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The Occult Truth About Vampires

Updated on October 16, 2017
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Kitty has had paranormal experiences her entire life. These experiences have fueled her passion to write about all things supernatural.

Vampires aren't what Hollywood has told us...
Vampires aren't what Hollywood has told us... | Source

The Hollywood Vampire vs. History

One of the most well-known monsters dominating literature, movies, and television is undeniably the vampire. Since Bram Stoker's famous classic novel, Dracula, was written in the late eighteen hundreds, hundreds of authors have written books on the blood-sucking undead. Some of these books have been turned into movies and TV shows in modern times: Interview with the Vampire, True Blood, Salem's Lot, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and Vampire Academy (to name a few).

Vampires are often depicted as being attractive men and women who are undead, who seduce and then feast on the blood of the living. Some of them sparkle in the sunlight, some ride motorcycles. Some even loathe the fact that they are vampires and long to be among the living again. But are these illustrations and portrayals of vampires purely the result of modern imagination? Or are they based on something much older than we might have expected?

The concept of the vampire and its true origins is debated by folklorists and scholars. There are many interesting theories, but perhaps it makes more sense to recognize the modern-day vampire as an amalgamation of ancient myths, legends, and folklore from all over the world. Read on to learn about the hidden legends and history behind the infamous vampire.

Ancient Vampiric Demons

Most scholars believe the vampire originates from the belief in evil spirits and demons in ancient times. For ages and probably since the beginning of man, people have believed in spirits. Many of those spirits were beneficial like ancestors and gods, while others were feared. These were the evil spirits and later they would come to be called demons. Many ancient civilizations, such as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Hebrew, and Phoenicians had their own legends of demons who would feed on the life-force of the living.

In Mesopotamia, the origin of vampires to some was the goddess Lilith. She would come to be known as the first wife of Adam, the rebellious, evil wife who would be kicked out of Eden and lay with the fallen angels to procreate a legion of demons thereafter. She was said to drink the blood of mothers and babies, though these tales were most likely distorted to show Lilith as an evil demon rather than her original mother goddess form. We can see this happening time and time again throughout history—mother goddesses who protect mothers and babies become evil, blood-sucking or child-eating demons. Another example is the germanic goddess Berchta, who would eventually become the kidnapping belly-slitting, child eating hag.

Other blood-sucking or life-force stealing ancient demons include the Sumerian goddess Dime, Lamashtu, the greek Empusa and striges, and the Indian creatures more akin to wraiths known as vetalas.

As the church came into power in the Dark Ages, the old tales of goddesses and gods began to fade a bit and new terrors overwhelmed the people of Europe and elsewhere. Revenants and wraiths were just the beginning...

A vampire's visit to his victim at midnight. An all-too-often used motif in Early Modern Period folklore giving way to l iterature such as Stoker's Dracula.
A vampire's visit to his victim at midnight. An all-too-often used motif in Early Modern Period folklore giving way to l iterature such as Stoker's Dracula. | Source

Revenants and the Animated Dead

The main origin for the modern day image of the vampire comes from the idea of the revenant. A revenant can be one of two things: a ghost or the animated body of the dead. If the revenant was a ghost, it could be seen just as clearly as if the person was still alive. Sometimes there wasn't a way to tell if the revenant was a ghost or an animated body, but nevertheless in the Middle Ages a revenant was a revenant and had to be eradicated.

But why were revenants feared so? Revenants weren't just the undead, they were creatures who would haunt the living with the ability to drain precious life-force from the living. In some sources, they were said to have drank blood (which as we can clearly see could have been the first stirrings of our modern-day vampire). These creatures are documented time and time again throughout Europe in Medieval Times, but seemed to be most popular in Eastern Europe in countries like Hungary, Romania, Serbia, etc. However, stories of undead beings cover the whole continent of Europe during this time moving forward.

One famous example of a revenant, according to the French folklorist Claude Lecouteux, is the tale of Beowulf. Beowulf was an epic poem written in Medieval times in Old English, and tells the story of a warrior and hero named Beowulf who defeats three monsters known as Grendel, Grendel's Mother, and a dragon. Grendel and Grendel's mother are both theorized to have been revenants, as in the poem, after Beowulf defeats them, he finds the corpses and cuts off their heads. This was the proposed way to destroy a revenant.

A revenant was thought to be created when a person's body was buried off of holy ground. Revenants were also said to have been people who were evil in life, such as murderers or traitors. They were also people who committed suicide, or who were simply unbelievers in God. These bodies were more likely to be the ones who would not rest and would return from the dead to terrify and torment the living. It is interesting to note that the individuals who became revenants were essentially cursed and not allowed to follow through with a sacred rite of passage—death. This was because of their "sins" or "wrong-doings", depending on the time-period and culture.

Another potential origin to the vampire is the people who were buried alive. This happened quite often in the Medieval times up through until the modern era because people were unaware as to how to determine true death of an individual. There are many folklore stories of corpses waving goodbye, sitting up, standing and walking around, talking to people, etc. Could this actually have been people who were presumed dead but still alive? It is very likely. The mistake of burying people alive happened so often, in fact, that bodies in coffins were buried with a string leading to a bell above ground. This was so if the individual who was buried woke up and was still alive, he or she could pull the string and ring the bell and let the undertaker/gravekeeper know to dig them back up. Criminals in various parts of Europe in Medieval through Early Modern Periods were said to be buried alive as a means of capital punishment, and in some cases there were further instructions to stake the individual through the heart after burial and exhumation. Scholars do not know for sure whether this was part of the punishment or whether this tied in with the belief that the criminal could return from the dead to be a revenant.

Part of that torment was the belief that revenants could also spread disease which may give way to the idea of the vampire in the Early Modern Period bridging into Colonial United States. Around the time of the witch trials in the Colonies, there were also fears of the undead, or vampires, returning from the grave to drain the living. There are documented accounts of bodies being exhumed in New England to have a stake put through their heart and their heads chopped off.

Psychic Vampires, Night Hags, and Sleep Paralysis

If we put aside the idea of an animated corpse with the ability of sucking blood from the living, we can take a look at the psychic vampire and vampiric spirits of similar lore. In today's age, there are people who believe in the psychic vampire...which is essentially a person who can steal others' energy by just being near them. By absorbing their life-force. People who come in contact with these psychic vampires say they feel "drained" or fatigued. Another aspect of the psychic vampire, the author believes, is an actual spirit that travels via the astral realm and feeds off of the life-force and energy of sleeping human beings. These psychic vampires could be the same spirits who have also been known as the "night hag" or "night mare", witches and demons that would sit on the chest of a victim at night and drain them of their life-force unbeknownst to the sleeping person.

These life-force sucking spirits, which also seem to relate to psychic vampires, could also be the cause for sleep paralysis. This is a condition in which an individual "wakes" from his or her sleep to find they cannot move or speak. That they are seemingly paralyzed. While in this state of being, the person often has strong hallucinations that once they break out of the state they say is like having a dream while awake. Sometimes people see creatures or monsters sitting on top of them or choking them, keeping them from moving or screaming out. Science explains this away with some sort of psychological condition, but those who have experienced it may say otherwise. Whatever the true reason, sleep paralysis has been occurring for thousands of years, as evidenced by our folklore about the night hags and night mares, as well as vampires who feed off the living in their sleep.

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A depiction of a revenant in ghost form.The Slavic folkloric vampire the upyr.
A depiction of a revenant in ghost form.
A depiction of a revenant in ghost form. | Source
The Slavic folkloric vampire the upyr.
The Slavic folkloric vampire the upyr. | Source

So What Is a Vampire and Does it Exist?

A vampire in today's terms is quite different from the past. Centuries and centuries of tales of blood-sucking ancient demons mixed with fears of the returning dead and nightmarish witches to make what we now know as the vampire. Of course Hollywood has put its own spin on it, in the name of making money.

Still there are others who claim they are actual vampires, people who say they need to drink human blood in order to live. Others claim to be human psychic vampires, in which they must feed off the life-force of other humans else they waste away. There are vampire clubs and meetings in certain cities, both underground and out-of-the-coffin (so to speak) that one can join if one feels he or she is also a vampire of some kind. So, in this regard, yes vampires do exist. In the Hollywood form where they sparkle and drink blood from teenage girls, perhaps not. But one cannot deny the fact that our ancestors had a deep-seated fear of the undead. So much so that it has carried through to modern times be it in literature or film.

© 2017 Nicole Canfield

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    learner love 3 weeks ago

    interesting!

  • Thalia Jasmin profile image

    Thalia Jasmin 4 weeks ago from Italy

    Really interesting topic! I've always been interested in vampires, I have to admit because of the Twilight books/movies. I have also seen a documentary about these Real Vampires, who freaked me out a bit because it was a little disgusting..but I guess everyone is free to make their own choices!

    Anyway, I'd like to visit Transylvania, and see in person where Dracula originated from.

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    Nicole Canfield 4 weeks ago from the Ether

    Anusha - Yes very good point...and I just realized the dementor thing the other day while watching HP. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • anusha15 profile image

    Anusha Jain 4 weeks ago from Delhi, India

    Vampires are definitely intriguing. Though I would rather prefer Edward Cullen to Dracula. When I read through your post, the life force sucking reminded me of Rowling's Dementors -- creatures which suck happy memories leaving just despair. I think that an authors like Rowling and Meyer has to be a genius for creating his or her own universe with some old but revamped and new species with their imagination.

    Great post.