Vampires, Eh? What’s That All Aboot?
TODAY’S BREW: haz-el-nut! haz-el-nut!
As an ode to the great land of the north, and its many wonderful people that bother to read our blog constantly, I wanted to explore Canadian vampire mythology. While writing Running Away, I am doing a boatload of research into vampire myths from different countries, and because Canada has been so supportive of our blog, I am actually going to have a Canadian vampire in the sequel to Running Home!
The majority of mythology surrounding vampires in Canada stems from the oldest Polish settlement in the country…the Kaszubian settlement in Wilno, in the heart of Ottawa Valley. It is an area rich in heritage, pride, and old world charm, and as it turns out, scary stories.
In the 1969, writer Jan Perkowski was employed by the Canadian Centre for Folklore Studies to research Kaszubian legends. A few years later, he published an 85 page report, “Vampires, Dwarves, and Witches Among the Ontario Kashubs,” which received a lot of attention. The sensationalism of his findings was very distressing to the Polish community, and was actually denounced on the floor of the House of Commons.
Some of the more disturbing highlights of the report, at least for this old-fashioned village, included a photo of a grave surrounded by a picket fence. It was captioned that “if a vampire is not destroyed before he is buried, he rises again and carries off his relatives.” He goes on to say that this occurred in Wilno. “They had to dig it up and cut off the head while he sat in the coffin.” Tactful.
Folklore also tells of vampires called vjeszczi or wupji. Destiny decides who these vampires are at birth. Infants born with two teeth are said to be destined to become wupji. More alarming, babies born with the common condition of “cradle cap” are said to be fated to become vjeszczi. Becoming one of these vampires can be averted by drying the cradle cap (yuck), grinding into dust and feeding it to the child at age 7(double yuck). In Perkowski’s study, he interviewed residents of the Kaszubian settlement, one of which stated that “Mother said that I had a cap on the head and that it was burned. Such a person is supposed to be lucky, but I don’t know.” I would say, yes, you are lucky, friend, that this other option was chosen for disposal of the cradle cap, and you did not get it for dinner.
If we miss the seventh birthday party somehow, the vampire can still be prevented from rising by using one of these methods: 1. Forming the sign of the cross over the body’s mouth. 2. Placing a crucifix or a coin in the mouth. 3. Putting a block under the chin of the body so that it cannot reach its body to eat it. (More on that in a moment.) 4. Placing poppy seeds or sand in and around the coffin, as it is said that the vampire must count every grain before rising. There were also trails of seeds from the grave to the homes of the family members. 5. Put a net in the coffin, as the vampire must untie all the knots before it may rise.
Even with these methods of prevention, still vampires were said to rise and prey upon the village. If this occurs, the tomb should be opened and a nail driven through the forehead. The preferred method, however, is decapitation to free the soul, and then place the severed head between the feet of the body in its coffin. When this was done, blood from the wound would be given to those who had suffered from the vampire’s attack and was believed to help recovery. This, of course, also ties to the modern folklore that vampire blood has healing powers for humans and that vampires heal rapidly, themselves.
The vampires are believed to awaken at midnight, when they then eat their own clothes and flesh. They then visited relatives and sucked their blood. (I love this part.) The vampire would then go to the local church and ring the churchbell. Those who heard it were destined to be the next victim. (Side note: I think this is so eerie and oddly romantic. I know, I’m a creep. I do have to mention that before I knew this, I formed my own vampire mythology in Running Home; where fate decides who becomes vampires, and who becomes victims. I wish I had known about this amazing churchbell story then!)
I also found a legend of an undead spirit in Canada named Mara. She was an unbaptized girl who “visited” people at night, oppressing and crushing them. She is also known in Slavic and German legend, supporting the idea that she is a world-traveling immortal. One of the stories about Mara is that she once drank the blood of a man, and fell in love with him. She returned night after night, plaguing and draining him while he slept, until he eventually died. Other tales tell of her drinking the blood of babies, solely.
I was so pleased to find these fascinating legends in Canadian history, and hope to find more. And once again, thank you, our Canadian friends, for your support.
Hungry for more Vampire history? Check out Bonjour! French Mythology and Sightings.