The undead dead have always been an interesting aspect of global folklore. Many cultures seem to have at least a few folkloric creatures or mythic beings that are near to a Vampire. However, each culture seems to have its own “twist” on the common creature. One of my favorites is the Greek Vrykolakas - whose journey from human to vampire, and their life afterwards, is totally unique.
One doesn’t become a Vrykolakas by being bitten, in fact one can become a Vrykolakas fairly simply. It is said that if you live a sacrilegious life, were excommunicated, or were buried in unconsecrated ground that you run the risk of joining the undead. Of course, there is one more strange way to become a Vrykolakas...by eating mutton that was previously eaten by a werewolf.
The word “Vrykolakas” isn’t strictly vampiric in and of itself, and is actually linked to wolves! It is Slavic in origin and comes from the root words meaning “wolf.” According to ByLightUnseen.net, “he etymological leap from werewolf to vampire is obscure.” The earliest uses of the word seem to be around the mid-1600s. In 1645, Leo Allatius. According to Allatius, “The vrykolakas is an evil and wicked person who may have been excommunicated by a bishop. Its body swells up so that all its limbs are distended, it is hard, and when tapped it thrums like a drum.” It has also been reported, along with the rise of the Greek Orthodox Church, that the Vrykolakas had to do with evil (or the devil) inhabiting a body of the already-dead, causing it to move.
As I mentioned previously, the Vrykolakas does not turn those with a bite. Instead, it would spread death through disease. If you saw a Vrykolakas walking around town, you would immediately know your town was in mortal peril. In order to draw people out, it would knock on doors. Once a person opened the door, they would soon die. To this day in Greece, it is common in some places to not open the door until the second knock. However, it also seems that not all Vrykolakas wanted to kill everyone they came into contact with. Sometimes, Vrykolakas were people who had died unfortunate or violent deaths and had to attend to some unfinished business.
You can get rid of a Vrykolakas much the same way you’d get rid of an Eastern European vampire - a stake through the heart, some kind of impaling, cremating the corpse, etc. However, there Vrykolakas also has some times to poltergeist-like activity and the devil, so an exorcism is also said to work.
One infamous Vrykolakas was called Patino. Patino, before his turning, was a merchant from Patmos, who died while on a trip to Natolia. While being shipped home for proper burial, he was revived. Although his wife buried him with a funeral, he soon began appearing around town assaulting people, damaging property, and generally creating mayhem. In an effort to stop him, an exorcism was attempted and prayer was increases...unfortunately, this had no effect on Patino. Eventually, not sure what to do next, the village had his body exhumed and sent back to Natolia. During his travel back in the coffin, he terrified sailors and they decided to burn his corpse which finally ended the phenomena.
Another story is told by Phlegon, who lived during Emperor Hardrian’s rule. Demostratus and Chrito’s daughter, Philinnon, died very young. About six months after her death, a strange woman was seen entering the living quarters of Machates, a young guest. Charito, confused, questioned Machates about his visitor. Machates, unaware of his hosts’ recent loss, said the girl’s name was Philinnon. He then went to his room to show the couple the things she had left behind, her breast band and her ring. To their horror, Philinnon’s parents recognized these belongings as their dead daughter’s. The next night, she returned to his room. Desperate to see their daughter, the couple rushed in only for her to regard them coldly and tell them that she had been given three days reprieve of death to visit with him but, because they had interrupted, she had to die again. In front of their eyes, their daughter’s body returned to its corpse-form. Despite trying to keep her return quiet, it was soon discovered and her burial vault was investigated. Philinnon’s grave held several favors from Machates, but no body.
The above image is unrelated to the story. It is by Henry Hemming, entitled Tomb and was taken at the Kensal Green Cemetery in northwest London. It is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)