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Vampires, in all their different forms, have saturated modern literature and other forms of entertainment. Yet there’s whispers of them in folklore and folktales spanning centuries.
Let’s look at the origin of these terrifying creatures.
The word “vampire” did not appear in English until 1734, when it was used in an Anglo-Saxon poem titled “The Vampyre of the Fens”. One of the earliest accounts of vampires is found in an ancient Sumerian and Babylonian myth dating to 4,000 B.C. which describes ekimmu or edimmu (one who is snatched away). The ekimmu is a type of uruku or utukku (a spirit or demon) who was not buried properly and has returned as a vengeful spirit to suck the life out of the living. The first full work of fiction about a vampire in English was John Polidori’s influential “The Vampyre”, which was published incorrectly under Lord Byron’s name. Polidori (1795-1821) was Byron’s doctor and based his vampire on Byron. In vampire folklore, a vampire initially emerges as a soft blurry shape with no bones. He was “bags of blood” with red, glowing eyes and, instead of a nose, had a sharp snout that he sucked blood with. If he could survive for 40 days, he would then develop bones and a body and become much more dangerous and difficult to kill.
I’ve written at length about the Leannan Sìth in a previous post. This beautiful redhead is known to inspire artists, though she also enjoys drinking their blood from a cauldron.
Of course, I use this beautiful and deadly Faery in my own writing.
Leannan Sìth [From the page: Origin of the Fae]
This Dark Muse has beautiful red hair to go with her strikingly good looks.
There are only female Leannan Sìth.
She offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for his love and complete devotion. Lovers of the Leannan Sìth live brief, though highly inspired, lives. This union always ends in madness, despair and death.
If her advances are spurned, she’ll take action against the human with unpleasant results. (Better to devote oneself to this Faery and die young than go against her and have her cause a fate worse than death for all you know.)
She drains the sanity and life-force from the men she inspires to greatness.
She drains the blood from those she deems unworthy of her love (which is a gift and a curse of itself). She drinks their blood from a huge cauldron in which she gathers their very essence and vitality along with their blood – this is the source of her power and good looks. (This technically makes her a vampire.)
With one kiss from her, a man is her slave even beyond death (she takes possession of his heart and soul).
She only goes after young, handsome men.
I also wrote about my favourite villain: the Obayifo from African Folklore. This vampire is unique due to the fact that it’s also a witch.
Below is my version of what the Obayifo is.
Obayifo [From the page: Origin of the Fae]
First is the known kind.
They were once Witches or Warlocks who made an alliance with the Unseelie King for more power and longevity. They became Vampires who drained the life from the earth and blood from small children (under seven years old). They retained all their witchy powers and then some.
The earth dies wherever they go as they suck the very life from it.
Their mission is to completely destroy all life.
Their magic lies in a bone pendant around their necks. The pendant is made from the bone of any powerful witch or warlock they have killed.
The second kind are victims of the first kind who played vampire and tried to make more Obayifos from normal, non-magical humans. Rarely does it take. They have to bite so deeply with their fangs that they pierce all the major vessels and arteries in the throat/neck in one bite to transfer a bit of their own powers. The bite also kills and then brings the victim back to life.
The second kind of Obayifo cannot make more of their own kind – only the first kind of Obayifo can make more in this way. This second kind is more Vampire than Witch. They can drink any blood to sustain life. They can also eat food. They do not burn in the sun. A stake to the heart cannot kill them; starvation can.
Type one: Nature Faeries and Druids.
Type two: None Known (they usually die via suicide – starving themselves).
Though I prefer thinking of the Sasabonsam as Ogres, this creature from African folklore can either be an ogre or a vampire. I discussed this creature in a previous post.
There are other vampire-like creatures in folklore that I haven’t yet explored.
“Baobhan Sith, a beautiful but evil fairy in Scottish folklore, a succubus whose purpose is to seduce her victim and suck their blood until they die.”
– More can be read in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper.
THE EMPOUSAI (Empusae), LAMIAI (Lamiae) and MORMOLYKEIAI (Mormolyceae) were fearsome daimones which assumed the forms of beautiful women to lure young men to their beds to feed on their flesh and blood. Behind the illusory facade the creatures were truly demonic–the Lamia had the tail of a serpent in place of legs, while the Empousa had flaming hair and two mismatched legs, one of brass, one of an ass.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “vampire” is Slavonic in origin, “occurring in the same form in Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, and Bulgarian, with such variants as Bulgarian vapir, vepir, Ruthenian vepyr, vopyr, opyr, Russian upir, upyr, Polish upior,” although the linguist Franz von Miklosich suggests that the word is ultimately derived from the Turkish uber, or witch.1 According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edition, belief in vampires was prevalent “in Slavonic lands, as in Russia (especially White Russia and the Ukraine), Poland, and Servia, and among the Czechs of Bohemia and the other Slavonic races of Austria.” Since the 9th edition was published in the late nineteenth century, it can give us an accurate representation of what was believed about vampires during the time period when the most important literary vampires, such as Carmilla and Count Dracula, were created. It defines a vampire as “the soul of a dead man which quits the buried body by night to suck the blood of living persons,” and mentions a number of vampire rules, some of which have made it into the modern vampire canon. Suicides become vampires, as do people who have been cursed by their parents or the church. Since vampires feast off the blood of the living, when they are found in their graves, they appear to be fresh and rosy, replete with blood. The vampire can be stopped by a stake through the heart, decapitation, or burning. However, pouring a mixture of boiling water and vinegar over the grave also works.2
I’ve mentioned vampire rules because Eastern European folklore is filled with rules governing how vampires are created, how they feast on the living, and how they must be destroyed. In “The Vampire in Roumania,” Agnes Murgoci states that a vampire can be identified as follows: his or her family and livestock begin dying; a hole the size of a serpent is found near the grave, because vampires leave their graves by such holes; a white horse or gander refuses to walk over the grave; the corpse is red in the face, or has a foot retracted and forced into a corner of the coffin, or the mouth is filled with blood. Vampires can be stopped or destroyed in various ways. A stake can be driven through the heart, but in one district a needle is recommended while in another, a red-hot iron is preferred. Small stones, garlic, or millet can be put into the mouth. A nail can be put under the tongue. The coffin can be bound with canes of wild roses, or nine distaffs can be driven into the grave. Tow can be strewn on the grave and set on fire, to singe the vampire. Vampires are most active on St. Andrew’s Day and St. George’s Day, when garlic should be put on the windows and doors of the house, and all the cows should be rubbed with garlic. All lamps should be put out, all implements in the house should be turned upside down, and all of the inhabitants should turn their shirts inside out. Perhaps the most interesting suggestion is not to sleep at all on such nights, but to tell stories, for vampires cannot approach while stories are being told.
For more on the difference between folklore vampires and those from literature, go to http://www.rofmag.com/folkroots/vampires-in-folklore-and-literature/
The vampires most people are familiar with (such as Dracula) are revenants — human corpses that are said to return from the grave to harm the living; these vampires have Slavic origins only a few hundred years old. But other, older, versions of the vampire were not thought to be human at all but instead supernatural, possibly demonic, entities that did not take human form.
Matthew Beresford, author of “From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth” (Reaktion, 2008), notes, “There are clear foundations for the vampire in the ancient world, and it is impossible to prove when the myth first arose. There are suggestions that the vampire was born out of sorcery in ancient Egypt, a demon summoned into this world from some other.” There are many variations of vampires from around the world. There are Asian vampires, such as the Chinese jiangshi (pronounced chong-shee), evil spirits that attack people and drain their life energy; the blood-drinking Wrathful Deities that appear in the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” and many others.
Interest and belief in revenants surged in the Middle Ages in Europe. Though in most modern stories the classic way to become a vampire is to be bitten by one, that is a relatively new twist. In his book “Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality” (Yale, 2008), folklorist Paul Barber noted that centuries ago, “Often potential revenants can be identified at birth, usually by some abnormality, some defect, as when a child is born with teeth. Similarly suspicious are children born with an extra nipple (in Romania, for example); with a lack of cartilage in the nose, or a split lower lip (in Russia) … When a child is born with a red caul, or amniotic membrane, covering its head, this was regarded throughout much of Europe as presumptive evidence that it is destined to return from the dead.” Such minor deformities were looked upon as evil omens at the time.
For more on how to recognise and kill vampires, go to http://www.livescience.com/24374-vampires-real-history.html
The real roots of the vampire are based on a mixture of early beliefs and folklore concerning death, the dead and disease.
In many ancient societies there are dark traditions associated with the dead and with corpses, which have their reflection in vampire beliefs. The return of a phantom from beyond the grave is a common motif in most cultures, but folklore also tells of animated corpses returning in the small hours, and spreading disease to the living population. In many of these stories the dead person has committed some cardinal sin and is unrepentant on their deathbed. Some tales even mention that the corpse had fed on the blood of the local population, an echo passed right through to the modern vampire myth.
The bodies of those driven to suicide, or those who had died on the gallows were thought to be vulnerable to such nocturnal meanderings, and were often buried at crossroads to confuse their restless souls. Some burials have even been discovered pinned to the ground with stakes. Other people at risk of returning from the dead were those accused of witchcraft, those under a curse, and those who had been attacked by suspected vampires. The short period before a corpses burial was also deemed dangerous, for it was believed that if a cat jumped over the corpse, or the full moon shone upon it through a window, then it would return from the grave.
Protections against vampires were numerous, and have their echoes in other folklore. Iron was thought to repel them, just as it was thought to repel many supernatural creatures. Garlic was also thought to be useful deterrent, probably because it was thought to have medicinal properties (it was also used during plague outbreaks) and was also a repellent for other denizens of the otherworld.
The drinking of blood is an important part of vampire folklore, and is a substance that is subject to taboos and superstition throughout the world. It was believed that blood held the life force of a creature. To drink it was to absorb that life force and sometimes the attributes of the unwilling donor. This has obvious parallels with a vampire drinking the blood of the living to gain continued life.
Vampirism is the practice of drinking blood from a person or animal. In folklore and popular culture, the term 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 (or flesh) has been used as a tactic of psychological warfare intended to terrorize the enemy, and can be used to reflect various spiritual beliefs.
The hopping corpse is an equivalent of the vampire in Chinese tradition; however, it consumes the victim’s life essence (chi or qi) rather than blood.
The Ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhmet in one myth became full of bloodlust after slaughtering humans and was only sated after drinking alcohol colored as blood.
The strix, a nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood is mentioned in Roman tales. The Romanian word for vampires, strigoi, is derived from the word, as is the name of the Albanian Shtriga, but the myths about those creatures show primarily Slavic influence.
As an example of the prominence of similar legends in later times, it can be noted that 12th century English historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded accounts of revenants that arguably bear some resemblance to East European vampires.
For more on the various ways to become a vampire, to differentiate between the living and the dead, how to kill a vampire, and the similarities in vampire folklore, go to http://www.crystalinks.com/vampires.html
For more ways vampires just naturally want to kill and eat you, go to http://www.vampires.com/15-pieces-of-the-creepiest-global-vampire-folklore/
Slavic – Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian – tradition also deals with werewolves and vampires. Werewolves were people who could turn into wolves and attack people. Vampires had glowing red eyes, one could not see their reflection in a mirror, they cast no shadows. Their victims were mostly women.
– More can be read in the Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend by Mike Dixon-Kennedy.
– More can be read in The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and other Monsters by Rosemary Gulley. (The origins of vampires as discussed in this post is dealt with in more detail in the book.)
You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” No one wants to be on the receiving end of one of those. People native to our beloved Ireland are probably familiar with the legend of the Dearg-Due. One of the most tragic and frightening cases of “a woman scorned,” her legend is still whispered at grave sites. Rocks are still placed over graves in small towns and hamlets because of her. She is a vampire. Not the first, not the last, but threads of her grim tale have been sewn into the fabric of all vampire myth…perhaps even into the most legendary of all, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Dearg-Due has a terrifying, yet sad, origin story. Here’s the short of it: a young woman is promised to a man she doesn’t love in exchange for riches for her family. She dies of a broken heart. The only person who mourns her is the young man she loved, but couldn’t marry. A year after her death, she rises from the grave and sucks out the life (air, blood, whatever) from her selfish family and her brutish husband. She then goes on to lust for blood, forever.
For the full story, go to http://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Dearg-due-the-legend-of-the-Irish-vampire
In Greece, the Callicantzaro spends most of the year in the netherworld (wherever that is) and only emerges on the 12 nights between Christmas and the Epiphany, probably because it knows those are the nights we’re most likely to be too drunk on eggnog to run. Though just the sight of its black twisted face, red eyes, and fang-filled mouth are enough to sap the holiday spirit out of any party it crashes, the Callicantzaro isn’t content with merely ruining everyone’s fun, and will tear apart anyone it encounters with its long claws, before devouring them.
According to Greek lore, any child born between Christmas and the Epiphany will eventually become a Callicantzaro. Scary, huh? But fear not, parents, there is a cure: All you have to do is hold your doomed, newborn infant’s feet over a fire until its toenails are singed, thereby breaking the curse.
But what would the holidays be without a family reunion? Touchingly, the Callicantzaro remembers its family from back when it was human and is known to eagerly seek out its former siblings wherever it goes . . . only to devour them when it finds them.
When it spots a house, the Penanggalan will zero in on it and try its hand (or should we say “tentacle”) at a little breaking and entering. If successful, it will devour any newborn babies within. If the house can’t be broken into (and for those babies’ sakes we’re hoping it can’t), the Penanggalan will instead stretch out its incredibly long tongue under the house and make it slither through the cracks between the floorboards to gain access to the sleeping occupants. Once the tongue finds its way to your bedroom, it will stick itself into you, and the Penanggalan will use it as a straw to drain you to death from a distance, like a warm Long Island ice tea.
There’s a whole list of other scary vampires from around the world if you want to be scared even more. http://listverse.com/2013/10/30/10-truly-creepy-vampires-from-around-the-world/
We’re used to the idea of vampires turning into bats, wolves, fog, and even rats, but in areas of Ghana there were stories of the Adze which took the form of a firefly to stalk children. Upon capture, they would revert back to human form, where they would then have the ability to possess people.
And if you really want to explore the differences and similarities of vampires in folklore from all over the globe, you should really read this. Though it’s a rather long piece, it’s quite informative. And there’s vampires in there that I haven’t encountered in other places.
I think that’s enough about the folklore of vampires.
From sparkling vampires to the seductive gaze of vampires who look human, modern culture is saturated with this creature.
Speaking of sparkling…
Who can forget that moment in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer when Bella first saw Edward in the sun?
Of course, as Damon says in the first season of The Vampire Diaries: ‘We live in the real world where vampires burn in the sun.’
Magical rings keep them safe (if they have one) and the vampires in this series (whether the books by LJ Smith or the series inspired by it) look human enough to blend in anywhere. Until they become hungry…
Both types of vampires mentioned above are, of course, dead.
In Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, there are different types of vampires. The Moroi are magic-wielding living vampires. The Strigoi are dead and very powerful vampires. And the Damphir are half-vampire half-human protectors of the Moroi.
Then there’s my favourite twist on vampires: nano-technology.
In Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau vampire series, the vampires prefer to be called immortal. They are descended from Atlantis – where the technology was so advanced that they’ve created nanos to heal any disease. The problem, of course, is that the body is constantly under attack (sun damage, aging, etc.) so the nanos never flush out – creating the need for blood (they need it to function). So vampires were born when Atlantis fell and transfusions were no longer available. Romance, vampires and humour make this series a must-read. (Just saying.)
Yes. Vampires are very real.
Or perhaps you prefer to call them Dementors?
Anyhow, they are the people who just suck you emotionally dry. They’re the friends who always manage to ruin a special occasion, or whine so much on social media (I hear it’s especially bad on Facebook and the like) that you want to start cutting yourself. They’re there to suck out all the happiness you might feel over, well, anything. Had a great day at work? They’ll somehow ruin it by telling you how much they hate their job – and subtly blame you for it.
There are actual Vampiric creatures found in nature.
You’ve all heard of leeches, ticks, fleas, flies and bats? Not all flies and bats consume blood, but there are those that do…
All in all, I think this is an interesting topic – despite the creepiness.
I decided to make the vampires I use in my writing, different from the Leannan Sìth and Obayifo that I also enjoy writing about.
Vampires [From the page: Origin of the Fae]
Dead. Burn in the sun. Turn others by giving them their blood and killing them. Row of pointed fangs behind regular teeth – like needles more than teeth. Red-brown eyes. Turn instantly to ash in sun.
Sleep in nests they make in sand (underground).
Bloodlust. If starving, they’ll desiccate and mummify – blood will revive them. Need at least two litres of human blood a day. Cannot eat anything else. Not even animal blood. Travel in packs – easier to survive being hunted.
Mortal enemies: Werewolves and Ghouls.
For more on werewolves, see this post.
As for ghouls… they climbed out of the darkest recesses of my mind.
So let’s look at the anatomy of my vampires.
As per the folklore of the creature, they’re dead, burn in the sun and survive on blood.
Red-brown eyes are a lot scarier (at least to me) than ruby-red.
The scary teeth of the monster in Finding Nemo really left a lasting impression…
Instead of going for the seductive creature most vampires in today’s literature is, I went for full-out scary.
Having them travel in packs reminds me of group-mentality and an inability to think for themselves.
As for the no-no on animal blood: I love my dogs.
And I really don’t want to become a vengeful vampire hunter. I prefer being a writer.
“The vampires surrounded her. Karen cursed herself for venturing outside of the castle in the middle of the night. Still, she’d found what she’d been looking for. Now if only she could have the chance to use it.
Their venom-slicked teeth shone in the light of the full moon. Rows upon rows of needle-like teeth were revealed.
Karen would’ve summoned ghouls if she knew how. Unfortunately, summoning spells weren’t her strong point. She created a boundary spell, pulling all the magic she could from herself.”
– The Tree, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading this terrifying tale. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. Where did you hear about vampires for the first time? Which kind terrifies you the most? Do you have real vampires in your life?