Vrykolakas The Greek Vampire

In Greek folklore, the Vrykolakas (Vrykolakes) also known as Vorvolakas or Vourdoulakas is an undead creature which can be appears as human, or some sort of werewolf (composite between vampire-werewolf-zombie creatures). The creature can leave its grave every day except Saturday and it has ability to drain the life force of the sleeper, similar to succubus/incubus and often incorporating elements of the poltergeist. It was reported that the Vrykolakas sometimes attacks and kills people; other times it plagues their sleep and this creature can be killed by the stroke of lightning, or consumed by fire.

The lore concerning vrykolakas existed in Eastern Europe, and especially in Greece, but for an unclear reasons, the inhabitants of Santorini seem to have been especially plagued by vrykolakas more often and acquired a reputation for being experts in dealing with them. Some sources even state that other Greek islanders would bring suspected vrykolakas to Santorini to be dealt with.

Santorini and Thera Caldera

Vrykolakas were an animated corpse that could return bodily from death. An ordinary person could be turned into one in various ways. A baby born on a Church holy day or a child whose siblings died would be viewed as likely to become a vrykolakas. Anyone who died without the last rites, had been excommunicated, remained incorrupt after burial, or who had an animal such as a cat or dog jump over their corpse prior to being interred, were destined to become a vrykolakas. Other ways included eating meat from a sheep killed by a wolf or werewolf, and, of course – that old vampire theme – a person killed by a vrykolakas would automatically become one. Also, someone who had become a werewolf during life would take on the vampiric characteristics of a vrykolakas after death.

One common way for a vrykolakas to select a victim was by knocking on a person’s door, perhaps calling out the name of someone living there. If the occupant opened the door on the first knock he or she would get a glimpse of the creature before it vanished, a sight so horrific they would die of fright, and, after burial, would become a vrykolakas. So it became the practice on Santorini, and probably elsewhere, to avoid opening the front door on the first knock and always to wait for the second knock, as a vrykolakas can knock only once.

The other main way for a vrykolakas to kill its victim was to sneak into a house at night and sit on the chest of a sleeping person until they suffocated.

In "Greek Accounts of the Vrykolakas" written by D. Demetracopoulou Lee (1941), there are several accounts about the creature:

"They say that once a vrykolakas married. And he begot two children. But every Saturday his wife would miss him, they say. Well, on one occasion she said, "My husband," she says, "disappears every Saturday. I don't know," she says, "where he goes."

There was a party, and he went to the party; and he was singing. All those who were there listening, said, "This man's voice resembles the voice of So-and-so." So all of them there said, "This man has died, how can it be this man?" So they asked the woman, "Where did you get to know him?" So she said, "He is a shoemaker. He came," she says, "and we arranged to get married. But every Saturday," she says, "he disappears." So, the villagers make plans--because we are told that the vrykolakas does not come out on Saturday. So they went, they set out with fire and torches, they went up to the grave, they opened it and they found him inside. He begged for mercy, that they do not burn him. As a sign, he showed them how one side of his body was empty. But they showed him no mercy. They burned him. And that was the end of the vrykolakas." - (Bill. Cambridge, Mass. 1934)

"If there were black hens in a house, the vrykolakas would not go in. My mother-in-law had just born a child. The creature took her at night, they carried her out, but did not take her out of the house entirely. My father-in-law wakes up, raises his rifle. At that moment, the cock crows, and they left her and went away." (This was told as an account of the activities of the vrykolakas.) - (Panagiota, Watertown, Mass. 1934)

Garlic hanging behind a Santorini garden gate
for protection against Vrykolakas
A 17th-century source reported that whenever it was thought that a vrykolakas was stalking around a village, the inhabitants would huddle together in one house for protection and send off a brave neighbour to apply to the bishop for exhumation of the corpse suspected to be the revenant. Exorcism, beheading, dismemberment, or putting a spike through the head of the exhumed body were all methods that might be employed, followed by reburial or cremation. The people of Santorini had one further, important sanction against vrykolakas: they would take the remains of such creatures over the water to Nea Kameni, and, especially, to Thirassia on the opposite side of the caldera to Santorini. If vrykolakas should happen to stir again from their mortal remains, then they would still be kept isolated as their spirits could not cross water, especially salt water. It was traditional for fisherman and other sailors who passed near these bleak lava islands to fashion their ropes into a cross sign before mooring at Santorini’s main harbour, Athinios, just to banish any evil influences that may have become lodged in their boats.

In modern Santorini, playground of billionaires and tourists, it is said that the lore concerning vrykolakas is no longer believed in. That may or may not be true, but the sharp-eyed visitor can still occasionally notice protective items such as garlic behind some doors.

Wikipedia - Vrykolakas;
Fortean Times Magazine Vol. 299, April 2013 - "Santorini: Vampires of Atlantis" written by Paul Devereux;
Greek Accounts of the Vrykolakas written by D. Demetracopoulou Lee;
The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons, and Ghouls by Alex Irvine

Pics sources:
Fortean Times Magazine Vol. 299, April 2013 - "Santorini: Vampires of Atlantis" written by Paul Devereux page 74

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