This is the first entry in my "Night Visitors" series, a series of blog entries that focus on monsters and entities that prey and feed upon humans while they sleep.
Nightmares have haunted the sleep of men and women since the beginning. These kinds of dreams can cause people to awaken very suddenly in the night, sometimes accompanied by screams of terror. In cultures all over the world, people have long believed that there are supernatural entities that are responsible for these horrifying dreams. In Germany and Austria, these beliefs have coalesced into a very frightening and very confusing entity that feeds upon the blood of unsuspecting women while they sleep. The German people know this vampiric spirit as the Alp, and it is one of the most dangerous of all supernatural predators.
Nobody seems to be quite sure as to what the Alp actually is, since the spirit is perceived differently in different areas. Generally speaking, the spirit is almost always male, although in some accounts it is portrayed as being female (Bane 10), and it is believed to have only one eye. In some areas of Germany, it is believed to be an elemental, much like a gnome or a tomtin. In parts of Austria, it is said to be a malicious spirit of the dead. Other people believed that the Alp could appear as a small elderly man, while others thought the spirit was a shapeshifting wizard of great power that would roam the countryside in the form of a bird or a cat (Curran 18). And that’s not all: some legends say that the Alp is the returned spirit of a man who died a horrible death, while others say that the entity is the vengeful ghost of a child that died before it could be baptized (Maberry 14). And still others say that it is a male child who died as a result of a particularly long and agonizing childbirth (Bane 10). Then again, the Alp could be a voracious bloodsucking demon from the deepest pits of Hell. To reiterate, nobody is really sure. And in that same vein, nobody seems to know exactly what the Alp looks like, either. This may be because the Alp is usually invisible, and because it is capable of assuming a number of different forms, and may thus have no true form (Bane 10). However, what is known of the Alp is that it is a predatory entity that feeds on the blood and the breast milk of sleeping women, glutting itself on those fluids while weakening the victim and depriving her baby of the food it needs to survive and grow at the same time (Maberry 14).
The Alp has a variety of supernatural powers at its disposal. When it takes on a physical form, the Alp possesses unnatural strength and speed, and is able to fly in any of its myriad forms (Bane 10). The Alp is a notorious shapeshifter, able to assume a wide variety of different forms. It can become any sort of animal that it wants, although the entity seems to prefer the form of a dog, a cat, a bird, a pig, a snake, a vole, a wolf, a moth, a white butterfly, a monstrous black dog with lecherous tendencies, and even an icy mist (Bane 10; Curran 18-19; Maberry 15). For this reason, the Alp is often linked to stories of werewolves in folklore, especially in Cologne, Germany (Bane 10). Interestingly, the Alp is always said to wear a hat called a tarnkappe, which literally means “cap of concealment”. This hat gives the spirit the power of invisibility and some other unspecified magical powers (Bane 10). This is usually a soft, old wide-brimmed hat, but it could also be a simple cap made of cloth or a veil, designed to hide the entity’s face from its victims (Curran 18). But the spirit becomes even more formidable when wielding the power of its Evil Eye, a sinister spiritual ability that is feared all over the world. The Evil Eye allows a person to curse or inflict misfortune and even death upon others with a glance or an intense stare. In the Alp’s case, the Evil Eye allows the spirit to manipulate the wills and especially the dreams of sleeping victims. With this power, the entity is capable of creating horrible nightmares that frighten its victims nearly to death and can also cause bouts of sleepwalking, seizures, and fits while they’re sleeping (Maberry 14; Curran 19). This, in turn, can lead to severe insomnia, and if this goes untreated for long enough, it will cause insanity and eventual death. The Alp must take great care to protect its eye from any kind of damage. Without it, the spirit cannot torment its victims with nightmares (Bunson 5).
The Alp is nocturnal by nature, detesting sunlight and only preying upon humans while they’re asleep. It feeds primarily on women, although on very rare occasions it will attack men and young boys (Bane 10; Maberry 14). The entity is able to attack in a few different ways, but all of them lead to the same outcome. The Alp’s primary method of attack is to sit on its victim’s chest, becoming heavier and heavier until it literally begins to crush its victim (“Alp (folklore)”, Wikipedia). The Alp may choose to turn into a cold mist and force itself down the victim’s throat (although it may also use its tongue or turn into a snake for this purpose). Either of these actions will compress the victim’s lungs, making it very difficult to breathe or scream for help. Once its victim is immobilized, the Alp begins sucking milk or blood from the nipples, sometimes taking both at the same time (Bane 10; Bunson 5). In other cases, the Alp appears in the victim’s dreams before it actually attacks, and then it drains the blood and the milk from the victim’s breasts. The Alp derives power from feeding in this way, but it also leaves the victim severely weakened and prone to disease, bouts of despair, and depression (Maberry 14). Furthermore, the Alp is known for sexually assaulting its prey before or during its feedings. In parts of Austria, it is believed that the spirit will literally pounce on women and young girls while they’re lying in bed, ravishing them as they sleep. It may also suck the semen from men and teenage boys (Curran 22). These attacks can not only give the victim nightmares, but it will also cause erotic dreams (Bane 10). Because of this and its penchant for feeding almost entirely on women, the Alp has been compared to the Incubus. Paradoxically, some women seem to actually enjoy having sex with the entity, and if a woman calls out to the spirit to take it on as a lover, the Alp will be gentle and chivalrous towards her. Some say that this gallant attitude extends to all of its victims, and that the Alp rarely forces itself upon its prey. Not everyone agrees with this, however. But in most cases, the victim will feel absolutely horrible about having had sex with this vile spirit. In any case, being attacked by the Alp in any way is known as Alpdrücke, meaning “elf pressure” (Curran 18; Bane 10; Bunson 5; Maberry 14).
Sometimes, the Alp isn’t content with only tormenting and feeding upon humans. If it so desires, the spirit will also attack livestock like cows, horses, rabbits, and geese. One of the Alp’s favorite activities is to ride a horse all night long, leaving the poor animal utterly exhausted and likely to die the next day. The entity may also feed upon the milk and the blood of livestock as well. One thing that the Alp is very fond of is literally crushing the animals to death with its sheer strength and weight (Bane 10; Franklin 12). The spirit is also known for mischief, and has been known to play with the hair of its victims by sucking on it and tying it into knots, which are known as “mare braids” (Franklin 12). It can also cause milk to go sour, pull out nose hairs, and is known for its tendency to put already-soiled diapers back on babies. The mother must make the Sign of the Cross over the diaper before putting on a clean one to prevent this (“Alp (folklore)”, Wikipedia).
There are a number of different ways in which a person may become an Alp. Some of them have already been mentioned, but they will be repeated here for the sake of convenience. There are some who say that the Alp is the ghost of man who died horribly as a result of being murdered or having committed suicide, while others say that it is the vengeful spirit of a baby boy who died before his baptism (Maberry 14). In that same vein, some beliefs hold that a child born with a caul (a thin piece of amniotic membrane) over their face could be predisposed to vampirism or lycanthropy of one form or another, while other cultures believed that being born with a caul was extremely lucky and that such a person could never die from drowning. If the baby was born with hairy palms, then the child was bound to become either a vampire or a werewolf at some point in his life (Curran 18-19). If a man somehow becomes an Alp during his lifetime, then it is always considered to be his mother’s fault. If the man’s mother had sinned during her pregnancy and hadn’t sought forgiveness, then her child’s transformation into a vampire was inevitable. If the woman ate something that was considered to be unclean or had been spat on by malicious dwarves (dwarves are common in German folklore), then her son was certain to become a monster. Women are thought to be particularly vulnerable during pregnancy to supernatural attack, and childbirth was fraught with peril as well. If the mother-to-be took any “inappropriate measures” during her baby’s birth, then her son could become an Alp as a result (although exactly what those “measures” are remains unspecified). If she were to bite down on a horse’s collar to ease her pain during childbirth, it could result in vampirism. If the mother was frightened by an animal (especially a horse or a dog) during her pregnancy, her child is destined to become an Alp (Curran 18-19; Bunson 4; “Alp (folklore)”, Wikipedia). If the child died after its mother suffered through a particularly long and agonizing childbirth, then the baby may return as an Alp (Bane 10). If any of these particular conditions come to pass, then that man is doomed in life or death to an awful, godforsaken existence as a shapeshifting, blood-drinking spirit.
Most of the monsters that are spoken of in folklore from around the world can be killed or otherwise destroyed by specific methods. This is not the case with the Alp. This particular entity is virtually impossible to destroy by any known means, and weapons are useless against it. However, people have devised a number of different methods down through the centuries to deter or otherwise keep the spirit away. But be warned: this list is long and can be somewhat complicated or even strange, but it is necessary if a person wants any chance of surviving an encounter with this vampiric spirit. Be courageous, and follow the instructions.
One of the most effective means of ridding oneself of the Alp’s attentions is to simply steal its tarnkappe. However, this method is fraught with danger, and should only be considered as a last resort. This can be done by seeking out the spirit’s resting place during the day and stealing it. Either that, or one may knock it off during an attack (if one can muster the strength to move). It is said that the hat is always visible, whether the Alp is or not, which makes things a bit easier (“Alp (folklore)”, Wikipedia). In other words, if a person sees a floating, disembodied hat or a cap, then it's bound to be an Alp. The tarnkappe is precious to the Alp, and the spirit is very protective of it. Without its tarnkappe, the Alp loses much of its power, not to mention its powers of strength and invisibility. This hat is so valuable to the Alp that the spirit will generously reward anyone that returns the hat (Bane 10; Bunson 5; Maberry 14). Once sufficiently weakened, the entity can then be driven off with prayers or incantations (Maberry 14). The Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 91, Psalm 23, Psalm 25, Psalm 61, and Psalm 121 are all recommended.
There is a wide variety of methods that can be used to keep the Alp from entering one’s home and attacking the occupants. Some people say that iron will keep the spirit at bay (Franklin 12). In a similar vein, it is said that a pair of scissors, placed under the pillow with the points aligned towards the front end of the bed, will also work (Maberry 15). One of the stranger methods of repelling the Alp is for a woman to go to sleep with her shoes at the bedside, with the toes pointed towards the bedroom door. This method, along with the scissors-under-the-pillow bit, is thought to confuse the Alp for some reason, and will force the entity to turn towards the door and leave (Maberry 15). Oddly enough, some sources recommend that if a person finds the Alp sitting on their chest (it will most likely be invisible), they should put one of their thumbs into the palm of the other hand. For some reason, this is thought to frighten the spirit and will cause it to flee immediately (Bane 10-11). And to prevent the Alp from attacking one’s cattle and horses, a pair of crossed measuring sticks should be placed in the barn or a broom should be placed in the animals’ pen to protect the livestock from being ridden to death (Bane 10). One may also hang iron horseshoes from the bedpost. Since the Alp is capable of shapeshifting, it is recommended that any holes (especially keyholes) be plugged up. Doing this before going to bed will keep the Alp out of the room, while doing so during a visitation will trap the spirit inside the room. Doing so will undoubtedly make the spirit angry, as it is said that the Alp can only leave the way it originally came into the room. Keeping a light on all night (whether a candle or a nightlight) is considered to be effective, as is a person standing guard over the would-be victim all night (“Alp (folklore)”, Wikipedia).
One of the more complicated methods for keeping one of these malevolent night visitors away (there’s more than one) is to bargain with it or to promise it something. If a person finds a small, pale-white butterfly sitting on their chest after awakening in the middle of the night, he or she must say, “Trud, come tomorrow and I will lend you something!” The bug will immediately buzz off, but it will come back the next day in the form of a human with bushy eyebrows that meet in the middle above the nose, wanting to borrow something (i.e. a cup of flour, milk, or sugar, like most annoying neighbors). At this point, one has to say, “Come back tomorrow and drink with me.” The Alp will leave, but on the next day, the witch who sent the spirit to harass the household will be compelled to show up at the front door, but this may only apply if it was witchcraft or dark magic that summoned the Alp to begin with. At this point, the would-be victim has the witch at their mercy, and may confront or otherwise deal with the witch as they see fit, although outright murder in public isn’t recommended (Bane 10; “Alp (folklore)”, Wikipedia).
There are a number of other ways to ward off the Alp. In his book Vampires (New Page Books, 2005), Dr. Bob Curran suggests that, in some parts of Austria, flashing a crucifix, the sight of a holy relic, and wearing holy medals or a scapular will drive the spirit off. Protestants in other parts of Germany disagreed, saying that it sounded way too Catholic and reeked of superstition to boot. Furthermore, the Protestants argued that these spirits predated Christianity, saying that they had once been the servants of very old deities that had once dwelled deep within the ancient forests and high in the lonely mountains. In other words, the Alp and its kind aren’t likely to be affected by the power of the Church. However, Dr. Curran does recommend sprinkling salt across the front doorstep (and perhaps on all of the windowsills in the house), which will keep the Alp out (Curran 21). A line of salt (which must be free of impurities) in front of a room's door may also work, but only as long as the line remains unbroken.
It should be known that, like some other vampire species, the Alp suffers from arithmomania – an obsessive-compulsive desire to count. This spirit’s case of supernatural OCD can be turned into a great advantage by taking a large bag of seed to the nearest crossroads. Once there, a small pile should be poured in the direct center of the crossroads. And since the crossroads goes off in four different directions, one must also pour a small trail of the seed from the larger pile in the middle of the crossroads along the center of each of the four roads. Once the Alp comes along, it will see the seed and feel an irresistible urge to start counting. And because the seed trails branch off in four different directions, the Alp will become completely and utterly confused! The Alp will just sit there on the crossroads, crying in utter frustration until dawn comes. At this point, the Alp must flee and quickly find a resting place for the day. Sunlight weakens the power of the Alp’s tarnkappe, negating its invisibility and reducing its strength (Maberry 15). The Alp must find a place to hide and quickly, or the spirit risks being exposed to human eyes. The Alp doesn’t like to be seen, and seeing one of these spirits in this state is akin to a death sentence.
Some ways of warding off the Alp involve the use of magic, and it must be very potent magic indeed. One prescribed method is to draw a mystic hexagram on the front door of the house or one’s bedroom door with a piece of chalk. Afterwards, the hexagram must be imbued with the names of the Three Magi Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar, the Three Kings who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus after His birth. In addition, all of this must be done during the Festival of the Three Kings (which falls on Epiphany, on the twelfth day of Christmas). Another such charm says that one must draw a pentagram (again, with chalk) on a door with the names of Elias and Enoch inside of it. Furthermore, this must be done by the head of the household (Bane 11).
In addition to the methods described above, people have invented some truly strange and questionable ways of defending themselves against the Alp. Once upon a time, there was a song that could be used to frighten the spirit away. This melody would be sung by the fire every night before the last person in the house went to sleep. However, the lyrics and even the song’s name have been lost to the passage of time and the depths of history. Another recommended remedy is to sleep with a mirror on one’s chest. One particularly morbid (not to mention disturbing) method is to bury a stillborn child under one’s front door. But the most bizarre way to ward off one of these spirits by far is to use one’s own urine. A person that is suffering from nightmares brought on by the Alp’s attacks should pee into a clean, brand-new glass bottle and then hang the bottle from a tree or another convenient spot for three whole days. On the fourth day, the bottle should be taken down and, without uttering a single word at all, carried to a running stream or a creek and tossed overhead into the flowing water (Bane 11). Easy, unless one is given to arbitrarily talking to himself aloud for no reason.
One thing that the Alp truly hates is lemons. Exactly why this might be isn’t certain, but this fruit’s apotropaic properties seem to only be effective against some of Germany’s indigenous vampire species. On very rare occasions, the Alp can be caught while it is sleeping during the daytime, or even more rarely, cornered by armed monster hunters. In such situations, a brave individual can (very carefully) try to force the entity’s mouth open and fill it with lemon slices. This undertaking is extremely dangerous and, if done incorrectly, could have deadly consequences. But if the hunters succeed, it will be well worth the risk. The lemons won’t kill the entity, but it will become so weak that the Alp won’t be able to start hunting and feed itself again for several months, perhaps even years. But be warned: the Alp will eventually return, ravenous with hunger and starving for revenge. It will relentlessly stalk and kill those who so thoroughly defeated and humiliated it, and it will most likely seek out their families as well (Maberry 15). Blood will flow like rivers, and nothing short of intervention from God Himself will stop it. In other words, be afraid…be very afraid.
Under certain circumstances, it may be possible to destroy the Alp or, at the very least, permanently destroy its powers. But keep in mind that these measures are dependent upon the Alp’s origins, and that while these tactics may work on one spirit, it may not be useful on another. If a community believed that the Alp was the ghost of someone who had recently died, then what followed was more or less a typical vampire hunt. The deceased’s grave would be dug up, the corpse removed, and then the body was burned in full view of the public until nothing but ashes and cinders remained. Presumably, the ashes would then be scattered or poured back into the person’s grave. In some instances, the Alp could be a living person who might not necessarily be aware of their nighttime activities. If this was the case, then they had to be found and restrained before the next attack could occur. Once this was done, a cut was made just above the person’s right eye. Drawing the person’s blood in this way is believed to take the Alp’s dark powers away, rendering the individual harmless. This practice is known as “blooding”. In the same vein (pun intended), the same thing could be done to a witch who had summoned the Alp. Whether this could actually destroy the entity or not is unknown, but it would most definitely rid the Alp of its powers (Curran 21; “Alp (folklore)”, Wikipedia). But other than what is mentioned above, it is virtually impossible to destroy the Alp.
As recently as the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, panics have arisen due to attacks by the Alp. In parts of Austria, between the years of 1725 and 1732, graveyards were desecrated by frightened locals hunting for vampires. Some blamed a tuberculosis epidemic, but that didn’t stop the people from unearthing bodies and burning them. In 1755, people living in the town of Olmutz experienced the same troubles. In 1790, an Alp appeared in the town of Cologne, Germany, taking the form of “a massive and lascivious dog” with pitch-black fur, glowing red eyes, and sparks that dripped from the corners of its mouth. This creature terrorized the townsfolk, until a certain corpse was disinterred from the local cemetery and burned to ashes. After that, the beast was never seen again. And finally, in the early 1800s, a number of these vile spirits were said to be roaming about the Brocken Mountains in Germany. Here, the entities were sucking blood from the nipples of men as they slept, supposedly under the direction of witches. Livestock like sheep and cows were also attacked, but there are no records of how these incidents were dealt with (Curran 21-22).
Today, the legends and the lore surrounding the Alp have been all but forgotten. Science has explained these attacks as sleep paralysis, hypnogogia, vivid nightmares, and in some extreme cases, SUNDS (Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome). According to author Jonathan Maberry, the Alp was once one of the most common and the most feared of all the unnatural predators in Europe (Maberry 14). Now, it is thought to be only a myth, a superstition from a bygone age. But is there something truly evil behind these legends? History and folklore would seem to indicate as much. And while attacks from this evil spirit seem to be few and far between in modern times, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t something out there. And who knows? In Europe's more rural areas, the Alp might still be active, flying about invisibly in the darkness of the night, always searching for its next meal of warm human blood…
I would like to take this time to thank my good friends Bob Curran, Jonathan Maberry, and Theresa Bane for allowing me to use their books in my research. Without their help, this would've been a very short 100th entry. Thank you!!
Bane, Theresa. Actual Factual Dracula: A Compendium of Vampires. Randleman, North Carolina: NeDeo Press, 2007.
Bunson, Matthew. The Vampire Encyclopedia. New York: Gramercy Books, 2000.
Curran, Dr. Bob. Vampires: A Field Guide to the Creatures that Stalk the Night. Franklin Lakes, New Jersey: New Page Books, 2005.
Franklin, Anna. The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Fairies. London, England: Anova Books Company Ltd, 2004.
Maberry, Jonathan. Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Haunt Us, Hunt Us, and Hunger for Us. New York: Citadel Press Books, 2006.
“Alp (folklore)”. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. July 6, 2016. Accessed on July 26, 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alp_(folklore)>