By Rebecca McCourtie
At the risk of sounding cliched, at this very moment, as I type these words out onto my laptop, I am lying in my bed in the remote village of Magura. Situated high up in the Transylvanian mountains, I am lying here in the dimly lit room, listening to the pouring rain and the sound of thunder .
It’s a chilly evening and the atmosphere is beckoning for a visit from the man, the one and only Dracula. Like the devil’s jagged edged teacup, the heavens are currently pouring the rain and milk-like mist on top of us with a steady flow. I fear we may overflow. There is fear surmounting within me.
What if the legend is more than just folklore? What if somewhere out there, somewhere in amongst the rugged terrain, a blood-sucking seducer awaits his next victim?
So who is Dracula? I suspect not many people know the legend behind the figure that has inspired the mass vampire movement in pop-culture. True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight etc. The real story behind vampires and Dracula is far more fascinating than any hit show currently on the airwaves.
Lets start with the destination. History has it that Transylvania sits on one of the Earth’s strongest magnetic fields. Vampires are believed to lurk at cross roads in the region, waiting for a prey.
It won’t surprise you that Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the book that arguably started the worldwide fascination with vampires, is set in this very region. Stoker may have brought to life the fictional character known as Count Dracula, but nothing comes from nowhere, so what inspired Stoker’s literary genius?
To answer this question one must delve deep into the comparatively unexplored Romanian history and stop at a figure known as Vlad Tepes, or rather Vlad the Born in Transylvania to a noble family in the 15th century,.Vlad grew up to be the ruler of the neighboring region of Walachia. Vlad never ruled over Transylvania.
In Vlad’s day Transylvania was a separate region to Walachia and was not united in the name of ‘Romania’ until 1878. What is now known as modern day ‘Romania’ was once a gateway connecting two great empires: The Ottoman and the Austrian-Hapsburgs. Vlad was known for being a formidable character who indulged in brutal and violent theatrics when it came to his rule.
So how did we get ‘Dracula’ from Vlad the Impaler? The name ‘Dracula’ is often thought to come from the Romanian word for devil (drac/ dracul). This is incorrect though, the word Dracula is an evolution from the Romanian word for dragon. Given that the word ‘dragon’ is not specified in Romanian culture, the people named the dragon symbol as a ‘Drac’ without any specific reference to the devil.
Vlad’s father, known as Drac was a member of the ‘Order of the Dragon’. Similar to the Crusaders, the Order of the Dragon was a Christian knight movement founded by Sigismund von Luxemburg (King of Hungary). The Order was established for the purpose of fighting against the Muslim Ottoman Turks. When Vlad become involved in the Order himself, he changed his name to Dracula, or rather ‘Son of the Dragon.’ Dracul (Vlad’s father), who had been assisted by the Turks in defeating the Austro-Hungarians, was asked by Sultan Murad the Great to pay his homage by surrendering his two youngest sons to the Ottomon Empire. After his father was murdered and his older brother’s eyes burnt out with red-hot iron stakes before being buried alive, it is believed Vlad developed his thirst for barbaric rule in what he now believed was a barbaric world.
Vlad was famous for impaling people alive. He was feared for his wrath and barbaric. Not satisfied with impaling his victims any old way, Vlad was known for delicately weaving a sharpened wooden stick along his victim’s spinal column, taking precise care to omit piercing any major arteries or internal organs. The stick would be speared through the groin and come out through the neck, almost like a vampire bite. Still alive and writhing in pain, the victims would be hoisted up on public display, left to die slowly.
This alluded to a warning for anyone who dare contemplate treason.
Understandably not wanting to be viewed as predictable, Vlad took to a few other methods of torture. Dabbling in the occasional skinning-alive, Vlad also liked to boil, decapitate, nail, burn and/ or bury his victims alive.
While the real Dracula may not have sucked blood straight from the fountain of life, rumor has it that he still had a taste for the red stuff. Specifically, it is said that he often collected the blood of those impaled in buckets beneath posts, saving the minerally substance as a ‘dipping’ side for his bread.
It is believed that Dracula was killed in 1476 while fighting the Turks near Bucharest. It is said that his head was cut off and displayed in Constantinople. His body however, has never been found and this is where the legend of the ‘living-dead’ is said to have emerged. How does the legend of Dracula play out today?
While primarily regarded as a myth in today, in 2003 a 76-year-old man passed away. He was buried as per Romanian Christian custom. In February of 2004, his niece swore black and blue that her deceased uncle had come to visit her in the dead of the night (no pun intended).
Scared by the possibility of their nation’s folklore being true, the brother-in-law of the niece gathered some locals and family members and exhumed the grave. Upon opening the coffin they ripped out what was left of the rotted corpse’s heart and burnt the rest of the body. The ashes were then mixed inwater and consumed by the family. This being a superstitious custom of the place.
Romania was preparing for the country’s accession into the EU and did not want the marks of mythological nonsense or superstitious cultural practice hindering their membership into the greater regional cooperative. Subsequently they banned the practice of drinking deceased ashes.
When the family was found out, they were arrested and imprisoned on the grounds of ‘disturbing the peace of the dead’. Since this occurrence, the people in the area now drive wooden stakes through the hearts of the dead as a preventative of blood-thirsty resurrection.
Three Interesting Fun-Facts
- The clichéd black vampire cape with the red lining was actually the legitimate cape worn by members of the Order of the Dragon!
- Romania isn’t the only country to have century old historical legends about blood- sucking creatures. Vampire blood-lust stories are also present in Indian mythology as well.
- The Hindu goddess Kali is often depicted holding a blood-filled pot. It is more than possible that the Roma people (Romanian gypsies) who are originally believed to have come across from India, brought the ‘blood-thirsty’ legend with them to Europe.