Revered and reviled for its strong taste and aroma, garlic has been used for thousands of years for its alleged magical and therapeutic properties.
Stories about this plant’s healing properties have been passed down for thousands of years and are still present in many cultures, especially in Central and East European countries.
Today, garlic is still being used as a protective plant against evil spirits, witchcraft, and enchantments. In fact, the most captivating myths and superstitions surrounding garlic relate to its magical attributes.
This plant’s association with the paranormal and supernatural is most famously linked to vampires.
According to legend, the condiment can repel vampires and keep them at bay. This belief was first popularized in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” where the protagonist uses this strong condiment to ward off Count Dracula.
But the belief in its ability to repel vampires stems from ancient times.
In some cultures, the plant was believed to have magical properties that could protect against evil spirits and demonic entities.
In the Middle Ages, garlic was used as a protective amulet against witches and sorcerers, and it was believed that wearing it could ward off their spells and curses.
The belief in garlic’s protective powers has continued into modern times, and many people still believe that it can protect them against evil and supernatural creatures.
Some paranormal investigators even use garlic, believing it can repel malevolent spirits and entities.
This herb has been a staple ingredient in many cuisines around the world, prized for its pungent flavor and health benefits. However, beyond its culinary uses, the condiment has also been steeped in a rich history of myths and superstitions.
From fending off vampires to warding off evil spirits, garlic has been hailed as a powerful talisman throughout the ages.
In Romania, garlic has an extraordinary place in folklore and traditions. Garlic braids are often hung in homes to ward off evil spirits and protect against illness.
In some regions, garlic is also used to ward off vampires, and it is believed that if a vampire touches it, the creature will be weakened or destroyed.
In Siberia, the souls of women who died during childbirth and come back to torment the living are said to be recognizable by the garlic smell they spread.
Another garlic superstition comes from Borneo, where the Batak population attributes garlic with the power to find lost souls.
In the old customs of the Var region, in Draguignan, on the occasion of Saint John’s Day celebration, garlic was fried in all the fires lit in the streets.
The locals believed that the intense smell of fried garlic would drive away evil spirits and protect their dwellings.
In Mexico, the plant had to be received as a gift to effectively drive away vampires.
Roman legionnaires carried garlic as a means of protection during battles. Due to its prevalence in the soldiers’ diet, the plant became a symbol of military life.
Various garlic superstitions can also be found in old Islamic legends. One such myth talks about garlic that sprang up under the Devil’s left foot when he was cast away from the Garden of Eden.
In the Bowers manuscript, a Buddhist medicine treatise dating from the 5th century, there is a legend that the condiment was born from the blood of a demon.
Classical Antiquity attributed certain virtues to this condiment, and traces of this can still be found in contemporary Greek folklore.
During the Scirophoria or Thesmophoria celebrations, women ate garlic, as it was believed that the plant facilitated the maintenance of the chastity imposed during the festivities.
In contrast, from the Mediterranean basin to India, the most persistent belief is that the herb wards off the evil eye.
For this reason, wreaths of garlic heads tied with red wool are often seen in Greece, India, and Italy.
In Greece, merely uttering the word “garlic” was believed to protect one from the evil eye.
In China, the condiment is associated with luck and fertility and is often given as a gift to young parents to encourage them to have many children.
Koreans of the past ate large quantities of this condiment before embarking on mountainous routes, firmly convinced that the smell repelled tigers.
Interestingly, archaeologists have found garlic bulbs encased in clay alongside the bodies of the departed in Egyptian tombs.
Whether they were meant to placate the gods’ wrath or represented coins for the afterlife is still being determined.
It is, however, well-known that both garlic and onions played a significant role in Egyptian processions relating to sacred oaths. The ancient Egyptians revered these two plants for their magical and healing properties.
Their divinity was so powerful that the Egyptians refrained from using them in their cuisine.
Nonetheless, they formed a significant portion of the diets of those who worked on building the pyramids, including slaves and Egyptian laborers.
During King Tutankhamun’s reign, fifteen garlands of garlic could purchase a robust and healthy slave.
The term vampire first appeared as upir in an old note written by a Russian Orthodox priest circa 1047, where the “evil upir” was mentioned. It is thought that the word upir originates in the ancient Tatar language – ubyr, which means “witchcraft” or “magic.”
Another reference dates back to the 11th century and relates to Saint Gregory, who spoke of a pagan cult that worshiped specific upirs.
Melampus, a well-known prophet and healer revered in various places in Ancient Greece, connected garlic and the vampire myth.
Melampus ruled as king in Argos and is believed to have founded the Melampodidae prophetic caste, comprised of his descendants, to whom he bequeathed the gift of divination.
Melampus described garlic as one of the most potent protective plants against various entities, spirits, and malevolent creatures, including vampires and wraiths.
It is possible that the myth of garlic being able to repel creatures from the dark arose from the fact that excessive consumption significantly affects one’s breath smell.
In the ancient mystery religions, which placed a strong emphasis on fertility rituals, individuals who had consumed a lot of this plant were prohibited from participating in the worship of the gods.
The plant has long been associated with protective properties in many myths, legends, and superstitions. According to these beliefs, garlic effectively keeps evil spirits away and wards off vampires.
In Central Europe, it is said that hanging a bunch of garlic or a garland of garlic flowers at the head of the bed is the best way to ward off vampires.
Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” also contributed to the spread of the belief that garlic, along with the cross and holy water, represents effective weapons against vampires.
However, these beliefs are not exclusive to Central and Eastern European countries.
In his book “Vampires and Vampirism,” Montague Summers mentions that garlic is used against vampires and other evil creatures in many cultures worldwide.
For example, in Malaysia and China, parents anoint their children’s foreheads with garlic to protect them from jiangshi, also known as the Chinese vampire.
In Chinese legends and folklore, Jiangshi is an animated corpse that kills living creatures to absorb their “vital force.” It usually rests in a coffin or hides in dark places, such as caves, during the day and comes out at night.
The herb is often viewed as a universal antidote to dark spirits, creatures thirsty for blood, vampires, werewolves, and other malicious beings.
According to vampire mythology expert Theresa Bane, other herbs and plants, such as rice, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and black pepper, also have protective powers against these spirits.
The Sucoyan tribe of the West Indies believes that throwing these items at the vampire or scattering them in its path will force it to stop and count them, causing the race to last until morning when the sun rises and destroys it.
However, not all evil creatures from mythology can be classified as vampires. For instance, people in Antiquity did not use the term “vampire.”
Instead, there are various references to supernatural beings who fed on human blood or flesh, such as:
- Vetalas and the goddess Kali from Indian mythology
- Asanbosam from the Ashanti people of Ghana
- Baobhan Sith from Scottish folklore
- Empusae, Lamia, and Strix from Greco-Roman mythology
- Xortdan (Hortdan) from the Azerbaijan area
- Penanggalan from Malaysian and Indonesian folklore
- Gashadokuro and Iso-onna in Japan
- Lamashtu in Mesopotamia
- Camazotz from the old Mayan legends
- Nachzehrer from German folklore
- Aswang from Filipino folklore
- Chupacabra from Puerto Rican and Latin American folklore
- Strigoi from Romanian folklore
- Upyr from Slavic folklore
Theresa Bane clearly distinguishes between vampires and vampire spirits (such as Aipalookvik from North Canada, Alaska, and Greenland or Chochonyi from Argentina).
Not all these creatures feed on human flesh or blood and can be warded off with garlic.
Regardless, garlic is viewed as a powerful amulet against evil spirits and vampires in many cultures worldwide. While it may not be a universal means of intimidation, it is one of many protective herbs and plants that can ward off these supernatural beings.
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- Six Ways to Stop a Vampire. The National Geographic blog. [Source]
- Patricia Turner and Charles Russell Coulter - Dictionary of Ancient Deities. Oxford University Press, 2001.
- Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu - In Search of Dracula. Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
- Brian Righi - Vampires Through the Ages: Lore & Legends of the World's Most Notorious Blood Drinkers.