Friday, May 4, 2018

Saint George and the Powers of Witches and Vampires

“It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?”

―Bram Stoker, Dracula 1897

Today is the Eve of the Feast of Saint George! Which means that if you are still alive after tonight, you survived what is known in Eastern Europe as the most dangerous night of the year, as the powers of vampires and witches and every evil were at their height on the Eve of the Feast of Saint George.

Now you may ask, how is it that the Eve of the Feast of Saint George is today, May 4th, when he is in fact celebrated on April 23rd. Back in 1887, when the events of the novel were said to have taken place, April 23rd in Romania fell on May 5th according to the reckoning of the Gregorian calendar, which was twelve days later, according to which Jonathan Harker in the novel dates his journal entry. So when he dated his journal May 4th, to the peasants of Romania warning him to not go to Dracula's castle that day, it was April 22, the Eve of Saint George.

It is not by coincidence that Bram Stoker chose this date for his entry to warn Jonathan Harker. In Romania, the living vampires or moroi gather at the boundaries of towns at sunset. It is here they meet with strigoi, their dead counterparts, and strigele, living witches, to plan all the evil deeds they will carry out in the coming year. Before their influence comes to an end the moroi must gather a year’s worth of power on this night. They wander the boundaries seeking people and animals to prey on.

Back in the day, people would hide in their houses with every anti-vampire weapon they could get their hands on. They placed thorns upon the threshold of their homes, painted tar crosses on their doors, lit bonfires, put thistles on windows, and placed garlic everywhere. In the Middle Ages these were all considered the perfect methods for keeping yourself safe from evil. But it didn’t end at just that, in Romania the lights in homes were extinguished, prayers were recited throughout the long night, and blades were placed under pillows. Up until recent years in parts of Swabia (an area of Germany) bells rang all throughout the night until dawn, for in those parts it was believed that no vampire and no witch can come within the sound of a church bell. This was done in certain villages of Greece too.

Among the Ruthenians of Bukowina and Galicia the farmer’s wife gathered great branches of thorn to lay on the threshold of her house and every door was painted with a cross in tar to protect it from the witches. The Huzuls kindle large bonfires for their houses for the same reason whilst throughout Transylvania, Walachia and Bulgaria precautions of various kinds are similarly taken. The South Slavs favor bundles of thistles which are placed on the fence, the windows and the doors to prevent the entry of any evil thing.

The people that lived during this time did absolutely everything they could to protect themselves from witches and vampires, and if the morning came without any incident the festival of Saint George was celebrated with great enthusiasm. Therefore, on the 23rd of April (or May 5th), the house is garlanded with flowers, chaplets of roses decorate the stalls and the horns of the cows are wreathed with blossom in honor of Saint George.