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Perhaps the most ghastly of Greek and Turkish superstitions is that of the vampire, generally known in the Balkan peninsula by the Slavonic name of Vrykolakas. It is customary among the Greeks and other peoples of the peninsula to exhume the body of a deceased relative at the end of three years in order to ascertain if it is properly decomposed. Should this not be the case, the Vrykolakas (the restless one) is supposed to be possessed of the power of rising from the grave and roaming abroad, reveling in the blood of his or her victims.
According to those who believe in this superstition, the causes of vampirism are various, and among them are the following: The fact either of having perpetrated or of having been the victim of a crime; having wronged some person, who has died resenting the wrong, or of a curse, pronounced either in excommunicatory form by the priest or by a person to whom an injury has been done. "May the earth not eat you," is a common expression in the mouth of an angry Greek; for a vampire is not, as some authorities have contended, a disembodied soul, but an undissolved body. Vampirism is believed to be hereditary in certain families, the members of which are regarded with aversion by their neighbors and shunned as much as possible.
One of the most thrilling modern vampire stories I have met with is the following, which was related to me by a Cretan peasant, who had been an eye-witness of the occurrence:
"Once on a time the village of Kalikrati was haunted by a vampire (called 'Katakhnas' by the Cretans), which destroyed both children and many full-grown men, and desolated both that village and many others. They had buried him in the church of St. George at Kalikrati, and in those times he was a man of note, and they had built an arch over his grave. Now, a certain shepherd, his mutual synteknos, was tending his sheep and goats near the church, and on being caught in a shower, he went to the sepulchre for shelter. Afterward he determined to pass the night there, and after taking off his weapons he placed them crosswise by the stone, which served him for a pillow, and, because of the sacred symbol they formed, the vampire was unable to leave the tomb.
"During the night, as he wished to go out again that he might destroy men, the vampire said to the shepherd, 'Gossip [friend], get up hence, for I have some business to attend to.' The shepherd answered him not, either the first, the second, or the third time, for he concluded that the man had become a vampire, and that it was he who had done all these evil deeds. But when he spoke for a fourth time the shepherd replied, 'I shall not get up hence, gossip, for I fear that you are no better than you should be, and may do me mischief; but swear to me by your winding-sheet that you will not hurt me and then I will get up.'
"He did not, however, pronounce that oath, but said other things; but finally, when the shepherd, did not suffer him to get up, the vampire swore to him as he wished. On this he rose, and on his taking up his arms, the vampire came forth and, after greeting the shepherd, said to him, 'Gossip, you must not go away, but sit down here, for I have some business which I must go after. But I shall return within the hour, for I have something to say to you.' So the shepherd waited for him.
"And the vampire went a distance of about ten miles where there was a couple recently married and he destroyed them. On his return the shepherd saw that he was carrying some liver, his hands being wet with blood, and as he carried it he blew into it, just as the butcher does, to increase the size of the liver. And he showed his gossip that it was cooked, as if it had been done on the fire. 'Let us sit down, gossip, and eat,' said he. And the shepherd pretended to eat it, but only swallowed dry bread, and kept dropping the liver into his bosom. Therefore, when the hour of their separation arrived, the vampire said to the shepherd:
"'Gossip, this which you have seen you must not mention, for, if you do, my twenty nails will be fixed in your children and yourself.' Yet the shepherd lost no time, but gave information to the priests and others, who went to the tomb and found the vampire just as he had been buried, and all were satisfied that it was he who had done all the evil deeds. So they collected a great deal of wood, and they cast him on it and burnt him. When the body was half consumed, the shepherd, too, came forward, in order that he might enjoy the ceremony. And the vampire spat, as it were, a single drop of blood, which fell on his foot, and it wasted away as if it had been burnt with fire. On this account they sifted even the ashes, and found the little finger nail of the vampire, and burnt that, too."
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