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Forty Days — Protect Yourself From Vampires!

The vampires from the Serbian folklore don’t look like this.

Last night I watched a short documentary in Serbian called Forty Days. It was a fascinating insight into Serbian folklore.

According to the old custom, after a person dies, the soul stays around for forty days — it’s normal. The soul revisits the favorite places and watches over the family (often coming into the dreams of the oldest members) and, if it was a good person while alive, makes no trouble and peacefully leaves after 40 days, to unite with the older ancestors so all of them watch over the family.

However, if the person was bad — a thief, or, the worst, a murderer, those 40 days don’t go quietly, the soul gives the trouble all the time, and the deceased might raise as a vampire.

The vampire of the Serbian folklore is neither sparkly nor a creature of the Anne Rice novels. They’re not pale, either — they’re very red, from all the blood they’ve taken, and swollen from it, too (swollen like a tick). If the wife of the vampire is still alive, he might keep visiting her, even getting her pregnant (that was one of the explanations as to how a widow could become pregnant and have a baby). The vampires are prone to revisiting their old homes, but also other homes, looking for food and/or women. They also pester people, cause them trouble, blood-drinking being only one of them.

If the trouble starts in the village the vampire is from, people figure out what’s happening and start looking for the vampire’s grave, to dig him out and to destroy the body. However, the vampire of the Serbian folklore doesn’t mind the sun (they usually appear between the midnight and the dawn, but sunlight does them no harm), so they can travel far enough — which is, to some other village, where nobody knew them while alive so nobody knows they’ve died. There they start new lives, it is possible for them to marry again and to have children. The jobs they usually take are that of a butcher or a blacksmith — the things associated with the unclean or the underworld.

If you listen to the old, old stories, those telling them know a lot which is unfamiliar to you; for example, you can listen to a story about a hero solving many problems in order to achieve whatever, and then the last trouble comes, the hardest one — he gets into a village full of butchers. And if you don’t know this part about the vampires, you have no idea why would a village full of butchers, other than being a bit unusual and not very logical, be a problem, let alone the most difficult part.

Those old stories can be quite contradictory; the neighboring villages can tell different, even contradictory stories, and even the stories themselves can be self-contradictory. An example: a vampire can leave his old village and become a butcher, a blacksmith or the like. On the other side, one of the best defenses against a vampire is a sharp object (not necessarily a stake and not necessarily made of wood), they are afraid of them and tend to avoid them. A butcher or a blacksmith who stays away from sharp objects, tools included? And there’s no solving this; too many of the old stories are lost, not much is written (there’s more than enough for a life-time study, but not enough to fill in the holes), and the villages are dying. Pretty soon, there will be nobody left to tell those stories, nobody who remembers them. A pity, really.

We heard all that, and more, in that 20-minutes documentary. It was fascinating, really — and there’s so, so much more.