8 of the Undead from Around the World
Zombies and vampires and ghouls, oh my! Almost every culture has stories of beings who rise from their graves or some part of the supernatural world and return to eat the living -or at least drink our blood. Here are a few of those tales from all corners of the world.
1. Vetala (India)
Some of the world’s oldest tales of vampires come from India, where ancient Hindu stories were taken to other nations by traders and nomads. One of these beings is the vetala, who are dead but not at rest because the proper funeral rites were not performed for them. They are also described as evil spirits that occupy corpses. A vetal (singular) has uncanny knowledge of the past, present, and future which they use to confound humans, although they sometimes become a guard or helper to sorcerers who enslave them. Vetala live in cemeteries, but wander afield to kill children and livestock. You may recognize a vetal because the corpse’s hands and feet are turned backwards.
2. Jiang Shi (China)
The Chinese Jiang Shi translates to “stiff corpse”. If a person dies after a bad life or commits suicide, they may rise from the grave and prey upon the living. The appearance of the Jiang Shi (alternately spelled Chiang-shih) depends on how decomposed the body is at the time of rising. Because the corpse is stiff, they can only move by hopping. Jiang Shi are blind and may appear to have mold or moss growing on their bodies, and will attack the living and suck out their life force.
3. Bruxa (Portugal)
The female bruxa and the male bruxo are witches, not necessarily risen from the dead, but have a lot in common with our conception of vampires. The bruxa attacks children and sucks their blood. One can also change into the form of an animal, such as a goose, rat, or ant. They can be repelled by garlic. Sometimes these witches are divided into “bruxa má”, or evil witch, and “bruxa boa”, or good witch.
4. Ghoul (Arabia)
Ghouls are flesh-eaters. In modern usage, it refers to grave robbers of all sorts. The origin of the word is Arabic and even older than the religion of Islam. The earliest tales of ghouls paint them as demons or evil genies that live in the desert and can change shape to disguise themselves as human, usually as a beautiful woman, or sometimes a hyena. In the tales of the Arabian Nights, ghouls kill people in order to eat their flesh. Bedouin tales have ghouls inhabiting the bodies of those they attacked after eating part of them.
5. The Beast of Bladenboro (USA)
Beginning in late 1953, Bladenboro, North Carolina was the scene of unexplained attacks. A farmer saw a beast resembling a cat carry his dog off. Several dog carcasses were later found drained of blood. Hunters came from all over the country to hunt the “vampire beast” until the small town got sick of the hoopla. A bobcat was then shot and displayed, and the world was assured that the beast had been found. Although some reports have surfaced that the beast remains active, it hasn’t stopped Bladenboro from hosting an annual festival centered around the legend.
6. Vrykolakas (Greece)
The vrykolakas is a monster that rises from the grave of a person who led a sacrilegious life. They are doomed to walk among the living, not to drink their blood, but to spread disease and cause death by sitting on a victim while they sleep. Even a werewolf can become a vrykolakas after death. If a vrykolakas knocks on your door, don’t answer until the second knock, or you, too, will become a vrykolakas!
7. Nachzehrer (Germany)
The nachzehrer roams parts of Germany, particularly Bavaria and Silesia. It is a reanimated corpse that feeds on its own body as well as those of its living relatives! After climbing out of its grave, the nachzehrer takes the form of a pig in order to escape recognition as it seeks out family members to drink blood from. Then it will ring the church bells, which kills all who hear them. The nachzehrer lies with one thumb in the other hand, and always keeps its left eye open. Image by Flickr user waɪ.tiː.
8. Zombie (Haiti)
In Haitian Voudou, a zombie is a corpse that has been reanimated by a sorcerer to be a slave. One famous case was a woman found in a zombie-like state wandering the streets of Ennery in 1937 who was claimed to be Felicia Felix-Mentor, a woman who died in 1907. The Mentor family took her in for a while before sending the woman to a hospital. They first believed her to be Felicia, although a physical examination later found she was missing a leg fracture Felicia was known to suffer. Another Haitian, Clairvius Narcisse was reportedly turned into a zombie slave after he was poisoned (with tetrodotoxin, which simulates death) and buried. Narcisse was allegedly dug up and given a hallucinogenic drug for 18 years while he worked on a sugar plantation, and then recovered after his “master” died and stopped dosing him.
There are just a few of the global legends of the undead -check in next week for part two of this list.