The ways that most people know of destroying the Undead comes from movies, television, and popular literature, which is considered to be modern folklore. However, all the methods listed and explained here are from genuine Vampire folklore. But just as the Vampire has its weaknesses, there are just as many ways to kill the Vampire. But how exactly does one kill a creature that is already dead? Although the many methods differ from one culture to the next, most seem to be similar in one way or another. There are three primary methods, used together, throughout Europe to destroy the walking dead: staking, decapitation, and burning. Collectively, these methods are known as the Vampire Exorcism. Its purpose is to ensure that the Vampire never again returns to plague the living.
The best-known method of slaying the Vampire is to drive a wooden stake through the revenant’s heart. However, unlike what is portrayed in the movies and popular literature, a stake through the heart doesn’t actually kill the Vampire, but immobilizes the creature so that the rest of the Exorcism can take place.
The stake pins the Vampire to the ground, both physically and symbolically. Once the Vampire is affixed to the earth, it is thought that natural forces would catch up with the revenant’s body, and decay would begin. If the evil spirit inhabiting the corpse tried to escape, it would be unable to do so. However, according to Russian folk customs, the stake had to be driven completely through the corpse with a single blow, as a second blow would awaken the Vampire from its slumber. It is essential that, when staking the Vampire, one avoids spurting blood, as an individual that is splattered with the creature’s blood will either die instantly or become irrevocably insane.
The materials used to make stakes have varied somewhat throughout the ages. Iron was a popular choice during medieval times, and in some cases, the point of the stake was heated until the iron started to glow red-hot, at which point the stake was driven into the creature (a practice of the Bulgarian people). However, various hardwoods have remained the most popular choice for making stakes. Hawthorn or aspen are considered to be the most effective, as both woods have powerful religious connotations (hawthorn was used in Christ’s crown of thorns, while aspen was the wood that was used to build the cross that Jesus was crucified on). Other woods used for this purpose include oak, ash, wild rose, willow, yew, juniper, blackthorn, whitethorn, buckthorn, linden, rowan, and maple. However, in the countries of Albania and Dalmatia, a dagger that had been previously blessed by a priest was used to pierce the Vampire’s heart, as opposed to the more traditional wooden stake.
While many of these hardwoods are still popular, many modern vampire hunters prefer silver stakes. Although expensive, stakes made of this precious metal are worth every penny. A silver stake is far more durable than a wooden one, and can be used over and over. When irreparably damaged, they can be melted down and recast. As silver hardens when cold-forged with a hammer, this can be used to enhance the durability of the stake’s point. Silver stakes are generally useful in a close-quarters fight, while wooden stakes are usually used for pinning (although they are still useful in a fight).
A stake might be driven into the ground above the grave of a suspected revenant, so that the creature might impale itself upon rising from the grave. However, as mentioned previously, staking the Vampire wasn’t enough to slay the creature. As said earlier, the stake only immobilizes the Vampire for an indefinite period of time. Some Vampires were known to ignore the stake completely (one revenant thanked his would-be killers for the stick, using it to keep away dogs). To put it simply, the stake is only one part of destroying the Vampire.
By far the most effective method of killing the Vampire is decapitation. Cutting off the head will kill any Vampire, no matter how old or how powerful the creature may be. This grisly practice originates from the belief that the Vampire is incapable of existing without its head or heart, as it cannot regenerate these vital parts. Without its head, the Vampire is unable to wander about at night without the head to direct it. As with staking, spurting blood must be avoided at all costs.
After the Vampire is exhumed and a stake is driven through the corpse, decapitation follows. Beheading could be done with a sword or an axe, but this was traditionally done with a gravedigger’s shovel (which has a supernatural connection to death) or the sexton’s spade (which is possessed of the holy power of God). Beforehand, the corpse was covered with a large piece of thick cloth, so as to avoid spurting blood. Then, the head was quickly struck off with a single stroke. Afterwards, the mouth was stuffed with fresh garlic cloves (as this severed the connection of the flesh and the inhabiting spirit). If the corpse was reburied, the head was placed under the arm or in between the legs, turned facedown. The head and the body should be buried at the crossroads, disposed of separately, burned (in separate fires), or buried in different plots. This is the second step in the Vampire Exorcism, but is highly effective in close-quarters combat with the Undead as well.
Burning is the final step in the destruction of the Vampire, but it is also the most difficult and time-consuming parts of the Exorcism. As said earlier, cremation will destroy any Vampire. Fire is a manifestation of God’s Power, and one of the most powerful purifying forces known to man. However, incineration is only used as a last resort, only if staking, decapitation, or other preventative measures have failed.
Burning the Vampire is an extremely difficult undertaking, requiring copious amounts of oil, an unending supply of wood (one tale from Russia says to use “a hundred loads of aspen boughs”), an executioner, and a day or two off of work.
A corpse needs immense temperatures, oxygen, and constant heat to be reduced to charred ashes, and the commoners were incapable of meeting these demands. Therefore, an executioner (who has experience cutting up human bodies) with an axe was called in. He then proceeded to chop the vampiric cadaver into small pieces. This made it easier to burn the corpse. The Russians made an important emphasis on catching and killing any creatures that crawled out of the fire (insects, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and other such things), as these vermin could conceivably hold the Vampire’s essence. If even one of these creatures escaped, then the Vampire would find a new body, and the creature’s reign of terror would begin anew.
If cremation was successful, on the other hand, the people could rest at ease. The Vampire, no matter how powerful it was, would be gone forever. Next, the ashes were scattered to the winds, put into a sack and thrown into a fast-flowing river, or the ashes were simply buried. Either way, the threat of the Vampire was temporarily abated.
There are many other methods of destroying the Vampire, all of which are prevalent in folklore. Some are fairly extreme measures, reluctantly done when the vampire hunters or the common people had no other choice or any other ideas.
Excision of the Heart
This is more extreme than staking, and quite a bit gorier as well. The heart is considered to be the part of the Vampire that is inhabited by a demonic spirit. In Romania (and some other parts of Europe), the Vampire is said to possess two hearts (and therefore, two souls). The second heart houses the evil spirit, maintaining the Vampire’s state of undeath. With two hearts, the revenant is twice as difficult to kill. If one destroys the heart, one destroys the Vampire. However, this is far easier said than done…
First, the Vampire had to be exhumed. Recall that, although nocturnal by nature, the Vampire is more than capable of activity during the daylight hours. Therefore, extreme caution is advised while doing this. Using a sword, a dagger, or a knife (the blade having been blessed by a priest previously), a deep incision is made in the abdomen or the chest cavity. Then, the Hunter inserted his hand and felt around for the heart. Once found, he ripped the organ out. But he wasn’t done yet…
Next, the heart had to be disposed of. This is usually done by burning it to ashes. Sometimes, the heart was boiled in wine, vinegar, oil, or holy water, and the heart was then returned to the body or burned afterwards. At times, after cremation, the ashes were carefully spooned back into the cavity. This method has been used quite frequently, especially in America (such as the Mercy Brown case of 1892 on Rhode Island). It remains a popular option, although messy and generally unpleasant.
Dismemberment is a grisly process that involves hacking off the Vampire’s limbs, one by one, to prevent the creature from rising from the grave and attacking the living. Obviously, any revenant is going to find it to be impossible to get up, wander around, and feed without its arms or legs. Ideally, this should be done with a sword (blessed by a priest) or a woodsman’s axe.
Piercing with a Sword
The sword’s blade should be blessed and anointed with holy water beforehand. This should be done with a single thrust, directly through the heart. However, this method is more appropriate in a battle with the Undead. But either way, this technique gets the task done. No Vampire will rise again after a sword thrust through the heart.
Immersion in Water
As water’s symbolism as a purifier and one of the Holy Sacraments is anathema to the Vampire, a revenant that is fully immersed in water (especially running water) will drown and be destroyed. A bathtub could work, but disposal of the creature’s body may prove to be problematic (as removing the Vampire from the water will revive the creature).
Stealing the Left Sock
Truly one of the most bizarre ways of destroying the Vampire. While the Vampire slumbers, the Hunter steals the creature’s left sock, fills the sock with earth or stones from the Vampire’s grave, and tosses the sock outside of the village’s proximity, usually into running water (i.e. a deep river). The Vampire, being an obsessive creature by nature, will panic and frantically begin searching for its missing sock. The revenant will even endure running water to find its sock, and will eventually drown.
Drenching in Holy Water and Garlic
As both holy water and garlic have a negative effect on the Vampire, a quantity of holy water and garlic oil should be poured into the Vampire’s grave. This will cause the creature immense pain and to eventually disintegrate. However, several gallons are needed for this to be successful. However, this is more in keeping with modern-day fiction and cinematic portrayals of the Vampire, so it may not actually work.
Injection with Holy Water
Ideally, a hypodermic needle, filled with holy water or holy oil (whichever is preferred), should be inserted into the Vampire’s heart and the plunger depressed. This will carry the consecrated liquid throughout the revenant’s body, causing agonizing pain and also causing the Vampire to burn up from the inside. However, although holy water was used against these creatures in historical accounts, it is most likely that this is something more in keeping with fiction than anything else.
Bottling the Vampire
As incredible as this notion may seem to be, in Bulgarian folklore this is said to be one of the most powerful and effective methods of containing and destroying the Vampire. However, this requires powerful magic (which may be just as evil as the Vampire itself), and one has to hire a sorcerer as well. It is extremely dangerous, requiring a great degree of willpower, experience, and an excellent sense of balance. The Hunter (known in Bulgaria as the vampirdzhija), armed with a holy image or a relic and a bottle (baited with the Vampire’s favorite food, preferably the Hunter’s own blood), lies in wait for the revenant.
Once the creature appears, the Hunter chases the Vampire, pursuing it across rooftops, through houses, and even up trees without even a moment’s respite. When the Hunter finally corners the revenant, the Vampire is trapped. Confronted with the crucifix or holy image, the Vampire will have no choice but to assume the form of a mist and flee into the bottle. The Hunter quickly seals the bottle with a lid (engraved onto which is a cross). He then throws the bottle into a roaring fire, thereby forever destroying the Vampire.
In Malaysia, a similar practice is employed, but differs as follows: a bamboo tube (known as a tabong), sealed with leaves and a mystical charm, is used in place of the bottle and, instead of burning the container, the tube is tossed into the sea.
Although the Vampire is able to command wolves, there is one exception: the white wolf. The white wolf is greatly feared by the Vampire, making it a loyal companion and a friend to any Demon Hunter. This wolf can sense the Undead, and this is an extremely useful ability. In Albania, the lugat (a powerful if cowardly revenant) can only be destroyed by a white wolf. The wolf accomplishes this by biting off the Vampire’s leg. Grievously injured and even more humiliated, the lugat will retreat to its grave, never to be seen again.
Shooting with a Consecrated Bullet
Under normal circumstances, firearms have little or no effect on the Vampire. However, a bullet that has been blessed by a priest (not necessarily silver) and is fired into the Vampire’s coffin or the Vampire’s heart will slay the revenant. However, this method is seldom mentioned in folklore. All the same, it is definitely worth a try.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Vampires & Werewolves (Second Edition). New York: Checkmark Books. Copyright ©2011, 2005 by Visionary Living, Inc.