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 much 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. Several theories of the word’s origin exist. The English term was derived (possibly via French vampyre) from the German Vampir, in turn thought to be derived in the early 18th century from Serbian вампир/vampir. The Serbian form has parallels in virtually all Slavic languages: Bulgarian вампир (vampir), Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz, and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Russian упырь (upyr’), Belarusian упыр (upyr), Ukrainian упирь (upir’), from Old Russian упирь (upir’). (Note that many of these languages have also borrowed forms such as “vampir/wampir” subsequently from the West). Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are *ǫpyrь and *ǫpirь. Like its possible cognate that means “bat” (Czech netopýr, Slovak netopier, Polish nietoperz, Russian нетопырь / netopyr’ – a species of bat), the Slavic word might contain a Proto-Indo-European root for “to fly”.
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 Vladimir Yaroslavovich. The priest writes that his name is “Upir’ Likhyi ” (Упирь Лихый), which means something like “Wicked Vampire” or “Foul Vampire.” This apparently strange name has been cited as an example of surviving paganism and/or of the use of nicknames as personal names. However, in 1982, Swedish Slavicist Anders Sjöberg suggested that “Upir’ likhyi” was in fact an Old Russian transcription or translation of the name of Öpir Ofeigr, a well-known Swedish rune carver. Sjöberg argued that Öpir could possibly have lived in Novgorod before moving to Sweden, considering the connection between Eastern Scandinavia and Russia at the time. This theory is still controversial, although at least one Swedish historian, Henrik Janson, has expressed support for it. 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.
The notion of vampirism has existed for millennia; cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans had tales of demons and spirits which are considered precursors to modern vampires. However, despite the occurrence of vampire-like creatures in these ancient civilizations, the folklore for the entity we know today as the vampire originates almost exclusively from early 18th century Southeastern Europe, when verbal traditions of many ethnic groups of the region were recorded and published. In most cases, vampires are revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but they can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire. Belief in such legends became so pervasive that in some areas it caused mass hysteria and even public executions of people believed to be vampires.
Description and common attributes
It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in colour; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood. Indeed, blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin and its left eye was often open. It would be clad in the linen shroud it was buried in, and its teeth, hair, and nails may have grown somewhat, though in general fangs were not a feature.
Other attributes varied greatly from culture to culture; some vampires, such as those found in Transylvanian tales, were gaunt, pale, and had long fingernails, while those from Bulgaria only had one nostril, and Bavarian vampires slept with thumbs crossed and one eye open. Moravian vampires only attacked while naked, and those of Albanian folklore wore high-heeled shoes. As stories of vampires spread throughout the globe to the Americas and elsewhere, so did the varied and sometimes bizarre descriptions of them: Mexican vampires had a bare skull instead of a head, Brazilian vampires had furry feet and vampires from the Rocky Mountains only sucked blood with their noses and from the victim’s ears. Common attributes were sometimes described, such as red hair. Some were reported to be able to transform into bats, rats, dogs, wolves, spiders and even moths. From these various legends, works of literature such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the influences of historical bloodthirsty figures such as Gilles de Rais, Elizabeth Bathory, and Vlad Ţepeş, the vampire developed into the modern stereotype.
The causes of vampiric generation were many and varied in original folklore. In Slavic and Chinese traditions, any corpse which 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 which 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 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. 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.
Many elaborate rituals were used to identify a vampire. One method of finding a vampire’s grave involved leading a virgin boy through a graveyard or church grounds on a virgin stallion — the horse would supposedly balk at the grave in question. Generally a black horse was required, though in Albania it should be white. Holes appearing in the earth over a grave were taken as a sign of vampirism.
Corpses thought to be vampires were generally described as having a healthier appearance than expected, plump and showing little or no signs of decomposition. In some cases, when suspected graves were opened, villagers even described the corpse as having fresh blood from a victim all over its face. Evidence that a vampire was active in a given locality included death of cattle, sheep, relatives or neighbours. Folkloric vampires could also make their presence felt by engaging in minor poltergeist-like activity, such as hurling stones on roofs or moving household objects, and pressing on people in their sleep.
Apotropaics—mundane or sacred items able to ward off revenants—such as garlic or holy water are common in vampire folklore. The items vary from region to region; a branch of wild rose and hawthorn plant are said to harm vampires; 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 those 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 (vampires do not have a reflection and in some cultures, do not cast shadows, 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 utilized 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 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 though the heart, though the mouth was targeted in Russia and northern Germany and the stomach in northeastern 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. 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.
Tales of the undead consuming the blood or flesh of living beings have been found in nearly every culture around the world for many centuries. Today we know these entities predominantly as 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. The Ancient Indian deity Kali with fangs, and a garland of corpses or skulls, was intimately linked with the drinking of blood. Tales of vetalas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses, have been compiled in the Baital Pachisi, a prominent story in the Kathasaritsagara tells of King Vikramāditya and his nightly quests to capture an elusive one. Pishacha, the returned spirits of evil-doers or those who died insane, also bear vampiric attributes. Even Egypt had its blood-drinking goddess Sekhmet.
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 had tales of the mythical Lilitu, synonymous with and giving rise to Lilith (Hebrew לילית) and her daughters the Lilu from Hebrew demonology. Lilitu was considered a demon and was often depicted as subsisting on the blood of babies. However, the Jewish counterparts were said to feast on both men and women, as well as newborns.
Ancient Greek mythology described the Empusa, Lamia, and striges (the strix of Ancient Roman mythology). 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. Lamia preyed on young children in their beds at night, sucking their blood. Like 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.
Medieval and later European folklore
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. These tales are similar to the later folklore widely reported from Eastern Europe in the 18th century and were the basis of the vampire legend that later entered Germany and England, where they were subsequently embellished and popularised.
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.
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, Gerhard 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 and her heart was cut out and burnt 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. India 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. Japan has no native legends about vampires. Japanese vampires made their first appearances in the Cinema of Japan during the late 1950s.
Legends of female vampire-like beings who can detach parts of their upper body 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 off 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 folklores 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 Pontianak, Kuntilanak or Matianak in Indonesia, 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, which she sucked the blood of children with. 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.
Jiang Shi (traditional Chinese: 僵屍 or 殭屍; simplified Chinese: 僵尸; 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. One unusual feature of this vampire is its greenish-white furry skin, perhaps derived from fungus or mould growing on corpses.
- See also: Vampire literature
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 rumors 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.
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 considered a fictitious being, although many communities 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.
Origins of vampire beliefs
People sometimes suspected vampirism when a cadaver did not look as they thought a normal corpse should when disinterred. However, rates of decomposition vary depending on temperature and soil composition, and many of the signs are little known. This has led vampire hunters to mistakenly conclude that a dead body had not decomposed at all, or, ironically, to interpret signs of decomposition as signs of continued life. Corpses swell as gases from decomposition accumulate in the torso and the increased pressure forces blood to ooze from the nose and mouth. This causes the body to look “plump”, “well-fed”, and “ruddy” — changes that are all the more striking if the person was pale or thin in life. The exuding blood gave the impression that the corpse had recently been engaging in vampiric activity. Darkening of the skin is also caused by decomposition. The staking of a swollen, decomposing body could cause the body to bleed and force the accumulated gases to escape the body. This could produce a groan-like sound when the gases moved past the vocal cords, or a sound reminiscent of flatulence when they passed through the anus.
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. This can produce the illusion that the hair, nails, and teeth have grown. At a certain stage, the nails fall off and the skin peels away, as reported in the Plogojowitz case—the dermis and nail beds emerging underneath were interpreted as “new skin” and “new nails”.
In some cases in which people reported sounds emanating from a specific coffin, it was later dug up and fingernail marks were discovered on the inside from the victim trying to escape. In other cases the person would hit their heads, noses or faces and it would appear that they had been “feeding”. A problem with this theory is the question of how people presumably buried alive managed to stay alive for any extended period without food, water or fresh air. An alternate explanation for noise is the bubbling of escaping gases from natural decomposition of bodies. Another likely cause of disordered tombs is grave robbing.
Folkloric vampirism has been associated with a series of deaths due to unidentifiable or mysterious illnesses, usually within the same family or the same small community. Tuberculosis and the pneumonic form of bubonic plague were associated with breakdown of lung tissue which would cause blood to appear at the lips. Dr Juan Gómez-Alonso, a neurologist at Xeral Hospital in Vigo, Spain, examined the possibility of a link with rabies in the journal Neurology. The susceptibility to garlic and light could be due to rabies-induced hypersensitivity. The disease can also affect portions of the brain that could lead to disturbance of normal sleep patterns (thus becoming nocturnal) and hypersexuality. Legend once said a man was not rabid if he could look at his own reflection (an allusion to the legend that vampires have no reflection). Wolves and bats, which are often associated with vampires, can be carriers of rabies. The disease can also lead to a drive to bite others and to a bloody frothing at the mouth.
In 1985 biochemist David Dolphin proposed a link between the rare blood disorder porphyria and vampire folklore. Noting that the condition is treated by intravenous haem, he suggested that the consumption of large amounts of blood may result in haem being transported somehow across the stomach wall and into the bloodstream. Thus vampires were merely sufferers of porphyria seeking to replace haem and alleviate their symptoms. The theory has been rebuffed medically as suggestions that porphyria sufferers crave the haem in human blood, or that the consumption of blood might ease the symptoms of porphyria, are based on a misunderstanding of the disease. Furthermore, Dolphin was noted to have confused fictional (bloodsucking) vampires with those of folklore, many of whom were not noted to drink blood. Similarly, a parallel is made between sensitivity to sunlight by sufferers, yet this was associated with fictional and not folkloric vampires. In any case, Dolphin did not go on to publish his work more widely. Despite being dismissed by experts, the link gained media attention and entered popular modern folklore.
A number of murderers have performed seemingly vampiric rituals upon their victims. Serial killers Peter Kurten and Richard Trenton Chase were both called “vampires” in the tabloids after they were discovered drinking the blood of the people they murdered. Similarly, in 1932, an unsolved murder case in Stockholm, Sweden was nicknamed the “Vampire murder“, due to the circumstances of the victim’s death. The late 16th-century Hungarian countess and mass murderer Elizabeth Báthory became particularly infamous in later centuries’ works, which depicted her bathing in her victims’ blood in order to retain beauty or youth.
Vampire lifestyle is a term for a contemporary subculture of people, largely within the Goth subculture, who consume the blood of others as a pastime; drawing from the rich recent history of popular culture related to cult symbolism, horror films, the fiction of Anne Rice, and the styles of Victorian England. Active vampirism within the vampire subculture includes both blood-related vampirism, commonly referred to as Sanguine Vampirism, and Psychic Vampirism, or ‘feeding’ from pranic energy. Practitioners may take on a variety of ‘roles’, including both “vampires” and their sources of blood or pranic energy.
Although many cultures have stories about them, vampire bats have only recently become an integral part of the traditional vampire lore. The vampire bat was revered in South American culture; Camazotz was a bat god of the caves who lived in the bathhouse of the Underworld. Although there are no vampire bats in Europe, bats and owls have long been associated with the supernatural, mainly due to their nocturnal habits, and in modern English heraldic tradition, a bat means “Awareness of the powers of darkness and chaos”.
As the three species of actual vampire bats are all endemic to Latin America, it is unlikely that the folkloric vampire represents a distorted association with them. 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 legendary vampires. The bats were named after the folkloric vampire rather than vice versa; the Oxford English Dictionary records their folkloric use in English from 1734 and the zoological not until 1774. Although the vampire bat’s bite is usually not harmful to a person, the bat has been known to actively feed on humans and large prey such as cattle and often leave the trademark, two-prong bite mark on its victim’s skin.
Though the literary Dracula’s flying shapeshifted form was originally described as merely bird- or lizard-like, it was not long before vampire bats were adapted into vampiric accoutrements; they were used in the 1927 stage production of Dracula and the resulting film, where Bela Lugosi would transform into a bat. The bat transformation scene would again be used by Lon Chaney Jr. in 1943’s Son of Dracula. Ironically, vampire bats are small creatures and have never been used in the film industry; instead, the much larger flying fox bat (which is entirely herbivorous) is used in bat transformation scenes.
In modern fiction
The vampire is now a fixture in popular fiction; this stems from the series of vampiric novels released in the early 1800s, but fictional vampires certainly date back further into the late 18th century when the revenant appeared in poems such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1797 Die Braut von Corinth (The Bride of Corinth). Lord Byron introduced the vampire theme to Western literature in his epic poem The Giaour (1813), but it was his personal physician John Polidori who authored the first vampire story called The Vampyre. The vampire made the transition into prose works when Polidori used Byron’s own wild life as the model for his undead protagonist Lord Ruthven. The Vampyre was highly successful and the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. The continuing popularity of the vampire theme has been ascribed to a combination of two factors: the representation of sexuality — something which has become more overt in the Internet age — and the perennial dread of mortality.
Over time, some attributes now regarded as integral became incorporated into the vampire’s profile: fangs and vulnerability to sunlight appeared over the course of the 19th century, with Varney the Vampire and Dracula both bearing protruding teeth, and Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) fearing daylight. The cloak appeared in stage productions of the 1820s, with a high collar introduced by playwright Hamilton Deane to help Dracula ‘vanish’ on stage. Lord Ruthven and Varney were able to be healed by moonlight, although no account of this is known in traditional folklore. Implied though not often explicitly documented in folklore, immortality is one attribute which features heavily in vampire film and literature. Much is made of the price of eternal life, namely the incessant need for blood of former equals.
Varney the Vampire was a landmark popular mid-Victorian era gothic horror story by James Malcolm Rymer (alternatively attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest), which first appeared from 1845 to 1847 in a series of pamphlets generally referred to as penny dreadfuls because of their inexpensive price and typically gruesome contents. The story was published in book form in 1847 and runs to 868 double-columned pages. It has a distinctly suspenseful style, using vivid imagery to describe the horrifying exploits of Varney. Other examples of early vampire fictions exist, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished poem Christabel and Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire story Carmilla (1871). Like Varney before her, the vampire Carmilla is portrayed in a somewhat sympathetic light as the compulsion of her condition is highlighted.
No effort to depict vampires in popular fiction was as influential or as definitive as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Its portrayal of vampirism as a disease of contagious demonic possession, with its undertones of sex, blood and death, struck a chord in Victorian Europe where tuberculosis and syphilis were common. The vampiric traits described in Stoker’s work merged with and dominated folkloric tradition, eventually evolving into the modern fictional vampire. Drawing on past works such as The Vampyre and “Carmilla”, Stoker began to research his new book in the late 1800s, reading works such as The Land Beyond the Forest (1888) by Emily Gerard and other books about Transylvania and vampires. A member of the Order of the Golden Dawn cult, he was keen to travel around Eastern Europe to learn about the folkloric vampires and the occult. In London, a colleague mentioned to him the story of Vlad Ţepeş, the “real-life Dracula”, and Stoker immediately incorporated this story into his book. The first chapter of the book was omitted when it was published in 1897, but it was released in 1914 as Dracula’s Guest.
The latter part of the twentieth century saw the rise of multi-volume vampire epics. The first of these was gothic romance writer Marilyn Ross’ Barnabas Collins series (1966–71), loosely based on the contemporary American TV series Dark Shadows. It also set the trend for seeing vampires as poetic tragic heroes rather than as the more traditional embodiment of evil. This formula was followed in novelist Anne Rice’s highly popular and influential Vampire Chronicles (1976–2003).
Film and television
Considered one of the preeminent figures of the classic horror film, the vampire has proven to be a rich subject for the film and gaming industries. Dracula is a major character in more movies than any other bar Sherlock Holmes, and many early films were either based on the novel of Dracula or closely derived from it. These included the landmark 1922 German silent film Nosferatu, directed by F. W. Murnau and featuring the first film portrayal of Dracula—although names and characters were intended to mimic Dracula’s, Murnau could not obtain permission to do so from Stoker’s widow, and had to alter many aspects of the film. In addition to this film was Universal’s Dracula (1931), starring Béla Lugosi as the count in what was the first talking film to portray Dracula. The decade saw several more vampire films, most notably Dracula’s Daughter in 1936.
The legend of the vampire was cemented in the film industry when Dracula was reincarnated for a new generation with the celebrated Hammer Horror series of films, starring Christopher Lee as the Count. The successful 1958 Dracula starring Lee was followed by seven sequels. Lee returned as Dracula in all but two of these and became well known in the role. By the 1970s, vampires in films had diversified with works such as Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), an African Count in 1972’s Blacula, a Nosferatu-like vampire in 1979’s Salem’s Lot, and a remake of Nosferatu itself, titled Nosferatu the Vampyre with Klaus Kinski the same year. Several films featured female, often lesbian, vampire antagonists such as Hammer Horror’s The Vampire Lovers (1970) based on Carmilla, though the plotlines still revolved around a central evil vampire character. The pilot for the Dan Curtis 1974 television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker revolved around reporter Carl Kolchak hunting a female vampire in the greater Los Angeles area. Later films showed more diversity in plotline, with some focusing on the vampire-hunter such as Blade in the Marvel Comics‘ Blade films and the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy, released in 1992, foreshadowed a vampiric presence on television, with adaptation to a long-running hit TV series of the same name and its spin-off Angel. Still others showed the vampire as protagonist such as 1983’s The Hunger, 1994’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles and its indirect sequel of sorts Queen of the Damned. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a noteworthy 1992 remake which became the then-highest grossing vampire film ever. This increase of interest in vampiric plotlines led to the vampire being depicted in movies such as Underworld in 2003, the Russian Night Watch and a TV miniseries remake of ‘Salem’s Lot, both from 2004.
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