How 17th Century Polish Villagers Warded Off Vampires

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As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That might have inspired some of the thinking behind Polish villagers' practice of making sure their deceased didn’t rise from the grave to stalk the living.

According to Smithsonian, burial rituals in the village of Drawsko, Poland, during the 17th century guarded against the possibility that corpses might reanimate. Anthropologist Marek Polcyn of Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, described modern-day excavations that revealed the dead were sometimes buried with sickles positioned across their necks. It’s unlikely that the mourners believed the sickles would actually decapitate the evil dead; the common belief of the era, according to Polcyn, was that anything forged in fire, like iron, could ward off demons.

The superstition over visits from beyond may have started when Slavic people were converted to Christianity between the 7th and 9th centuries. Cremation, the Slavs's original method of body disposal, was believed to release the soul; the newer, missionary-approved method of burial seemed to invite the lingering possibility of bodies being seized by supernatural forces. Bodies would be buried with stones to help discourage them from rising up and clawing their way out. Later, people in the Balkans in the 15th and 16th centuries began nailing corpses down.

When misfortune did befall these communities, blaming the adversity on vampires, witches, or restless souls was not uncommon—nor was digging up bodies to mutilate them, just in case they had any post-mortem involvement. We may think this morbid abundance of caution is excessive, but the people of Drawsko never did have a confirmed case of a vampire.

[h/t Smithsonian]