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Vampires - Their True History Originated Long Before Dracula

Updated on October 23, 2012
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The vampire has been crawling out of the grave and feasting on the fears of mankind for many centuries now, all over the world. As with any legendary monster their exact date of origin is unknown, what we do know is that their history is deeply rooted into nearly every culture.

Though the creature may be called by many different names, in many different countries, their desires are always the same, to quench their never ending thirst on the life essence (usually blood but feeding on the soul isn't completely unheard of) of the living.

Although the vampires origins are thought to go back thousands of years, the word vampire wasn't acquainted to the creature until the 18th century, when the superstition was introduced to Western Europe from areas where the monster was already feared, such as Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Macedonia.

The vampire has also been referred to by the terms vrykolakas and strigoi. Due to the growth rate of the superstition in Europe, many people were accused of vampirism and corpses were even being staked before burial services were performed.

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Well before the Western Europeans started writing about the vampire and staking corpses out of fear, other cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks and Romans were already spinning their tales of demon-like creatures remarkably similar to the vampire. Though, even with their similarities, it is still the 18th century Western Europeans who are given credit for the main folklore of the modern vampire.

The appearance of the vampire has been varied throughout most of it's existence, thought at times to look anywhere from very human-like to a bloated rotting corpse. It wasn't until John Polidori's novella "Vampyre" was published in 1819 that the vampire took on the sophisticated and charismatic look. Subsequently this is the interpretation of the beast that the Christian Religion of the time took an embrace into believing.

Polidori's work is said to of not only influenced fear onto Christianity, but also inspired the writing of "Varney the Vampire" and "Dracula", though the book "Vampyre" itself was actually based on an unfinished story by Lord Byron known as "The Burial: A Fragment". Most vampire enthusiasts like to credit Bram Stoker's Dracula with this enhanced version of the creature but it was in fact nearly 80 years to late, though it did provide a basis for much of the modern vampire fiction.

Stoker built his background story on earlier mythological creatures such as werewolves and was meant to "voice the anxieties of an age". Regardless of which writer modernized the vampires appearance and demeanor, it was certainly Stoker's successful version of the creature that gave birth to the distinct vampire genre that is still popular today.

Which form of the vampire is the most terrifying?

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The Cause

The causes of vampirism were varied and often off the wall, depending on where the story was being told and what era the story was from. With the Chinese and Slavic cultures all it would take is for an animal to jump over a corpse, or a wound to not be treated with boiling water, to change them into a vampire.

In Russia anyone not in accordance with the Russian Orthodox Church or thought to have been a witch is destined to come back as a vampire upon their death. In almost all cases vampirism is caused by either the host being overtly evil in life, receiving a bite from another vampire, committing suicide, or from being a witch, but they are also said to be given life from a corpse being possessed by a malevolent spirit.

To give an actual description of a vampire would be nearly impossible especially in this day and age. In the beginning they were thought to appear as being bloated and ruddy, purplish or dark in color much like a rotted swollen corpse, often attributed to their recent indulgence of human blood. At other times they seem more animal in appearance, sometimes with bat-like features and other times taking on the form of a demon.

They had not always been known to have the fangs they are seemingly famous for either, in some cases their teeth only be enlarged and in other instances all of their teeth may be sharp and pointed for tearing into the flesh. Then of course there are those romantic suckers, with their good looks and depth-less eyes they lure their victims back to their lair to devour them or possibly turn them into one of their own.

In the later 20th century and in this new millennium Vampires are found in all of these forms and many, many more. Even the ways of killing a vampire are different in all areas and eras but up until recently it was nearly universal that either beheading them, exposing them to sunlight or staking them through the heart were your best means of destroying them, but even that has changed somewhat.

Many times fire is used for their destruction now, in some instances the stake no longer works and in one specific storyline, exposure to sunlight merely makes the vamp sparkle. I suppose these upgrades or downgrades are only natural as the world is always going through huge changes it's only natural that our monsters will to.

DS Duby

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    • OldWitchcraft profile image

      OldWitchcraft 5 years ago from The Atmosphere

      Great job!

      Voted up and accolades!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I enjoyed reading this article. There does seem to be an over-abundance of types of vampires, doesn't there. For some reason the spelling "vampyre" seems creepier than "vampire". Also, I think Nosferatu (1922) was the creepiest vampyre. Voted up and interesting.

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you OldWitchcraft that's very kind of you.

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you for reading and commenting UnnamedHarold it's greatly appreciated. I have to agree Nosferatu was a very creepy vampyre. Ive always liked that spelling of the word, your right it does seem much creepier and perhaps almost ancient.

    • Dominique L profile image

      Dominique L 5 years ago from Oregon

      Another one well done. Did you leave anything out? ;)

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Probably lol but I'm sure someone will let me know if I did, thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Majadez profile image

      Maja Dezulovic 5 years ago from Johannesburg, South Africa

      Hi. I enjoyed reading this. I used to be somewhat of a vampire cult fanatic. The vampires that appealed to us in those days were the sexy, charismatic type who would seduce you into becoming one of their own.

      The other's were very scary in that they were just evil, and based on their looks. As for the ones that sparkle...? Never did much for me. ;)

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Majadez, thank you for reading and commenting. I agree with you, I was a big fan of vampires until Twilight became so popular, they really killed a great historical monster with that one. I wish Twilight could have been about Frankenstein and mummies rather than vampires and werewolves.

    • DeanSexton profile image

      Geofferson Dean Sexton 5 years ago from Nowhere Land, Ontario, Canada.

      Loved the hub, and voted it up!!!

      Vampires were once the kings of the creatures that ruled the night and today have been reduced to mere sexual predators and sparkling fairies that pose no more of a threat than a rabid poodle. I'm glad you remember them for what they truly are, terrifying monsters that were symbols of death and fear.

      I'm sure Nosferatu would be rolling around in his coffin if he knew what his kin have become.

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      I couldn't agree more, I'm afraid that zombies are bound to go in the same direction. They get overexposed for so long original ideas become scarce and they resort to recreating the character.

    • DeanSexton profile image

      Geofferson Dean Sexton 5 years ago from Nowhere Land, Ontario, Canada.

      It's true, pretty soon the zombie will no longer be the flesh and brain hungry monster that we've know and love, it will be rather a romantic creature, one who perhaps transforms into sapphire should it find its true love. . .

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      So true.

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      whowas 5 years ago

      Great summary of the history of the vampire mythology. I really enjoyed reading it very much.

      I particularly appreciated your point at the end that as these mythic creatures are reflections of ourselves in some way, then they will change and transform in both appearance and significance along with our human society (they are, after all, merely figments or projections of our own imagination).

      In that regard it is interesting for me to note the slow shift in the nature of the popular vampire even during my lifetime. When I first learned of vampires they were semi-tragic figures but most decidedly set within the clear-cut good vs. evil paradigm of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' and they were, of course, evil. Not only that, but they were reliably responsive to crucifixes and garlic and such.

      By the time I was a youth and started watching horror flicks, vampires had become slightly more ambiguous. Yes, they were still evil but we were no longer sure if we had the power to vanquish them. Crosses would melt and the vampire, advancing ever-more menacingly towards the hapless priest would laugh at the garlic strung about his neck. The final scene would almost always be the now cliched hand rising from the grave...

      Now I am over the hill and rolling down the other side and I see that my children's generation view vampires as romantic, sexy creatures to be loved and desired as the latest manifestation of the teen idol.

      The question lurking in the back of my mind is...where will they go next?

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Great comment Whowas, I grew up through these changes as well, and often ask myself the same question of where can they go next. The change from evil to good was slow but none the less shocking to me, and to be honest I have no idea where they can go with the creature now it seems as if it may be stuck being stereotyped as the romantic savior of the monster world from now on, rather than the soulless creature we have grown up knowing. My fear is that our society will eventually do this to many of the historic monster figures before their finished. They have already claimed the vampire and werewolf what's next the zombies or possibly the mummy. Though there have already been movies portraying them this way as well. I think the classic monster horror world may be falling apart on us. Thank you for the excellent, thought provoking comment.

    • Dominique L profile image

      Dominique L 5 years ago from Oregon

      I wouldn't be quite so pessimistic. Did you see the new Fright Night with Colin Farrel? That, in my head, is the next logical step in where the romantic vampire thing is going: A vampire that is sexy and irresistible, that you want to coddle and protect and who is a hard core sexual predator who uses that to lure women in so he can lock them in one of the cells he built into the walls of the house and systemically torture them to death.

      As always, the future of the genre is with the fans, so if we don't like whiny, sparkly vampire with romantic problems, it's our responsibility to go out and make some that aren't like that. All I'm sayin'.

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      I don't disagree but Fright Night was an 80s remake not an original story though it was pretty good. As for fighting the system and taking horror back, I'm all for it but have you noticed the amount of fans movies like Twilight have. It's hard to hold onto our monsters when they have a much larger fan base in lovey dovey scenes.

    • Dominique L profile image

      Dominique L 5 years ago from Oregon

      It's not hard to hold on to your monsters when the fan base is all tweens who will lose interest when the next big thing comes along and we'll still be here. Patience is all it takes. The wheel always turns. Besides, if you want to get technical, we were the generation that started with something wonderful in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and ended up twisting it into True Blood. We're not off the hook entirely here.

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Lol you're absolutely correct my friend, I just hadn't looked at quite like that.

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      I had no idea Lord Byron contributed to any of the Vampire stories... I've started reading Bram Stoker's Dracula recently... and learning things like Dracula is derived from Dragon derived from lizard. Describing the way he scale buildings... interesting stuff again. Awesome Dsduby! See ya around the hubs!! :)

      -Aubrey

    • DS Duby profile image
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      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      Thank you CrazedNovelist, Vampires certainly have a unique history, Lord Byron's involvement definitely surprised me as well.

    • Lil Miss Reader profile image

      Stephany 4 years ago from Somerset New Jersey

      Sparkling vampires??? Creative idea, but a big thumbs down to any TRUE vampire fan! It's laughable. Once again, awesome job. Voted up!

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