Weaknesses of the Vampire
Fortunately, the Vampire is not without its weaknesses. Since the Vampire exists in one form or another in cultures all over the world, the creature’s vulnerabilities are numerous. However, one who is well versed in Vampire lore and organizes himself accordingly, he will be able to come up with innovative uses for these weaknesses. Some of these vulnerabilities are apotropaics, or substances that are able to repel evil. Others listed here will cause the Vampire more direct harm. Some have no relevance at all, except for in fiction.
Garlic (allium sativum) is the best known and certainly one of the most effective Vampire apotropaics. It is well known in both folklore and fiction that this potent herb’s pungent odor and spicy taste is known not only to repulse the Undead, but just about everyone else, too! Knowledge of garlic’s antiseptic and antibiotic properties originates thousands of years ago in Egypt, where it was believed to possess healing powers. According to one source, Roman soldier were issued daily rations of garlic before battle to give them courage and strength, as well as for general health.
It is believed that garlic’s efficacy lies in the herb’s powerful odor. According to the theory that like repels like, it is highly likely that the Vampire, reeking of death and decay (overall, not just the revenant’s breath), will be utterly repulsed by any substance that smells just as badly (in this case, garlic).
In the Slavic lands of Europe, garlands of garlic are still worn by peasants and hung over doorways, as superstition still rules these people to an extent. These garlands are even available for purchase to tourists! Children are forced to wear garlic on their person at all times, whether at work or play. This kept away everything, including potential playmates. In China and Malaysia, it is rubbed all over to prevent vampiric attack, usually on the forehead or the armpits (the favored spot in the Philippines).
However, garlic is also useful in the Vampire’s destruction. Once a stake had been driven through the heart and the body decapitated, garlic bulbs were used to stuff the mouth. The garlic’s anti-evil properties severed the bond between the inhabiting demonic spirit and the dead flesh. This ensured that, if it was decided not to burn the corpse, the Vampire would be unable to regenerate itself and return to take its vengeance.
Silver is a relatively recent addition to Vampire folklore. While popular in fiction, it also has some basis in folklore. Because of its purity and lustrous white color, silver is believed to possess protective powers against evil and negative influences. It is also said to have a supernatural association with the moon.
Because of its protective powers, silver has been used to keep evil at bay for thousands of years. It is said that silver nails in a coffin will prevent a revenant or a restless spirit from escaping the confines of its grave, while silver amulets repel evil spirits. A cross or a crucifix made of pure silver is far more powerful than one made of other metals, especially against the Vampire. On another note, silver is thought to ward off the Evil Eye.
When one thinks of silver being used in a supernatural context, the Werewolf and the silver bullet immediately come to mind. However, silver is considered to be the bane of all evil, and has therefore been utilized against vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, witches, giants, and those that live a “charmed” life. When a sorcerer’s familiar is injured or dies by a silver bullet, the creature’s master is dealt the same fate.
Silver is highly effective when utilized against the Vampire in a combat situation as well. A wound inflicted by a silver blade on the Vampire heals very slowly, if at all. If it pierces the heart, the Vampire dies. Since silver is too soft to make a serious weapon (with the exception being stakes, bullets, or projectile points), it is used in steel alloys and to plate steel blades (a process called silvering). The most popular choices for such applications are blades, especially swords, daggers, or knives. If a priest blesses the blades, then their efficacy is increased considerably. In folklore, one clear reference is found in Serbia. One man broke up silver coins (which were each engraved with a cross), loaded them into his shotgun, and fired on a revenant. The creature did not bother the villagers again.
According to legend (and the works of Bram Stoker), the Vampire is unable to cross running water, except at the ebb and flow of the tide. This includes rivers, streams, and (in some cases) the open ocean. According to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the creature may be carried over it on a water-going vessel (a boat or a ship). In folklore, witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are incapable of crossing running water, as water is a symbol of life, purity, and holiness. It is said to have healing and cleansing powers. Water is the main element in holy baptism and is held to be sacred to the Church, washing away sin and evil.
Water is a prominent element in folklore. It is said that tricking the Vampire into wading into flowing water can destroy the creature. Once the Vampire has entered the water, it will drown and perish. This is not to say that the Vampire can’t swim. The water’s inherent power and symbolism, through supernatural means, impedes the revenant’s ability to stay afloat and swim. However, if the creature is removed from the water, the Vampire will return to unlife. Then, it will proceed to make a meal out of its “rescuer.”
It is currently unknown where this belief originated from, but it may have come from Greece. The people, tired of the Vampire’s depredations, would unearth the corpse and exile it to a small, uninhabited island a few miles offshore. There, the revenant was reburied. Thus surrounded by flowing water, the Vampire was imprisoned and denied its need for blood.
The Vampire is unable to enter a house without first being verbally invited inside. However, once the invitation was extended, the Vampire may enter whenever it wishes, at anytime thereafter. Thus, as long as the people do not give admittance to the creature, they remain safe. However, once the Vampire has been invited inside, the creature is extremely difficult to get rid of. This usually happens when the household fails to recognize the Vampire for what it is. Once inside, the Vampire will drain each person of blood, one by one.
This is not a prominent limitation in folklore (except, perhaps, for the Greek Vrykolakas). In fact, superstitious peasants were forced to come up with their own remedies just to keep the Vampire out. The myth that the Vampire cannot cross the threshold of a house without first being invited most likely originates from a Christian belief that Satan cannot go where he isn’t welcome.
Lack of a Reflection
According to legend, the Vampire casts no reflection in a mirror. This comes from the ancient belief that the mirror reflects the soul of the one who gazes into it. The Vampire has no soul, and therefore casts no reflection. The Vampire knows this, and it instinctively seeks to avoid reflective surfaces, hating mirrors so much that the revenant actively seeks to destroy them. The Vampire’s lack of a reflection is, sooner or later, something that is bound to be noticed by a perceptive individual.
On a similar note, it is said that the Vampire is incapable of casting a shadow. However, there is virtually no evidence in the annals of folklore to support this. This limitation is an invention of Bram Stoker, as is the Vampire’s inability to cast a reflection. In fact, the Vampire in folklore is able to cause death to any human that falls within the creature’s shadow.
According to contemporary folklore, the Vampire cannot withstand direct exposure to the rays of the sun. Exposure to sunlight supposedly causes the Vampire to burst into flames and disintegrate into a pile of ash.
However, there is absolutely no evidence in folklore to support this notion. In early Vampire literature (such as J. Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire or Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla), the Vampire could walk about freely in the daylight. This notion was popularized by F.W. Murnau’s 1922 horror masterpiece Nosferatu, and has achieved immense popularity in subsequent Vampire fiction and films. The terrifying truth is that, with only one exception, the Vampire isn’t adversely affected by sunlight, and the revenant has actually been known to hunt during the day. According to Slavic legend, the Vampire usually hunts between the hours of noon and midnight. However, this notion may have some indirect roots in folklore. According to Serbian folklore, the Vampire has no power during the day, but in fact receives its power from the Devil by night.
The Vampire’s aversion to sunlight in fiction is most likely derived from the notion that the Vampire is entirely nocturnal. While it is true that the revenant prefers the darkness of midnight, the Vampire is by no means limited to it. With few exceptions (such as the Chinese jiangshi), the Vampire may rise from the grave whenever it so chooses, and nothing can stop it.
It is said that the sight of holy icons, namely the cross or the crucifix, repulses the Vampire. This is a prominent theme in Vampire folklore, as well as literature and the movies.
The cross is one of mankind’s oldest forms of protection against evil, predating Christianity by centuries. It is associated with pagan sun deities and Heaven. In ancient times, the cross symbolized divine protection and prosperity. The symbolism of the cross was forever changed when Jesus Christ was crucified, sacrificing Himself by taking on the sins of the entire world, descending into Hell, and defeating the Devil. He then rose again from the dead three days later. This proved that, beyond any doubt, that Jesus truly is the Son of God. This transformed the cross into a symbol that was far more powerful: the crucifix. While resembling the cross in terms of basic form, there is one significant difference between the two: the crucifix bears the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. It represents Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins of the world, that one day His people might ascend to Heaven and join Him in eternal life. This powerful symbolism means that the crucifix is far deadlier to the Vampire than the cross.
The cross and the crucifix are regarded as being the most potent of defenses against Satan and his evil legions. The cross is used in exorcism, to ward off sexual predators (like the Incubus and the Succubus), to prevent bewitchment, to protect crops from dark magic, and of course, to ward off the Vampire. During the Inquisition, the inquisitors (witch-hunters) wore the cross on their person or crossed themselves in the presence of a suspected witch as protection against any evil spells that the accused may cast against them. The common people crossed themselves frequently before they set about any given task, just in case evil happened to be lurking nearby. In folklore, a gold cross was placed in the mouth or on the body of corpse, in order to prevent the deceased from becoming one of the Undead.
In any event, no competent Demon Hunter should be without a cross or a crucifix (preferably the latter). During the Middle Ages, Christian Gypsies believed that the cross would repulse the Vampire (which is where all this started). When presented to the Vampire, the sight of the icon will visibly repel the creature. In addition to this, pressing the crucifix causes an agonizing burn, which will not heal and will scar the Vampire for as long as the creature continues to exist. However, the power of the symbol lies not in what it is made of, but in the strength of the icon’s symbolism, strengthened by the wielder’s faith and his will. This is essential, for without faith the cross will only be effective against the weakest of the Undead.
Furthermore, when placed in a grave, the grave is rendered uninhabitable to the Vampire. If a crucifix is buried with the deceased, then the corpse won’t become a Vampire. If blessed by a priest and anointed with holy water, or if forged of pure silver, the crucifix’s power is effectively doubled.
According to contemporary folklore, the Vampire must rest by day, in a coffin filled with the soil from the land of the Vampire’s birth. Supposedly, the Vampire draws its power from the earth in an unknown manner. Placing a crucifix or the Eucharistic wafer in the coffin will defile the earth and make it inhospitable to the Undead, as will soaking the earth with holy water. The Vampire cannot travel more than one hundred miles from its home without taking at least a pound of its native soil with it.
However, the idea that the Vampire is dependent upon the earth while resting is an invention of Bram Stoker, as there is no evidence in folklore to support this notion. According to Slavic folklore, the Vampire has to return to its grave before dawn. However, it remains unsaid if the Vampire is compelled to do so, unlike it is shown in popular literature and the movies.
In folklore, it is believed that the Vampire is, for some reason, extremely obsessive-compulsive. The creature is therefore compelled to stop and count tiny objects, like seeds, grains, salt, iron pellets, or pebbles. It is known that the Vampire loathes all that is natural or untainted by evil’s claws, and the seed’s symbolism as the start of a new life may be the key to the Vampire’s distraction. In any event, the Vampire will not stop until it has counted every single seed, sometimes as slowly as the rate of one seed counted per year, or even a century! Mustard seeds and poppy seeds are deemed to be the most effective, as Jesus alludes to the mustard seed in His parables, and the poppy seed has a narcotic effect on the Vampire that makes it unwilling or unable to leave its grave. Other effective substances include (but are certainly not limited to): iron nails, linseeds, sea salt, sand, oats, peppercorns, corn kernels, dried peas or beans, steel ball-bearings, rice, or grains of various kinds are all recommended.
Similarly, the Vampire is obsessed with untying knots. Confronted with a tangled cord, the Vampire is unable to feed until it has picked every single knot apart. It was thought that the creature took a year to untie each knot. It is thought that the knot’s mystical symbolism was responsible for this. Witches used them to cast spells, emotions or objects could become magically ensnared, and it was even believed that the knot could trap one’s soul indefinitely.
Wolfsbane (a highly toxic member of the genus aconitum, also known as aconite or monkshood) was thought to have anti-evil properties against Vampires, Werewolves, and shapeshifters for centuries, and is used in the same manner as garlic. A concoction derived from the roots of the plant was often used to wash bite wounds from wild or venomous animals, and so perhaps this is where Wolfsbane derived its supposed ability to cure people of lycanthropy or other supernatural afflictions.
Due to its white color, purity, and its preservative properties, salt has always been associated with holiness and the triumph of good over evil, and has been used to repel witches, ghosts, demons, spirits, and all manner of evil beings. Very little mention has been made regarding its use against the Undead in folklore, other than that pregnant women in Romania that did not eat enough salt and were gazed upon by a Vampire would give birth to a child that, after its death, was doomed to rise from the grave as a Vampire. Furthermore, salt has a corrosive effect when it comes into contact with the Vampire’s skin.
Fire has been a powerful force against the Undead and evil for centuries, as it is considered to be a symbol of God and the Holy Spirit, as well as one of nature’s most powerful purifiers. Therefore, after the Vampire is staked and decapitated, the remains were burned to ashes and were then scattered to the four winds.
Burning the Vampire is without a doubt the most effective means of permanently annihilating the Undead, but it is very difficult and takes hours on end, even days. Large amounts of wood and fuel are needed to completely cremate a body, but it was well worth the effort. The ashes were then placed in a burlap sack, which was then tied shut, and then the bag was tossed into a fast-flowing stream or river. Once this was done, there is no way in Heaven, earth, or Hell that the Vampire could possibly return.
The Vampire has other weaknesses as well, most of them being herbal in nature. They include the following: wild rose, holly, plants of the hawthorn family (hawthorn, blackthorn, whitethorn, and buckthorn), linden, juniper, lemon, mayflower, millet, rowan, ash, aspen, maple, oak, and dogrose. It should be noted that it is believed that the Vampire is unable to leave its grave on Saturdays (an exception being Holy Saturday, for some odd reason). On this day, it is stated in Bulgarian folk beliefs that the Vampire is reincarnated. This belief possibly stems from the fact that Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath day.