Though challenged by storytellers in recent years, garlic has long been perceived as a way to ward off vampires. It’s actually been a part of vampire mythology for so long that when you stop to think about it, you might wonder what actually brought the two to be linked in the first place. Though there are more reasons, here are 5 that turned up most frequently in my study of vampire lore.
In many cultures, garlic is believed to ward off evil.
This one pops up all over the place. In a number of ancient cultures, a clove of garlic was carried in the pocket for good luck and protection from evil, but more noteworthy are the burials in Europe where the mouth of the deceased was stuffed with garlic for the purpose of protecting them from spirits. Since some cultures believed a vampire was an empty husk that rose from the grave and still others believed vampires were evil spirits that could possess the empty body of the dead, the garlic’s ability to ward off evil was employed to prevent them from rising from the grave.
Vampires might have just been people with rabies.
Modern researchers have found a number of connections between the feared behaviors of vampires and the way both people and animals behave when rabid. One noteworthy finding was that rabies can trigger hypersensitivity–causing the afflicted to avoid bright lights and particularly strong smells, such as garlic.
Many vampire stories are a parallel for blood-sucking insects.
Mosquitoes are a common annoyance, and they’re one of the only real-life vampires. Not only do they spread disease, as early Europeans feared from their folklore equivalent, but they can be repelled by garlic, too.
Even now, we recognize garlic as a powerful antibiotic.
But as recently as a few centuries ago, garlic was considered a panacea–and maybe even magic. While we recognize its medicinal and health benefits with a more educated eye now, it was thought to have power over many things, including illness and disease. Particularly noteworthy, since one of the most famous cases of vampire hysteria in history stemmed from the case of Mercy Brown, who–along with many other members of her family–died of tuberculosis.
Although reclassified in recent years, garlic was once classified as a lily.
Lilies have long been a part of religious iconography, representing purity and associated with holiness. Considering the effect of the crucifix and holy water on the undead, it makes sense that the holy affiliation of the lily would likewise repel vampires.
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