How do you kill vampire?
Easy, you answer. A stake to the heart. Garlic and crosses to keep them at bay. Holy water. Exposure to sunlight. These are tried and true methods to dispatch the wretched undead.
Well sort of.
The methods of extermination I just mentioned are relatively recent in terms of vampire folklore: the first four were popularized in the Bram Stoker novel Dracula(1897), whereas sunlight became lethal in German silent film Nosferatu (1922). Before the vampire became famous as a sex symbol and desirable, there were tons of different ways to stop the blood suckers from causing harm, some of them more creative than others. These include:
- Filling the mouth of the vampire with stones. You can’t suck blood if you can’t chew.
- Filling the coffin with millet, or cover the vampire in a fishing net–the vampire will have to count all the seeds/knots before it can leave the grave.
- Make a hole on the vampire. The soul that animates the corpse will be unable to remain in the body, sort of like a balloon with a hole in it.
- Fill the coffin with mirrors. It confuses the vampire so it can’t find the way out of its grave.
- Cover the top of the grave with thorns and other sharp objects because the vampire doesn’t want to injure itself on its way out.
- Flip the body over because then it can’t find it’s way to the surface.
That’s not to say that Stoker was wrong about what works. Garlic was used to keep vamps away from the house, but you could also use any other strong smelling substance like cow dung. Staking was a pretty common method of extermination, but even this had various techniques. It can be a needle, or a stake of a certain kind of wood like ash, or a red-hot poker shoved into either the abdomen or heart. Or, if you’re lazy, you can always drive stakes on top of the grave and wait for the vampire to stake itself. As to crosses, holy water, and sunlight, that’s all pretty recent. Most of the stories about vampires has them be nocturnal, but nothing about sunlight killing them. And the church was usually uninvolved with disposing of vampires. They were more concerned with what these panicked peasants would do to the bodies rather than indulge their superstitious beliefs. And to be fair, more extreme methods included binding the vampire down, chopping off hands or feet, decapitating the corpse and placing the head at the feet. If you wanted to save the vampire’s victims, the vamps heart would be cut out, burned, and the resulting ashes would be mixed in water to cure the ill. There are more techniques used to prevent or exterminate vampires, but the simplest was probably just cremating the bodies.
However, these methods make the assumption that you are dealing with a traditional Romanian/Eastern European vampire. These particular vampires were bound by certain restrictions, like they had to remain in the grave on certain days and didn’t usually walk about in the morning. You could find a vampire pretty easily if it was not the sort who could roam. It wasn’t hard to determine if the corpse was a vampire–you simply exhumed it and looked for tell-tale signs: blood on the lips, swollen belly, no clear signs of decay, hair and nails are growing, and so on. Old vampires were local phenomenon that usually always killed family first before they attacked anyone else in the village. The folkloric vampire itself is probably a monster to describe how plagues spread, or a scapegoat when the village is hit by unexpected disaster.
Slaying a traditional vampire isn’t a problem because of its conniving nature or charm. It just caused trouble, and if you could find out who was likely to come back as a vampire you could prevent it from causing harm. But if a vampire slips through the cracks, the hardest part is finding which methods of exorcism or keeping the vampire in the grave works.
Most information came from Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber.