Revenant Ghosts: Violent Undead Spirits (Explained)

Share the Lore!

By: Sid Meyers

What Is A Revenant Ghost?

The legends of revenant ghosts struck terror in villagers, particularly during the Middle Ages. The corporal ghosts are not demons; instead, they share an eerie resemblance to the draugr. 

The very name “revenant” harkens back to old French for returning. But, like zombies and vampires, the dead body remains, making revenants markedly different from ghosts composed of plasma, ether, or some unworldly spirit. 

Revenant ghosts were blamed for spreading diseases and being capable of murder. Thus, these supernatural creatures were malevolent and came from people who had evil souls or had done wicked deeds when alive.  

Undead revenant ghost

How Are Revenant Ghosts Created? 

Revenants, like most ghosts, come back to life due to a feeling of unfinished business. However, revenants are not trying to right wrongs or finish a task. Instead, these people lived sinful lives and have returned to continue their never-ending mission of tormenting those they hated or detested when alive. 

However, there are stories where revenants are made after dying violently. Thus, they’ve come back to haunt their murder, possibly even haunting the person’s relatives and loved ones. 

While not demons, some tales nod to Satan’s hand in creating the revenant. However, it is often framed as Satan fulfilling the corrupted soul’s desire to continue haunting the living rather than it being Satan’s suggestion or desire. 

Lastly, there are revenant stories that involve deceased supernatural creatures, such as werewolves and witches. Thus, their ability to have a corporal body is tied to their once-inhumane existence and powers. 

Do Revenant Ghosts Eat? 

Revenant ghosts can eat their victims or drain their blood. However, they do not need to feed to survive or keep up their strength. Instead, they eat people out of rage or revenge. 

How Do You Kill A Revenant? 

The method of killing a revenant ghost depends on the particular myth. However, they all involve finding the corpse, after which the head needs to be cut off, the body burnt, or sprinkled with Holy Water.  

Are Revenant Ghosts Zombies? 

Revenant ghosts share similarities with zombies. Both involve an animated corpse rather than an ethereal being. Both are capable of terrorizing and causing harm to the living. 

But revenant ghosts are not brainless creatures following the hordes. Nor are revenants driven by some mindless feeding frenzy. Instead, like ghosts, they usually have particular targets and yearn for vengeance. However, they are still capable of killing indiscriminately out of rage. 

In addition, revenant ghosts do not make more of their kind by killing people as many zombies do in various folklore. Nor are revenant ghosts controlled by a greater power, as found in some zombie myths.  

group of revenant ghosts

Are Revenant Ghosts Vampires? 

Revenant ghosts have frequently been compared to vampires. Both involve an “undead” body, in that they died yet still roam the earth. Both may feed on the blood of their victims, although some revenants eat the flesh instead. In addition, revenants usually are tied to where they were buried, such as their grave or tomb. 

Revenant ghosts are also destroyed similarly to vampires: cutting off the head of the corpse, burning the corpse, or using Holy Water. 

However, most revenant myths do not involve a need to feed. A revenant dining on their victims is performed as part of their revenge or out of spite and hatred. But the consuming of victims is not necessary for the revenant’s existence.  

Nor can revenants turn their victims into more of their kind, as found in vampire folklore. 

However, there are theories that revenant ghosts were inspired by two types of vampires: nachzehrers and vrykolakas.

Nachzehrers are a type of vampire that hails from German folklore. They arise from victims of suicide or plague and feast on corpses and the burial shroud. To get rid of a nachzehrer, the body must be exhumed and decapitated. 

Vrykolakas are a type of Grecian and Roman vampire. The undead is a result of leading an immoral life, being buried in unconsecrated ground, a dead werewolf, or eating sheep meat fouled by a wolf or werewolf. 

Vrykolakas wanders at night and, in some tales, can shapeshift. They are not fueled by blood lust but, in some cases, will eat people and are known for relishing the liver. 

A wax cross or a piece of pottery with a religious inscription could be placed on the tongue of the deceased to prevent them from becoming a vrykolaka. To kill one, they must be struck by lightning or burnt. 

ghostly revenants

William of Newburgh: Revenant Chronicler

William of Newburg lived in 12th-century Yorkshire and is remembered for his book Historia rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs). The book focuses on the years 1066 – 1198 and is highly valued as a source of English history. 

But while much of its contents are accurate, there are some errors. In addition, there are legends, folklore, and myths, including that of revenant ghosts. 

One story can be found in Book 5, Chapter 22, where a dead man was “Laid in the tomb on the eve of the Lord’s Ascension.” However, he didn’t stay there, appearing the next night in his bed, on top of his wife. 

She found it a terrifying way to wake up, and by the third night, she enlists “watchers” to guard her bed. The dead husband was repulsed by these people and fled to terrorize his brothers. 

Eventually, a bishop writes a letter of absolution for the man and lays it on the deceased’s chest. It is the end of the terror. 

Another husband that won’t stay dead is seen in Book 5, Chapter 25. A man spies from the rafters, “beholding his wife in the act of fornication.” The man falls, mortally wounding himself, but “by the handiwork of Satan,” comes back to haunt his wife and to be perused by dogs. 

His wanderings spread disease around the town, and people feared leaving their homes. Eventually, in desperation, they dug up his corpse and burnt it. But it would not catch on fire until they’d removed and destroyed his heart. 

Interestingly, Book 5 also tells a story about a demon tempting a man. However, the demon is not compared or likened to a reverent ghost but as a different hellish being. 


Share the Lore!