burial customs Numerous customs exist for the treatment, handling, and burial of CORPSES to prevent them from becoming Vampires or REVENANTS. An unburied corpse or an improperly buried corpse is at risk.
Among the most common practices are :
Ritual cleansing of the body and household.
Washing the corpse with soap, WATER, and sometimes wine puriﬁes it to protect it against takeover by a Demon. In parts of Greece, folklore holds, that at the moment of death, Charos, the angel of death, slashes the throat of the person, releasing the soul out through the mouth, an act that symbolically bathes the corpse and the entire household in Blood. The dead person’s clothes must be changed and taken out of the house, and all members of the household must change their clothes as well. An older custom calls for washing down the room in which the death occurred, and then whitewashing it later. Weighing down the corpse’s eyelids with coins. The money serves as payment for the transport of the soul to the afterworld. Once there, the soul can not return to the world of the living.
Tying the mouth closed.
According to lore, the soul escapes from the mouth at death. A lingering soul might return to the body to subsist as a vampire. Tying the mouth will prevent it from leaving the grave. Stufﬁng the mouth with GARLIC, GOLD coins, CROSSES, or dirt. Garlic wards off vampires. Stufﬁng the mouth thus prevents vampirism as well as stops any vampire soul from leaving the corpse. It also prevents the corpse from chewing on itself, a sure sign of vampirism. In China, jade is used to fill a corpse’s mouth to keep the soul from becoming restless, while elsewhere in the world plant ﬁbers and wool are used.
Covering the Mirrors in the house upon death.
According to widespread lore, mirrors are soul-stealers. If a corpse is seen in a mirror, then the soul will have no rest, and thus is at risk to return as a vampire. Stopping the clocks in the dead person’s house upon death. This puts the corpse into a suspended, protected state until its safety is attained by burial. The corpse has some measure of protection from invasion by Demonic forces.
Putting a lighted candle near or on the corpse or in its hands.
Souls get lost in the dark, so a lighted candle will prevent the soul from wandering away and becoming a vampire. Instead, the light will help the soul get to heaven. In Greek lore, the most important candle is the isou (“equal”), made soon after death and placed in the corpse’s navel. The isou provides light to the soul for the 40 days that it remains connected to the earth.
Keeping a vigil over the corpse.
Watching a corpse until burial prevents such unlucky occurrences as animals stepping over it or under it, which doom the corpse to vampirism. In fact, nothing at all should pass over a corpse, and people must take care not to hand things to each other over the body when preparing it for burial. (See CATS.)
Painting a cross in tar on the door of the deceased’s house.
Tar remedies abound in magical lore for stopping all manner of evil entities from crossing a threshold. The time between death and burial is a dangerous one, when the corpse is vulnerable to contamination by evil. The cross shape reflects the influence of Christianity.
Removing the corpse from the house with great care.
A corpse should never be taken out through the front door, which enables the revenant to return to plague the living. The proper removal varies. In some cases, corpses are removed feet first, or through the back door, or out a window or a hole in a wall cut especially for the purpose; in other cases, they are taken out head ﬁrst. (See DOPPELSAUGER; NELAPSI.)
Traveling to the grave in a certain direction.
The cofﬁn should be taken “with the sun,” that is, in an eastto-west direction, to its grave. Otherwise both the dead and the living will be ill-omened.
Pinning the burial garments.
Shrouds and clothing should never touch the face of a corpse, lest the corpse eat them for sustenance and thus be able to leave the grave. Pinning the burial garments to the COFFIN will help to keep the corpse in its grave. According to a 19th-century case in Lower Sorbia (a region in Germany), two daughters in a family died. Someone remembered that the burial cloth that covered the face of the first daughter’s corpse was left in the cofﬁn by mistake. She was exhumed, and the cloth was removed so that no more relatives would die.
Burying the corpse facedown.
This will prevent the vampire from ﬁnding its way to the surface. It also protects the living who must bury the corpse, as well as those who have to dig it up later, if necessary. The gaze of a vampire is considered fatal (see ERETICA; EYE), so turning the corpse facedown prevents its baleful glance from falling upon the living.
Burying the corpse at a Crossroads, boundary, or remote location.
The vampire is trapped by the unhallowed ground of a crossroads and cannot wander among the living. Boundaries provide the least offensive neutral zone for unwanted corpses. The easiest prevention of vampirism is to bury the body as far away from the village as possible.
Staking or mutilating the corpse.
The physical vehicle of a vampire can be ruined by driving STAKES through the shoulders, back, heart, belly, or head; decapitating it; cutting out the heart; or cutting off the limbs. Other measures are slitting the soles of the feet, the tendons behind the knees, or the palms of the hands, or inserting nails into the feet.
Wrapping the corpse in a net.
Superstition holds that a vampire will be forced to untie all the KNOTS before being able to leave the grave. According to German lore, the vampire can untie the knots only at the rate of one per year.
Tying body parts together.
Binding the feet, knees, or hands together imprisons the vampire in the grave.
Weighing down the corpse, cofﬁn,or grave with stones.
Stones prevent the vampire from escaping the grave. The tombstone not only serves as a record of the dead, but also helps to hold the dead in their graves.
Filling the coffin with SAND or SEEDS.
The vampire will be forced to collect all the grains of sand or all the seeds—or eat all the seeds—one at a time and one per year before being able to leave the grave. Favored seeds are poppy (which has a narcotic effect and might be intended to put the corpse to sleep), mustard, linen, and carrot. Millet and oats also serve the same purpose.
Placing food in the cofﬁn.
A well-fed corpse will not feel the need to leave as a vampire and suck the blood of the living. This practice ties in with ancient and universal beliefs that the soul requires food, water, and money to make its journey to the next world.
Placing an object on the corpse, especially its midsection. Sharp objects such as needles, skewers, spikes, thorns, daggers, nails, and sickles, as well as tin plates and crucifixes buried with corpses will prevent vampirism. Metal objects may be heated ﬁrst. In Romanian lore, the sickle is placed around the neck, so that if the vampire tries to rise from the grave it will decapitate itself. Sickles also are imbedded in hearts, believed to be the seat of the soul.
Driving stakes into the grave.
In Romanian lore, three stakes driven into the grave of a suspected vampire will automatically impale and kill it if it tries to leave the grave.
BURNING the body and scattering the ASHES.
The most certain way to prevent vampirism is to annihilate the revenant’s physical vehicle altogether. Cremation, however, was not always easy in earlier times—corpses are difﬁcult to burn unless a ﬁre is exceptionally hot. A contradictory superstition holds that one should save the ashes of a cremated vampire, for they hold the power to cure terrible illness, and should be fed to the sick. (See BROWN, MERCY.)
Performing a supplemental burial.
A custom among some Serbs called for disinterring a corpse three years after death for a ritual cleansing of bones. Clean bones ensured that a soul will rest in peace and not attack the living. In Greece, the color of the bones is important: White indicates a soul at peace, but dark bones reveal the presence of sin, which requires intercessory prayers.
- Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.
- Dundes, Alan, ed. The Vampire: A Casebook. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
- Perkowski, Jan L. The Darkling: A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism. Columbus, Ohio: Slavica Publishers, 1989.
Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley -a leading expert on the paranormal -Copyright © 2005 by Visionary Living, Inc.