Vampires in History
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If you have made your way to this humble page, then like me, you are bewitched by the thought of the vampire. However, be warned, within this page I have written about the vampire depicted in history, not the romanticized villain or even the fancy dressed enthralling vampire depicted in movies or more recent writings.
The Vampire has gone from a non-decaying corpse who strangled their victims in a ghostlike form to the evil bloodsucking undead that we love, hate, and love to hate. Ancient history may not always be what you expect. This page is about the fiendish and diabolical creature that was once feared above all others -- the vampire.
The word "vampire" comes from the Slavic word obyri or obiri
which evolved into the Bulgarian word "vampir"
Although sources differ greatly, some say that the Greek word nosophoros (which means "plague-carrier") that evolved into the Old Slavonic word "nosufur-atu" is a synonym for the word "vampire". In our culture, the words "vampire" and "nosferatu" are interchanged often.
According to legend, the victims of a vampire either dies or becomes a vampire. But being bitten is not the only way vampires have been known to be created. Other ways vampires are created include: a child born under certain omens, a cat or other animal jumping over a dead body, someone who committed suicide, and practicing witchcraft are some activities thought to be the cause of vampirism.
Even inanimate objects and animals were thought to be able to become vampires: pumpkins, watermelons and other fruit that was left out past a certain amount of time, latches that were left unlatched too long, dogs, horses, sheep and snakes are among the objects with vampiric potential in older superstitions of the Slavic gypsy community.
Vampires were thought to be able to take the form of a bat, or many other animals, as well as a mist. They were able to control creatures like rats and wolves, and the elements were at their command.
Some kinds of vampires were thought to be endowed with the ability to fly.
Most all vampires of legend slept either in coffins, or returned to the earth to sleep in their grave.
Among other superstitions, vampires were supposed to need to return to the earth from their homeland each night, could not cross running water, could not see their reflection in a mirror, could not enter a place uninvited, and could not tolerate the symbol of the Christian crucifix.
In order to protect yourself from a vampire, the cross or crucifix was thought to be very powerful in the Christian countries. Little is known of how holy symbols were used as vampire protection before the Christian era, however, folk-cures were often employed.
Garlic was the most popular vampire repellent, as well as hawthorn and the mountain ash (rowan).
Another defense was scattering seeds - vampires were supposed to become so involved in counting every single seed that they would either lose interest, or be caught counting even as the sun came up.
Surprisingly, silver was not as traditional a protective metal as supposed in popular fiction - iron was the material of choice. Iron shavings were placed beneath a child's cradle, a necklace with an iron nail was worn, and other iron objects were placed strategically around the place needing protection.
Once a vampire was discovered, it could be destroyed by cremation, cutting off its head, exposing it to sunlight or by driving a stake through its heart.
Other superstitions told that a vampire could be destroyed by touching it with a crucifix, drenching it in holy water and garlic, stealing his left sock, filling it with stones and throwing it in a river, or using a "dhampir", or a vampire's child.
Dhampirs were allegedly the only people who were able to see invisible vampires, and they often took advantage of this by hiring out their services as vampire hunters.
In Literature Vampires were popularized by the Irish author Bram Stoker with his story of Count Dracula, a Transylvanian vampire, in 1897. The story was probably based on Vlad Tepes, a medieval character of exceptional bloodthirst. He supposedly impaled his enemies (hence his nickname Vlad The Impaler) and cut off their heads. He ruled Walachia as Vlad III in the 15th century, which is now part of Romania. He signed his letters with Vlad Dracula, which can be translated as Vlad, son of the dragon or son of the devil. His father was called "Dracul" because he had a dragon depicted on his coat of arms.
Before Stoker, vampire literature was rare, but existent. Perhaps the most popular pre-"Dracula" stories were "Carmilla", by J. Sheridan Le Fanu; "Varney The Vampire", by James Malcolm Rymer; and "The Vampyre; A Tale", by John Polidori.
As for the earliest writings, vampiric entities can be traced back to the Second Millennium BC in Babylon and Assyria. Here existed a hierarchy of spirits - ghosts, half-demons and demons - including vampire-like creatures that would return from their graves to torment the living. Among these were the "wind-like" utukku, an invisible or incorporeal demon; and, most significantly, the ekimmu, the soul of a departed person that was able to find no rest in death.
John Heinrich Zopfius in his Dissertation on Serbian Vampires, 1733, says:
"Vampires issue forth from their graves in the night, attack people sleeping quietly in their beds, suck out all the blood from their bodies and destroy them. They beset men, women and children alike, sparing neither age nor sex. Those who are under the fatal malignity of their influence complain of suffocation and a total deficiency of spirits, after which they soon expire. Some who, when at the point of death, have been asked if they can tell what is causing their decease, reply that such and such persons, lately dead, have risen from the tomb to torment and torture them."
Like the Babylonians and Assyrians, the ancient Egyptians possessed a haunting fear that their soul or spirit might suffer in the afterlife if the physical body was not shown due reverence. And that a wondering soul finding no rest or sustenance in the here-after was apt to return to haunt the living. Thus it was believed that true vampirism originated in the Nile Delta.
If the complex embalming rituals and offerings were not sufficiently provided for, it was feared that what is know as a kama-rupa would leave the tomb in search of its own sustenance - feces, urine, brackish water and decaying animal. It was also believed that clad in its burial clothes or wandering naked, it could attack the living, draining them of psychic energy or blood. No one was safe from this most ancient form of vampire.
More on Vampires: Vampires II
Including an 1858 poem by Lord Lytton and a List of Vampires from Around the World
or use the menu above
Sources of Information Include: Answers.com, Encyclopedia Mythica and The Vampire Watchers Handbook