Sanskrit writings dating back 5,000 years, refer to garlic as the “slayer of monsters,” as it was believed its odor warded off evil creatures. The ancient Egyptians said it could increase a person’s physical strength. In Transylvanian lore, placing garlic and a silver knife under someone’s bed would keep vampires away.
In some Slavic and Romania countries it was common to stuff cloves of garlic into a corpse’s nose, mouth, and ears, to prevent them from being turned into a vampire. Also, once they killed a vampire and cut off its head, they would then fill its mouth with garlic to keep it from returning.
During the early Victorian era, when vampire hysteria was everywhere, vendors saw the potential for making money, and they promoted garlic as the ultimate weapon for keeping vampires away. Garlic necklaces were heavily marketed to the people, due to the prevalent lore that vampires drank the blood from the neck. It became such a common belief that it remained unchallenged for decades.
One of the most famous cases of using garlic against vampires, was in Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula. In Dracula Van Helsing uses garlic to protect Lucy from the vampire, by placing garlic in her room, around her neck, and rubbing it on all the doors and windows, and fireplace, to keep Dracula from entering. The name Dracula comes from the Transylvanian Prince Vlad Dracul, and his son Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracula. Dracul, meaning “dragon,” this does seem an appropriate name for a predatory supernatural creature who can fly.
Like garlic, the rowan tree, commonly known as the mountain ash, is believed to repel the undead. Its wood was used to make crosses or stakes to drive into a vampire’s heart. Also, those who avoid going near mountain ash could be viewed as vampiric suspects.
Another common food used to repel vampires, are seeds, mustard seed being the most prominent. One legends tells that if a vampire encounters seeds, he will be required to count each seed before moving on. Some folklore mentions that a vampire can only count one seed per year, so even a small amount of seeds could keep a vampire occupied for a long time. Seeds, like salt, were placed around coffins to prevent a vampire rising from the grave.
There have been many methods used to destroy a vampire, with staking being the most common. Each culture had their preferred wood for the stake, Hawthorn in Serbia, Ash in Russia, and Oak in Silesia. A popular choice for the wood is Aspen, as it is believed that Jesus’s cross was made from Aspen. Most vampires were staked through the heart, in Serbia through the stomach, and in Russia through the mouth.
A widespread method of stopping vampires was to bury the corpse upside-down, as was placing sickles or scythes near the grave. Decapitation was the preferred method in Germany, and western Slavic areas, with the head buried between the legs, behind the buttocks, or away from the body. This was done to slow the departure of the soul from the body, which in some cultures was said to linger in the corpse. In addition to decapitation, some had their mouths stuffed with garlic, or had their hearts removed and burned to cinders.
In some traditions a buried body would have a stake driven completely through it to hold it into the ground; some cultures went so far as to drive spikes or thorns through the tongue to prevent the alleged vampire from using it to draw blood. Often stakes were pounded in the ground above a grave, this to assure a reanimated corpse was staked if it attempted to rise from the earth.
Romani people often drove iron needles into the corpse’s heart, eyes, mouth, ears, and between the fingers at the time of burial. A hawthorn stake was often driven through the corpse’s legs.
An ancient Greek practice was placing an obolus in the corpse’s mouth, to pay the toll to cross the River Styx in the underworld. Though it has been argued that the coin was intended to ward off evil spirits from entering the body. Another Greek practice was to place a wax cross and piece of pottery with the inscription ‘”Jesus Christ conquers” onto the corpse to prevent it turning into the undead.
Other measures involved pouring boiling water over the grave, or incineration of the body. In Saxon regions of Germany, a lemon was placed in the mouth of suspected vampires. In Bulgaria, over 100 skeletons with metal objects, such as plough bits, embedded in the torso, have been discovered.