In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I’d share some spooky shenanigans for Mythical Monday this month.
I want to start with an old tale from Russia about a Cossack who encountered a mysterious stranger one evening while traveling to rejoin his regiment. He’d walked for days, sometimes stopping to shelter from the cold when a farmer offered the hospitality of his barn. More often than not, the villagers he encountered scattered through the harsh countryside were wary of him, making the sign of the cross when he approached.
One evening as twilight was gathering, he spied a man camped along the side of the road. Though dressed raggedly, the stranger had kindled an inviting fire and was calmly mending a pair of boots. He did not react fearfully or superstitiously as the villagers had. The traveling soldier thought it odd the man had chosen to erect his camp beside an old graveyard, but was not deterred by the thought of the dead. Greeting the man with a brotherly hello, he gratefully warmed his hands by the fire.
The stranger’s reply was curt. “I call no man kin.”
Finished with his mending, he donned his boots and kicked dirt over the fire. Without a word, he set off down the road. Undaunted by his behavior, the Cossack followed.
“I will walk with you. Where do you go?”
The stranger’s response was brief, a few grunted words informing the Cossack he sought amusement. It wasn’t long before the lights of a village glimmered in the darkness and the sound of laughter and singing wafted to them on the air. On the edge of the village a small cottage stood with its door ajar, a wedding reception taking place within.
The two men were cheerfully welcomed inside and the Cossack joined in the celebration. The raggedy stranger elected to cling to the corners and sulk in the shadows. Enjoying himself, the Cossack gave little thought to the man’s unsocial behavior. Shortly after midnight, he was pleased to see the stranger approach the bride. These villagers were friendly. Finally the man was going to pay his respect!
The Cossack watched as the stranger knelt before the glowing bride. When she lowered her hands to his accept his well wishes, he buried his face in her palms. Within seconds, she grew pale and swooned, but the stranger’s face was flushed when he stood.
As the wedding company gathered around the distraught bride, the Cossack followed the stranger outside. “I know what you are.”
The man sneered, his teeth stained with blood. “I’ve had my amusement. Leave me alone before I decide I need more.” He fled down the road to the graveyard where the Cossack had first encountered him. Enraged by what he had done, the valiant soldier chased in pursuit.
“You cannot kill me,” the vampire proclaimed. “The thing that lives inside me can survive even the scourge of fire.” Lunging at the Cossack, he grappled him around the waist.
Strong from many years of soldiering, the Cossack fought back as no man had before. All through the long night he struggled with his adversary. The two fought hand-to-hand, punching and kicking, twisting and rolling on the ground. When dawn arrived with the heralding cry of a cock, the vampire released the Cossack and slithered into a grave.
Injured, but determined, the soldier returned to the village where he gathered up the men. Armed with scythes and shovels, they filled a cart with kindling cut from stout rowans and birch trees. At the graveyard, they set it ablaze, using their pitchforks to heave the vampire’s body onto the pyre. When the ghoul’s charred skeleton crumbled to ash, a raucous shriek splintered the pungent air.
Maggots, rats and lizards surged from the flames; a funnel of dark-winged scavenger birds burst into the air. Swiftly, the villagers set upon the vermin, beating the foul creatures with their weapons. The twitching bodies were heaved back into the fire where they were quickly consumed. Even then more spewed forth in a seemingly endless hoard.
The killing went on for many long hours until finally the hellish creatures stopped coming. Exhausted, the villagers let the fire die and scattered the vampire’s ashes into the wind. Had even one of the nightmarish beasts survived, the vampire’s spirit would have roamed free in search of another host.
Satisfied the vampire’s evil had been thwarted, the Cossack bid the villagers good-bye and continued on his way. In one village at least, he would be remembered fondly.
Although familiar with tales of vampires, this story was new to me. I’d never heard of a vampire’s spirit being released in the form of a rat, lizard or other creature – - or being able to escape the torrent of fire and roam free until finding another host. I’m not sure exactly how old this tale is, but I would guess 15th or 16th century. Were you familiar with this part of vampire lore?
I did stop to wonder why the vampire didn’t just bite the Cossack while they were fighting but maybe he couldn’t because he’d shared a fire with him. What do you think?