, it will move on to your neighbors. If it happens that you do answer its beckoning cry, you will find the doorway devoid of any presence. You have however, opened the door to your own doom, and will suffer some strange fate not long after. Such is the curse of the Greek Vampire.
It might be hard to imagine that among the white washed plaster walls and blue domes rising above sun drenched nude beaches of these beautiful vacation islands where residences of the world relax their uncaring minds to sweet sound of soft waves, the vampire once stretched its thin arm out to plague the islands inhabitants. Indeed, Mykonos and Santorini used to be known in the old world as places where Vampires were slain and Nymphs could still be sighted. Yet now, if you visit Saint Georges side of Mykonos you would hardly know that at one time in that scenic view, a terrible ritual was held, and atop a great pyre, a corpse was burned to ash.
               One of the oldest traditions of the Vampire was born among the Greek city states. Voltaire, in his desire to ridicule all things religious, was quick to blame the coming of Christianity for the superstition of the Greeks. He happened to be ignorant of the ancient roots the undead had delved in those crystal-clear waters where western philosophy and culture was born. A fact reinforced when one of the oldest graves found in Greece had a massive millstone wrapped around its neck. The grave was over six thousand years old.  
               The monster that comes in the night to drain the vitality of living creatures is a Universal trop that has existed in all known cultures in all times-often as a personification of the unknown. What terrified our ancestors most about the vampire was not their strangeness, but their familiarity, their perversion of the person they once knew. To the ancient Greeks who viewed the body as a prison of the soul, it was an unparalleled punishment that their body should remain incorrupt and intact, to roam the earth terrorizing the living, it was usually a direct reflection of their life, in old times their swearing to a false oath, in more recent, it was a result of their excommunication from the church. These oath breakers are viewed among folklorist, if not as a vampire themselves than as a precursor to the Vampire.
               Although Greece holds prominence as a hotbed for Vampires, it is by its very nature, a creature of the world. In Poland a vampire of particular lethalness reigned in the form of a Zmory, a living person whose spirit would issue forth while they slept to drink the blood and drain the vitality of those around them. As brilliantly portrayed in Val Lewton’s spellbinding film “Isle of the Dead” the visitors to a small island find themselves trapped due to a plague epidemic, is the beautiful Thea a victim of local superstition? Or is she in fact a horrible malevolent force, obscured in human guise draining the life of her mistress without even knowing it? Lewton wisely leaves it up to his audience to decide.
               The Talumd of the Jews speak of Lilith, a creature of the night, who was Adams first wife. After refusing to submit herself to her husband Lilith turned to the demonic for her lustful satisfaction and in so doing became the Queen of Darkness. She swore eternal hatred for the offspring of Adam and to this day is often blamed for the unexplained death of infants at night, and the seduction of young men, who waste away after her nightly visits.
               In Brazil, much like the Polish Zmory, The Azeman walks among us during the day as a normal person, but issues forth by night to pray upon unsuspecting villagers. Or the Jararaca, who drinks the milk and blood of sleeping women. Both creatures are said to be able to shapeshift into different animals to hide their hideous nature.
The Chinese have their own horror to worry about. The Jiangshi is a monstrous, ridged, corpse known by its ability to hop around. It feasts of the qi, or life force of other living creatures during the night while taking rest in a dark place such as a cave or coffin during the day.
The Yara-ma-yah-who is a frog like creature of the Australian Aborigines who wait in trees for unsuspecting travelers to rest, before dropping down and gorging itself on its victim’s blood. The creature sometimes eats its victim and then regurgitates them, creating yet another Yara-ma-yah-who to haunt the outback.
               I could go on, but the point is clear, through separated by vast amounts of time and space, the Vampire and his kin have always reigned as the supreme nightmare of mankind and haunted the dark places of the world between the known and the unknown, the living and the dead. Something both, but neither. The monster embodies the rupture of the natural order of things. A perverse and deliberate flouting of divine law, or a ritual done incorrectly which opened a door into realms unknown. And in every culture, a creature emerged from that door to seek vengeance and wrath upon that community that would so violate nature and its God.  
               Of course, we could be as Raymont and ask incredulous “Can such things be?” Before we begin to sweep the vampire under the rug like so many fairy-tales, we should take a look at one last case and remember the Highgate Vampire panic, the one that happened in 1970’s England. Highgate Cemetery in London was, in the late 1960’s dilapidated and constantly vandalized. A resurgent interest in the Occult among the youth of the time lead to many roaming the graves after dark in search of the unknown. It was around this time that one of the youths, David Farrant, claimed to have spotted a gray hooded figure that he felt was supernatural. The story was picked up by a local newspaper and soon after, the legend of the Highgate Vampire was born.
               The odd and enigmatic Sean Manchester soon joined the hunt for the things that stalked the cemetery and a rivalry was formed between the two men. Manchester was noted as saying “there was a King Vampire of the Undead” stalking Highgate, his noble corpse being transported to England from Wallachia. Though Manchester later claimed this was fake news, he reinforced his belief that a Vampire did stalk England in the twentieth century, and that Vampire took his rest in Highgate. Strange things began to happen around the Cemetery like the dead bodies of foxes found drained of blood. Manchester mounted a Vampire hunting expedition shortly after, on Friday march 13th, much to consternation of the authorities. Hundreds of people climbed the walls after dark in the hopes of slaying a vampire, film crews from London’s ITV looked on as police efforts to stop the trespassers went largely unnoticed. Manchester claimed that a sleepwalking psychic girl led him to a catacomb, after finding the door held fast he and his companions climbed in through a hole in the roof of the structure and dropped in via a rope. The Vampire he was after though, was not home, the coffin was empty. Despite this setback he sprinkled the crypt with holy water and placed garlic inside the coffin to prevent its return.
In 1970 a charred and headless corpse was found not far from a catacomb, and police openly speculated that black magic was being performed in the graveyard for some unknown purpose. Farrant was found in the cemetery by police while in possession of a crucifix and a wooden stake, although authorities tried to detain him, all charges were shortly dropped and he was let free.
               Not long after, Manchester claim’s to have again visited the Catacomb yet again and was able to force the door open, and this time, found inside a corpse inhabiting the coffin. With his hand raised to strike the monster with his stake, Manchesters friends convinced him to back down at the last minute, and he contented himself instead to sprinkle it with holy water and burn incense. He left the Crypt no doubt thinking, that his job was not yet done.

               It is often hard to believe tales like that of the Highgate Vampire, even sites like Wikipedia seem to be incredulous at its own reporting of the event. Later folklorists consider Sean Manchester and those that heeded his call to slay the Vampire- as Legend tripping, imitating a well-known tale, like that of role-playing. However you might view the strange events of London in those days, one thing the hysteria makes clear is how engrained the legend of the Vampire is in our own culture. Though we attempt in vain to try to explain him away, phenomena that has always been associated with the creature still lurk in medical journals today under just as exotic labels as SIDS, the unknown and unexplained death of babies- just as mysterious now as in the days when Lilith roamed the night hunting Adams children. Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome haunts Asian cultures, and to this day remains largely unexplained. Whatever form the Vampire takes, from Hollywood to the Cemeteries of Europe and beyond, from fiction to folklore, he still holds us in his pernicious gaze.

Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead by Daniel J Wood


The Highgate Vampire: The Infernal World of the Undead Unearthed at London's Highgate Cemetery and Environs by Sean Manchester