With interests in science and nature, the author explores topics from a unique and sometimes controversial perspective.
What Makes a Vampire?
What is a vampire? Is someone born that way or do they choose the vampire lifestyle? Or, do you become a vampire through some strange turn of events?
In our modern culture, we seem to be in the midst of some kind of vampire golden age. Apparently, there are a lot of folks out there who think vampires are pretty cool. So cool, in fact, that countless people today are seeking ways to get closer to living the vampire life.
This may be thanks in part to certain trendy pop-fiction YA novels and their corresponding motion-picture treatments. Many people have come to think of vampires as aloof, mysterious characters, with vulnerable but un-beating hearts of gold hidden within their undead chests.
But most vampires throughout history were not brooding, angst-ridden teens with perfectly quaffed hair. Real vampires were pretty nasty characters, and turning into a vampire was, at one time, a very unfortunate life event.
How Did Vampires Go from Loathed to Lauded?
Stephanie Meyer wasn’t the first to fiddle with the vampire definition. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, kicked off the modern interpretation of vampires disguised as charming, if somewhat enigmatic, gentlemen.
But it was Anne Rice who launched vampires into a new dimension, making them way sexier, way cooler, and somehow even more mysterious. Her 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire is perhaps the greatest vampire story ever told, sweeping through two centuries of immortal life. The film that followed, starring Tom Cruise and a young Brad Pitt, solidified the vampire mystique.
So, fiction might make the vampire life seem exciting and unique, but on the other hand, people don’t dig up someone’s casket and jam a stake through their heart without good reason. Before Twilight, before Ann Rice, and even before Dracula, the vampire legend terrified people from all different cultures around the world.
Is there any truth to these ancient myths, and, if so, are you sure you really want to be a vampire?
Before you answer, read on.
Anne Rice Talks About the Modern Vampire Fad
Real Vampire Stories and Legends
Many people cite a real historical figure as the inspiration behind the modern vampire legend. In the 15th century, in the country of Wallachia, there lived a nobleman with a particularly bad reputation and a habit of impaling his enemies on the ends of tall stakes.
Some say he even consumed their blood along with his meals. This gentleman became known as Vlad the Impaler following his death, but while he lived, he was called Vlad the Third, Prince of Wallachia. His father, Vlad the Second, was known by the name Dracul, which would have made Vlad the Third Dracula.
So, there really was a real-life Dracula whom Bram Stoker based some of his character around. But Vlad the Impaler was far more menacing than Stoker’s Dracula.
The vampire legend goes much deeper. In Eastern Europe, in particular, the belief took a strong foothold. In 1726 a Serbian farmer named Arnold Paole passed away, only to be spotted days later wandering around his village, now sporting fangs and a thirsty look in his eyes. Hysteria ensued of course, and the villagers dug up his body only to find it had not decayed, which led to the wooden-stake vampire cure.
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Such too was the case with Peter Plogojowitz, another Serbian who took on the unfortunate postmortem accusation of vampirism. In both situations, authorities documented eye-witness accounts and supervised the unearthing and staking of the offending undead.
Much of this hysteria came from the fact that most people at the time did not understand how the body decomposes after death. A dead body will swell with gases in the torso, causing blood to seep out through the nose and mouth. This change in body composition made people think the body looked well-fed, particularly if the person had a thin body type while among the living.
Additionally, as the fluids from the body start to evaporate, it causes parts of the body such as hair, fingernails, and teeth to become more exposed. This can give the illusion that these body parts have grown.
For the typical uninformed villager, all of these signs pointed to one thing: It's time to sharpen the stakes.
Vlad the Impaler: The Real Dracula
Real Vampires in America and Around the World
The vampire phenomenon spread to America as well. In 1892 the body of a New England woman named Mercy Brown was exhumed after two months in the ground upon accusations of vampirism. When her corpse showed no signs of decomposition, the appropriate anti-vampire actions were taken.
While these accounts represent the best-documented cases of real-world vampires, stories date back to antiquity. The Greeks and Romans both had legends of vampire-like creatures, as did the Persians, Babylonians, and Hebrews. In some cases, these entities are similar to the undead vampires we are accustomed to, such as the Vetala of Hindu folklore. In other cases, they are demonic beings with no earthly tether.
In old Serbian folklore, the Kudlak is a bloodsucking vampire engaged in an eternal battle with the Krsnik, a shaman vampire hunter. The two represent the conflict between the pagan god Perun and the evil snake of the underworld Veles.
In Chinese mythology, the Jiangshi is a reanimated corpse that hops around with its arms outstretched to grab people and drain them of their life-force. The creature hides in caves and other dark places during the day, and then roams the countryside at night searching for victims.
Even in very recent times, we see the reinvention of the vampire myth in creatures like the horrifying Chupacabra.
From Europe to Africa, from South America to the British Isles, to the far East, tales of vampires go back to ancient times. Could this mean the vampire phenomenon is more than a legend?
How Do You Become a Vampire?
If vampires are real, where do they come from? Since we can’t possibly explore every culture’s explanation for how vampires come about, let’s consider the most common Western definition.
While this is up for considerable debate, the consensus opinion is that to become a vampire you must somehow entangle yourself with someone who is already a vampire. However it hashes out, the point is it involves an interaction with a real vampire. You can't make yourself a vampire, or simply decide you are one. You must be chosen.
Some people claim you can be born a vampire, which is a theoretically intriguing idea. This implies that vampires are another race of hominid, which means they must have evolved along a very similar line as humans, and preyed upon humans throughout history. Like vampire bats, they would have evolved to exist on blood instead of solid food.
This is extremely implausible but interesting to ponder. Of course, it eliminates the supernatural aspects of vampire lore.
But by most accounts, the transformation from human to vampire is a supernatural occurrence. This presents several problems, not the least of which is locating an actual, real-life vampire who is able and willing to transform you. (Hint: that weird guy down at the comic book store with the pale skin who says he’s a vampire almost definitely is not.)
Certainly, there are a lot of people around today who claim they are true vampires, but take a logical look at this for a moment: if you were really a vampire, how would you live your life?
Would you announce it to everyone? Would you put up a blog telling everyone about it, or brag about it in on social media? Would you tell your schoolmates or your coworkers? Would you tell anyone?
You would be wise to be suspicious of anyone who so boldly claims to be a vampire. A real vampire in today’s world would have to be among the most careful and secretive creatures. We’re talking about an undead being that may have been around for hundreds of years, a predator of humans that probably has to do some pretty awful things to get what it needs.
Such a creature could only survive by keeping its true nature a secret, and tracking down such a thing would be almost impossible. Thus, going out at night in search of vampires is pointless.
The odds are against it, but your one hope would be to encounter a vampire by accident. Then what?
The entire notion of becoming a vampire then seems very unlikely to happen.
Living the Vampire Life
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of being a vampire based on the traditional Western definition. Of course, there are many different beliefs surrounding the natural and supernatural rules governing vampires, and you probably won’t really know what you’re in for until it’s too late.
Nevertheless, the following thoughts are based around the traditional vampire stereotypes.
Lack of food options (Con)
There’s only one item on the menu: blood. In the mood for a cheeseburger? Too bad. And where do you get all this blood? Taking it from humans is unethical not to mention illegal. Blood bank? No. They have their hands full supplying hospitals and don’t have the time or resources to bother with vampires.
There are probably a few unscrupulous and unpleasant ways you can imagine getting it, but after a while, it would all get to be quite a hassle. Remember, this is something you’re going to have to keep up until the end of time. Speaking of living forever.
Living forever sounds like fun, but you’d better be careful. We humans have enough trouble keeping ourselves in one piece for 80 years or so. Can you imagine how tough it would be to avoid getting yourself seriously injured for hundreds of years?
As a vampire, you’ll have superhuman strength, speed, and reflexes, but eventually, bad luck would catch up to you and you’d end up damaging a body part you’re going to need for the next thousand years. Let's hope those super regenerative powers come through for you.
Also, being immortal means you’ll have to stand by and watch everyone you care about grow old and pass on, over and over again.
Aversion to sunlight (Con)
Say goodbye to the beach. As a vampire, you’re not going out in the sunshine ever again. Ever. Certainly, there are mortal humans who don’t like to spend much time in the sun, but as an undead bloodsucker, it’ll kill you.
Will you have to sleep in a coffin? There seems no practical reason for this as long as you keep your sleeping quarters dark enough, but whatever makes you happy. The plus side is that you’ll have a much lesser chance of developing melanoma.
This is one of the better reasons to be a vampire. Traditionally, vampires change into bats and flap around spying on people. Boring! We can assume you’ll be able to use your powers to transform into all kinds of different things. Have fun with it, and try to think outside the box.
Public opinion (Pro now, Con later)
Right now you might not think it would be a bad idea to let other people know if you become a vampire, but what happens in a hundred years or so when this current vampire-pop craze has long died down?
In the past, letting people know you're a vampire meant a visit from a mob of angry villagers wielding torches and pitchforks, not a mob of screaming teenage girls. Historically, local communities have not been supportive of vampires living among them.
Still Want to Convert to Vampirism?
As you can see, the odds of becoming a real-life vampire pretty much zero, and even if you do there are far more negatives to the vampire life than there are positives. But perhaps you are still interested in the vampire thing, even though you don’t feel like enduring centuries of hardship and suffering. You may be in luck!
Around the world today there are pockets of vampire culture strewn about. These people know they aren’t really undead, but they choose to exist in a way that they feel reflects the vampire lifestyle. They range widely in their beliefs, from the peaceful and deeply spiritual folks to those you really ought to stay away from.
There is nothing wrong with immersing yourself in an alternative lifestyle, as long as you do it safely and wisely and never lose sight of the line between make-believe and reality. Never engage in anything that seems unsafe or illegal, and never do anything that could bring harm to another person (including you). If you encounter people who seem like they are taking things too far, get away from them.
Bottom line: use your head, and if people seem like trouble, they probably are.
As far as becoming a real vampire, unless you get nabbed by one while you’re out for a stroll one dark night the odds aren’t in your favor. But if it happens, and you have a choice, think long and hard.
That skinny kid from Twilight might make it look pretty cool, with all those pensive glances and whatnot, but the life of a real vampire is no doubt a curse, and a sentence to endless nights of sorrow.