Portrayals of Vampires Throughout History
Vampires in Popular Culture
Vampires have infiltrated our pop culture. They are the topic of many popular books, television series, and movies. Look at Twilight for just one recent example. In the late nineties, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Before that, The Lost Boys was popular, and way before that—there was Dracula. These are just a few examples of how ancient myths have been 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, images of the "undead" bombard you. But what started the vampire lore?
Studying ancient Persia reveals the oldest record of vampire lore. Archeologists found a vase that depicted a strange creature trying to suck the blood of a person. There are many other legends, myths, and folklore that discuss these awful blood-sucking creatures. Although not all vampires are evil, you can find good humane vampires that have souls like in Angel or Twilight. Still, there are some consistencies and beliefs that you can see consistent throughout history and today.
Ancient Beliefs of Vampires: Dhampir and More
Although many of these beliefs are often more modern, some of these beliefs stem back as far as the Greeks. The simplest and most popular theory is that vampires suck the blood of animals or people to gain the life force of others. This in turn makes 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 vampires can procreate with humans, and the offspring of the two is called dhampir. A dhampir is usually the result of a male vampire and a female human mating—the reverse is rarely found in the literature. Dhampirs are not immortal like their fathers but can see invisible vampires; many become vampire hunters. Their offspring likely have the same ability and often take up the same profession.
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. Crucifixes harm them, they 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 views regarding these attractive demon creatures.
Babylonian Legend of Vampires
There is an early record found in old Hebrew texts 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. The text also refers to Lilith as the Queen of Demons.
Still, there is a twist to this legend that talks of Caine, the son of Adam and 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 initially resisted this temptation, believing that it would be cruel to create others who would murder and be 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.
Indian Legend of Vampires
Another ancient vampire story found in Indian history was just like the one with Lilith. It did not use the term vampire, but the belief that there is power in drinking blood is very much consistent. Indian folklore centers around a goddess named Kali. Kali was a goddess who had four arms, fangs, and a necklace of skulls. Kali teamed up with another goddess named Durga because she wanted to defeat a demon named Raktabija. Raktabija would reproduce himself from spilled blood, making himself eternal. Whenever he would die, he reproduced 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, depriving Raktabija of his ability to recreate himself. He died.
The Folk Vampire Legend
These stories predated the folk vampire and showed the significance of 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, it is one that predates 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 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 feared and repulsive.
Origin of Vampires
For how many different cultures 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 grand ideas of why stories of vampires arose. He felt that they started because of severe collective ignorance. Before there were regulations on burials such as how deep, etc., often, a body would find itself uncovered. People began to formulate their own beliefs as to what was happening. Some of these beliefs may be 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 were due to flooding bringing them 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 eradicate the disease, that sometimes the bodies were not thoroughly examined and assured they were dead before buried. They would sometimes find bodies out of their graves. It's important to note that the gravesites were not very deep, so when people would awaken after being buried alive, they would try to dig out, leaving themselves bloody and disheveled. They then 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 originated was 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 everyday 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, 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.
Vlad III the Impaler most likely inspired Dracula. His nickname was Dracula—which means son of the dragon. The story was actually about his father Vlad II Dracul. He was the Prince of Wallachia during the 1450s in Romania. He 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. The link 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 stunning. As she began to age, she became very upset about the wrinkles. One day when getting angry at a servant, she struck her so violently 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 the murder of virgin women, then pooled their blood 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 were tried for witchcraft, vampirism, and then beheaded; she, however, was not beheaded because of her noble blood.
As Dracula is only one of the first books written on the subject, this 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 slightly, but eventually, another great writer or filmmaker will read one of the old stories and become inspired to return to a legend that is as old as storytelling.
- The Real Dracula: Vlad the Impaler | Live Science
The fictional Dracula was loosely based on a real person with an equally disturbing taste for blood: Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia or — as he is better known — Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes).
- The strange story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Vampire, Witch, Killer! – Strange Unexpla
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© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz