Today, gypsies frequently
feature in vampiric fiction and film, no doubt influenced by Bram
Stoker's novel, 'Dracula' (the Szgany gypsies served Dracula,
carrying his boxes of earth and guarding him).
In reality, Gypsies originated as nomadic tribes in northern India, even though their name was attained from the early belief that they descended from Egypt. By 1000 AD, they started spreading westward and settled at Turkey, where they incorporated many Turkish words into their Romany language.
By the 14th century they had spread throughout the Balkans and after a further two centuries had spread across all of Europe. Gypsies arrived in Romania a short time before Vlad Dracula was born (1431). Their religion is complex and varies between tribes, but primarily they have a god called O Del and a thorough concept of Good/Evil forces.
Gypsies held strong
relationships and loyalty to deceased relatives. They believed
that the dead soul entered a world similar to ours except there
was no death. The soul limped around the body, sometimes wanting
to re-enter. The Gypsy myths of the living dead enriched the
vampiric myths of the Hungarian, Romanian and Slavic lands.
India, the home of the Gypsies, saw many mythical vampires. The Bhuta is the soul of a man who died an untimely death. It wandered aimlessly around, animating dead bodies at night and attacked the living like a ghoul. In northern India the Brahmaparusha could be found, a vampire-like creature with a head encircled by intestines and a skull from which it drank blood.
The most famous Indian vampire is Kali, fanged and wearing a garland of corpses or skulls. She had four arms. Her temples were placed near cremation grounds. Kali and the goddess Durga battled the demon Raktabija who could reproduce himself from each drop of blood spilled. Kali drank all his blood so none was spilled, thereby winning the battle of killing Raktabija.
Sara or the Black Goddess is the form in which Kali survived among Gypsies. Gypsies have a belief that the three Marys from the New Testament went to France and baptised a Gypsy called Sara. They still hold a ceremony each May 24th in the French village where this is said to have taken place.
Another gypsy vampire was called a 'mullo' (dead one). This vampire was believed to be malicious upon return; it would suck the blood of a person, usually a relative who had caused their death, or not properly observed the burial ceremonies, or who kept the deceased's possessions instead of destroying them as was proper.
Female vampires could
return, lead a normal life and even marry but would exhaust the
husband. Anyone who had a hideous appearance, was missing a
finger, or had animal appendages, etc. was believed to be a
vampire. Even plants, dogs and cats, or farm animals could become
vampires. Pumpkins or melons kept in the house too long would
start to move, make noises or show blood.
To get rid of a vampire people would hire a dhampire (the son of a vampire and his widow) to detect it. Gypsies drove steel or iron needles into a corpse's heart and placed bits of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears and between the fingers at the time of burial to get rid of the vampire. They also placed hawthorn in the corpse's sock or drove a hawthorn stake through the legs. Further measures included driving stakes into the grave, pouring boiling water over it, decapitating the corpse or burning it.
Despite the infraction of the Gypsy life by various eastern European communist regimes, Gypsies still retain much of the ancient culture. In 1992 a new king of the Gypsies was chosen in Bistritz, Romania.