Cretan Vampires

I subjoin one of these stories in the very words in which it was communicated to me. The account is peculiarly worthy of credit, since I heard it in many places, and all the relations given to me agreed in every material point. The following is a translation, and, even without comparing it with the original, the reader will see, from its very style, that it is a close, though somewhat condensed, version of the words of the Sfakian peasants.

“Once on a time the village of Kalikráti, in the district of Sfakia, was haunted by a Katakhanás, and people did not know what man he was or from what part. This Katakhanás destroyed both children and many full-grown men; and desolated both that village and many others. They had buried him at the church of Saint George at Kalikráti, and in those times he was a man of note, and they had built an arch over his grave. Now a certain shepherd, his mutual Synteknos was tending his sheep and goats near the church, and, on being caught by a shower, he went to the sepulchre, that he might be shaded from the rain. Afterwards he determined to sleep, and to pass the night there, and, after taking off his arms, he placed them by the stone which served him as his pillow, crosswise. And people might say, that it is on this account that the Katakhanás was not permitted to leave his tomb. During the night, then, as he wished to go out again, that he might destroy men, he said to the shepherd: ‘Gossip, get up hence, for I have some business that requires me to come out.’ The shepherd answered him not, either the first time, or the second, or the third; for thus he knew that the man had become a Katakhanás, and that it was he who had done all those evil deeds. On this account he said to him, on the fourth time of his speaking, ‘I shall not get up hence, gossip, for I fear that you are no better than you should be, and may do me some mischief: but, if I must get up, swear to me by your winding-sheet, that you will not hurt me, and on this I will get up.’ And he did not pronounce the proposed words, but said other things: nevertheless, when the shepherd did not suffer him to get up, he swore to him as he wished. On this he got up, and, taking his arms, removed them away from the monument, and the Katakhanás came forth, and, after greeting the shepherd, said to him, ‘Gossip, you must not go away, but sit down here; for I have some business which I must go after; but I shall return within the hour, for I have something to say to you.’ So the shepherd waited for him.

And the Katakhanás went a distance of about ten miles, where there was a couple recently married, and he destroyed them. On his return, his gossip saw that he was carrying some liver, his hands being moistened with blood: and, as he carried it, he blew into it, just as the butcher does, to increase the size of the liver. And he shewed his gossip that it was cooked, as if it had been done on the fire. After this he said, ‘Let us sit down, gossip, that we may eat,’ And the shep-herd pretended to eat it, but only swallowed dry bread, and kept dropping the liver into bis bosom. Therefore, when the hour for their separation arrived, the Katakhanás said to the shepherd, ‘Gossip, this which you have seen, you must not mention, for, if you do, my twenty nails will be fixed in your children and yourself.’ Yet the shepherd lost no time, but gave information to priests, and others, and they went to the tomb, and there they found the Katakhanás, just as he had been buried. And all people became satisfied that it was he who had done all the evil deeds. On this account they collected a great deal of wood, and they cast him on it, and burnt him. His gossip was not present, but, when the Katakhanás was already half consumed, he too came forward in order that he might enjoy the ceremony. And the Katakhanás cast, as it were, a single spet of blood, and it fell on his foot, which wasted away, as if it had been roasted on a fire. On this account they sifted even the ashes, and found the little finger-nail of the Katakhanás unburnt, and burnt it too.”

This supposed Vampire’s habit of feeding on the human liver, may perhaps account for an exclamation of a Cretan mother, recorded in the travels of Tavernier: “I will sooner eat the liver of my child.”

The Vampire, or Katakhanás, as he is called in Crete, is denominated Vurvúlakas, or Vrukólakas, in the islands of the Archipelago, where the belief is generally prevalent, that if a man has committed a great crime, or dies excommunicated by a priest or bishop, the earth will not receive him when he dies, and he therefore rambles about all night, spending only the day lime in his tomb. Many believe that, even in the day time, it is only once a week, on the Saturday, that he is allowed to occupy his burial-place. When it is discovered that such a Vurvúlakas is about, the people go, on a Saturday, and open his tomb, where they always find his body just as it was buried, and entirely undecomposed. The priest by whom they are accompanied reads certain parts of the ritual, supposed to be of peculiar efficacy for putting a stop to every restless Vampire’s wanderings, and sometimes this course suffices to restore the neighbourhood to peace and quiet. But cases happen in which the priest is not a sufficiently powerful exorcist, thus easily to atop the nocturnal rambles and misdeeds of the undying one, who, like Shakespeare’s ghost, is doomed to walk the night, as a punishment for the foul crimes done in his days of nature. Whenever, then, this ordinary religious ceremony, to which recourse is first had, is found inefficacious, the people of the neighbourhood go to the tomb on a Saturday, take out the body, and consume it with fire; an operation which nothing but extreme necessity would ever make Greeks consent to perform, on account of their religious horror of burning a body on which the holy oil has been poured by the priest when performing the last rite of his religion over the dying man.

—Robert Pashley, Travels in Crete (1837), vol. 2, pp. 197–201

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