Excerpt from Weiser’s Field Vampire Guide to Vampires, by J M Dixon (Weiser Books, October 2009)
The real Dracula was not the first vampire nor was he the origin of the vampire myths. Infact, Vlad Dracula grew up in a beautiful land rich with vampiric folklore, and he likely used that folklore intentionally to encourage the myths that surrounded him. The peoples of the region of eastern Europe near the Carpathian Mountains are known for their folktales, the most famous of which is about vampires-creates which they call Strigoi.
The Strigoi Morte are vampiric spirits who roam and hunt without bodies, feeding on the energies of living humans, sometimes when the humans are sleeping or dreaming, and sometimes while they are wide awake and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlike the vampires of modern legends, the Strigoi Morte are not considered demons or the angry spirits of those who were murdered or not buried properly. The people of this region, even today, simply believe the Strigoi Morte are the spirits of the Strigoi Vii living vampires and are no longer in possession of a physical body.
The Strigoi Vii, sometimes called Moroii, are those to be a race similar to humanity but different in their need to feed on human energy or human blood. Although there are to be other types of vampires in the region, they are the most well known, particularly among the Gypsies who live there.
The Gypsies-or Roma, the term some prefer-remain an often nomadic people, spread through many countries, but with a long history in Romania in particular. They have a great love of fantastical stories and scary tales, but behind each of their fictions is a backbone of facts-even in their stories of vampires. According to them, the Strigoi Vii were a tall, beautiful, pale, strong, intelligent, well-mannered, regal, and often wealth people-usually land owners, businessmen, and, historically, even royalty and nobility.
Like the Strigoi Morte, the Strigoi Vii primarily fed upon the life energies of humanity, picking a single volunteer to feed from for a length of time. According to the Gypsies, the Strigoi Vii could also feed on human blood, but it was only the young and inexperienced who chose to do so. Much as was suggested in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, the Gypsies and vampires in the region, especially in Romania, have a long history of working together amicably. The wealthy, land owning Strigoi Vii could provide the Gypsy caravans with fair pay for manual labor or entertainment, as well as safe passage through their land, in particular protecting the Gypsy people from discrimination and potential attackers. The Roma would also pro-vide on valuable service to the discreet vampires of the region could not do without: food.
The Gypsies and vampires of the region practiced a tradition they referred to as lording, whereby one Gypsy, usually a female volunteer, would be chosen to go live with the Strigoi for the time her family was on the land. The vampire as generally allowed to feed upon her at his leisure, and her family was protected in return. And although it was not an actual part of the bargain, the vampire would always treat the guest with the utmost respect and often bring gifts to the family as a show of traditional vampiric gratitude. According to members of the Car-bone de Travois Gypsy family, this arrangement was still in common practice not even eighty years ago in Romanian lands. One member of that family professes that her great-aunt Piranda was lorded out to a wealthy vampire in the 1910s and ‘20s.
Priranda’s younger sister Nia described the vampire as very tall with light brown hair, always immaculately dressed, and perfectly clean shaven, with a lithe, masculine physique. Nia added that he smelled “pretty.” In 1918, when Piranda spent the summer with him, he had the first car Nia had ever seen. Among other things, he gave the family oxen and cows, blankets, cloths of all kinds, and permission to cut his trees and hunt the wild game on his land. Nia said he seemed to genuinely care about Piranda, inviter back to his home every summer when the family passed through, going so far as to keep a special campground cleared for them, with a well that only they were allowed to use. Nia said her sister returned to the family at the end of each summer looking “fit and fine as an old wine.”
Piranda’s vampire, whose name has been lost to time, is far from the only Strigoi Vii to have been reported in the area. Most everyone has heard of Prince Vlad Dracula, “the Impaler.” Born in Transylvania in 1431, he ruled Romania during a difficult time. The Turks were attacking in waves, and with is forces completeled outnumbered, he used his intelligence to wave psychological warfare on his enemies, which also served to keep his own people in line and instilled confidence they would prevail. As long as he lived, he kept peace in the land and kept the enemies on the run. However, not so many people know about this famous vampire’s brethren, or even about his master.
Prince Vlad Dracula was son of Vlad Dracul, “the Dragon,” and his name literally meant “Vlad, son of the Dragon.” Both he and his father were members of the Ordo Dracul, the Order of the Dragon-an organization made up of eastern Europe royalty.
Surviving Gypsy families claim claim that, throughout the history of this region, most of the nobility were Strigoi Vii, which lends some credence to the claims some make that the membership of the order was exclusive to vampires, the term dragon being used as a code word for vampire. Oddly, this fact was most likely well known as the time, since Christians of the period, particularly in that region, would often refer to vampires as devils, demons, or dragons. And in the case of Romanian language, one word, dracul, meant all three of those things at the same time. A case in point: the incubi and succubi of medieval folktales are interchangeably called both “vampires” and “demons.”
Prince Vlad not only had underlings among the other vampires; he also had a master. Few stories mention Dracula’s lord and master, the king of the region in that day, and it is doubtful that many even wonder about his existence. His name was Matthais Corvinus. Likely a Strigoi Vii himself, King Matthais was far from intimidated by the Impaler. Infact, he once had the prince imprisoned for three years, due to various political motivations and his need to have a less independent prince in Vlad’s position. A wise and peaceful man, Corvinus was far from the warlord he is claimed to have been in the popular cinematic depictions of the underworld, finally committing his armies to the defense of Romania after Vlad had fallen in love with and requested the hand of a relative of his, likely the sister of the king-Vlad’s request, incidentally, having been made during his captivity in the king’s castle.
The Strigoi Vii type of vampire certainly has a deep history in the region of the Carpathian Mountains, documented by writers such as monk Montague Summers and recounted in the stories of Gypsy families like Carbone de Travois band. It is probably because of this history that modern living vampires (not psychic or sanguine) often use the term Strigoi Vii when describing themselves, especially when trying to avoid the stigma that often accompanies the term vampire.