The more I read about ghosts, the more I understand the human fascination with them. Their diversity rivals the botanical richness of a rain forest.
Over the course of this Ghost Post series, I have touched on dark ghosts, sad ghosts, mischievous ghosts, even a desirable ghost. But today is a day for a nasty one – so N is for the Nasty Nachzehrer. This ghost takes the familiarity of family and friends a bit too far.
Normal ghosts are supposed to wander the world wreaking havoc. We expect to see them, hear them, or smell them. Sometimes we get to witness them in ghostly action.
That’s why I was surprised to learn about a ghost that can cause dire trouble without ever leaving the grave. Magical power must be its middle name because it causes serious trouble from six feet under.
Let’s pretend. Say you lived in Germany during the time of a plague, and you lost an uncle. You would be sad. You would be even sadder when his wife, your aunt, passed away soon afterward.
People would crowd around you, offering love and wishes. Tearfully you would say to them, “My aunt wasted away without my uncle.”
Well that would be wishful thinking.
According to German folklore, it is likely that your aunt did not waste away from grief. Your aunt was probably devoured by your uncle.
But to get to his wife, your dead uncle didn’t have to move heaven and earth (well earth). All he had to do was move his mouth and chew.
This ghostly character is called the Nachzehrer. According vampire expert J. Gordon Melton, his name means “he who devours after death” and he is one stubborn ghost. Actually a revenant (a recently dead spirit who stoutly refuses to leave its corpse), the Nachzehrer doesn’t bother leaving the coffin. With one eye open in the grave, he chews on his burial clothes.
As he nibbles, people at home get sick.
While he winks that ghastly wink, the Nachzehrer chomps his fingers, bites his palms, swallows his arms, and munches his toes.
And his relatives waste away.
Like a puppeteer from the dark side, the Nachzehrer is one powerful vampire. His unseen teeth chew on his flesh until his relatives’ flesh is incapable of supporting life. If you ask me, destroying oneself to destroy other family members sounds like family dysfunction at its most profound.
Some say that the Nachzehrer is a child born with a caul over its head (the caul is the amniotic sack). Others say that those who die by their own hands can become Nachzehrers too. But plagues are really the Nachzehrer’s plague-ground. Just about any health epidemic can spawn a Nachzehrer- the very first person to die from the illness becomes a Nachzehrer. It’s that simple.
So the next time you pass the cemetery down the street, take a good look around. Somewhere, under the innocent turf and hulking headstones, a Nachzehrer may quietly nibble its rotting flesh as it murders its family and neighbors.
And that, my friends, is multi-tasking at its most sinister.
Copyright 2015 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.
Bunson, Matthew (1993). The Vampire Encyclopedia. New York: Gramercy Books
Melton, J. Gordon (2011). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, 3rd Edition. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, p. 283.
Wikipedia – Nachzehrer
PHOTO CREDIT: By Johnson, Helen Kendrik (Ed.) (?) / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons