There are plenty of little facts about our World History that have now intergrated into pop culture in one form or another. Vampires are but one species of nightwalkers that we know all too well from TV, film and books. But how much do you really know about them?
Most people now see Vampires as nothing but fictional monsters, but in the 19th Century these beings were seen as a serious threat. In Slavic beliefs, causes of vampirism included being born with a caul (a membrane present on a child after birth), teeth, or tail, being conceived on certain days, suicide, drowning or violent deaths, excommunication, and improper burial rituals.
Preventive measures included placing a crucifix in the coffin, placing blocks under the chin to prevent the body from eating the shroud, nailing clothes to coffin walls for the same reason, putting sawdust in the coffin (vampire revives in the evening and counts sawdust until he dies again in the morning) or piercing the body with thorns or stakes. In the case of stakes, the general idea was to pierce through the vampire and into the ground below, pinning the body down. Certain people would bury those believed to be potential vampires with scythes above their necks, so the dead would decapitate themselves as they rose.
Some other European practices included placing a pillow with food, water, soap, mirror etc under the deceased head. Also, if a person got sick shortly after another died, the villagers would cut the dead person's heart out, burn it, mix it with water and have the ill person drink it.
If you were a fan of TV shows like Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer then you know that some common ways to kill a vampire is by stake, decapitation, holy water, and/or sunlight/burning. Did you know that exorcism and repeating the funeral service were also common methods?
When the coffin of an alleged vampire was opened, people sometimes found the cadaver in a state which they considered to be unnatural. Corpses decompose at different speeds depending on various factors, and some of the outer signs of decomposition are not popularly known. This led the vampire hunters to believe that the body wasn't decomposing at all, and, ironically, interpret what was actually the result of decomposition as signs of life and well-being. It should be noted that folkloric accounts almost universally represent the alleged vampire as having ruddy or dark skin, not the pale skin of vampires in literature and film. What we know today about how a body decomposes explains all the signs they used to identify a vampire: plump bodies, blood coming from nose and mouth, and groaning after being staked.
It's amazing how people used the supernatural as a way to explain natural anomalies.
Be sure and check out my renter of the week: The Paranormal Blog. Their post will be available tomorrow for your enjoyment.