When we think vampire, we think Count Dracula, and we have Bram Stoker to thank for that. During the vampire mania of Europe in the 17th and 18th century, folklore became grossly exaggerated and the vampire of the Victorian era was born. However, if you want to look at one of the first mentions of traditional vampirism, you have to go to Greece.
The very term vrykolaka is derived from the Romanian viraculac which roughly translates as ghoul, ghost, or demon. In fact, most Eastern European countries have a very similar name: in Serbian vukodlak, in Polish wilkołak, and Lithuanian vilkolakis. The Turkish word uber meaning witch is also similar.
It was an evil spirit or entity of supernatural origins which could possess a human form, but most often took the form of a wolf or dog. Think werewolf. This is where vampirism and werewolves intersect. They were correlated with the eclipse, a demon hound devouring the sun for an eternal night.
The Greek vrykolaka had roots in these stories. At its start, it was supernatural. Inhuman. A demon or specter, malevolent ghoul. But it wasn’t flesh. It appeared in the daylight. It didn’t drink blood. It harmed humans, yes, but by suffocating them. It was believed a vrykolaka would sit on a victim, smothering them or crushing the breath from their chest. No blood.Then something changed. This Slavic/Romanian demon became human, the dead has risen. A revenant. That’s because the Greeks blended the viracolac with their own beliefs. And there were three. One: Blood contained power, a life force if you will. Two: a body could be brought back to life. Resurrected. And finally, three: supernatural beings drank human blood.
You can see the common vein of thinking here; a demon could possess a body, drink the life-force of the living, and become flesh. Look at the Greek tragedy, the Iliad. “Odysseus fills a pit with sheep's blood to feed the shade of the seer Tiresias. Once the ghost has drunk the blood, he is able to speak.” Blood gave the supernatural power. This was common knowledge to the Greeks, same as we believe vaccines cause autism.
So, how is a Greek vampire born? The most common way is an improper burial. But one could “turn” into a vrykolaka after death through suicide, a violent death, or a sinful life. A person is murdered. A family buries a relative quickly after dying of disease, not waiting for the priest and risking its spread. An alcoholic dies, he returns thirsty for more ale… and the blood of his neighbors.These bloodthirsty revenants became a real crisis for the Greek peoples. The Isle of Santorini became a hub for exorcists and vampire slayers. The profession was as common as scribes and healers. It was believed a vrykolaka couldn’t swim across the sea. So, to protect the mainland, bodies believed to have turned were sent by boat to the Isle.
This blending of supernatural lore with Greek beliefs birthed the vampire. The malignant revenant of someone once dead began as a demon who wanted to steal the sun and smother people. And the superstition of the vrykolaka persists today. “The vrykolakas is said to knock on the doors of homes, and if the residents do not answer right away, the creature will pass on to the next residency.” A Greek will answer only if you persist with a second knock.