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The vrykolakas (Greek βρυκόλακας, pronounced [vriˈkolakas]), variant vorvolakas, is a harmful undead creature in Greek folklore. It has similarities to many different legendary creatures, but is generally equated with the vampire of the folklore of the neighbouring Slavic countries. While the two are very similar, blood-drinking is only marginally associated with the vrykolakas.



The very word vrykolakas is a cognate with a Lithuanian language word vilkolakis meaning the werewolf ('vilko-' means a wolf and 'lakis' means running). In Slavic languages it is variously occurring as , vǎrkolak, as in Bulgarian, vukodlak, as in Serbian, etc. The term is derived from вълк (vâlk)/вук (vuk), meaning "wolf" and dlaka, meaning "fur", and originally meant "werewolf" (it still has that meaning in the modern Slavic literary languages, and a similar one in Romanian: see vârcolac). However, the same word (in the form vukodlak) has come to be used in the sense of "vampire" in the folklore of Western Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro (while the term "vampir" is more common in Eastern Serbia, Republic of Macedonia and in Bulgaria). Apparently, the two concepts have become mixed.[1] Even in Bulgaria, original folklore generally describes the vârkolak as a sub-species of the vampire without any wolf-like features.[2] It may also be noted that the Sanskrit word for wolf is vṛ́k (commonly pronounced as vrik).


The Greeks traditionally believed that a person could become a vrykolakas after death due to a sacrilegious way of life, an excommunication, a burial in unconsecrated ground, or eating the meat of a sheep which had been wounded by a wolf or a werewolf. Some believed that a werewolf itself could become a powerful vampire after being killed, and would retain the wolf-like fangs, hairy palms, and glowing eyes it formerly possessed.[3]

The bodies of vrykolakas have the same distinctive characteristics as the bodies of vampires in Balkan folklore. They do not decay; instead, they swell and may even attain a "drum-like" form, they have a ruddy complexion, and are, according to one account, "fresh and gorged with new blood". People with red hair and gray eyes at this time in history were thought to be vampires according to accounts near the region of modern Serbia. The activities of the vrykolakas are nearly always harmful, verging from merely leaving their grave and "roaming about", through engaging in poltergeist-like activity, and up to causing epidemics in the community. Among other things, the creature is believed to knock on the doors of houses and call out the name of the residents. If it gets no reply the first time, it will pass without causing any harm. If someone does answer the door, he or she will die a few days later and become another vrykolakas. For this reason, there is a superstition present in certain Greek villages that one should not answer a door until the second knock. Legends also say that the vrykolakas crushes or suffocates the sleeping by sitting on them, much like a mara or incubus (cf. sleep paralysis) — as does a vampire in Bulgarian folklore.[4][5]

Since the vrykolakas becomes more and more powerful if left alone, legends state that one should destroy its body. According to some accounts, this can only be done on Saturday, which is the only day when the vrykolakas rests in its grave (Bulgarian legends state the same about vampires[6]) This may be done in various ways, the most common being exorcising, impaling, beheading, cutting into pieces, and especially cremating the suspected corpse, so that it may be freed from living death and its victims may be safe.

Vrykolakas and the West

The first Western accounts of belief in vrykolakas are from the mid 17th century, in compositions by authors such as Leo Allatius (De quorundam Graecorum Opinationibus, 1645), and Father François Richard (Relation de l'Isle de Sant-erini, 1657), who tend to confirm the stories. The 1718 account of French traveller Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, who witnessed the exhumation and "slaying" of a suspected vrykolakas on the island of Mykonos, became more famous[7]. The Greek vrykolakas were identified as the equivalent of the Slavic vampire already during the Eighteenth century vampire controversy, as exemplified in Johann Heinrich Zedler's Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon (1732-1754).

It has become normal, in translating vampire movies and the like into Greek, to translate "vampire" as "vrykolakas". Presumably Modern Greeks raised on Hollywood vampire movies would be just as likely, if not more so, to think of Dracula, instead of the traditional Greek monster, when a vrykolakas is mentioned.

One of the few instances of the vrykolakas or vorvolaka being used in popular art and media is in the film Isle of the Dead, starring horror icon Boris Karloff. The film, directed by Mark Robson and produced by legendary horror producer Val Lewton, centres around a group of people on a small island, whose lives are threatened by a force that some believe to be the plague, and others believe to be the work of a vorvolaka.


  1. ^ Петровић, Сретен. Српска митологиjа
  2. ^ Иваничка Димитрова. Българска народна митология. С.1983.стр. 163-164. Compare also the description in Naiden Gerov's Dictionary of the Bulgarian Language ("Речник на блъгарский язик“) (1895–1904)
  3. ^ See, for instance, Montague Summers, The Vampire in Lore and Legend, Courier Dover Publications, 2001, p. xiv. ISBN 0486419428.
  4. ^ Вампир. Из "Народна вяра и религиозни народни обичаи", Д. Маринов, 1994, БАН. Първо издание 1914.
  5. ^ Кюркчиева, Ива. 2004. Светът на българите-мюсюлмани от Тетевенско - преход към модерност
  6. ^ Иваничка Димитрова. Българска народна митология. С.1983.стр. 153- 159
  7. ^ Excerpted from: A Voyage Into the Levant...(etc) by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort. 1718. English edition, London: printed for D. Midwinter, etc. 1741. Volume I, pp. 142-148.

See also



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