To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days. Today’s entry is on Ornasis, the Vampire Demon.

Day 9: Ornasis, the Vampire Demon

"The Vampire" by Edvard Munch

“The Vampire” by Edvard Munch

It came to pass that King Solomon decided to build a temple to glorify and praise the one God. But the demons, knowing this would spell their doom, did not want the temple built, for humanity would turn their hearts and eyes to God and they would lose their great power. Demons sought to foil Solomon’s plans by getting close to the king, but this was impossible, as Solomon had many guards and was protected by God himself through the many names of God King Solomon had inscribed around himself. So the demons sought out Solomon’s chief builder, but he too had similar protections and they could not approach him. But the builder’s son had no such protection. So when the boy was asleep, the vampire demon Ornasis snuck up to the boy’s bed and sucked blood from his thumb. Each night, he also stole half the boy’s wages from his coffer. 

After many such nights, the boy grew weaker and weaker, nearing death, and the chief builder grew more and more distraught. Why was his son so stricken, when he was trying to glorify God? Meanwhile the demons grew happy, because the chief builder began to lose his focus on the building of the Temple and was spending more and more time caring for his son. But one night an angel whispered in the boy’s ear and he awoke to see the demon Ornasis sucking his thumb. The boy scared off the demon, and ran to tell his father what had happened. The father, understanding what was happening to his son now, approached King Solomon.

Solomon prayed to God to decide what to do. And in response, the archangel Michael gave Solomon a magic ring with the seal of God upon it, which enabled him to command the demons. The king gave the chief builder this magic ring, which had the letters of God’s name, יהוה, engraved upon it. The king told the father that his son should throw the ring at the demon the next time he came to suck his blood.

The father recounted the instructions to his son, and the boy was no longer afraid, because he knew there was nothing that the wise king could not do, and there was no power greater than God. He pretended to sleep, and when Ornasis snuck into his bedchamber that night, leaving his cock footprints on the floor, the boy threw the king’s ring at him. Immediately, Ornasis was seized with a compulsion to obey the boy. The boy brought him before Solomon, who asked him many questions about the names of the demons. In this way, Solomon learned the names of many demons and what their weaknesses were. He used this knowledge to hold off the demons while he built the Temple, and he even used their help to find the shamir worm which could cut stone. Because of the boy and his courage against the vampire demon Ornasis, Solomon kept the demons under his heel for all the years he ruled. They had no power over him during his reign.


The Myth’s Origins

Nosferatu, 1922

Nosferatu, 1922

The myth comes directly from the pseudo-epigraphical work The Testament of Solomon, written sometime between the 1st and 5th centuries C.E. Written in Greek, the text likely was written by a Christian rather than a Jewish author, though this has been debated. At one point during Solomon’s questioning of the various demons, he meets the demon Ephippas. Ephippas recounts to Solomon how he is concerned about a man, who will be born from a virgin, and crucified by the Romans, who will one day defeat him. This clue points to a redaction by a Christian source.

The book also contains several references to Greek gods. At one point Solomon meets seven demon sisters who live upon Mount Olympus. The seven sisters represent the seven stars of the Pleiades. But demons from many cultures make their appearance in the book, such as Jewish, Christian, Greek, Arabaic, and others.

This is considered the very first Jewish vampire tale. There are not many in Jewish folklore.  In another myth, Abel dreams that Cain sucks his blood, which serves as a prophesy of the first ever murder. In the Tamud, Bereishis Rabbah 63:10, the text speaks of Esau ensnaring or hunting people with his mouth. This is elaborated on in the Midrash Pirkei by Rabbi Eliezer, Ch. 37, who says that Esau wanted to suck out Jacob’s blood, i.e. his “birthright.”


Some Thoughts on the Myth

Vampires are such a large part of modern mythology that it’s interesting to ponder even back as far as the first century C.E. the myth of a vampire, though in an altered form, existed. I wonder how much of Ornasis made it into the 18th century Western European stories of vampires, from which our modern conception of them originates. Ornasis isn’t as terrifying or as controlling as modern vampires are (to me, anyway). Like Stoker’s Dracula, Ornasis comes back for successive feedings. His intention is to distract the chief builder, to act as a literal suck of his time. And it works, briefly, until the boy sees what’s happening to him and runs to the wise king for help.

The Testament of Solomon was written over a thousand years after the real Solomon may have lived, and many stories have arisen to describe not only Solomon’s great wisdom, but how he subdued the powers of darkness long enough to build the Temple. Again we see the need for appeasement of the dark forces. Only by subduing the host of demons ready to stymie Solomon at every turn can he build the Temple. The demons here aren’t appeased so much as imprisoned, and some tales, as in the one of the Shamir worm, speak of demons actually helping in the construction of the Temple. In this case — an apocryphal tale for sure — not only is a vampire used to aid the construction of the Temple, but his presence is necessary for the completion of the structure. Because without Ornasis’s help, Solomon never would have subdued the demons long enough to build it. In other words, in this tale at least, Jews have a vampire to thank! 


Tomorrow’s Myth: Gehenna and Punishment