Some people believe they could trace their ancestry to Charlemagne; some used to believe they were descendants of dragons. South Slavic heroes, great warriors and sometimes noblemen were thought to be of dragon blood.
Dragon (“zmay”) in South Slavic mythology was one of the so-called “air demons” and was responsible for bringing rain when rain was needed. A dragon was both a human and an animal, a shape-shifter, in fact. It could be either male or – less frequently – female. They appeared in their human form when among humans. Snakes (“zmiya” – the phonological resemblance is obvious), rams or carps would transform into dragons when they turned 100 years old.
They breathed red or blue fire, and lived in forests, the magical places of Slavic mythology, often in hollow beeches. (Oak, beech, linden, elm, pine were trees with magic, or sometimes demonic properties.) Physically, they weren’t unlike Daenerys Targaryen’s Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal, only a trifle smaller. I like to think they were (or still are) cousins. I’m sure Slavic Dragons would recognize this music.
In the picture below is their Asian cousin. The guy in the second photo either has some identity issues, or he truly believes that success starts with attitude.
A dragon could speak parseltongue and could become invisible, expect for a woman he fell in love with. Romantic, isn’t it? Their sexual potency was legendary (or, of mythological proportions). After having a relationship with a dragon-man, a woman would lose any interest in human men. No wonder.
Children from such unions were always male, very strong and wise. Thanks to that — which tribe or nation didn’t need heroes, warriors and noblemen? — the relationships between humans and dragons were not considered sinful, a quite progressive view for those ancient times.
There were numerous toponyms in South Slavic countries related to dragons, as well as surnames with their roots in the word “zmay”.
Do you remember my blog about vilas, the beautiful forest creatures with long hair and slender bodies, who liked to dance and swim naked? Wouldn’t it be lovely to write a love story between a vila and a dragon?
Vampire proper, the Slavic vampire from my previous post, seems to be the progenitor of the entire fictional vampiric race.
A piece of documented history: The first recorded mention of the word “vampire” dates from 1672. In a small village on the edge of the Balkan peninsula, a peasant died then returned and started drinking blood, harassing his own widow (sexually, of course) and spreading terror in general. Eventually he was dug up from the grave, beheaded and put back to rest.
Another fact: It’s interesting that the vampire hysteria reached its European peak during the Age of Enlightenment.
Now, I guess it’s okay to go back to the question from the end of my last post. So, who are my most beloved vampires (besides a couple of my own, naturally)?
Modern vampire fiction (and my interest in vampires) probably started with Bram Stoker’s famous novel. The inspiration was a historical figure, Prince Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracula (Dracula means the son of Dracul; the word dracul means “devil”, not dragon as some believe). He was the controversial on-and-off ruler of Walachia (not Transylvania, as in the novel) between 1448 and 1477. The epitome of cruelty to some, a national hero to others. Maybe both? He fought for the independence of his principality, after all. I’m not familiar with Romanian history so I won’t say more. Once I move my story west of Romania, it will be a different story.
He’s charming, sinister and passionate, but I have to confess that it was really Gary Oldman as Prince Vlad (in Coppola’s movie) who I fell in love with.
A vampire not so well known—at least, not among a younger readership. A shame since Chelsey Quinn Yarbro’s Count Saint-Germain is a memorable vampire (and her books are lovely). He’s loosely based (or not?) on the historical Comte de Saint Germain, an eighteenth-century adventurer, scientist (with a special interest in alchemy), artist and philosopher, who used different names for the different places he lived in and liked to say he was 500 years old. Voltaire sarcastically called him “Wonderman”.
Yarbro’s hero is an unusual vampire, a dangerous creature who is also indefinitely kind and gentle. Around 4000 years old, he navigates through the different epochs and places, from ancient Egypt to 1950s France, with the grace and elegance of a ship under full sails on the calm ocean. He needs only a small amount of human blood to survive, and usually gets it for free from swooning females; he’s eloquent and charming, educated and brilliant. Melancholic and lonely, too.
And now, my recent crush – Vampire Lestat (I also like many others from the Vampire Chronicles; the piece of music is Paganini’s Caprice # 24 from the movie The Devil’s Violinist. In Book 2 of the VC, Vampire Lestat played violin for … ah, a spoiler).
To me, Anne Rice created the most human, most conceivable vampires in contemporary fiction. Her demonic world, hidden within our own, is enchanting and seductive. She had to reach really, really deep into their minds to come up with such breathtaking complexity of their characters, their thoughts, actions, doubts, small victories and crushing defeats. Plus, all the questions she raises in her books: about God, the origins of good and evil, about spirits and all things spiritual, the devil and the angels, mortality and immortality, heaven and hell, the relationships between humans and non-humans… at moments it’s overwhelming.
Then, of course, their almost palpable eroticism. And love – like red blood and black velvet. Passion. Desire. Power. Being in love with someone’s mind, with someone’s body, with someone’s blood… And they don’t even do the conventional intercourse either with humans or with other vampires!
Notable mentions: Some of J. R. Ward’s vampiric bunch from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Some others are downright annoying.
The Twilight saga’s Edward Cullen isn’t on my list. Not that I don’t like him, but being the main character of a young adult novel, he lacks the crucial vampiric components – the dark, irresistible sensuality of the above-mentioned predecessors, therefore not appealing to me at all. And the novels themselves, although I read them and even liked the first two, are not in the same league as Stoker, Riced or Yarbro’s works. Not even with J. R. Ward’s.
There are more fictional vampires, of course, but I’m not a big fan of vampire fiction per se. I only love well-written books, and they sometimes do feature vampires. And I always need someone to be in love with.
Myths and legends about blood suckers are known in many ancient civilizations such as Egyptian, Mesopotamian and South American, but one of the most famous such creatures – a vampire – originated in Slavic mythology. Its heritage has been preserved in the term itself: vampir is a Slavic word. It’s also called upir, which is a phonetic/geographic variation of vampir. In both words the root is pir, one of the Slavic words for fire. The connotation of u (or un, although that n got lost) is a negation. In other words, in South Slavic mythology fire cannot destroy an upir/vampir.
The nature of the original vampires is closely related to the South Slavic conception of death and afterlife. Every human being has a body and a soul, and they are inseparable in life. After death, the soul goes to the “other world”, the afterlife, the world of the dead. This journey doesn’t happen right away. In many Slavic cultures and traditions, some of them observed even today, this transition lasts 40 days. (In the Orthodox Church tradition, for example, a parastos, a commemoration for the deceased, is held after 40 days). During this time, the soul of the deceased visits his/her home or the other places he liked when he was alive. It’s believed that those whose death was long and suffering were evil people, therefore the perfect candidates for vampires. Their soul couldn’t enter the afterworld and it would return to the body.
But, in Slavic mythology, a person could become a vampire during life as well if he/she sold his soul to some demonic power. Contrary to most popular fiction, they could procreate, but only with human partners. Their children are either little humans or little vampires, depending on the gender of the vampire parent and the child (same gender – vampires; different gender – humans. As simple as that.)
Invisible, strong, almost indestructible, Slavic vampires nonetheless had their Achilles heel – their skin. If their skin was damaged, the vampire substance would leak out. To prevent a suspected vampire from rising from the grave, thorns would be placed around it. A hawthorn spike through the chest was considered the best way of killing a vampire. This doesn’t apply to “alive” vampires, though. They were really hard to destroy.
What inspired this post?
I’m reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and enjoying them immensely. Her vampires are the most conceivable in popular fiction and she’s an incredible writer. Her novels are dark and seductive, and I like both sensations.
What about you? Do you like vampire fiction? Who’s your favorite Dark Prince?
Probably the most poetic beings in Slavic mythology are the vilas, creatures that lived away from people, in forests or near rivers. Immortal, always young, always females, vilas were known for their beauty, grace and magical powers. River vilas, forest vilas, mountain vilas, even cloud vilas, they were all imagined as slim and tall, with long golden or reddish hair, in which lay their strength. Dressed in translucent white gowns, they had wings and were armed with a bow and arrows. It was believed that they were born out of flower dew, or when a rainbow appeared in the sky. They built their magnificent castles in the clouds.
Young and beautiful, they would often fall in love with young, strong and handsome men. They had shape-shifting abilities, and they would often turn into swans, horses or wolves.
Mostly they were friendly towards people, but there were things they didn’t like. Being caught naked, for example, while they bathed, or played in water, which they did a lot. Or when their clothes or wings were stolen. If someone stole her wings, a vila would become an ordinary woman, until she found them, and she always would. And then… the thief had better run as fast and far as he could, for vilas were vindictive – they didn’t easily forgive an insult.
On the other hand, young girls could ask vilas to grant them beauty and protection. Vilas were skilled healers and often would tend men injured in wars. Sometimes, their long hair got tangled in the forest bushes and low branches. Since they couldn’t free themselves, they would generously reward those who would untangle their hair. It wasn’t rare that they would become “sisters” to those rescuers. Or godmothers to poor, unloved step-daughters in many fairy tales. Worthy allies to the brave young men sent to accomplish impossible quests…
Vilas liked to gather in secluded spaces, such as forest meadows, small mountain lakes and river springs, where they played, sang and danced. A man who had a relationship with a vila would become a vilenjak. He would still be mortal but would gain some of his vila’s powers. It was believed that a child breastfed by a vila would become a great hero.
While most South Slavic vilas are similar to Western European fairies (wings, singing, dancing, connections with flowers and plants, their temperament… except that they were not diminutive) and elves (beauty and strength, the powers they posses, the habitats), Russian vilas – rusalkas – are quite different. They’re thought to be young girls, or even female children, who’d drowned. After that, they would become rusalkas. In some parts of Russia they were imagined ugly and naked, ready to drag into the river anyone who came too close, in some other places they were similar to sirens sans the fish tail – they enchanted passersby with their beauty and songs to kill them.
South Slavic vilas, those vain and capricious but also benevolent and compassionate eternal adolescents, are still best known for their beauty. There is an expression in my mother tongue – “as beautiful as vila”.
Among other things that I loved in A Wedding and a White Christmas are some that I normally don’t care for in romance fiction: stories set in Calgary, Christmas romances and impulsive Vegas weddings.
In this sweet romance it was just the thing. The setting, although familiar, didn’t lose its charm. An interesting plot (“How to get from ‘I do’ to ‘I don’t’ before anyone finds out!”), memorable characters and natural dialog have made Stengl’s approach to the Christmas romance theme lively and fresh. The Elvis Chapel wedding is usually a hard thing to pull off but this author made it conceivable.
If you like sweet Christmas romances, a good story, realistic characters, subtle humor – you’ll find it all in this novel.
It’s available on Amazon as well as at Calgary Public Library. Of course.
Here’s the blurb:
A whirlwind Christmas visit to Las Vegas. A long night of merrymaking. An Elvis Chapel.
Emily and Mark—her best friend since childhood—join a bunch of friends on a trip to Las Vegas. At some point, Emily and Mark stumble into a wedding chapel and say “I do” to an Elvis impersonator.
Now, in the clear blue skies of morning, they fear that saying “I don’t” will take much longer, even though Mark promises to sort out the paperwork for a divorce.
They return home with their friendship at risk—and the thin line between friends and lovers blurred.
Will there be Peace on Earth or fireworks in the skies this holiday season?
Find out now!