A vampire is a creature from folklore that subsists by feeding on the vital essence (generally in the form of blood) of the living. In European folklore, vampires are undead creatures that often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighborhoods they inhabited while they were alive. They wore shrouds and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or dark countenance, markedly different from today's gaunt, pale vampire which dates from the early 19th century.
Vampiric entities have been recorded in most cultures; the term vampire was popularized in Western Europe after reports of an 18th-century mass hysteria of a pre-existing folk belief in the Balkans and Eastern Europe that in some cases resulted in corpses being staked and people being accused of vampirism. Local variants in Eastern Europe were also known by different names, such as shtriga in Albania, vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania.
In modern times, the vampire is generally held to be a fictitious entity, although belief in similar vampiric creatures such as the chupacabra still persists in some cultures. Early folk belief in vampires has sometimes been ascribed to the ignorance of the body's process of decomposition after death and how people in pre-industrial societies tried to rationalize this, creating the figure of the vampire to explain the mysteries of death. Porphyria was linked with legends of vampirism in 1985 and received much media exposure, but has since been largely discredited.
The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of "The Vampyre" by the English writer John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend, even though it was published after Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novel Carmilla. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, television shows, and video games. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.
Myths and Legends
They wore shrouds and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or dark countenance, markedly different from today's gaunt, pale vampire which dates from the early 19th century.
Powers and Abilities
Vampires are often considered powerful undead in stories and folklore, due to their variety of abilities, and their near-indestructibility. They tend to be extremely difficult to kill.
Creation of Vampires
There are a few variations on how Vampires come to be, depending on the folklore of the region in question.
In Slavic and Chinese traditions, any corpse that was jumped over by an animal, particularly a dog or a cat, was feared to become one of the undead. A body with a wound that had not been treated with boiling water was also at risk.
In Russian folklore, vampires were said to have once been witches or people who had rebelled against the Russian Orthodox Church while they were alive, and had come back due to dark magic.
In more recent lore, vampires are created when a vampire bites and/or gives a human their blood which turns them into a subordinate vampire, sometimes known as a Thrall.
Certain practices were soon put into place to keep the dead from rising again as an undead. Such practices included:
- Burying a corpse upside-down
- Placing agricultural objects by the grave to appease the spirit itself or potential demons
- Severing the tendons at the knees, or spiking the head, body, or clothes to the ground to keep them from rising.
- Gypsies drove steel or iron needles into a corpse's heart and placed bits of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears and between the fingers at the time of burial. They also placed hawthorn in the corpse's sock or drove a hawthorn stake through the legs.
- Scattering small grains (such as rice, poppy seeds, millet, or sand) on the ground near the grave, which would keep the vampire occupied counting the grains all night. (Europe and Chinese Lore)
- Place a wax cross and piece of pottery with the inscription "Jesus Christ conquers" on the corpse.
- Further measures included pouring boiling water over the grave or complete incineration of the body.
- Placing something (including a lemon, garlic, or even a brick) in the mouth of the corpse suspected to be a vampire.
- Shooting a bullet through the coffin. (Romanian)
For resistant cases, the body was dismembered and the pieces burned, mixed with water, and administered to family members as a cure.
In Bulgaria, over 100 skeletons with metal objects, such as plough bits, embedded in the torso have been discovered.
Defending from Vampires
In lore, various items and simple rituals were used to keep away not only vampires, but other types of undead. Warding Magic is also known as "Apotropaic" from the Greek "To ward off." Specific defenses against vampires included:
- Garlic, wild rose, hawthorn plants.
- Sprinkling mustard seeds on the roof of a house was said to keep them away. This may also relate to the counting of fine grains used in preventative measures mentioned earlier.
- Sacred items such as a crucifix, rosary, or holy water. Modern fiction has expanded on the concept to include any religious symbol wielded by a sincere believer of the relevant religion: for instance, a believing Jew can use the Star of David to ward off a vampire.
- Mirrors faced outwards or on a door (as in some cultures they do not have a reflection and do not cast a shadow). Mirrors were made with silver in old days, which was considered a 'pure' metal and is commonly used in monster defenses.
Vampires are said to be unable to walk on consecrated ground, such as that of churches or temples, or cross running water.
Some traditions also hold that a vampire cannot enter a house unless invited by the owner, although after the first invitation they can come and go as they please.
Though folkloric vampires were believed to be more active at night, they were not generally considered vulnerable to sunlight in original lore. That idea was established in popular consciousness in the 1920s film, Nosteratu, in which the vampire featured is destroyed by the morning sun. Since then, the typical vampire story has sunlight as its ultimate weakness, meaning that any human opponents dealing with the monster who manage to survive until morning will find themselves with the advantage for the day.
Methods of destroying suspected vampires varied, with staking the most commonly cited method, particularly in southern Slavic cultures. Ash was the preferred wood in Russia and the Baltic states, or hawthorn in Serbia, with a record of oak in Silesia. Potential vampires were most often staked through the heart, though the mouth was targeted in Russia and northern Germany and the stomach in north-eastern Serbia. Piercing the skin of the chest was a way of "deflating" the bloated vampire; this is similar to the act of burying sharp objects, such as sickles, in with the corpse, so that they may penetrate the skin if the body bloats sufficiently while transforming into an undead.
Decapitation was the preferred method in German and western Slavic areas, with the head buried between the feet, behind the buttocks or away from the body. This act was seen as a way of hastening the departure of the soul, which in some cultures, was said to linger in the corpse.
In the Balkans, a vampire could also be killed by being shot or drowned, by repeating the funeral service, by sprinkling holy water on the body, or by exorcism.
Variations between Regions
Tales of supernatural beings consuming the blood or flesh of the living have been found in nearly every culture around the world for many centuries. In ancient times, however, the term vampire did not exist; blood drinking and similar activities were attributed to demons or spirits who would eat flesh and drink blood; even the Devil was considered synonymous with the vampire. The term vampire was popularized in Western Europe after reports of an 18th century mass hysteria of a pre-existing folk belief in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. This resulted in corpses being staked and people being accused of vampirism at the time.
Ancient Greek and Roman mythology described the Empusae, the serpentine Lamia, and the crow-like Striges (later known as Strix). Over time the first two terms became general words to describe witches and demons respectively. Local variants in Eastern Europe were also known by different names, such as shtriga in Albania, vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania.
Lilitu, or Lillith, from Ancient Babylonia and Assyria was considered a demon and was often depicted as subsisting on the blood of babies. In India are tales of vetālas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses.The Persians were one of the first civilizations to have tales of blood-drinking demons: creatures attempting to drink blood from men were depicted on excavated pottery shards.
Medieval and later European Folklore
Many of the myths surrounding vampires originated during the medieval period. The 12th-century English historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded accounts of revenants, though records in English legends of vampiric beings after this date are scant. The Old Norse draugr is another medieval example of an undead creature with similarities to vampires.
Vampires proper originate in folklore widely reported from Eastern Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries. These tales formed the basis of the vampire legend that later entered Germany and England, where they were subsequently embellished and popularized. One of the earliest recordings of vampire activity came from the region of Istria in modern Croatia, in 1672. Local reports cited the local vampire Giure Grando of the village Khring near Tinjan as the cause of panic among the villagers. A former peasant, Guire died in 1656; however, local villagers claimed he returned from the dead and began drinking blood from the people and sexually harassing his widow. The village leader ordered a stake to be driven through his heart, but when the method failed to kill him, he was subsequently beheaded with better results.
During the 18th century, there was a frenzy of vampire sightings in Eastern Europe, with frequent stakings and grave diggings to identify and kill the potential revenants; even government officials engaged in the hunting and staking of vampires. Despite being called the Age of Enlightenment, during which most folkloric legends were quelled, the belief in vampires increased dramatically, resulting in a mass hysteria throughout most of Europe. The panic began with an outbreak of alleged vampire attacks in East Prussia in 1721 and in the Habsburg Monarchy from 1725 to 1734, which spread to other localities. Two famous vampire cases, the first to be officially recorded, involved the corpses of Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole from Serbia. Plogojowitz was reported to have died at the age of 62, but allegedly returned after his death asking his son for food. When the son refused, he was found dead the following day. Plogojowitz supposedly returned and attacked some neighbours who died from loss of blood. In the second case, Paole, an ex-soldier turned farmer who allegedly was attacked by a vampire years before, died while haying. After his death, people began to die in the surrounding area and it was widely believed that Paole had returned to prey on the neighbours. Another famous Serbian legend involving vampires concentrates around a certain Sava Savanović living in a watermill and killing and drinking blood from millers. The character was later used in a story written by Serbian writer Milovan Glišić and in the Serbian 1973 horror film Leptirica inspired by the story.
The two incidents were well-documented: government officials examined the bodies, wrote case reports, and published books throughout Europe. The hysteria, commonly referred to as the "18th-Century Vampire Controversy", raged for a generation. The problem was exacerbated by rural epidemics of so-claimed vampire attacks, undoubtedly caused by the higher amount of superstition that was present in village communities, with locals digging up bodies and in some cases, staking them. Although many scholars reported during this period that vampires did not exist, and attributed reports to premature burial or rabies, superstitious belief increased. Dom Augustine Calmet, a well-respected French theologian and scholar, put together a comprehensive treatise in 1746, which was ambiguous concerning the existence of vampires. Calmet amassed reports of vampire incidents; numerous readers, including both a critical Voltaire and supportive demonologists, interpreted the treatise as claiming that vampires existed. In his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire wrote:
|“||These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The persons so sucked waned, grew pale, and fell into consumption; while the sucking corpses grew fat, got rosy, and enjoyed an excellent appetite. It was in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria, and Lorraine, that the dead made this good cheer.||”|
The controversy only ceased when Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her personal physician, Gerard van Swieten, to investigate the claims of vampiric entities. He concluded that vampires did not exist and the Empress passed laws prohibiting the opening of graves and desecration of bodies, sounding the end of the vampire epidemics. Despite this condemnation, the vampire lived on in artistic works and in local superstition.
Various regions of Africa have folkloric tales of beings with vampiric abilities:
- Asanbosam - In West Africa the Ashanti people tell of this iron-toothed and tree-dwelling vampire.
- Adze - From the Ewe people, it can take the form of a firefly and hunts children.
- Impundulu - From he eastern Cape region, it can take the form of a large taloned bird and can summon thunder and lightning.
- Ramanga - The Betsileo people of Madagascar tell of this outlaw/living vampire who drinks the blood and eats the nail clippings of nobles.
- Rougarou (Loogaroo) - A blood-sucking werewolf of a mixture of French and African Vodu or voodoo.
- Similar female monsters are the Soucouyant of Trinidad, and the Tunda and Patasola of Colombian folklore.
- Peuchen - A bloodsucking snake of tThe Mapuche of southern Chile. Aloe vera hung backwards behind or near a door was thought to ward off vampiric beings in South American superstition.
- Cihuateteo - Aztec mythology described tales of these skeletal-faced spirits of those who died in childbirth who stole children and entered into sexual liaisons with the living, driving them mad.
During the late 18th and 19th centuries the belief in vampires was widespread in parts of New England, particularly in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut. There are many documented cases of families disinterring loved ones and removing their hearts in the belief that the deceased was a vampire who was responsible for sickness and death in the family, although the term "vampire" was never actually used to describe the deceased. The deadly disease tuberculosis, or "consumption" as it was known at the time, was believed to be caused by nightly visitations on the part of a dead family member who had died of consumption themselves. The most famous, and most recently recorded, case of suspected vampirism is that of nineteen-year-old Mercy Brown, who died in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1892. Her father, assisted by the family physician, removed her from her tomb two months after her death, cut out her heart and burned it to ashes.
Rooted in older folklore, the modern belief in vampires spread throughout Asia with tales of ghoulish entities from the mainland, to vampiric beings from the islands of Southeast Asia.
- Manananggal - A type of vampire from the Phillipines that can detach its upper half.
- Jiangshi - A jumpy blood-sucking undead from China.
- The Bhūta or Prét is the soul of a man who died an untimely death. It wanders around animating dead bodies at night, attacking the living much like a ghoul.
- In northern India, there is the BrahmarākŞhasa, a vampire-like creature with a head encircled by intestines and a skull from which it drank blood.
- The figure of the Vetala who appears in South Asian legend and story may sometimes be rendered as "Vampire" (see the section on "Ancient Beliefs" above).
- Although vampires have appeared in Japanese cinema since the late 1950s, the folklore behind it is western in origin. However, the Nukekubi is a being whose head and neck detach from its body to fly about seeking human prey at night. There's also the Kitsune who are spiritual vampires that need life force to survive and use magic. As such, they acquire it from making love with humans.
- The Malaysian Penanggalan may be either a beautiful old or young woman who obtained her beauty through the active use of black magic or other unnatural means, and is most commonly described in local folklore to be dark or demonic in nature. She is able to detach her fanged head which flies around in the night looking for blood, typically from pregnant women. Malaysians would hang jeruju (thistles) around the doors and windows of houses, hoping the Penanggalan would not enter for fear of catching its intestines on the thorns.
- The Leyak is a similar being from Balinese folklore.
- A Kuntilanak or Matianak in Indonesia, or Pontianak or Langsuir in Malaysia, is a woman who died during childbirth and became undead, seeking revenge and terrorizing villages. She appeared as an attractive woman with long black hair that covered a hole in the back of her neck, with which she sucked the blood of children. Filling the hole with her hair would drive her off. Corpses had their mouths filled with glass beads, eggs under each armpit, and needles in their palms to prevent them from becoming langsuir. This description would also fit the Sundel Bolongs.
Famous Suspected Vampires
In early 1970 local press spread rumours that a vampire haunted Highgate Cemetery in London. Amateur vampire hunters flocked in large numbers to the cemetery. Several books have been written about the case, notably by Sean Manchester, a local man who was among the first to suggest the existence of the "Highgate Vampire" and who later claimed to have exorcised and destroyed a whole nest of vampires in the area. In January 2005, rumours circulated that an attacker had bitten a number of people in Birmingham, England, fuelling concerns about a vampire roaming the streets. However, local police stated that no such crime had been reported and that the case appears to be an urban legend.
In modern times, the vampire is generally held to be a fictitious entity, although some areas still hold a belief in vampiric creatures.
The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend, even though it was published after Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novel Carmilla. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, and television shows. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.
In modern fiction, the vampire tends to be depicted as a suave, charismatic villain. Despite the general disbelief in vampiric entities, occasional sightings of vampires are reported. Indeed, vampire hunting societies still exist, although they are largely formed for social reasons. Allegations of vampire attacks swept through the African country of Malawi during late 2002 and early 2003, with mobs stoning one individual to death and attacking at least four others, including Governor Eric Chiwaya, based on the belief that the government was colluding with vampires.
Vampirism and the Vampire lifestyle also represent a relevant part of modern day's occultist movements. The mythos of the vampire, his magickal qualities, allure, and predatory archetype express a strong symbolism that can be used in ritual, energy work, and magick, and can even be adopted as a spiritual system. The vampire has been part of the occult society in Europe for centuries and has spread into the American sub-culture as well for more than a decade, being strongly influenced by and mixed with the neo gothic aesthetics.
- Silver, A., & Ursini, J. (1997). The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Interview with the Vampire (pp. 22–23). New York: Limelight Editions.
- "Dear Cecil" column from straightdope.com
- Template:Cite news
- Silver, A., & Ursini, J. (1997). The Vampire Film: From Nosferatu to Interview with the Vampire (pp. 37–38). New York: Limelight Editions.