Two vampires with iron stakes in their hearts have been discovered in Bulgaria. The vampires, which had the stakes implanted in their chests were found at the center of an ancient ritual site intended to keep the vampires from ever leaving their grave. And now it seems the practice is at the heart of why the vampires are now leaving their graves. These are the hundredth vampire skeletons discovered in Bulgaria leading all the way back to the middle ages.
Bulgaria, neighboring the historic European country of Hungary (home to Dracula’s home Transylvania) is a country with a little under 43,000 square miles, but it packs quite a bit of history, including several references to migration of armies from all over Europe.
And along with these troop movements came much of the culture and practices (including burial practices and superstitions) of the neighboring tribes and cities, including the people of Bram Stoker’s favorite literary location – Transylvannia. The practice of burying a stake in the heart of the recently deceased is included in the annals of Bulgarian history and was even practiced up to the early 1900’s.
It was said that those of an afflicted heart, murderers, and the very cruel could come back to life after death to terrorize those surviving. But a macabre folk remedy intended to drive away the evil in a man’s heart was often employed to keep these corpses in the ground rather than returning. The driving of a stake through the heart of a criminal was occasionally employed in desperate situations. to date over a hundred such burials have been unearthed alongside others.
But rather than the wooden stakes killing vampires like in western literature, these iron spikes were driven from the body directly into the ground with the intention of keeping the vampires from clawing their ways out of the ground.
Similar practices were used in Ireland to keep the dead from returning from the grave. The practice of holding down the dead to keep them from returning to plague the living seems to span several cultures, and generally is done as a preventative measure to keep the dead from returning. Serbian and Balkan countries similarly employed these tactics to keep the dead from returning.
What is it about the dead that sends a chill down the spines of the living? Some say it’s because of feelings of dread villagers would have to come to terms with after witnessing a death. Others say it’s because of the disturbing appearance of the lifeless dead looking nearly identical to living breathing counterparts but with some form of vital essence removed. Still others say it was reference to the superstitious animism of the time which held that all things living and dead had with them a spirit that could allow them to return without warning.
While the bodies discovered in Bulgaria may not be coming back to life when the iron stakes are removed and studied to further archaeological knowledge, there is still a great deal of apprehension surrounding death and its many mysteries not only in Bulgaria but throughout the world.