The Power of Belief – The Dark Side

Have you ever believed in the existence of vampires?

Unless you came from a region where that belief still exists today, probably not.

On this week’s Expedition Unknown Josh Gates traveled to Romania and Bulgaria chasing stories of vampires. In one news report, people had been arrested for digging up a guy they believed to be a vampire. Yeah, I thought this was a joke, too. Josh was apprehensive until he spoke with the attorney involved in the case. The accused were arrested and charged with grave desecration, among other things. Now, this is where it gets weird. Their six-month sentences were suspended, and the men were released. Apparently, after a gruesome ritual, those who had been ill got well, reinforcing their resolute belief that this action protected the village from sickness and death.

Josh’s interpreter confirmed that the belief in vampires still existed “but only in the country.” City folk have apparently let go of the idea. When the team arrived at the scene of the crime, they were greeted by angry villagers spoiling for a fight. After some fast talking, they calmed down. “Hey, we know the guy. He’s family.” So Josh went to talk to the leader of the group of grave-robbers.

He confirmed that he and five others had exhumed the body of a dead man who had come to many members of their village in dreams, making them sick. They had taken matters into their hands by removing the heart from the corpse, grilling it to a crisp, and placing the ashes into a potion that was consumed to rid the village of the effects of the vampire.

The leader of the group was adamant in the interview that he’d done the right thing because the corpse had blood around the corners of his mouth and his nails and beard had grown. He was firm in the belief that had saved the people of their village. (In death, internal hemorrhaging can cause blood to appear, but nails and hair don’t continue to grow. They just appear to be longer as the skin shrinks and recedes.) But rural folk cling tightly to centuries-old beliefs, especially if a ritual seems to aid the sick.

Josh then participated in planting verbena at the grave of a suspected vampire. The belief is that the poisonous roots will grow down into the body – killing it from good. He then traveled to an excavation site where a skeleton of a man had a metal plowshare pinning the body down at the neck. Another way to ensure the deceased did not become a vampire. They theorized that misunderstood illness or physical conditions might cause speculation at the time. Centuries ago, doctors had limited knowledge of the possibilities. But even suicide was considered a reason to worry that a person might transform into a vampire.

Stories like this make me wonder about my beliefs. What beliefs were passed down in your family or community that you question now?

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