Estries

Estries

(pop culture)

Estries were a Jewish female vampire that emerged during the medieval period. Estries is a French word derived from the strix, the Latin word for the screech-owl. The strix lies behind the Greek striges, the Romanian strigoi, and the Italian strega, a vampire-witch character. The female strega, like the lamia, attacked infants and drained their blood (an early explanation for what is now known a crib death).

Among the earliest references to the estries is found in the writings of the Hasidei Ashkenaz, a twelfth-century pietist movement in Germany, which, after being forced out of Germany, became the source of the Kabbalists of Spain in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and ultimately of the Hassidic movement of the eighteenth century in Eastern Europe. The Hasidei Ashkenaz movement was founded by Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg (1140–1217), a.k.a. Judah the Pious, who authored the movement’s main text, the Sefer Hasidim (Book of the Pious). He identified the estries with creatures spoken of in the Talmud that had been created at twilight on the first Friday (that is, the end of the six days of creation described in Genesis) just before God rested for the first Sabbath. Their bodies were left unfinished, and God never returned to complete them. Among their powers, they had developed the ability to morph into various forms, most notably the cat. Judah the Pious also recounted the story of a woman who fell ill and was cared for by two other women, neither of whom had realized that the person in their care was an estrie. When one of the caring women fell asleep, the estrie moved to attack her. The other cried out, awakening her companion, and together they were able to subdue the vampire.

Three centuries later, Rabbi Menahem Zioni, a fifteenth century kabbalist, identified the estries with those people who built the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 4-9). After God destroyed the tower, he transformed those who would climb to God’s throne into vampires, werewolves, and other monstrous beings.

The estries could be restrained by imposing of an oath upon them. It was also noted that the exercise of their power was also related to the loosening of their hair. If their hair could be constrained, they could not attack. Salt and bread could be used to counter the effect of an injury from a estrie, while an estrie could recover from the injury inflicted by a human if it could consume bread and salt that had belonged to the person who injured her. If a woman identified as an estrie was buried, her mouth would be stuffed with dirt.

Belief in estries gradually disappeared from Jewish lore and do not appear in the contemporary Jewish community, though remnants of belief in the other Jewish vampire, Lilith, still can be found.

Sources:

Dan, Joseph. The Esoteric Theology of Ashkenazi Hasidism. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1968.
Segal, Eliezar. “The Right Vampire?” Jewish Free Press (October 25, 2001): 8–9. Posted at http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Shokel/011025_Vampires.html. Accessed on April 5, 2010.
Trachtenberg, Joshua. Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion. New York: Atheneum, 1970.