The Truth About Garlic
vampire mythology & folklore
[Author's Note: At University (in the early 2000's), I took a Sociology class on the myth and symbolism of Witchcraft, and as part of the class, I ended up writing a paper on the mythology and folklore of vampires, which then lead me into a paid gig writing vampire articles for a while. So I've decided to share these articles of vampire myth and folklore here ~ C ]
Allium sativum. Garlic. The scourge of Vampires and your co-workers alike. However you know it, there’s no mistaking the smell of it! There’s also no mistaking the role it has garnered over many many years for warding off evil and in particular its association with keeping vampires at bay. But how did it attract such a reputation? And is there any truth or substantiated proof in the claim, or is it all just myth, folklore and legend?
It seems innocuous enough. A bulbous perennial plant from the lily family, it derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon word for “spear grass”, due to the way its shoots can grow. There is debate as to where the plant originated from, but common consensus seems to indicate it is native to Siberia, then spreading to Mediterranean Europe, then worldwide.
Whereas in modern times garlic is predominant in cooking and in natural medicine, its history can be traced back thousands of years and has played a part in so many of the world’s great cultures.
One of the earliest documented records of garlic dates back to Egypt in 3748 BC, where slaves refused to continue building the Great Pyramids of Cheops until they received their daily ration of garlic. It was also fed to the slaves that built the Pyramid of Giza and even merits an inscription on the pyramid itself! The Egyptians, and later the Romans, believed that the plant increased strength and it was regularly given to both slaves and soldiers (although curiously, it wasn’t taken by Roman nobility). The Romans then developed its strengths further, believing that garlic also held healing and medicinal qualities for everything from tumours to madness to animal bites. The Ancient Greeks also believed in its antibiotical qualities.
More recently, in 17th century Europe, garlic was believed to ward off the bubonic plague and leprosy and people wore garlic garlands for protection. But again, the roots of these beliefs can be traced right back to ancient Egypt and the “myth” of a vampiric ghost that killed children as they slept, by sucking every breath out of their body. Protection was provided by the child wearing a garlic wreath.
But it is returning to European folklore, naturally enough, that we can trace back the plant’s more established vampire connections, with it long being believed to be able to ward off the “evil eye” and make vampires, witches and evil beings disappear at just the mere sight.
Romania in particular, the spiritual home of all things vampiric, has a history of garlic use to protect the population from vampire attacks. Many ate garlic every day to ward off unwelcome attention from vampires, but in case this was not enough, garlic cloves were smeared all over doors and windows and even animals, with farmers, in particular, ensuring that their livestock was safe. The smearing of garlic onto yourself, to ward off vampires (and witches), is also prevalent in folklore in China, India and the Caribbean.
But Romanians didn’t just believe that garlic could protect you from vampires when you were alive, several practices for corpses were also commonplace, especially filling orifices with garlic to prevent the vampire from entering the body. Bram Stoker took the garlic mythos a little bit further in “Dracula”, with van Helsing actually making wreaths of garlic flowers to act as protection (a common practice in neighbouring Hungary to ward off evil). Cheaper and less odorous than using actual garlic cloves, it shows how it is not just one element of the plant that can be used to fend off vampires, but that the whole plant itself is a vampire’s nemesis.
As the film and television productions then took over and built up the vampire legend (beyond total recognition, some might say), so the association of garlic with vampires grew. Today garlic finds itself right up there with crucifixes and holy water, as a must-have item in the travelling bag of the wannabe vampire hunter.
Steeped in thousands of years of history, legend and folklore, there is no one defining instance that has seen garlic become the weapon of choice for the forces of “good” against vampires, witches, sorcery and the general forces of “evil”. I mean, it’s just a plant, isn’t it? But can so many people, for so many years be that wrong? Or do they really know something that we don’t?
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