For better or worse, Romania has been associated in popular imagination internationally with vampires. This is largely due to the nineteenth century gothic novel by Bram Stoker, whose main character, a vampire named Dracula, has become associated with the historical prince of the Romanian land known as Wallachia, Vlad the Impaler. Although Stoker only makes a vague association with the historical prince, who signed his name as Dracula, over time popular culture, in both books and literature, have made a more explicit connection between the fictional vampire and the historical ruler.
Of course, in Romanian culture there is absolutely NO connection with Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, and any mention of vampires. Recent marketing efforts to associate Vlad with Bran Castle, with which he had no actual ties [For more on this see, Bran Castle and Dracula: The True Story], are merely efforts to exploit unwitting tourists who have no idea of the actual history of the country. For those interested in vampire lore though, Romania does have a tradition, which, unfortunately, the commercialization of the Dracula myth obscures.
One of those who noted the actual vampire tradition in Romania, long before it was popular to associate Vlad the Impaler with it, was Radical American journalist John Reed. Reed was one of the outstanding writers of his day. The famed author of Ten Days that Shook the World and subject of the famous film Reds with Warren Beatty, visited Romania during the time of World War I and had some keen observations of the society of that day, including the vampire legends prevalent in the land.
In his accounts of Romania, included in the new book Romania during World War I by John Reed, he wrote “If a peasant dies and others from his family or village follow in quick succession, the priest suggests that the dead man’s spirit is a vampire. To lay this murdering ghost, the body must be exhumed in the dead of night (for it is strictly forbidden by Rumanian criminal law) and the heart torn out by an ordained priest, who drives a wooden peg through it. For this he charges a hundred francs.”
While the association of Dracula and vampires in Romania is here to stay, it is necessary to go beyond fiction and fantasy to explore actual vampire lore in Romanian culture.
Romania during World War I: Observations of an American Journalist by John Reed. Introduction by Dr. A.K. Brackob. Postscript by Louise Bryant available from Amazon and at all major booksellers and at HistriaBooks.com
A special thank you to Alexandra Chiriță for contributing the original graphic for the featured image for this article.
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