Some legends say it is a ghost or vampire (Strigoi) while others say it is a werewolf (in some versions, a werewolf that emerges from the corpses of babies. There are many different explanations given for a varcolac's origin. They are said to be:
- Souls of unbaptized children children of unmarried parents
- Cursed by God rising because one swept dust out of the house at sunset
- In the direction of the sun rising if women spin at night without a candle or if they cast spells as they spin
Varcolaci are often described as:
- dogs, always two in number
- animals smaller than dogs
- animals with multiple mouth, such as octopus
In Romanian, vârcolac commonly means "werewolf". It can occasionally mean "goblin". The word vârcolac is a loan from Slavic (Bulgarian varkolak, and vulkodlak, Greek vrykolakas), meaning "werewolf" (etymologically "Wolf's Fur"). The pricolici is another form of vârcolac, also resembling a werewolf.
- Varcolaci are said to fasten themselves to the thread of people spinning at midnight, then going up to eat the moon and cover it with blood.
Their power is said to last as long as the thread is not broken. If the thread gets broken, they go to another part of the sky. *Varcolaci are recognized by their pale faces, as well as the deep sleep they fall into when sending their spirits out through their mouths to eat the sun or the moon. If they are moved during their sleep they die as their returning spirit won't be able to find the mouth where they came from.
- Psychic vampirism
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