Monster Monday: Vrykolakas

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Vrykolakas.

Scene from the vampire novel Carmilla

Illustration by David Henry Friston for the vampire novel Carmilla

The vrykolakas is a monster from Greek folklore most commonly associated with a vampire. Like a vampire a vrykolakas is the animated corpse of a dead person that rises from its grave, though a vrykolakas rarely drinks the blood of its victims.  Sometimes, the vrykolakas rises from its grave and roams about the countryside or causes illness in a community. One legend says that a vrykolakas will knock on the door of a house and call out the names of those who live there. If no one answers, it will move on to the next house. If someone does, that person will soon die and become another vrykolakas. Still today in certain parts of Greece it is the custom not to answer the door until the second knock.

A person can become a vrykolakas by being a bad person in life, being a redhead, being excommunicated, or being buried on unconsecrated ground. A person could be prevented from coming back as a vrykolakas by beheading their corpse, burying them upside-down, or placing a scythe or sickle near the grave. The best way to defeat a vrykolakas is to dig up the body and destroy it. Some say this can only be done on a Saturday. Another way to stop a vrykolakas is to place poppy seeds, millet, or sand around the grave, as the vrykolakas would be compelled to count the individual grains.

The word vrykolakas comes from the Bulgarian word vărkolak, which originally described a monster more like a werewolf.

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