History of the Vampire
Vampires have infiltrated our pop culture. It is the topic of many popular books, television series, and movies. Look at Twilight for just one example. In the late nineties, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, before that The Lost Boys, and much before that there was Dracula. These are just a few examples of how ancient myths have streamlined into our culture. It doesn't matter if you are going to the movie theater, the bookstore, or even the local store on Halloween, you are bombarded with images of the "undead." But what started the vampire lore?
The oldest record of vampire lore is found when studying ancient Persia. Archeologists found a vase that depicteda strange creature trying to suck the blood of a person. There are many other legends, myths, and lore that discuss these awful blood-sucking creatures. Although not all vampires are bad, you can find good humane vampires that have souls like in Angel or Twilight. Still, there are some consistencies and beliefs that you can find consistent throughout history and today.
Beliefs Regarding the Fearsome Creatures
Although many of these beliefs are often more modern, some of these beliefs stem back as far as the Greeks. The simplest most popular belief is that vampires suck the blood of animals or people to gain the life force of others, which in turn make them eternal. They are stuck in the dark, and can never expose themselves to sunlight. If they do ever find themselves in the sun, they will either burn, turn to dust, or even turn to stone.
Vampires, especially more modern vampires are known for their heightened sex drive. They often are bisexual, usually the female vampires, and will seduce their prey before attacking. Let's not forget the fact that they are believed to bite one of the most sensual parts on a human body: the neck.
Some believe they can procreate with humans the offspring between the two are called dhampirs. A dhampir is usually the result of a male vampire and female human mating the reverse is rarely found in literature. Dhampirs were not immortal like their fathers, but could see vampires that were invisible many would become vampire hunters their offspring would have the same ability and would often take up the same profess.
But never fear there are ways to fend off these nasty seductive creatures. Vampires usually cannot enter churches, nor someone's house unless invited in. They are harmed by crucifixes and detest garlic, and of course, they can be killed by a wooden stake through the heart.
So where did these beliefs originate? Many of this is unknown, but here are a few ancient beliefs regarding these attractive demon creatures.
History of Legends
There is an early record that stems from the first man. It claims Adam (as in Adam and Eve) had another wife, his first wife, named Lilith or Lilitu. She was a deity who drank the blood of babies, and later left Adam because she felt that he was inferior to her. This record was found in old Hebrew texts. The text also refers to Lilith as the Queen of Demons.
Still, there is a twist to this legend that actually talks of Caine, Adam's son by Eve. The story still holds that Lilith is Adam's first wife, but she was not a vampire. After Caine committed the first murder, he turned to Lilith. Lilith taught him how to use his blood for mystic powers. She said that by doing so he could make others more like himself. Caine originally resisted this temptation, believing that it would be cruel to make others who murdered and were evil like himself. Unfortunately, after being estranged from all men, he became lonely and decided to make three more like himself. That three begot thirteen more, and the numbers continued to grow.
Another ancient vampire story is found in Indian history. Just like the one with Lilith, the term vampire is not used, but the belief that there is power in drinking blood is very much consistent. The Indian folklore centers around a goddess named Kalie. Kalie was a goddess who is depicted with four arms, fangs, and a necklace of skulls. Kalie teams up with another goddess named Durga because she wants to defeat a demon named Raktabija. Raktabija would reproduce himself from spilled blood, making himself eternal. Whenever he would die, he reproduces from the spilled blood. When Durga and Kalie teamed up they defeated Raktabija killing him. Before he could reproduce himself from the spilled blood, Kali drank it. This deprived Raktabija of his ability to recreate himself, and he died.
The Folk Vampire:
These stories predated the folk vampire. Although vampire was not used, it showed the significance us humans place on blood. Through these stories, people began telling stories of vampires. So that there is no confusion when I refer to a folk vampire, I am referring to stories that were told before the literary vampire. It's the lore behind the lore. These vampires are much cruder and less appealing. There was nothing sexy about the folk vampire. They are thought to be foul-smelling as you would expect a partially decomposing person to be, for they often came up from their grave. They are thirsty, and nothing else with no soul, no real thought, and vicious. Whereas the literary and the Hollywood version of a vampire tends to be sexy and cunning, the folk vampire lacked these qualities and was meant to be feared and repulsed by.
Origin of the Legend
For how many different cultures that have come up with similar folklore, one might wonder where it originated. Why so many people had fears of the same kind of monster. One historian had great ideas of why stories of vampires arose. He felt that they started because of a severe collective ignorance. Before there were regulations to how a body should be buried or how deep etc, often times a body would find itself uncovered. People began to formulate their own beliefs as to what was happening. Some of these beliefs may have been due to animals digging up bodies from a grave, and people trying to make sense of how the bodies got out of the graves. Other ways these creatures may have become uncovered was due to flooding bringing the bodies up, or maybe even grave robbers looking for loot.
There is also a theory that surrounds the 1500s as the Black Plague arose. They believe that people were in such a frenzy to irradiate the disease, that sometimes the bodies were not fully examined and assured they were dead before they were buried. They would sometimes find bodies out of their graves. It's important to note that the graves were not very deep, so when people would come to after being essentially buried alive, they would try to dig out leaving themselves bloody and disheveled and usually collapsed somewhere near the grave. As people tried to make sense of how this could happen, they would formulate ideas that the person came back from the dead.
Another reason this idea of a vampire may have erroneously came about was due to the fact that there is some postpartum movement that occurs. They may have feared that a body still had a life form, an evil life form in the body when they would see movement from a dead body.
Then, of course, just plain imagination. Just like any good book is written, there was a good imagination behind the stories. One such story was Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Bram Stoker Plaque
Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, stated that the myth began in Transylvania. Although we can see this is most likely untrue, there are many similarities between Stoker's Dracula to the ancient ones. Dracula in this story is a very average man. The thing that arises interest in him most, is the fact that there is a very unsettling feeling surrounding his castle. These vampires originated due to a unique disease that had placed them in their current state. They are cunning with unique abilities where they crawl upside down and on walls. These vampires, like many others, can be killed with a wooden stake and are repelled through the simple use of garlic.
Dracula is believed to be inspired by Vlad III the Impaler who's nickname was Dracula. This means son of the dragon, which was actually in reference to his father Vlad II Dracul. He was the Prince of Wallachia during the 1450’s in Romania and was known for being ruthless against his enemies which is what caused the moniker "the Impaler." Vlad III is written about in the book, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them, by William Wilkinson. This book was often referenced in Stoker's notes while writing Dracula.
Like the popular television show of the late nineteen ninety's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Dracula has a person drink his own blood there is a powerful connection. In Buffy, the mortal then is spared his death and become a vampire upon awakening. In Dracula, Mina who is forced to drink Dracula's blood actually becomes telepathically linked to Dracula. This ends up adding suspense to the book, but as to not ruin any surprises, I will not tell where this leads.
Photo of Elisabeth Bathory
Elizabeth Bathory: Countess of Transylvania
Elizabeth Bathory is not only from the infamous Transylvania, but she was believed to have drunk the blood of her victims which include over 200 women. She first began her obsessions in lesbian orgies and black magic, but soon found herself enjoying killing women, by binding them then biting their necks, cheeks, and shoulders and yanking off the skin.
Supposedly, she was very vain, as she was extremely beautiful. As she began to age, she became very upset about the wrinkles. One day when getting angry at a servant, she hit her so hard that the blood from the servant's nose splashed on Elizabeth's face. She glanced at herself in the mirror and felt that where the blood had landed on her skin, appeared more youthful. So she began demanding virgin women being killed with their blood pooled in a bath where she would bathe in their blood hoping to regain her youthful radiance.
She was later confined in a room as punishment for her wicked deeds. Her servants passed food to her, and she was never to leave the confines of her room. Those who assisted her in the evil deeds were tried for witchcraft, vampirism, and then beheaded, she was only spared due to her noble blood.
As Dracula is only one of the first books written on the subject, we can be assured that the fad will not die anytime soon. For now, we will rush to the movie theater to watch Edward seduce a mortal, or watch the hit television show Vampire Diaries, or read the countless books that inspired these. This obsession of vampires may die out briefly just as the Harry Potter fad has dwindled down slightly, but eventually another great writer or film maker will read one of the old stories and become inspired to return to a legend that is as old as story telling.
- "Death and Dying." Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://www.deathreference.com/Sy-Vi/Vampires.html.
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz