A vampire is a being from folklore that subsists by feeding on the vital force (generally in the form of blood) of the living. In European folklore, vampires were undead beings that often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighborhoods they inhabited when 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 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.
The causes of vampiric generation were many and varied in original folklore. 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.
Cultural practices often arose that were intended to prevent a recently deceased loved one from turning into an undead revenant. Burying a corpse upside-down was widespread, as was placing earthly objects, such as scythes or sickles, near the grave to satisfy any demons entering the body or to appease the dead so that it would not wish to arise from its coffin. This method resembles the Ancient Greek practice of placing an obolus in the corpse's mouth to pay the toll to cross the River Styx in the underworld; it has been argued that instead, the coin was intended to ward off any evil spirits from entering the body, and this may have influenced later vampire folklore. This tradition persisted in modern Greek folklore about the vrykolakas, in which a wax cross and piece of pottery with the inscription "Jesus Christ conquers" were placed on the corpse to prevent the body from becoming a vampire. Other methods commonly practised in Europe included severing the tendons at the knees or placing poppy seeds, millet, or sand on the ground at the grave site of a presumed vampire; this was intended to keep the vampire occupied all night by counting the fallen grains, indicating an association of vampires with arithmomania. Similar Chinese narratives state that if a vampire-like being came across a sack of rice, it would have to count every grain; this is a theme encountered in myths from the Indian subcontinent, as well as in South American tales of witches and other sorts of evil or mischievous spirits or beings. In Albanian folklore, the dhampir is the son of the karkanxholl or the lugat. If the karkanxholl sleeps with his wife, and she is impregnated with a child, the offspring is called dhampir and has the unique ability to discern the karkanxholl; from this derives the expression the dhampir knows the lugat. The lugat cannot be seen, he can only be killed by the dhampir, who himself is usually the son of a lugat. In different regions, animals can be revenants as lugats; also, living people during their sleep. Dhampiraj is also an Albanian surname.
Apotropaics, items able to ward off revenants, are common in vampire folklore. Garlic is a common example, a branch of wild rose and hawthorn plant are said to harm vampires, and in Europe, sprinkling mustard seeds on the roof of a house was said to keep them away. Other apotropaics include sacred items, for example a crucifix, rosary, or holy water. Vampires are said to be unable to walk on consecrated ground, such as that of churches or temples, or cross running water. Although not traditionally regarded as an apotropaic, mirrors have been used to ward off vampires when placed, facing outwards, on a door (in some cultures, vampires do not have a reflection and sometimes do not cast a shadow, perhaps as a manifestation of the vampire's lack of a soul). This attribute, although not universal (the Greek vrykolakas/tympanios was capable of both reflection and shadow), was used by Bram Stoker in Dracula and has remained popular with subsequent authors and filmmakers. 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.
Methods of Destruction
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 a revenant. 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. The vampire's head, body, or clothes could also be spiked and pinned to the earth to prevent 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. In a 16th-century burial near Venice, a brick forced into the mouth of a female corpse has been interpreted as a vampire-slaying ritual by the archaeologists who discovered it in 2006. Further measures included pouring boiling water over the grave or complete incineration of the body. 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. In Romania, garlic could be placed in the mouth, and as recently as the 19th century, the precaution of shooting a bullet through the coffin was taken. For resistant cases, the body was dismembered and the pieces burned, mixed with water, and administered to family members as a cure. In Saxon regions of Germany, a lemon was placed in the mouth of suspected vampires.
In Bulgaria, over 100 skeletons with metal objects, such as plough bits, embedded in the torso have been discovered.
Lilith (1892), by John Collier
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.Today, we would associate these entities with vampires, but in ancient times, 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. Almost every nation has associated blood drinking with some kind of revenant or demon, or in some cases a deity. In India, for example, tales of vetālas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses, have been compiled in the Baitāl Pacīsī; a prominent story in the Kathāsaritsāgara tells of King Vikramāditya and his nightly quests to capture an elusive one. Piśāca, the returned spirits of evil-doers or those who died insane, also bear vampiric attributes. 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. Ancient Babylonia and Assyria had tales of the mythical Lilitu, synonymous with and giving rise to Lilith and her daughters the Lilu from Hebrew demonology. Lilitu was considered a demon and was often depicted as subsisting on the blood of babies. And Estries, female shape changing, blood drinking demons, were said to roam the night among the population, seeking victims. According to Sefer Hasidim, Estries were creatures created in the twilight hours before God rested. And injured Estrie could be healed by eating bread and salt given her by her attacker.
Ancient Greek and Roman mythology described the Empusae, the Lamia, and the striges. Over time the first two terms became general words to describe witches and demons respectively. Empusa was the daughter of the goddess Hecate and was described as a demonic, bronze-footed creature. She feasted on blood by transforming into a young woman and seduced men as they slept before drinking their blood. The Lamia preyed on young children in their beds at night, sucking their blood, as did thegelloudes or Gello. Like the Lamia, the striges feasted on children, but also preyed on young men. They were described as having the bodies of crows or birds in general, and were later incorporated into Roman mythology as strix, a kind of nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood.
With the arrival of Christianity in Greece, and other parts of Europe, the vampire "began to take on decidedly Christian characteristics." As various regions of the continent converted to Christianity, the vampire was viewed as "a dead person who retained a semblance of life and could leave its grave-much in the same way that Jesus had risen after his death and burial and appeared before his followers." In the Middle Ages, the Christian Church reinterpreted vampires from their previous folk existence into minions of Satan, and used an allegory to communicate a doctrine to Christians: "Just as a vampire takes a sinner's very spirit into itself by drinking his blood, so also can a righteous Christian by drinking Christ's blood take the divine spirit into himself." The interpretation of vampires under the Christian Church established connotations that are still associated in the vampire genre today. For example, the "ability of the cross to hurt and ward off vampires is distinctly due to its Christian association."
Medieval and later European Folklore
The 800-year-old skeleton found in Bulgaria stabbed through the chest with iron rod.
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: in West Africa the Ashanti people tell of the iron-toothed and tree-dwelling asanbosam, and the Ewe people of the adze, which can take the form of a firefly and hunts children. The eastern Cape region has the impundulu, which can take the form of a large taloned bird and can summon thunder and lightning, and the Betsileo people of Madagascar tell of the ramanga, an outlaw or living vampire who drinks the blood and eats the nail clippings of nobles.
The Loogaroo is an example of how a vampire belief can result from a combination of beliefs, here a mixture of French and African Vodu or voodoo. The term Loogaroo possibly comes from the French loup-garou (meaning "werewolf") and is common in the culture of Mauritius. However, the stories of the Loogaroo are widespread through the Caribbean Islands and Louisiana in the United States. Similar female monsters are the Soucouyant of Trinidad, and the Tunda and Patasola of Colombian folklore, while the Mapuche of southern Chile have the bloodsucking snake known as the Peuchen. Aloe vera hung backwards behind or near a door was thought to ward off vampiric beings in South American superstition. Aztec mythology described tales of the Cihuateteo, 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.
South Asia also developed other vampiric legends. 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 manananggal of Philippine mythology
Legends of female vampire-like beings who can detach parts of their upper body also occur in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are two main vampire-like creatures in the Philippines: the Tagalog mandurugo ("blood-sucker") and the Visayan manananggal ("self-segmenter"). The mandurugo is a variety of the aswang that takes the form of an attractive girl by day, and develops wings and a long, hollow, thread-like tongue by night. The tongue is used to suck up blood from a sleeping victim. The manananggal is described as being an older, beautiful woman capable of severing its upper torso in order to fly into the night with huge bat-like wings and prey on unsuspecting, sleeping pregnant women in their homes. They use an elongated proboscis-like tongue to suck fetuses from these pregnant women. They also prefer to eat entrails (specifically the heart and the liver) and the phlegm of sick people.
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.
Jiang Shi (simplified Chinese: 僵尸; traditional Chinese: 僵屍 or 殭屍; pinyin: jiāngshī; literally "stiff corpse"), sometimes called "Chinese vampires" by Westerners, are reanimated corpses that hop around, killing living creatures to absorb life essence (qì) from their victims. They are said to be created when a person's soul (魄 pò) fails to leave the deceased's body. However, some have disputed the comparison of jiang shi with vampires, as jiang shi are usually mindless creatures with no independent thought. One unusual feature of this monster is its greenish-white furry skin, perhaps derived from fungus or mold growing on corpses.
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.
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.
The female vampire costume
In 2006, a physics professor at the University of Central Florida wrote a paper arguing that it is mathematically impossible for vampires to exist, based on geometric progression. According to the paper, if the first vampire had appeared on 1 January 1600, and it fed once a month (which is less often than what is depicted in films and folklore), and every victim turned into a vampire, then within two and a half years the entire human population of the time would have become vampires. The paper made no attempt to address the credibility of the assumption that every vampire victim would turn into a vampire.
In one of the more notable cases of vampiric entities in the modern age, the chupacabra ("goat-sucker") of Puerto Rico and Mexico is said to be a creature that feeds upon the flesh or drinks the blood of domesticated animals, leading some to consider it a kind of vampire. The "chupacabra hysteria" was frequently associated with deep economic and political crises, particularly during the mid-1990s.
In Europe, where much of the vampire folklore originates, the vampire is usually considered a fictitious being, although many communities may have embraced the revenant for economic purposes. In some cases, especially in small localities, vampire superstition is still rampant and sightings or claims of vampire attacks occur frequently. In Romania during February 2004, several relatives of Toma Petre feared that he had become a vampire. They dug up his corpse, tore out his heart, burned it, and mixed the ashes with water in order to drink it.
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.