The grave of a “vampire” in Poland shows the fears of women in the 17th century


A sharp sickle was placed on her neck, ready to decapitate her if she awoke from death, and a padlock was placed around her big toe.

That’s what scientists found when they searched the corpse of a woman they believe was suspected of being a vampire in 17th-century Poland.

The unnamed woman – believed to be young and of high social class, given that she was buried in a silk scarf – was likely accused of being supernatural because she stood out, experts said. A large protruding tooth can provide clues.

A professor from Poland’s Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun said burials involving a sickle are extremely unusual. University archaeologists made the find in the southern village of Pien in the eastern European nation last month and published its findings this week.

“The ways to protect against the return of the dead are to cut off the head or legs, place the deceased face down to bite into the ground, burn it and smash it with a stone,” said Dariusz Polinski, who led the research team. Washington Post. Instead, in this case, a sharp scythe is “not laid flat but placed on the neck in such a way that if the deceased had tried to rise, the head would most likely have been severed or injured”.

The exhumed remains of the woman are currently being studied by Polinski’s team.

Her burial reveals the “paranoia” and “fear” around vampires — and “gender politics” at the time, said Stacey Abbott, author of “Undead Apocalypse: Vampires and Zombies in the 21st Century,” in Washington Post Wednesday.

Accusations of being vampires were often leveled against people who “didn’t fit,” Abbott said. “Anxiety about vampires came from the fact that people were different,” as was often the case with accusations of witchcraft, she added.

The woman may have been chosen for her sex, a physical deformity or any social abnormality considered “immoral”, Abbott said, as people searched for “a supernatural explanation” for those they seen as outcasts.

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It’s not uncommon for “vampiric graves” to be found by roadsides or at junctions, said Bethan Briggs-Miller, a British folklorist and paranormal historian. Indeed, the deceased were not allowed to be buried near other people or in consecrated places and cemeteries. Suspicious individuals were often buried with chains or multiple stakes driven into their bodies. Others found in such graves may have died by suicide.

The fear was that they could have “wandered the earth and come out of the grave,” she said.

The women were “highly likely” to face retaliation for any type of accusation or abnormality – refusal to marry, miscarriage or even missed periods, said Briggs-Miller, co-host of the “Eerie Essex” podcast. The fact that her clothes indicate high social status proves that such accusations of vampirism “affected women at all stations,” she said. It was “all part of this demonization of women that’s been going on for a long time.”

“If you stood out somehow, like in the witch trials, being slightly different created the same kind of hysteria,” she continued. “It would have been an accusation case first, otherwise you would be accused yourself.”

Despite the 17th century medical community’s relative lack of scientific knowledge about communicable diseases or mental health, burials were performed with a great degree of “pragmatism” to keep the dead from rising from the grave, Abbott said. “Returning as a vampire was a fate worse than death.”

Accusations of vampirism were common across Europe at the time, particularly in what is now Serbia, Romania, Greece and Italy, she said. The church and other authorities were “systematic” in investigating and exhuming the bodies and looking for evidence of vampirism, which could include lack of decomposition, flushed cheeks, blood in the mouth or corpses swollen.

“In some ways, these were very superstitious beliefs,” but the methods of investigation “were very scientific,” Abbott said.

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The vampire myth has evolved over the centuries; some historians trace their origins to biblical references to Lilith, a seemingly demonic wife of Adam who preyed on the weak and the young. Others cite the ancient Greek myth of Lamia, a bloodthirsty demon who also fed on children. The stories are common across the world, sliding on a scale between zombies and transforming bats, but they generally have some elements in common, experts say, such as an association with blood, feasting on the living and being contagious. .

Vampires have long fascinated the modern imagination, from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to the TV hit “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the romance novels and movies “Twilight” and the popular children’s animation “Hotel Transylvania.”

“We are naturally drawn to dark stories,” Briggs-Miller told the Post, explaining the age-old interest in vampires.

For Abbott, our fascination has changed over time. “As we change and change and our fears change, vampires often come to embody different things,” she said. Initially tied to religion and fear, they are now given a “more sympathetic” treatment representing “groups that have been oppressed”, and we wish them a happy ending rather than death. “We love them,” she added.

They also allow the living to ponder the “eternal question” of the afterlife, Abbott said, stoking a morbid curiosity that continues to draw readers, historians and the public — not just on Halloween.

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However, European historian and professor Martyn Rady told The Post on Wednesday that “there is nothing strange about this discovery.” Using a sickle on the neck was “pretty docile”, he added.

“It’s not a vampire, it’s a revenant. All cultures believe in the ‘living dead,’ he explained, generally describing them as “people who have led violent lives or died violently or who have not been buried with the proper funeral rites”.

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In parts of Europe, “bodies can be cut in half down the middle, or the head severed, or a stake driven into the corpse to pin it down,” he continued. “In Chinese tales, one way to keep the corpse still is to bury it with rice, because the undead love nothing better than counting grains of rice,” he said. Similar accounts have been found in Europe, with seeds sprinkled inside graves for suspected vampires to count until the sun rises.

“There is, by the way, nothing strange about the ghost being a woman,” Rady said of the Polish case. “The reason why the locals feared the woman would become undead is unknown: perhaps something as simple as dying violently by falling from a cart.”


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