The Truth About Stakes
Legends usually state that a wooden stake through a vampire’s chest (specifically the area of the heart) will kill it. Well, I think stabbing anything through the heart with any sharp object will kill it, don’t you?
In some versions of legend, the vampire needs to be asleep at the time. Obviously this is rarely the case in the popular movies and television shows such as ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’. After all, what is the fun of staking something in their sleep? More modern films such as ‘Blade’ though, do not use the traditional wooden stake as a method of killing the vampire.
Other more modern beliefs, possibly associated with the rise of interest in the occult and Wicca talk about stakes having to be ‘charged’ with magick in order to kill a vampire. Some beliefs about these ‘charged’ stakes apply to certain types of vampires. An example is that they will only temporarily hurt, but not kill a sanguine vampire. This process only paralyzes them in stasis until the stake is removed, whereupon the wound then heals. It does not matter, in this case, what material the stake is made of.
In some cultures and geographic areas, certain types of wood are used (and are thought to be more effective) over others. For example, oak was required in Silesia while hawthorn was needed in Serbia. Perhaps this is because the types of wood are native to the area and therefore are incorporated into the beliefs. Some of the more commonly used woods are hawthorn and wood from the rowan tree as well as mountain ash. In England, up until 1823, it was common to drive an ash stake through the heart of all suicide victims to prevent them from becoming a vampire. People thought to have died violently, or somehow behaved badly in life, such as a criminal were thought to become vampires. Stakes, and sometimes whole trees, were plunged through graves to prevent this possibility from occurring.
Wooden stakes were sometimes planted in the ground above the grave, so if the corpse was to rise, it would stab itself on the stake. Staking was also a psychological coping mechanism to deal with death. By performing the vampire rituals to destroy the corpse through staking, it destroyed the dead person’s psychological attachment to the living, allowing their family and friends to cope with their grief and move on.
The most familiar vampire myths and legends are thought to have originated in the far East and from places like Tibet, India and China, to Europe to places like Transylvania. The Wallachians believed that the dead could be prevented from returning to life by driving a long nail through the skull of the corpse and placing a thorny stem of a wild rosebush upon the body. Perhaps wooden stakes became popularized and associated through the most famous of ‘vampires’ (though not actually considered a vampire, his name and lifestyle was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’), Vlad Dracul The Impaler. Vlad impaled his victims on large stakes driven into the body vertically, left to exsanguinate (bleed to death). Perhaps this is how the association of vampires to wooden stakes came about.
Different countries have different ways of dispensing of vampires. The most widely known is that of wooden stakes. Other common myths are used just to ward off vampires-such a crucifixes and garlic. These items do not kill the vampire as wooden stakes do. But not all countries and cultures use this method as a remedy. In Albania and Russia (and probably a few other places), a stake is used to rid the community of a vampire. In Russia, it is customary to hit the stake only once, because hitting it twice will revive the vampire.
Why was wood used as the weapon of choice? Would people not have thought that metal would do a better job? Maybe it was the time and energy required to make weapons of metal, like swords.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the answer to this hypothetical question. Perhaps that will be something to think about in the ‘Vampire Hunters’ article. Other methods of dispensing of a vampire range to everything from burning, to decapitation and of course the ever popular sunlight.