The use of Garlic (Allium Sativum) as a charm against the powers of evil seems to date back to ancient times. According to Lewis Spence, the ancient Egyptians believed in a vampire-like ghost that killed sleeping children by sucking up their breath. Believe it or not, the repellent that was used against the attacks of this murderous monster was a wreath of garlic.
The Imperial Dictionary (1894) tells us that garlic is: "a hardy bulbous perennial, indigenous to the South of France, Sicily, and the South of Europe". It would appear, however, that the use of garlic is known all over the world, not only as a tasty culinary asset, but also as a charm against evil spirits. The British vampire expert Montague Summers gives us several examples. Even in places as exotic as China or Malaysia people smear the forehead of their children to protect them from vampires, and in the West Indies too, garlic is used as a means of protection against the evil practices and magic spells of witches and sorcerers.
Adrien Cremene confirms that, in Romania, garlic is a weapon of very great importance in the everlasting battle against vampires. Lots of Romanians used to make certain that they ate some garlic every day for their personal protection. But they also smeared garlic on the windows and the doors of their houses, on the gates to their farmyards, and even on the horns of their cattle. They believed that the STRIGOI had a great fear of garlic.
But this is not the only way in which USTUROI (garlic) was employed against Romanian vampires. If a deceased person was thought to be in danger of becoming a vampire, one of the most common protective measures was stuffing some pieces of garlic into the orifices of the corpse, especially the mouth. This was done in order to prevent evil spirits from entering the dead body. At the same times it served the purpose of preventing the soul of the deceased from re-entering its body. Another interesting anti-vampire practice that we can find in Romania is the anointing of the corpse, especially the heels, with a mixture of oil, fat, incense, gunpowder and - of course - garlic.
From a book by Chedo Mijatovich we learn that among the Serbian peasants the night of Shrove Tuesday was considered to be a very dangerous night. According to the Serbs lots of evil witches were uncommonly active during this particular night. Therefore, on this night, lots of Serbs slept with a piece of garlic under their pillow. Or, alternatively, they might wear a piece of garlic inside a special amulet around their neck.
We would be much mistaken, however, to think that it is only the bulb or the cloves of garlic that can be used against vampires. In Stoker's "DRACULA" we can read how my fellow countryman Professor van Helsing fills up a bedroom, not with wreaths of garlic bulbs, but with GARLIC FLOWERS instead, in a commendable attempt to protect Miss Lucy from the bloodthirsty advances of Count Dracula. Stoker's tale is merely fiction, or is it ? For in another book by Tekla Dömötör, a serious Hungarian professor, we find a photograph of a wreath made from the stems of garlic flowers, which is used in Hungarian villages as a means to ward off evil. It would appear then that each and every bit of the powerful garlic plant can be used as an apotropaic.
The French occultist Robert Ambelain has his own remarkable ideas about the use of garlic against vampires. He claims that originally it was not GARLIC but ARSENIC that was thought to have a power against evil. Ambelain tells us that the shepherds in the Carpathian mountains used to eat very small quantities of arsenic and feed a little arsenic to their animals as well, in order to protect themselves from vampires. According to Ambelain, the old alchemists from Prague and other cities in Moravia and Bohemia used to burn arsenic to drive away the powers of evil. The burning of arsenic produces toxic fumes that have the same unpleasant smell as garlic. The thrifty peasants noticed that the magic fumes of the alchemists smelt just like garlic. And so they figured that it would be cheaper to use garlic than hire an expensive alchemist to do the exorcism. And that, according to Ambelain, is how people came to use garlic as a defense against vampires. All in all, I can't help feeling that Ambelain's hypothesis seems rather farfetched.
WARNING - WARNING - WARNING - WARNING
It goes without saying that the ingestion of a deadly poison like arsenic - even in small quantities - is an extremely hazardous undertaking which I will not recommend to anyone. I think that it could be quite unhealthy for you, possibly lethal, and your death would be most unpleasant. It is much wiser to eat garlic instead.
However, even the use of garlic is not without its dangers. I think that most people who have an interest in vampires will have heard of the tragical event that happened in the English town of Stoke-on-Trent in 1973, where they discovered the dead body of a gentleman of Polish origin. At the inquest it was found that the unfortunate man had died by choking on a piece of garlic, which he had put in his mouth before going to sleep in order to ward off vampires during the night.
© 1992, 2005 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last update 15 March 2005
Author: Rob Brautigam
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