In parts of Europe well into the 1800s, a stake was hammered through the heart of bodies thought to be vampires and sometimes through the hearts of people who killed themselves.
The concern about vampires was found largely in eastern Europe and the Balkan region. In times when diseases and other troubles struck, vampires might be suspected. So, the bodies of the recently deceased were dug up and if not decayed, were accused of being vampires. Pounding a stake through the heart was thought to be a way to keep the dead from walking at night and causing trouble.
In Britain, suicide was a crime, although it could be forgiven if there was evidence that the person was not mentally competent. For those suicides who were judged to be rational, the penalty might be severe.
The body of a suicide was sometimes dragged through town, and then buried at night, in a crossroads, with a stake driven through the heart. Suicides were considered self-murderers, and if mentally competent would be denied Christian burial and face this bizarre penalty. It wasn’t abolished by legislation until 1823.
A wooden stake through the heart was considered a way to nail the suspect to one place, and keep the troubled or vengeful spirit from wandering.
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