VAMPIRES IN CRETE AND ICELAND
On visiting the Greek island of Crete, writing about it and discussing it later I have found the subject of `the undead` arising from time to time. For centuries belief in vampires has persisted in a number of Greek islands such as Rhodes and, principally, Crete. In Crete they are known as katakhanadhes Elsewhere in the Greek world they are known as Vrixolakas. The 19th century traveller, Robert Pashley, provides a number of accounts of this in his Travels in Greece, published in 2008. I write more about Pashley, a very interesting character, in my book Coffee with the Colossus. Pashley was a highly educated man but one with a very open mind about beliefs and legends. He was enough of an investigator to establish that some of the tales were more convenient than frightening such as the one of the poor farmer who was disturbed to hear strange sounds coming from the bedroom where his daughters slept. In the morning when he questioned them he was told a blood-curdling tale of how vampires had entered the room and tortured the girls mercilessly. The farmer was devout and had learned that prayer and incense would dismiss even the most determined of such demonic visitors. Despite his earnest endeavours in this practise he heard the sounds again on the following night. On the third night, in despair, he burst into the room with a shotgun to see the `vampires` climbing out of the window, looking strangely like a couple of the village boys.
More intriguingly, Pashley cites stories from the wild, remote region of Crete known as Sfakiá. I did some research on this fascinating area when I wrote The Women from Crete. I drew for that novel heavily on a most interesting book about Sfakiá by Peter Trudgill, simply called In Sfakiá. Admittedly, the only supernatural phenomenon reported by Peter Trudgill in the region was the level of hospitality which, he said, `verged on the insane`. Pashley, however, collected stories of a more chilling nature. In the isolated valleys and pastures of Sfakiá some of the very hardy and self-reliant shepherds of the region reported much more physical encounters with vampires. In my native country, Scotland, we have plenty of tales of the supernatural but our ghosts in the main, are less sturdy. Vampires are more susbtantial as Bram Stoker has informed us in his novel about the most famous one of all, Count Dracula. This character was probably based on the fifteenth century Count Vladimir (the Impaler) Draculesti. This nobleman became renowned for resisting the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks who eventually swamped much of Eastern Europe. As his nickname suggests, he dealt with his opponents in an unpleasant manner.
This `substantial ` feature of vampires is not unheard of elsewhere. Medieval Iceland was home to some of the greatest storytellers in the world. One of the finest of its great tales is Grettir`s Saga. Grettir was the strongest man in Iceland and acquired a reputation throughout the sparsely populated island as a `ghost-slayer`. That terms seems odd to those of us in places like Scotland who expect our ghosts to have the decency to be already dead before embarking on a haunting career. However, the ghost Grettir encounters in the saga is the giant Glámr who has already killed some of the farmer`s cattle and one of his slaves. Grettir`s fight with this giant is gripping and the effect of its `evil eye` on him is chilling. Why Iceland and Crete, geographically and culturally so far apart should share details of this odd phenomenon I don`t know. Both are large islands which,for different reasons, were cut off from the cultural mainstream of Europe. Both have wild, mountainous areas where shepherds would have spent many a lonely night. No doubt both had a supply of some warming alcoholic beverage which might have clouded their judgement. Why, however, if they were simply under alcoholic influence, did they come up with such similar descriptions for these supernatural invaders? Perhaps I`ll have to investigate further.
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