When zombies and vampires were the same: the shroudeaters

Nowadays we see very clearly the differences between the many undead types, especially between the most popular: vampires and zombies. What is the essence of a vampire? What tells them apart from a zombie?

Well, there’s the blood.Though we can find many vegetarians vampires, it’s difficult to find a single vampire that doesn’t need to drink it. The sustenance of zombies is a little trickier: they have been seen feeding on human flesh, animal flesh or human brains, depending on the story. So diet is a big difference.

But there is a more subtle difference, and it’s the social class. Vampires are highly articulate, charming, dangerous, loaded with superpowers, beautiful. Zombies are ugly, rotten, inarticulate, weak. Their only strength is usually in their numbers. In a nutshell: vampires are upper class while zombies are proletarians.

But in the past things were not so clear. Let’s jump into our personal TARDIS and make a fast rewind: 1897 saw the birth of Dracula, 1871 was Carmilla, 1819 The Vampyre by Polidori, coincidentally the same year as Robert Southey introduced the word zombie in English… And before that? No zombies with that name, some vampires, but this is the realm of strigoi, nachzehrer, draugar, revenants, shroudeaters and many others. They were not vampires in the modern sense: many of them did not drink blood, though they used to feeding off the energy of the living. They were not zombies in their behavior, though they certainly looked like the modern zombies. These are the legends that express the eternal fear of death and of the dead, the legends that make you wonder if our ancestors saw things we have only seen in movies.

The shroudeaters were a generic term that spanned through many european countries. They were dead people that did what their name suggests: they ate their own shroud. Sometimes, when their shroud wasn’t enough, they ate their own bodies: hands, arms, any place they could reach. That’s unsettling, but not too dangerous. The problem is that, as long as they are chewing their shrouds, their family members begin to suffer and die. That’s one of the minor features that define a vampire: they bring doom to their own families.

There is a rational explanation for the existence of such a creature: on death, if a shroud covers a head and the mouth opens, the results can be those described by the folklore. Chewing other parts of the body can be attributed to rats. And the disgrace upon their families… well, tha major part of the families were disgraced.

By the way, do you know how to stop a shroudeater? The remedies are pretty much the same as with standard vampires: decapitation, cremation, separated burial. No stake through the heart, though. But there is a little trick you can use if someday you are in a pickle: a coin in their mouths.


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