For centuries, people have been fascinated by everything that is strange, dangerous and inhuman: that is why all the stories about vampires enjoy such great popularity. The elders still remember the classic Nosferatu or Dracula, drinking blood of innocent virgins, while younger people are convinced that vampires have souls, they can love, and they do not burn in the sun, they would rather… shine.
Although we are not sure how they really looked like, where they lived and if they had some of the human feelings, we know that they appeared in the literature or in the mythology in almost every known culture. Therefore, today I will introduce the Polish demonology to you.
According to the old Slavic beliefs, a vampire is a half mortal being in the human form, which can be created from unburned corpses. Paradoxically, the belief in vampires increased significantly after the Slavs adopted Christianity, because the cremation rite was no longer allowed. Nonetheless, the monster could be created in many other ways.
Vampires could be those who committed suicide, the people whose corpses were profaned, or even those over whose bodies an animal had jumped. The Slavs were also afraid of ginger, left-handed, and hunched people with one eyebrow or an additional set of teeth. Any anatomical anomaly could indicate that even a person walking in the full sun could be a vampire.
It is interesting that a prototype of the Slavic vampire does not have fangs but a “sting” under the tongue. They did not just drink blood, but they were also tempting and seducing women. They could even take a revenge on their former relatives. The belief in the existence of vampires was so strong that the Slaves used so-called anti-vampire burial. Most of those rituals recommended that the dead body should be bonded, beheaded and the heart should be stabbed with a poplar dowel. The following items were often placed in the coffins: bricks, iron, silver, various herbs, as well as garlic and onions.
“There are people, who have two spirits: good and evil. […] After the death, a man with two ghosts inside rises from the grave to haunt, frighten and harass. The most effective remedy against him – dig up a dead man, with the coffin turn him “upside down”, so that he “comes into the earth,” and not go on it. Sometimes they also behead him, but then he could – though I don’t know this with certainty – become a vampire.” (anonymous)
An interesting fact about Polish demonology is that the noun for “vampire” is usually masculine: martwiec, wąpierz, wypiór, wiesczy, wupi, wuki, upiór, upir, upirz, strzyg, strzyżeń or strzygoń, while there are only two expressions for women vampires: strzyga and striga, though some resources claim that it is a completely different creature.
The etymology of the mentioned expressions begins with the old Slavic word *ą-pěr-ь, which was transformed into an old Polish *(v)ą-pěr-ь. That is how the word wąpierz was created. The word vampir was established under the influence of western languages (German), and the word u-pir-ь came under the influence of eastern languages (Russian, Ukrainian). This word was the beginning of such words as: upiór, upir and upirz. The vampire names: strzyga, strzyg and strzygoń were directly borrowed from the Roman strix (plural strigos), which means an owl.
Unfortunately, the etymology of “vampire” is disappointing since the particle pěr-ь (-perz) has nothing to do with the same one in nietoperz (bat) and in the Polish village called Wąpiersk do not live vampires. However, this issue is very interesting, so in the second part of the article I will talk about vampires from other parts of the world.