Vampires are mythical or folkloric creatures, typically held to be the re-animated corpses of human beings and said to subsist on human and/or animal blood (hematophagy), often having unnatural powers, heightened bodily functions, and/or the ability to physically transform. Some cultures have myths of non-human vampires, such as demons or animals like bats, dogs, and spiders. Vampires are often described as having a variety of additional powers and character traits, extremely variable in different traditions, and are a frequent subject of folklore, cinema, and contemporary fiction.
Vampirism is the practice of drinking blood from a person/animal. Vampires are said to mainly bite the victim's neck, extracting the blood from a main artery. In folklore and popular culture, the term generally refers to a belief that one can gain supernatural powers by drinking human blood. The historical practice of vampirism can generally be considered a more specific and less commonly occurring form of cannibalism. The consumption of another's blood (and/or flesh) has been used as a tactic of psychological warfare intended to terrorize the enemy, and it can be used to reflect various spiritual beliefs.
In zoology, the term vampirism is used to refer to leeches, mosquitos, mistletoe, vampire bats, and other organisms that prey upon the bodily fluids of other creatures. This term also applies to mythic animals of the same nature, including the chupacabra.
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the first appearance of the word vampire in English from 1734, in a travelogue titled Travels of Three English Gentlemen published in the Harleian Miscellany in 1745. Vampires had already been discussed in German literature.After Austria gained control of northern Serbia and Oltenia in 1718, officials noted the local practice of exhuming bodies and "killing vampires".These reports, prepared between 1725 and 1732, received widespread publicity.
The English term was derived (possibly via French vampyre) from the German Vampir, in turn derived in the early 18th century from the Serbian вампир/vampir.When Arnold Paole, a purported vampire in Serbia was described during the time Serbia was incorporated into the Austrian Empire
The Serbian form has parallels in virtually all Slavic languages: Bulgarian вампир (vampir), Croatian upir /upirina, Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz, and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Ukrainian упир (upyr), Russian упырь (upyr'), Belarusian упыр (upyr), from Old East Slavic упирь (upir'). (Note that many of these languages have also borrowed forms such as "vampir/wampir" subsequently from the West; these are distinct from the original local words for the creature.) The exact etymology is unclear.Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are *ǫpyrь and *ǫpirь.Another, less widespread theory, is that the Slavic languages have borrowed the word from a Turkic term for "witch" (e.g., Tatar ubyr).
The first recorded use of the Old Russian form Упирь (Upir') is commonly believed to be in a document dated 6555 (1047 AD). It is a colophon in a manuscript of the Book of Psalms written by a priest who transcribed the book from Glagolitic into Cyrillic for the Novgorodian Prince Volodymyr Yaroslavovych.The priest writes that his name is "Upir' Likhyi " (Оупирь Лихыи), which means something like "Wicked Vampire" or "Foul Vampire".This apparently strange name has been cited as an example both of surviving paganism and of the use of nicknames as personal names.
Another early use of the Old Russian word is in the anti-pagan treatise "Word of Saint Grigoriy", dated variously to the 11th–13th centuries, where pagan worship of upyri is reported.
Vampires in ancient cultures
Tales of the dead craving blood are ancient in nearly every culture around the world. Vampire-like spirits called the Lilu are mentioned in early Babylonian demonology. These female demons were said to roam during the hours of darkness, hunting and killing newborn babies and pregnant women. One of these demons, named Lilitu, was later adapted into Jewish demonology as Lilith, known as the mother of all vampires.
The Ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhmet in one myth became full of blood lust after slaughtering humans and was only sated after drinking alcohol colored as blood.
In Homer's Odyssey, the shades that Odysseus meets on his journey to the Underworld are lured to the blood of freshly sacrificed rams, a fact that Odysseus uses to his advantage to summon the shade of Tiresias. Roman tales describe the Strix, which is similar to Lamia (monster), a nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood. The Roman strix is the source of the Romanian vampire, the Strigoi and the Albanian Shtriga, which also show Slavic influence. In early Slavic folklore, a vampire drank blood, was afraid of (but could not be killed by) silver and could be destroyed by cutting off its head and putting it between the corpse's legs or by putting a wooden stake into its heart. Medieval historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh] recorded the earliest English stories of vampires in the 1100s|12th century. Many vampire legends also bear similarities to legends regarding succubi or incubi.
Folk beliefs in vampires
It seems that until the 19th century, vampires in Europe were thought to be hideous monsters rather than the debonair, aristocratic vampire made popular by later fictional treatments. They were usually believed to rise from the bodies of suicide victims, criminals, or evil sorcerers, though in some cases an initial vampire thus "born of sin" could pass his vampirism onto his innocent victims. In other cases, however, a victim of a cruel, untimely, or violent death was susceptible to becoming a vampire. Most of the European vampire myths have Slavic and/or Romanian origins.
The Slavic people including most east Europeans from Russia to Bulgaria, Serbia to Poland, have the richest vampire folklore and legends in the world. The Slavs came from north of the Black Sea and were closely associated with the Balts. Prior to 8th century AD they migrated north and west to where they are now. Christianisation began almost as soon as they arrived in their new homelands. However, through the 9th and 10th century, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the western Roman Catholic Church were struggling with each other for supremacy. They formally broke in 1054 AD, with the Bulgarians, Russians, and Serbians staying Orthodox, while the Poles, Czechs, and Croatians went Roman. This split caused a big difference in the development of vampire lore - the Orthodox church believed incorrupt bodies were vampires, while the Roman church believed they were saints. Causes of vampirism included being born with a caul, teeth, or tail, being conceived on certain days, irregular death, excommunication, improper burial rituals etc. Preventative measures included: placing a crucifix in the coffin, or blocks under the chin to prevent the body from eating the shroud, nailing clothes to coffin walls for the same reason, or piercing the body with thorns or stakes. In the case of stakes, the general idea was to pierce through the vampire and into the ground below, pinning them. Certain people would bury their potential vampires with scythes above their necks, so the dead would decapitate themselves as they rose. Evidence that a vampire was at work in the neighbourhood included death of cattle, sheep, relatives, neighbours, exhumed bodies being in a lifelike state with new growth of the fingernails or hair, or if the body was swelled up like a drum, or there was blood on the mouth and if the corpse had a ruddy complexion. Vampires could be destroyed by staking, decapitation, execution by burning, repeating the funeral service, holy water on the grave or exorcism.
Tales of vampiric entities were also found among the ancient Romans and among the Romanized inhabitants of eastern Europe, Romanians(known as Vlachs in historical context. Romania is surrounded by Slavic countries, so it is not surprising that Romanian vampires are similar to the Slavic vampire. They are called Strigoi based on the ancient Greek term Strix standing for screech owl, which also came to mean demon or witch.
There are different types of Strigoi. Strigoi vii are live witches who will become vampires after death. They can send out their soul at night to meet with other witches or with Strigoi morţi who are dead vampires. The Strigoi morţi are the reanimated bodies which return to suck the blood of family, livestock, and neighbours. Other types of vampires in Romanian folklore include Moroi and Pricolici.
A person born with a caul, tail, born out of wedlock, or one who died an unnatural death, or died before baptism, was doomed to become a vampire, as was the seventh child of the same sex in a family, the child of a pregnant woman who did not eat salt or who was looked at by a vampire, or a witch. Moreover, being bitten by vampire, meant certain condemnation to a vampiric existence after death.
The Vârcolac which is sometimes mentioned in folklore was more closely related to a mythological wolf that could devour the sun and moon (similar to Fenris in Norse mythology), and later became connected with werewolves rather than vampires. The person afflicted with lycanthropy could turn into a dog, pig, or wolf.
The vampire was usually first noticed when it attacked family and livestock, or threw things around in the house. Vampires, along with witches, were believed to be most active on the Eve of St George's Day April 22 of the Julian calendar, May 4 of the Gregorian calendar, the night when all forms of evil were supposed to be abroad. St George's Day is still celebrated in Europe. A vampire in the grave could be told by holes in the earth, an undecomposed corpse with a red face, or having one foot in the corner of the coffin. Living vampires were found by distributing garlic in church and seeing who did not eat it. Graves were often opened three years after death of a child, five years after the death of a young person, or seven years after the death of an adult to check for vampirism. Measures to prevent a person becoming a vampire included, removing the caul from a newborn and destroying it before the baby could eat any of it, careful preparation of dead bodies, including preventing animals from passing over the corpse, placing a thorny branch of wild rose in the grave, and placing garlic on windows and rubbing it on cattle, especially on St George's & St Andrew's days. To destroy a vampire, a stake was driven through the body followed by decapitation and placing garlic in the mouth. By the 19th century people were shooting a bullet through the coffin. For resistant cases, the body was dismembered and the pieces burned, mixed with water, and given to family members as a cure.
Roma and vampires
Even today, Roma frequently feature in vampire fiction and film, no doubt influenced by Bram Stoker's book Dracula in which the Szgany Roma served Dracula, carrying his boxes of earth and guarding him. Traditional Romani beliefs include the idea that the dead soul enters a world similar to ours except that there is no death. The soul stays around the body and sometimes wants to come back. The Roma myths of the living dead added to and enriched the vampire myths of Hungary, Romania, and Slavic lands.
The ancient home of the Roma, India, has many mythical vampire figures. The Bhuta or Prét' is the soul of a man who died an untimely death. It wanders around animating dead bodies at night and attacks the living like a ghoul. In northern India could be found the Brahmaparusha, a vampire-like creature with a head encircled by intestines and a skull from which it drank blood. Vetala and pishacha are some other creatures who resemble vampires in some form. Since Hinduism believes in reincarnation of the soul after death, it is supposed that upon leading an unholy or immoral life, sin or suicide, the soul reincarnates into such kinds of evil spirits. This kind of reincarnation does not arise out of birth from a womb, but is achieved directly, and such evil spirits' fate is pre-determined as to how they shall achieve liberation from that yoni, and re-enter the world of mortal flesh through next incarnation. The most famous Indian deity associated with blood drinking is Kali, who has fangs, wears a garland of corpses or skulls and has four arms. Her temples are near the cremation grounds. She and the goddess Durga battled the demon Raktabija who could reproduce himself from each drop of blood spilled. Kali drank all his blood so none was spilled, thereby winning the battle and killing Raktabija. Sara, or the Black Goddess, is the form in which Kali survived among gypsies. Gypsies have a belief that the three Marys from the New Testament went to France and baptised a gypsy called Sara. They still hold a ceremony each May 24 in the French village where this is supposed to have occurred. Some refer to their Black Goddess as Black Cally or Black Kali. One form of vampire in Romani myth is called a mullo (one who is dead). This vampire is believed to return and do malicious things and/or suck the blood of a person (usually a relative who had caused their death, or hadn't properly observed the burial ceremonies, or who kept the deceased's possessions instead of destroying them as was proper). Female vampires could return, lead a normal life and even marry but would exhaust the husband. Anyone who had a hideous appearance, was missing a finger, or had animal appendages, etc., was believed to be a vampire. If a person died unseen, he would become a vampire; likewise if a corpse swelled before burial. Plants or dogs, cats, or even agricultural tools could become vampires. Pumpkins or melons kept in the house too long would start to move, make noises or show blood. To get rid of a vampire people would hire a Dhampir (the son of a vampire and his widow, doomed to become a vampire hunter) or a Moroi to detect the vampire. To ward off vampires, 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. Roma people in Kosovo believed that vampires were invisible to most people. However, they could be seen by a twin brother and sister born on a Saturday who wear their drawers and shirts inside out. Likewise, a settlement could be protected from a vampire by finding a twin brother and sister born on a Saturday and making them wear their shirts and drawers inside out (cf previous section). This pair could see the vampire out of doors at night, but immediately after it saw them it would have to flee, head over heels.
Other Old World vampires
Asia and the Pacific
There are also tales of kamaitachi, a phenomenon where it was said that evil gods would thirst for human blood.
Eighteenth century vampire controversy
During the 18th century there was a major vampire scare in Eastern Europe. Even government officials frequently got dragged into the hunting and staking of vampires. The word vampire only came into the English language in 1732 via an English translation of a German report of the much-publicized Arnold Paole vampire staking in Serbia. It all started with an outbreak of alleged vampire attacks in East Prussia in 1721 and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1725 to 1734. Two famous cases involved Peter Plogojowitz] and Arnold Paole. As the story goes, Plogojowitz died at the age of 62, but came back a couple of times after his death asking his son for food. When the son refused, he was found dead the next day. Soon Plogojowitz returned and attacked some neighbours who died from loss of blood. In the other famous case, Arnold Paole, an ex-soldier turned farmer who had allegedly been attacked by a vampire years before, died while haying. After his death, people began to die, and it was believed by everyone that Paole had returned to prey on the neighbours. These two incidents were extremely well documented. Government officials examined the cases and the bodies, wrote them up in reports, and books were published afterwards of the Paole case and distributed around Europe. The controversy raged for a generation. The problem was exacerbated by rural epidemics of so-claimed vampire attacks, with locals digging up bodies. Many scholars said vampires did not exist, and attributed reports to premature burial, or rabies. Nonetheless, Dom Augustine Calmet, a well-respected French theologian and scholar, put together a carefully thought out treatise in 1746 in which he claimed vampires did exist. This had considerable influence on other scholars at the time. Eventually, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her personal physician to investigate. He concluded that vampires do not exist, and the Empress passed laws prohibiting the opening of graves and desecration of bodies. This was the end of the vampire epidemics. By then, though, many knew about vampires, and soon authors would adopt and adapt the concept of vampire, making it known to the general public.
Contemporary belief in vampires
Belief in vampires still persists across the globe. During late 2002 and early 2003, hysteria about alleged attacks of vampires swept through the Africa]n country of Malawi. Mobs stoned one individual to death and attacked at least four others, including Governor Eric Chiwaya, due to a belief that the government was colluding with vampires. In Romania, several relatives of Toma Petre dug up his body, tore out his heart, burned the organ and drank its ashes in water in February of 2004, thinking that he had become a vampire. In January 2005, it was reported that an attacker had bitten a number of people in Birmingham, England, fueling concerns about a vampire roaming the streets. However, local police stated that no such crimes had been reported to them, and this case appears to be an urban legend. In the modern folklore of Latin America, the chupacabra (goat-sucker) is said to be a creature that feeds upon the flesh or drinks the blood of domesticated animals, leading some to consider it vampiric.
Traits of vampires
Natural phenomena that propagate the vampire myth
Pathology and vampirism
Some people argue that vampire stories might have been influenced by a rare illness called porphyria. The disease disrupts the production of heme. People with extreme but rare cases of this hereditary disease can be so sensitive to sunlight that they can get a sunburn through heavy cloud cover, causing them to avoid sunlight — although it should be noted that the idea that vampires are harmed by sunlight is largely from modern fiction and not the original beliefs. Certain forms of porphyria are also associated with neurological symptoms, which can create psychiatric disorders. However, the hypotheses that porphyria sufferers crave the heme in human blood, or that the consumption of blood might ease the symptoms of porphyria, are based on a severe misunderstanding of the disease. There is very little evidence to suggest that porphyria had anything to do with the development of the original folklore. Others argue that there is a relationship between vampirism and rabies. There have been a number of murderers who performed this seemingly vampiric ritual upon their victims. Serial killers Peter Kürten and Richard Trenton Chase were both called vampires in the tabloids after they were discovered drinking the blood of the people they murdered, for example. Legends that Erzsébet Báthory, a medieval Hungarian aristocrat, murdered hundreds of women in bizarre rituals involving blood, helped mold contemporary vampire legends. Some psychologists in modern times recognize a disorder called clinical vampirism (or Renfield's syndrome, from Dracula's insect-eating henchman in the novel by Bram Stoker) in which the victim is obsessed with drinking blood, either from animals or humans.
Finding vampires in graves
When the coffin of an alleged vampire was opened, people sometimes found the cadaver in a relatively undecomposed state, which could have been interpreted as the corpse being the equivalent of a well-fed vampire. Another reason to believe that a body is a vampire that has fed on the living is the strange illusion that the hair, nails, and teeth have grown. It is a well known phenomenon that after death the skin and gums lose fluids and contract, exposing the roots of the hair, nails, and teeth, even teeth that were concealed in the jaw. Folkloric accounts almost universally represent the alleged vampire as having ruddy or dark skin, not the pale skin of vampires in literature and film. In the past, people were often malnourished and therefore thin in life, which could account for the pale skin often referred to. Corpses swell as gases from decomposition accumulate in the torso and blood tries to escape the body. During decomposition blood can often be seen emanating from nose and mouth, which could give the impression that the corpse was a vampire who had been drinking blood. Natural processes of decomposition, absent embalming, tend to darken the skin of a corpse — hence the black, blue, or red complexion of the folkloric vampire.
Bats have become an integral part of the vampire myth only recently, although many cultures have myths about them. In Europe, bats and owls were long associated with the supernatural, mainly because they were night creatures. On the other hand, the gypsies thought them lucky and wore charms made of bat bones. In English heraldic tradition, a bat means "Awareness of the powers of darkness and chaos. In South America, Camazotz was a bat god of the caves living in the Bathouse of the Underworld. The three species of actual vampire bats are all endemic and there is no evidence to suggest that they had any Old World relatives within human memory. It is therefore extremely unlikely that the folkloric vampire represents a distorted presentation or memory of the bat. During the 16th century the Spanish conquistadors first came into contact with vampire bats and recognized the similarity between the feeding habits of the bats and those of their mythical vampires. The bats were named after the folkloric vampire rather than vice versa; the Oxford English Dictionary records the folkloric use in English from 1734 and the zoological not until 1774. It wasn't long before vampire bats were adapted into fictional tales, and they have become one of the more important vampire associations in popular culture.
Vampires in fiction