How Villagers Buried Bodies to Ward Off 'Demons'

Experts revisit case of skeletons buried with sickles
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2015 7:15 PM CST
Why Villagers Buried Their Dead With Iron Sickles
One of the skeletons buried in rural Poland in the 17th or 18th century with a sickle around its neck.   (Polcyn et al. Antiquity 2015, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2015.129)

Want to keep a demon-skeleton from haunting your rural settlement? Just bury it with a sickle at its throat. That's what researchers are saying about four skeletons from the 17th and 18th centuries found buried with iron sickles around their necks in a Polish cemetery, Discovery reports. Writing in Antiquity, Marek Polcyn and Elzbieta Gajda say the skeletons—two adult females, an adult male, and an adolescent female excavated with over 250 human remains starting in 2008—may have been feared as possible demons in Drawsko, northwestern Poland. The sickles "may have been a measure to prevent the demonized soul threatening the living, or could have been a reference to biblical symbolism in an attempt to prevent the soul from becoming demonized," the authors write.

They dismiss the theory that the villagers feared vampirism, saying the burials were conventionally Christian, with heads pointing west, and the graves don't seem desecrated. Perhaps the burials followed the folk belief that a person with a "bad death" (like drowning, suicide, or death during childbirth) was prone to being inhabited by one of fourteen demons. Such beliefs persisted alongside Slavic pagan faith and Christianity in Poland at the time, Live Science reports. Interestingly, a fifth skeleton had the sickle around her hips, a stone at her neck, and a coin in her mouth. "Coins were placed in the mouth to favor the deceased's passage into the afterlife," one expert says. "The sickle and the stone would have prevent[ed] the dead from returning." (Read about self-identified vampires who have "a real fear.")

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