Vampire: the reanimated body of a dead person believed to come from the
  grave at night and suck the blood of persons asleep.
Revenant: one that returns after death.


by Modar Neznanich

The definition of revenant is: "one who returns after death". From this, we naturally think of vampires. However the vampire (aka vampir or upir) and its legend is a more modern concept of a much older idea. In actuality, a revenant is any type of undead including the creatures we currently think of as zombies, ghasts, ghouls and animated skeletons. Amongst the names used throughout history for these undead are: revenant (generic term), nachzeher, gespenst, vrykolakos (aka vorkalakas), hexe, strigoi, blutsauger, ocajnik and vrikolax.

Many of these revenants were not "blood suckers". The hexe was considered an evil witch who came back after her death to wreak revenge upon those who had done her ill. The nachzeher was a type of ghoul that consumed flesh instead of drinking blood. Vrykolakos were dead bodies re-animated by the devil, who would use them for deception, terror, and torment of others. The gespenst, a ghostly or ghastly type of undead, roamed the earth in search of peace, usually because they had died by violence, or were left unburied somewhere. Others, like the blutsauger and the vrikolax were known for their blood hunger.

There were many ways of handling these revenants once they were located. Apotropaics, or methods of causing evil to turn away, were diverse. Among the methods employed were mutilation of a corpse, physical restraints, funerary rites, and, on rare occasion, trickery to fool the revenant to depart. It is from these apotropaics that the legend of staking a vampire through the heart arose. One of the more amusing remedies came from an area in Poland where they exhumed the body of the alleged revenant, placed a small piece of paper with a holy word on it in the mouth, turned the body over, spanked it on the bottom with the blade of a shovel and reburied it. This ended the revenant problem for the town, thereby proving the validity of the cure.

The legends of revenants are widespread over many countries throughout history, but most notably in the areas of Albania, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Kashubes, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Silesia, Transylvania, Ukraine and Yugoslavia.

While verbal accounts of revenants have been passed down throughout history as far back as ancient times, one of earliest surviving written accounts of a revenant is from the 1500s. A shoemaker from the city of Breslau committed suicide. The family attempted to cover up the dishonorable act and had him wrapped and buried, claiming he died from a stroke. However, shortly after the burial, rumors began of sightings of the man in the city. The reports of sightings became so numerous that the local authorities got involved. The family finally had to admit to the manner in which the man had died. At this point it is about eight months following the burial, and the man was exhumed. When it was discovered that the body was complete, untouched by decay, the limbs were attached and unstiffened, and the man actually was larger, like he had been putting on weight, it was deemed that he had become a revenant and must be removed from the ground. For almost a month the corpse was laid out in the open, and guarded day and night to prevent it from wandering. When after this time, the body still hadn't decayed away, the city council ruled that the body would be dismembered, then burned on a pyre composed of seven klafters of wood (the equivalent of 21 cubic meters). The remaining ashes were sacked up and thrown into the river, thus ending the revenant's sightings.

In reality, the origins of these creatures derived from people coming in contact with bodies after their burial, for whatever reason, and not understanding the stages of decomposition and the effects it had on the body. From appearances people assumed the deceased bodies looked too life-like and hence must be getting out of their graves and having a "life". And what kind of life could such creatures have but something vile? Hence stories evolved to explain this presumed activity. As time went on the stories grew and adapted, until the legends of the undead became common.

From these beliefs, came the need to rid themselves of such creatures before they became a problem. The logical choice was to incorporate the traditions used at the time of All Hallows. This time was used to prepare for the new year that began on November 1st. A celebration of varied activities was conducted to plan for and divine the future, remember those who had died (which included in many places, opening tombs to allow spirits to pass on to the next life), and to prepare for the harsh, cold and boring winter to come by having one last "fun fling".

It was natural for the revenants to be included or connected with the activities because, hopefully, these celebrations would appease any roaming spirits, showing them that they had not been forgotten or abandoned, and to direct them toward the afterlife, thereby helping both the celebrants (by ridding themselves of the revenants) and the undead (by showing them the way to a better place).

Among the activities commonly associated with the period celebrations were divination (by tarot, runes and other folklore methods), remembrance (by dressing up as saints or deceased family members), protection (by dressing differently as a type of revenant, by wearing garb of the opposite sex or by wearing one's own clothes inside-out so the seams showed) and most importantly entertainment (by stories, games, contests and music).

Related Information via the web:

Historical Vampires

Website on The Historical DracuIa: Vlad III Tepes (1431-1476)

Website on Erzsebet Bathory.
A picture of her is located

Shyla's History of Erzsébet

Elizabeth Bathory

An article entitled Staking Claims: The Vampires of Folklore and Fiction by Paul Barber

Recommended Readings:

** Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality by Paul Barber
ISBN: 0-300-04859-9

Death and Burial in Medieval England 1066-1550 by Christopher Daniell

Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence by Sharon T. Strocchia
(Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical & Political Science, 110th Series, Part 1)

Death in Towns : Urban Responses to the Dying and the Dead, 100-1600
Steven Bassett (Editor)

The Theatre of Death : The Ritual Management of Royal Funerals in
Renaissance England 1570-1625
by Jennifer Woodward

The English Way of Death: The Common Funeral Since 1450 by Julian Litten

Wagons and Wagon-graves of the Early Iron Age in Central Europe by C. F. E. Pare

Vampire: The Complete Guide to the World of the Undead by Manuela D. Mascetti

Blood & Roses : The Vampire in 19th Century Literature
Adele O. Gladwell (Editor)

Bloodlines: A Brief on the life and death of Hungary's infamous Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory-Nadasdy by Mathew Amaral

Recommended Readings:

Dracula by Bram Stoker (Fiction)

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (Fiction)
The Bloody Red Baron by Kim Newman (Fiction)

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly (Fiction)
Traveling with the Dead by Barbara Hambly (Fiction)

The Nightmare People by Lawrence Watt Evans (Fiction)

Blood Price by Tanya Huff (Fiction)
Blood Trail by Tanya Huff (Fiction)
Blood Lines by Tanya Huff (Fiction)
Blood Pact by Tanya Huff (Fiction)
Blood Debt by Tanya Huff (Fiction)

The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice (Fiction)

Saint-Germain Series by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (Fiction)

Vampire Files Series by P.N. Elrod (Fiction)

The Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series by Laurell K. Hamilton (Fiction)

Necroscope Series by Brian Lumley (Fiction)
Vampire World Series by Brian Lumley (Fiction)

Vampire Diaries Series by L. J. Smith (Fiction)

The best known vampire of all time is Dracula.

An on-line version of the book Dracula by Bram Stoker can be found here.

A wonderful Dracula website can be found here.

A Bram Stoker webpage can be found here.

Lesser well known is the vampire Lord Ruthven by George Gordon, Lord Byron

A webpage dedicated to this first modern vampire can be found here.

A Lord Byron website can be located here.

The vampire is still a part of our modern culture and is very popular.
From TV shows (Dark Shadows, The Kindred, Forever Knight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel)
to role-playing games (Vampire: The Masquerade) to books and comics.
One of the best known comic vampires is Vampirella.
A great fan webpage dedicated to her is located at

One of the best vampire webpages is Vampyres Only

Also check out this site, Vamp-Who

And don't forget the Vampire A to Z

and of course,

Everything You Need to Know About Vampires

Other sites include:

Vampire Folklore Resources

©1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  Ron "Modar" Knight
Baron Modar Neznanich, OPel

Permission to Print.

This Vampires and Revenants page is published by Ron Knight (known in the SCA as Modar Neznanich) for the edification of the members of the Barony of Forgotten Sea, its cantons, the Shire of Cúm an Iolair and the members of the SCA. It is not a corporate publication of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. and does not delineate S.C.A. policies. In cases of conflict with printed versions of material presented on these pages or it's links, the dispute will be decided in favor of the printed version unless otherwise indicated. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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