Vampires in Romania: How Were These Legends Created?

Many people might not know where Romania is on the map, but most likely they do know that it is the country of Dracula and vampires. This is one of the stereotypes about Romania actually and today we’re going to learn how these legends were created.

The truth is that in modern day Romania, not even Romanians – or most of them – do remember or know much about the mythology and legends about vampires. It’s more of a subject for those passionate about folklore, mysticism, occultism etc.

For the rest – it’s just a fact. Vampires are related to Romania, especially the Transylvania region. And that’s it!

Even so, if you ask people far from the lands of Romania about this country, they will most probably connect it to Dracula rather than anything else.

So, like it or not, Romania and Vampires are strongly bonded, maybe even more for people across the globe than it is really for Romanian people.

So, going back to our subject: how were these legends created? Who came up first with the idea of Dracula? Who was Dracula? What connection is there between the Romanian mythology and the vampires, and since when do they believe in supernatural monsters in Romania?

I think that given their importance within the Romanian mythology, learning more about the origins of vampire legends in Romania will also bring you closer to the Romanian culture, history and mythology. Therefore, I’ll try to answer all these questions as accurately as possible.

Reality or fiction, vampires represent an important element that has been in the Romanian culture for longer than you may imagine.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look upon the origins of the vampire legends from Romania and how they were created and spread worldwide, gaining the popularity they have today.

Romania Vampire History: Three Main Sources

vampire costume

There are tons of different stories and beliefs regarding the source of vampire legends in Romania.

So, to put all of them in some logical order, and to better explain the provenance of Dracula & vampire stories in the country, we’ll classify these sources in three main categories:

1. Literature

The vampire subject may be ambiguous, like most occult or mythological subject, with little accurate references or proof.

But we have certain pieces of literature where vampires were firstly ever mentioned, described and made popular.

So literature is one of the first and main sources of vampires legends in Romania, and we will discuss it in a minute.

2. Cinematography

Of course that cinematography is the next major source of all legends and stories about vampires – including connections to the Romanian culture.

Inspired from literature or not, movies about Dracula and vampires often make reference to this country and contribute to creating and spreading more awareness about the link between Romania and Vampires.

3. Folklore and Traditions

Nonetheless, there is no story without a fragment of truth. Therefore, we cannot skip the third massive source of inspiration for these stories.

One of the best answers for the question “how were these legends created” is, obviously, the Romanian folklore itself.

Among the Romanian culture, we can find several traditions, celebrations and rituals with references to vampire protection, which also contributes to the creation of several legends and beliefs about these creatures.

So let’s take each of these sources individually and see how they influenced the creation and spreading of legends about Romania and Vampires.

1. Literature

1.1 Dracula, by Bram Stoker

The first reference that we know about Romania and Vampires can be found in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. This is probably the main thing that made Romania the place where vampires live.

The classic horror Gothic story was published in 1897 by the Irish writer, and describes the bloody habits and stories of Dracula, a vampire living in a Romanian castle, identified as Bran Castle – you can see it below:

bran castle Romania

Bram Stoker cleverly blended reality with fiction when creating this character. And that is because the source of inspiration for the vampire was Vlad Tepes, a former ruler of Wallachia (so not Transylvania, which somehow still became the “home of vampires”).

Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Devil – but more on this later), was a very strict, yet cruel leader who had terrible punishments for those who broke the law or offended him – no little how small their mistake was.

His favorite and most popular way of killing thieves and criminals was impaling them – this was actually a practice during those times in the entire region, but for some reason it was Vlad who stuck as “the Impaler”.

Now, his actual name was Vlad Drăculea. But in most languages, that is written as Vlad Draculea – which is very close to “Dracula” and his nickname of Vlad Dracul (aka Vlad the Devil). But this was more of a word play, combined with the fact that he was so cruel – and not really a vampire that found the gates of hell and came to Romania.

He did have a “thirst for blood” – but the metaphor was taken literally and popularized by Bram Stoker’s book… and the rest is history!

Even more interesting is the fact that Bran Castle aka Dracula’s castle has absolutely nothing to do with Vlad the Impaler (or Dracula). It just resembles the castle that Bram Stoker used in his novel and most likely the one that he used as inspiration.

But whenever you’re visiting Dracula’s Castle, do know this bit: the “real” Dracula, Vlad Tepes, never lived there!

vlad tepes
The “real” Dracula, Vlad the Impaler

As another interesting and fun fact, I think you should know that Bram Stoker actually never even visited Transylvania. Or Romania!

1.2. Romanian Mythology, by Tudor Pamfile

Looking further into the literature regarding vampire, Tudor Pamfile is a Romanian ethnologist who mentioned plenty of information about the importance of vampires in Romanian mythology in his book, Romanian Mythology, published in 1915.

This is a more accurate analysis of Romania and Vampires, referring to these creatures with their popular name in Romania: “strigoi”.

He talks not only about the names of the vampires (how they were called in multiple areas of Romania), but also about the types of vampires existing (female vampires – witches; living male vampires – sorcerers; dead vampires – the most dangerous of them all).

Besides this work, there are plenty of other Romanian writers and encyclopedia creators, folklorists and ethnologists, who mentioned vampires in their writings.

I won’t talk about them all, but I will mention some if you’d like to look them up: Dimitrie Cantemir, Radu Florescu and Teodor Burada.

1.3. My Swordhand Is Singing, by Marcus Sedqwick

Last but not least, modern and contemporary literature still contributes to the further imagination, development and spreading of vampire legends linked to Romania.

A very recent such example would be My Swordhand is Singing, by the British writer Marcus Sedqwuick. His novel was published in 2007 and follows the story of Romanian characters fighting dead strigois (dead vampires).

Other modern literature examples would be novels of Wilhelm Schmidt or Franz Hartmann, stories that amplify the fear and terror of vampires in Romania. Plus many other independently published books that help keep this myth alive.

2. Cinematography

2.1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the movie)

The famous legend created by Bram Stoker became even more famous in 1992, when Francis Ford Coppola created the Dracula movie.

While it doesn’t have any real historical accuracy (it’s a work of fiction, after all), the movie did help establish the myth that Romania – and especially Transylvania – is the land of Vampires and the home of Vlad Dracula.

Even though, I have to repeat, Vlad never lived in the Transylvania region or Dracula’s Castle.

Bela Lugosi Dracula
Bela Lugosi’s Dracula

Many other movies based on Stoker’s novel were released over the years being more or less successful.

2.2. Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie des Grauens

One of the first movies presenting vampires in connection to Romania, ever, was the German production entitled Nosferatu – Eine Symphonie des Grauens.

Translated, this means “Nosferatum, the Symphony of Terror”, and it is an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. The movie was published in 1922 and it is one of the most popular expressionist movies.

The film is mute and contains five scenes. This is one of the first sources spreading the belief that vampires are scared or can be killed by the daylight.

2.3 The Nun

Besides old movies, modern cinematography continues to amplify the connection between Romania and mythological creatures or occultism.

Although it doesn’t make certain references to vampires, The Nun (2018) is a great example of how today’s movies keep spreading and creating more legends regarding paranormal phenomenon and supernatural events in Romania.

Scenes from The Nun were filmed in Sighisoara and Corvin’s Castle from Transylvania, again amplifying and re-creating legends about Transylvanian supernatural forces and events in Romania.

3. Folklore and Traditions

3.1. Popular Romanian names for vampires

Besides all the writings and movies about Romania and Vampires, one of the main sources for all these legends is the Romanian culture itself.

Although today not as frequently used or known by the Romanians, vampires used to have lots of names in the past, especially when people were superstitious.

Generally known as “strigoi”, vampires were also called “moroi” in western Transylvania, “vidma” in Bucovina and “the werewolf” in other regions.

3.2. Folkloric stories and Romanian beliefs about vampires

Furthermore, because of the fear of vampires and the superstitions surrounding them, Romanians have a collection of highly imaginative folkloric stories about vampires habits and lives.

For example, they believed that vampires were created when a child died un-Christianized, when the seventh child of the same sex was born in a family, when a person died after a life of sin, or when someone died because of suicide or because of the curse of a witch.

bat

3.3. Romanian celebrations and rituals for vampire protection

Nonetheless, there are also plenty of rituals and protection procedures done during Christian Romanian celebrations for protection before vampires that intensify the connection between Romania and Vampires and continues to inspire such legends.

The best example is represented by Easter, St. Andrew and St. George celebrations, when they believe that vampires are mostly vulnerable and likely to be killed.

In order to defeat them, superstitious people hanged garlic or onion at the entrance of their homes, believing that vampires were scared of these. Placing garlic in a vampire’s mouth is also believed to kill it. It is unclear how this belief became popular, though.

Other Romanian rituals of getting rid of a vampire include turning its body to face the earth, so that if it wakes up it will not face the world of the living, but be headed towards afterlife; removing the heart of the creature and cutting it into two halves; or splashing it with holy water.

Conclusion

If you are passionate about Romanian mythology, occultism in general or especially about vampires, I am sure you know plenty of other interesting facts about these creatures, and I would be glad to find them out from you.

But, all in all, I hope that after reading this article you have a quite clear answer to the questions “what connection is there between Romania and Vampires” and “how were these legends created”.

All the works of fiction I talked to you about and all the traditional superstitions contributed to spreading more and more awareness of legends with vampires from Romania.

If you want to visit Romania because you are passionate about these stories, make sure you don’t skip Bran Castle, Sighisoara and Transylvania – because these are the closest to these legends.

But, if you ever wanted to visit Romania and were reluctant, fearing that there might be a drop of reality and that you might encounter supernatural beings, well… come to visit without any worries. The only blood-sucking creatures that you’ll find here are the mosquitoes.

I promise you Romania is a very beautiful country, modern and aligned to European standards, clean and safe.

Legends may spice up the history a bit and attract those passionate of mythology, but in reality there is absolutely nothing to fear other than your own imagination!

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2 thoughts on “Vampires in Romania: How Were These Legends Created?”

  1. Interestingly, Calin, this is a very timely article for me. I have a friend in California that runs a small theater group. Usually, around Halloween, they will do a horror story for one of their productions. This year he has asked me to write a play, peppered with my intimate knowledge of Romania and, subsequently, the myth of vampires. Researching for this project I found an interesting piece of information. There is an actual medical condition called porphyria, AKA “The Vampire Disease.” This condition, which is genetic, has symptoms that include sensitivity to sunlight, which leads to pale skin and facial contortions; recession of gums, giving the appearance of fangs; dark red urine that was once believed originated from drinking blood; and an aversion to garlic. Why garlic? Because garlic has a high amount of sulfur, which those who suffer from porphyria are also sensitive. Easy to see how superstitious people from a less enlightened time could believe one affected by this disorder could have been under the influence of a curse or, perhaps, the Devil himself.

    Reply
    • Amazing explanation, Jim! I didn’t know this, but it does make sense. As I was saying in a previous article about stereotypes – that there has to be a grain of truth behind them – the same stands behind vampires and other occult things. People always try to find an explanation to everything and sometimes they’re way off 🙂

      Reply

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