Joined: 23 Jan 2006
Location: Los Angeles
|Posted: Thu May 25, 2006 3:58 am Post subject: An interesting story
|Death of a Strigoi
by Massimo Polidoro
Having ascertained that the real figure of Vlad Tepes was only a loose inspiration for Stoker's fiction, we wondered if local folklore provided the inspiration for his haunting descriptions of vampiric rituals.
Stories of vampires are, in fact, very old in Romania; however, they prefer to call these creatures strigoi. They are seen as ghosts, undead, immaterial things; they are usually a recently buried member of the family, who returns to haunt his relatives and drain their life forces, sometimes in dreams. In order to bring peace to the family and to the undead itself, some "rituals" need to be performed.
These are very secret practices that, I was surprised to learn, still continue today. In January 2004, one such episode became public and created a scandal.
After Petre Toma of the village of Marotinu de Sus died in a field accident in December 2003, his relatives complained that a child's illness was to blame on Toma, since some neighbors claimed they had seen him posthumously walking in his yard. Something had to be done.
Six local men then volunteered to enact the ancient Romanian ritual for dealing with a strigoi. Just before midnight, they crept into the cemetery on the edge of the village and gathered around Toma's grave.
It seems that the destruction of a strigoi has some parallels with the methods used by Stoker's heroes to destroy Dracula. But rather than drive a stake through the creature's heart, the six men dug Toma up, split his ribcage with a pitchfork, removed his heart, put stakes through the rest of his body, and sprinkled it with garlic. Then they burned the heart, put the embers in water, and shared the grim cocktail with the sick child.
For a little while, it all seemed to have worked well. Eventually, the sick girl got better again, so the ritual must have worked, or so many in the village thought.
Local police appeared to be less understanding. After Toma's daughter complained, they arrested the men and charged them with illegally exhuming the corpse. They were sentenced to six months in jail, but did not serve the time.
What really surprised me, however, was why Toma's daughter was angry at her relatives. It was not because they had desecrated the body of a dead person that deserved more respect, but because she had not been invited to the ritual!
"These are very ancient practices indeed," anthropologist Fifor Mihai, who served as a consultant during the trial, told me. "And they are about communicating with the dead, laying the dead to rest. The media and newspapers have made much of the gory aspects, but these people have been doing this sort of thing for many, many centuries, and in the past, the authorities have turned a blind eye."
These beliefs are very different from those held by people who are Dracula fans; with them, it's all about image, the immortality, and sexiness of vampires. But for the people in Romania, these are deeply held views, as strongly held as religious faiths. Whether that means customs such as digging up a body and removing its heart should somehow be preserved, I'm not so sure.
In the end, our investigation found Romania to be a country of striking contrasts and rich traditions. We've examined the character of Vlad Dracula, but found the evidence that Bram Stoker based his fictional vampire on him wanting. Certainly, he used the name. There are also some uncanny similarities, such as the use of stakes, Vlad's bloodthirstiness, and his victories against the Turks, that suggest Stoker knew something about the real Dracula, but probably little more than what was given in the tour books of his day.
And today, so long as tourists want to go to Romania, and filmmakers want to make Dracula movies, that confusion between the real and fictional Draculas will continue, and for many Romanians, that's not a bad thing.
Massimo Polidoro is an investigator of the paranormal, author, lecturer, and cofounder and head of CICAP, the Italian skeptics group. His Web site is at www.massimopolidoro.com.This article appears courtesy of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.