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Who needs Van Helsing when you live in a country like the Netherlands ?

Despite of the deplorable fact that Bram Stoker decided to turn his famous vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing into a Dutchman, we can hardly consider the Netherlands as a hardcore "vampire country". I should know. For I was born here and I have lived here for most of my life. Oh yes, there is no lack of traditional stories about ghosts, about witches, about white ladies, mermaids, wild hunters and werewolves. Like every other nation we are not without superstitions and we do have our own weird customs. I have no complaints in that department. But - and I am almost ashamed to confess it - I have found nothing here that could be considered to be a proper case of vampirism. Which is why you will find this page listed in our "Bits and Pieces" section rather than under "Cases".

There is one story, from Westerwolde, about the "Black Soldier", but that is not very convincing and sounds as if it may have been inspired by Gogol's well-known vampire story "Viy". And yes, let us not forget those rather interesting tales about a lugubrious vampire vehicle called the "Bloed Karos" (Blood Coach), but I strongly suspect that those stories originate from the other side of the Belgian border. Coming to think of it, I do remember that I have seen a similar story which was presented as a historical fact that was supposed to have taken place in France. Back to Holland then. There is a rather unexciting story from South Limburg about a feather pillow that causes a young child's health to fade away but apparently that is being done through some kind of vampirical witchcraft. And there also is a somewhat similar story from Zeeuws Vlaanderen (again close to the Belgian border) of which I will now give you a very short synopsis.

Heks :

"There once was a woman who lived in a little village in Zeeuws Vlaanderen. She was horrified to see her children fade away and die, one by one. Now it so happens that one of her neighbours was an old woman who often came to visit. One day, after the old hag had come to visit again, the child in the cradle just would not stop crying, and when the mother went to see what was wrong she found some sharp pins in the bed of her child. The kind of pins that old women use to fix their traditional headgear to their heads. So the mother got suspicious about her neighbour. She went to see the village priest, who advised her to walk all the way to the ancient monastery of Dendermonde (in Belgium), saying her prayers and talking to no one on the way.

When she arrived in Dendermonde, one of the monks gave her 2 Easter nails. With the instructions to hide them under the front and back door of her house. And so she did. The next time her neighbour came around, she found that she could not enter the house. So it was clear that she was the one who had been causing all this trouble. And, as she could no longer feed upon the vitality of the children, she died before the end of the year."

Now the woman in the above story obviously is a witch, or "heks" as we call it over here. But, seeing as how she is using her magical powers to feed on the vital energy of others, one could also argue that she is a "living vampire". And in case you are wondering about those "Easter nails" I can't blame you. I had never heard of them myself. But I have checked things out and found that there appear to be churches where, at Easter time, they stick nails into the church candles in the shape of a cross. Don't ask me why. Something to do with the crucifixion no doubt.

Nachtmerrie / Waalridder :

However, there is another unpleasant entity that sometimes has vampirical traits. It is called the "Nachtmerrie" (nightmare). Nachtmerries can attack people as well as horses. They can have different shapes. A nachtmerrie may look like a skinny old woman with very long arms. Other sources say that she looks like a young girl. They may also take the shape of a strange black ugly looking animal, that looks like a cross between a dog and a cat. It is usually black, although in some stories it may be brown or white.

There are places where people use another name to indicate a "Nachtmerrie". There they use the name "Waalridder". It is said that if a family has seven daughters and no son, then one of the daughters must be a "nachtmerrie". In some villages (for reasons that are beyond me) they think that nachtmerries are girls who were born in the middle of October.

There are quite a few stories about nachtmerries, so they appear to take a rather important place in Dutch folklore. So what does a nachtmerrie do to inspire such fear ? At night, when decent people are sleeping, they go in search of victims. No use locking the doors and windows, for they can easily slip through the smallest crack. When they find a sleeping person they jump on their chest and strangle them, or suffocate them by sticking their long tongue into the victim's mouth. The victim is unable to move or call for help. If no measures are taken, the victim will get weaker and weaker until he or she dies. Some people will tell you that the nachtmerrie goes around in its own body. Others say that the body of the nachtmerrie stays at home while its spirit goes out hunting. Nachtmerries can be recognised by the fact that their eyebrows have grown together.

So what can you do to protect yourself ? When you go to bed at night, make sure that the toes of your slippers or shoes point away from the bed. You can also turn them upside down, or put them down in the shape of a cross. If that is too much trouble, you could put flour or chalk powder on the floor. Nachtmerries are also said to be afraid of sharp metal objects, so - supposing that you are a little less accident-prone than I am - you could put knives, sickles or even scythes inside your bedroom. If you want, you can nail the skull of a horse on the wall of your house or your stable. And then, of course, there is a certain herb that is called "Sint-Janskruid" (Hypericum perforatum), which in Medieval times used to be one of the best medicines against evil and magical attacks. In those days it was know as "Duivelsgesel" (Devil's Scourge) or "Jaag-de-Duivel" (Chase-away-the-Devil). The Latin name for this herb used to be "Fuga Daemonum".

Haarhand / Man met de Haak :

There is an awful lot of water in this country. When I was a young child and did not know how to swim, my parents tried to discourage me from playing close to the waterside by telling me about this horrible monster that was supposed to live in the water. It was called the "Haarhand" (Hairy Hand). I was told that if I was going to play too close to the water this scary hairy hand would come out and tear me into the water.

Now in Limburg, the south-eastern part of our country, there exists an interesting variation on this evil water-spirit. It is called the "Man met de Haak" (the man with the hook). He is supposed to be an ugly black little man with a wild beard made out of water plants. He is said to have webbed feet, just like a frog. And if children get too close to the water, he will drag them in with his hook. Ok, nothing very vampirical so far. But I forgot to mention that there is the fact that he sucks up all the blood of his victims. He is also reported to keep the souls of his victims imprisoned in bottles. Therefore, in case you see a bottle floating in the water, it is your moral duty to throw pebbles at it, and try to break it, so that the trapped soul of the victim can escape.

Witte Lever :

Then there is another kind of "Dutch Vampirism". In some parts of our country, mainly in Friesland or so I am told, it is said that there are people who have a white liver. In case you are unfortunate enough to marry someone who has a white liver, nothing can safe you, and you are going to die... Big deal ! Aren't we all ? At least this part of the story does sound plausible to me. But there is more. Apparently a marriage to a woman with a white liver will not only destroy your hopes to live forever. It seriously shortens your lifespan and your death will follow soon.

So how are you going to meet your death ? Well, that part is hard to predict, for there seem to be no fixed rules. It is possible that you will simply waste away. Or you may meet with an unfortunate and deadly accident. It won't make much of a difference. No matter how, no matter what, there is no escape. Your days are numbered and you are going to die soon after your wedding. So please be careful. Your life may depend on it. Unfortunately those white-livered women don't come with a government health warning. Therefore, if you happen to meet a widow who has married again, and again, and again, surviving all of her husbands, beware ! For then you can be pretty sure that she does have a very white liver. Think twice, or you could be the next one.

Of course I have been wondering if this strange superstition is about women only, or if there are also white-livered-vampire-men. Unfortunately all the tales that I have heard and the material that I have read so far always mentions women. As to white-liver-men, I haven't been able to find any material about them. But don't worry, we will keep looking for them.

White livers... Somehow I can not help wondering if there could be a connection with our local drink called Jenever. Better known to the outside world as "Dutch Gin", or even being referred to by the always witty and amusing Englishmen as "Dutch Courage". On the one side you could argue that strong alcoholic drinks have been known to cause serious liver damage. On the other hand there is also the belief that juniper berries (one of the ingredients to produce Jenever) are supposed to ward off vampires...

The Farmer on the Coffin :

And then there is this story that used to be told by the people from Spijk, a small village in the North of our country. I wouldn't really call it a vampire story. It is more like a variation on the well-know spectre bridegroom theme. But, hey, what can you expect in a country like this ? Well, enough of my moaning and negative thoughts. This here is the story:

There was a farmer who had lost his wife not long after getting married to her. His dead wife had hardly been buried when the widower started making amorous advances to one of his servant girls. He told her that he was crazy about her and that he wanted to marry her straight away. The girl had other ideas and told him to be patient. It would not be decent for him to remarry so soon after his first wife's death. And then the farmer suddenly died.

Soon there were people in the village who told that they had seen the dead farmer moving around. There were others who reported that they had seen him in the graveyard, sitting on top of his own coffin. The girl was frightened by these tales, but she also wanted to know the truth. So one night when the moon was shining, she went to the churchyard.

When she came to the farmer's grave nothing was there. Then the church bell started ringing midnight and the grave opened up. The farmer's coffin came slowly rising out of the earth. The coffin opened up and the girl saw the corpse of the farmer. Its eyes were glowing like coals of fire and its hand grabbed one of her legs. "Now you will be mine forever !"

Fortunately the girl managed to break away from his grip and somehow made her way home again. The part of her leg where the farmer had grabbed her never got well again. So for the rest of her life she walked with a limp. And it wasn't until she was old and grey that she finally found the courage to tell her story.

Noise against the Evil Spirits

And now for something different to finish this off. The Chinese people, on various occasions, use very noisy firework to scare away demons and evil spirits. Here in Europe, the sound of the church bells is supposed to have the same effect on the infernal powers.

On several of my visits to Romanian monasteries and convents I have witnessed how one of the monks or sisters would march all the way around the wall of the building, banging a very long plank with a wooden hammer, making an awful lot of noise. On my questions I was told that this ritual is meant to scare away all evil spirits. Unfortunately I did not make any sound recordings of those events. But I can show you one of my photos so that you know what it looks like.

So much for Dracula Country. Now over here, in Van Helsing country, we happen to have this absolutely horrible tradition that is called the "Klompendans" (clog dance). People who apparently have no shame and really ought to know better, dress up in traditional Dutch costumes and dance around wearing clogs, also referred to by tourist guides as "wooden shoes". They will be stamping their feet in a most unseemly manner, and they will be producing a lot of horrible noise. Whenever I have had the misfortune to find myself present at such a cultural event, I have always wondered if the mysterious ritual of the "klompendans" is also meant to scare away evil spirits. I can assure you, it certainly has that effect on me.

Is that all then ?

Yes, I have given you fair warning, haven't I, so what else did you expect ? I can tell you that it wasn't easy for me to find even as little as this. And trust me, I have really been scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Well, actually there are a few more tales and stories that have a very vague vampire connection. There is even a story that - with an awful lot of imagination - could be considered to almost be a vampire case. It concerns the return of a dead man to his wife, and the author of the book in which I found it calls it a vampire story. Which - in the absence of better cases - is good enough for me. You can find the story in our section of "VAMPIRE CASES" under the heading of "Bobeldijk".

And - like everywhere else in this world - even the Dutch have all kinds of customs that are meant to prevent the return of the dead. If and when I find the time, I may add some of them to this page, or perhaps I will put them on a page of their own.

© 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changes 28 July 2009 - Photo"Fairground Skull" © 2005 by Rob Brautigam
Photo "Dutch clogs" © 2007 by Rob Brautigam - Photo "Romanian Exorcism" © 1985 by Rob Brautigam

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