In honour of the UK’s third most popular holiday, Hallowe’en this month in GOLDENROOM we explore the world wide belief in supernatural creatures that may lurk in the shadows. From the vampire diaspora to modern day vampire killings and including zombies and the jinn and bogeyman connection, these creatures are everywhere!
From Anne Rice’s ‘ Interview with a Vampire’ to the ‘Twilight’ series, the fascination with vampires in the world of film and literature has never waned. Less sexed-up in the twentieth century, but still captivating audiences are the equally undead zombies, such as in ‘Life After Beth’ and the supernaturally powerful beings that Hollywood calls Genies, which it popularised and tamed in films such as ‘Aladdin’.
The popular media may have seized upon the myths and legends of these creatures, for our entertainment, but the belief in vampires, zombies and jinn (Genies), is found in a wide range of cultures, sometimes with staggering similarities. Whilst the origins of these beliefs stem back several millennia, even more chilling is the prospect that vampires, zombies and jinn have not been relegated to the distant past, but are pervasively believed to exist here and today.
Romania has made a place for itself on the map of Europe because of its regions like Transylvania and Wallachia where the beliefs of hauntings by ancestral ghosts, evil spirits and vampires were and are widespread. In the folkloric traditions of Romanians, vampires are revenants- those who return from the dead- of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire itself. It was author, Bram Stoker who helped the beliefs of the residents of the Carpathian mountains come to the fore by drawing on the legacy of one bloodthirsty Romanian Count Vlad Tepes Dracula and merging this with folk tales for his iconic gothic vampire creation of, Dracula.
The entity we know today as the vampire is still undergoing transformation but whilst its origin can be traced to the eighteenth century, a number of much older cultures also fear the undead. The Mesopotamians, Hebrews and Ancient Greeks and Romans all had extensive mythologies that told of demonic, blood drinking supernatural entities, which can readily be identified as precursors to the vampires popularised today. Many of these myths merged almost seamlessly into Judaism, and a close inspection of its esoteric wing, Kabbalah, will turn up numerous references to revenants of all descriptions.
The belief in the return of the dead, as vampires or zombies was for several centuries widespread across Europe and the practice to prevent revenants is highly similar, despite the diversity of European cultures. Broadly, the practice of preventing the return of the dead, involves some ritual of burial. In Romania and Hungary for instance, binding the corpse in carpet or heavy cloth is thought to prevent the return of the dead. In Finland, a corpse’s knees might be tied together.
As the soul, in Medieval times was thought as the main portal for the soul to leave the body upon death this may explain a preponderance of archaeological finds across Europe, where corpses have been found with stones in their mouths.
More than 120 skeletons, dating between the 7th and 14th century have been found in a cemetery in Western Ireland. What all the ‘deviant burials’ had in common, was that they were found with large stones placed in their mouths. Researchers believe this indicates a widespread and longstanding fear of revenants, and the stones were a practice to prevent the dead from returning as zombies or vampires. As similar find of deviant burials in 2009, included the remains of a 60-year-old woman with a rock thrust in her from the 1500s on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo.
Today it is in the Carpathian mountains, the homeland of vampires, where we are most likely to find the fullest explanation for these vampire slaying rituals. In February 2004, Romanian readers were not surprised to learn that a family had taken steps to prevent their dead loved one from returning from the dead. What they were surprised is that ultimately six men were jailed for ripping out the heart of a corpse.
Gheorghe Marinescu and five of his relatives dug up the grave of Petre Toma. Toma, who he said had been a respected and well-liked teacher in the village for years, had been buried on Christmas Day in 2003. But soon afterwards he had begun to appear to members of Marinescu’s family in dreams as a vampire. Members of the family sickened and they soon recognised the tell-tale signs of a vampire at work.
At midnight they enacted the ritual passed down from generations; a pitchfork was driven through the corpse’s chest, which was opened, the heart taken out and then stakes put through the rest of his body. Garlic was sprinkled over the now mutilated corpse and it was reburied.
With the heart impaled on the end of the pitchfork, the family went to a crossroads where it was burnt, and the ashes dissolved. The family drank the solution. After his arrest, Marinescu said: “If we hadn’t done anything, my wife, my son and my daughter-in-law would have died. That is when I decided to `unbury’ him. I’ve seen these kinds of things before.” Marinescu claimed that people who had fallen sick, who then drank the solution, immediately became well. “We had no idea we were committing a crime. On the contrary, we believed that we were doing a good thing because the spirit of Petre was haunting us all and was very close to killing some of us. He came back from the dead and was after us.”
Mihai Fifor, an ethnologist at the Centre for Studies in Traditional Cultures and Societies in Craiova, explained, “This particular ritual is quite unique but there have been many cases of people claiming that they are being hunted by the dead and vampires. There are a number of other rituals that exist for this type of situation where people believe they need to kill vampires.”
The fear of revenants and rituals to prevent them remarkably made its way to North America. A synthesis of vampire beliefs and voodoo, led to widespread sightings of vampires throughout the Caribbean and America during the late 18th and 19th centuries. Particularly in parts of New England are many documented cases of families disinterring loved ones and removing their hearts in the belief that the deceased was a vampire who was responsible for sickness and death in the family. Nineteen-year-old Mercy Brown, for instance died in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1892. Assisted by the family physician, her family removed her corpse and her heart was cut out and burnt to ashes.
In large part due to Bram Stoker’s invention, Romanian vampire culture has eclipsed other indigenous vampire entities, such as the malign and succubus-like Baobhan sith from the Scottish Highlands and the Lhiannan Shee of the Isle of Man. Stoker’s native Ireland was also a rich source of vampire mythology, as the mass deviant graves indicate.
Further afield, Sanskrit folklore tells of ghoul like beings that inhabit corpses. Pishacha are the returned spirits of evil-doers or those who died insane and bear vampiric attributes The vetala is described as an undead creature who, like the bat associated with modern day vampirism, hangs upside down on the trees of cremation grounds and cemeteries. Similarly the Ashanti of West Africa have a mythological creature, the asanbosam, that dwells in trees and hunts children. The Betsileo people of Madagascar tell of the ramanga, a living vampire who drinks the blood and eats the nail clippings of nobles.
In South America, aloe vera hung backwards behind or near a door is thought to ward off vampires, like the bloodsucking Peuchen of the Mapuche of southern Chile and the monstrous Patasola of Columbian folklore.
If the dead returning as vampires or zombies seems a marginal belief in today’s world, then the same cannot be said of the Jinn or Djinn. These are supernatural creatures, who are widely known and whose presence is believed in across the world. The word jinn, likely comes from the Persian, meaning, ‘hidden in sight’.
The word or concept of jinn as such does not occur in the original Hebrew text of the Bible, but the Arabic word jinn is often used in several old Arabic translations. In Isaiah 6, the Seraphim (“burning/fiery ones”) appear to the prophet Isaiah, with their six wings being used to cover, or hide, their body, face and feet. These beings exactly correspond to the Arabian or Islamic Jinn. Jews, like Muslims hold that it is by means of the Seraphim or Jinn, that all acts of magic and enchantment are performed. The Talmud says that the Seraphim were the offspring of Adam begat in his life outside of the Garden of Eden by consorting with spirits and demons. The Seraphim or Jinn also appear in a Rabbinic legend where Solomon was punished for his overbearing pride when he was impersonated by the demon king Ashmedai and removed from the throne.
Judaism was as much influenced by the beliefs of the nomadic peoples of the Middle East and Arabia as it was by the Chaldean and Persian beliefs. Chaldean and Persian cosmology is dualistic and there are good and evil spirits indeed, the world is full of beings of semi-celestial and semi -infernal nature; these Jinn, said to be perverse creatures, were created out of fire and have occupied the Earth for several thousand years before Adam.
In India, the Jinn also appear frequently in Hindu religious texts and mythology. When, for instance, Ashwathama was enraged that the son of Panchala killed Drona, he set about revenge. But when he was about to enter the tent of his enemy a huge Jinn appeared that seemed to swallow the arrows fired at it. It was only defeated when Ashwathama was given a divine sword by Shiva, God of Destruction.
In another Vedic myth Yavakri seduces the wife of Paravasu. Her father-in- law, Rabhya finds her in a corner, dazed and confused and soon realises what has happened. Full of anger, he mutters dark mantras before a fire, burns his own hair and then before him appears a female and male Jinn who will avenge him.
The city of Deoband (Uttar Pradesh, India) is actually named for the Jinn; ‘Deo’ from Hindi, is a synonym of Jinn, while ‘Band’ means closed, but can be translated as captured in Hindi. The city takes its name from the legend says that there once a Jinn threatened the city, and it was an elderly man who put a stop to him, by capturing him into a bottle and sealing him away forever.
The Qu’ran is the most frequent source for texts on Jinn, where they are described as creatures made of smokeless and scorching fire, who inhabit dimensions beyond the visible universe of humans. Passages in the New Testament describe Jesus casting out evil spirits, whose qualities are strikingly similar to Jinn. In Islamic theology, Jinn have free will but they abused this freedom and were cast out of paradise. According to Islamic tradition, King Solomon had mastered the Jinn, who he forced to do many tasks, including building his magnificent temple.
Hadiths and proverbs often prohibit certain actions, because of fear of harming a Jinn and incurring its anger. For instance, Muslims may decide not to throw rubbish in certain areas- or else offer a prayer if they do- in case this is the home of a Jinn. With numerous supernatural qualities, Jinn are often held responsible for everything from illness to milk souring. In many Muslim communities are individuals who are thought to be able to control the Jinn and so use them for purposes of revenge and accumulation of wealth.
Remarkably, non-Muslims acquainted with the Islamic belief in Jinn, also fear their powers. During the Rwandan genocide, both Hutus and Tutsi avoided searching in local Rwandan Muslim neighbourhoods believing that the local Muslims had protected their mosques by the use of Islamic magic and the efficacious jinn. In Cyangugu, arsonists ran away instead of destroying the mosque because they believed jinn were guarding the mosque.
Hidden from sight, and neither man nor god, Jinn turn up in various forms of nearly every culture. In the Guanche mythology of Tenerife, Canary Islands, the maxios and tibicenas are spirits of light and dark who mediate between humans and Chaxiraxi, the great celestial mother. In the Eastern Mediterranean, the widely sought protection from the evil eye, includes protection from Jinn.
Across Europe, one particular mythical creature is likely to be a particular kind of Jinn. This creature is more widely known as ‘the bogeyman’ whose presence across Europe in ubiquitous. ‘Bogeyman’ is derived from boggart, which in Britain denotes a household spirit or malevolent genie, meaning Jinn. Boggarts, which are also known as yetuns in Northumberlad, the bogle in Scotland and bwg in Wales cause general mischief, such as causing things to disappear, milk to sour and dogs to go lame. In some myths, they are responsible for more serious wrongdoing such as frightening horses and abducting children. Boggarts often inhabit inaccessible places like marshlands, so that when a person was lost, people were sure a boggart had caught and devoured the unfortunate. Boggarts are described as human- like, but very ugly and with bestial attributes, giving them a fearsome appearance, but other myths state that boggart could take the form of various animals or even people.
The name boggart traces its origins to the German, bögge or böggel-mann roughly meaning goblin. It may also be related to the Norwegian bugge meaning “important man”. The common German expression is “der schwarze Mann” (the black man), which refers directly to some supernatural creature, which carries children away and hides in the dark corners under the bed or in the closet.
The appearance of a bogeyman to frighten disobedient children is common across European cultures. In the Mediterranean naughty children are threatened with a creature known as babau or l’uomo nero in Italy, roughly meaning the ‘black man’, who wears a heavy black cloak that hides his face; he doesn’t harm children but does take naughty ones to a mysterious and frightening place. In Greece, baboulas hides under the bed and is also dressed in black. In Spain and Latin American countries, he is known as El Coco, a hairy monster, with a misshapen head, and glowing red eyes who hides under children’s beds. Invariably he kidnaps or eats children who do not obey their parents.
In Slovenia, however, bavbav is described as a formless spirit and bears closer similarities to Jinn. In Belgium, the bogeyman takes a particularly sinister turn into a faceless, cannibal called “Oude Rode Ogen” (Old Red Eyes) , that can change between human form to that of a black dog.
The bogeyman may be a convenient, expedient creation which exasperated parents all over the world draw upon to discipline their children. And like vampires and zombies, bogeymen and Jinn also fulfil a role within the storytelling traditions of many cultures. Undoubtedly, however as the bogeyman appears in far more menacing forms, with startlingly similar characteristics to Jinn, this suggests not only an overlap of mythology, but a near universal belief in supernatural creatures, hidden from view but with power to interfere in the affairs of human. These creatures are more than characters of mythology and much more than entertainment; partly physical, partly spiritual their presence across cultures and beliefs indicates a strong and pervasive belief in parallel worlds. The power of this belief in supernatural creatures is of course, most evident in the deviant graves and the practices to repel revenants, vampires and zombies. The rituals of protection still widely practiced today show that more than in our imaginations, vampires, zombies and Jinn are everywhere sharing our human world.