Look out Sava’s about…!

Bajina Basta, Serbia

With Special Guest: Dr. James Lyon, Ph.D

Undoubtedly the big news about at the moment is coming from Zarožje in Serbia, it would seem that with the collapse of his dwelling the local vampire, Sava Savanović, is out and about looking for new digs and, perhaps understandably, the locals are nervous.

A local municipal assembly member, Miodrag Vujetic, told ABC News,
People are very worried. Everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people. We are all frightened.”

The local authorities have been advising the populace of the region to take all necessary precautions and we would imagine that sales of Garlic, Crucifixes and Hawthorn stakes have gone through the roof.

We decided to follow the story up with a previous guest of ours, Doctor James Lyon, Ph.D. a noted Balkan historian, commentator on the ABC News story and author who has done extensive research on the folklore behind vampires and who has recently published a paranormal literary thriller “Kiss of the Butterfly” about vampires in Serbia and the Balkans.

We caught up with Doctor Lyon in the arrivals lounge at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport to ask him about this story and about his other areas of work in the region.

RVL: Good evening James and thank you for sparing us some of your time once again. What is the reason for the still strong belief system in these old legends and traditions?

JL: In traditional cultures and societies — even in modern societies – people cling to traditional pagan traditions and beliefs, one of the most visible being the Christmas tree. So why should we be surprised if villagers in Serbia continue to believe in millennia-old mythical creatures from Slavic folklore, when the West has the Loch Ness Monster, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Bigfoot. New England, in particular, has lots of interesting and creepy folk beliefs. In my novel “Kiss of the Butterfly” I demonstrate how the lines between reality and phantasmagoric are easily blurred by unusual events in the Balkans. These beliefs obviously go back many centuries, as the Law Code of Serbia’s Tsar Dušan from 1349 contains a prohibition against digging up corpses and killing them in Article 20. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Du%C5%A1an%27s_Code)

RVL: Is the vampire the pre-eminent belief in this part of the world as opposed to say werewolves, witches and the like or is there strong representation of all?

JL: Balkan folklore includes witches, fairies, and numerous other creatures. In some parts of the Balkans, vampires and werewolves are considered to be the same creature, shape-shifters, that can change into other animals, including butterflies. In local folklore, vampires are not potential boyfriends. Rather, they are hideous, bloodthirsty creatures with red eyes and iron teeth, and they bloat when they feed.

RVL: Your own fictional work, “Kiss of the Butterfly”, is a historical thriller about vampires set in Serbia, what time period is it set in and are the main vampiric characters based on any particular historical figure?

JL:Kiss of the Butterfly” begins with a description of an actual historical campaign carried out by Vlad III Tsepes (Dracula) in 1476 in Bosnia that led to a massacre in the mining town of Srebrenica, and then jumps to 1991. It takes place mostly in 1991/92, with flashbacks to the 1700s. The main vampiric characters are composites of the politicians, warlords, businessmen and criminals who played such an important role in creating and perpetuating the wars that raged from 1991-1999.

RVL: Can you give us a little information on the origin of vampire beliefs in Serbia?

JL: The Balkans is Vampire Ground Zero when it comes to fanged folklore, and Serbia is a leader in this. The concept of the modern pop-culture Vampire that Bram Stoker worked off of originated in Serbia, not Romania, and the word “vampire” entered western languages from Serbia due to incidents in 1725 and 1731 that involved the Austrian Army and civilian officials. These included performing autopsies on suspected vampires.

For further reading see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Paole

RVL: Naturally perhaps, the majority of people associate vampires with the Romanian region of Transylvania, does this surprise you at all?

JL: We have Bram Stoker to thank for that. Most Romanians are puzzled by all the vampire talk about Transylvania and Dracula. Why? Because Dracula wasn’t from Transylvania: he was from Wallachia, to the south. Stoker basically chose Dracula’s name for his vampire because he thought it sounded like a good name, even though there was never any hint of vampirism associated with Dracula himself. Also, Romanians don’t have as well-developed a vampire mythology as the Slavs. Reports of vampire-related activity continue to this day throughout the Balkans, the most recent having occurred in 2011 in Serbia.

RVL: Of the latest documented tales of vampire-related activity in the Balkan states what proportion of the total of these “activities” does Serbia make up?

JL: That’s tough to say. Although I try to keep up with the media in Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia, I follow it far less in Montenegro, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Macedonia. But even then, there will be occasional stories that pop up. The areas where these stories appear the most tend to be in the mountain villages. Whenever something happens, the local tabloids sensationalize it to sell copies.


RVL: Although he [Sava Savanović] is usually said to have been the first Serbian vampire, there are claims that he was pre-dated in Serbian folklore by Petar Blagojević [a.k.a. Peter Plogojowitz ] from Veliko Gradište, who died in 1724. Petar Blagojević and the affair surrounding him came to European attention at the time, under the name Plogojowitz, and represented one of the earliest examples of vampire hysteria.

Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sava_Savanovi%C4%87

What are your thoughts/knowledge on/of this James?

JL: The case of Peter Plogojowitz (possibly an Austrian misspelling of Petar Blagojević) is usually referred to as “The First Vampire” and created a vampire craze in Europe at the time. It took place in Kisiljevo, a small town in Serbia near Veliko Gradište along the Danube River’s southern bank, across the river from Wallachia (Romania). In 1725, an Austrian civilian administrator accompanied a village priest and a group of villagers as they opened up Plogojowitz’s grave and drove a stake through his heart. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Plogojowitz

On 21 July 1725, the Vienna (Austria) daily newspaper Wiener Zeitung (then called Wienerisches Diarium), published local District Administrator  Frombold’s original account of the Peter Plogojowitz case, which is probably the first time the word “vampire” was used in print: “so sie Vampyri nennen”. A digitalized copy of the original story can be found online at the Austrian National Museum at http://anno.onb.ac.at/cgi-content/anno?apm=0&aid=wrz&datum=17250721&zoom=2

Another Balkan country, neighboring Croatia has its own homegrown vampire pre-dating this in 1656, Jure Grando from the village of Kringa. However, he was not referred to explicitly as a vampire, but rather as a blood-sucking demon. It should be noted that Croatia and Serbia share nearly identical mythology regarding vampires.


RVL: There have been several suggestions as to why Sava Savanović has re-emerged, one or two more cynical than not, what are your thoughts on why the old rogue has reappeared James?

JL: This event came in the midst of a worsening economic crisis in a rural, mountainous, forested area that is relatively underdeveloped, and was no doubt triggered by the collapse of the roof on the old watermill that Savanović was rumored to inhabit.

It took place against the backdrop of Milovan Glišić’s 1880 vampire novel “After Ninety Years”, which was published approximately 17 years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milovan_Gli%C5%A1i%C4%87

Glišić had based his tale of Savanović on local folklore, and the tale soon became widely known in Serbia, and later the entire Yugoslavia, following the classic 1973 horror film “Leptirica” (Female Butterfly) based on the Savanović legend. A very modest tourist industry had developed in Zarožje to cater to those who wished to see the old mill, but the economic crisis appears to have disrupted this. While I know that many people in the rural parts of the Balkans still retain old beliefs regarding vampires, it should be noted that the Municipal Councilman who has spoken so vocally about the event to the media and raised the prospect of a vampire warning, also owns a local restaurant that served tour groups.


To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a jump in the price of garlic: I drive by that area every weekend, and just recently purchased garlands of garlic, and the prices were no higher than usual.

RVL: Well, let’s hope the people of the region come through this trial unscathed James, and perhaps, just to be on the safe side, you should hang around in Paris for a while. Thank you very much indeed for your time and expertise.

 © Real Vampire Life & Dr. James Lyon, Ph. D. 2012

NB: As an addendum to this article we would like to highlight a little about Dr. Lyon, his involvement in this part of the world and share with you some of his activities in the sphere of global interest.


James M. B. Lyon, Ph.D.

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