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Vampires / Vampyres

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St. Michan's Church Crypt, Dublin, Ireland
legendary inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula


A creature of lore, legend, folktale, and myth that is believed to be an undead human (human brought back from the dead) that either feeds on the blood or life force of living humans in order to survive. There is much controversy in the folkloric record on whether vampires either drank blood or just fed off the life energy of others. Some believe that "blood" is the best representation of "life essence" and is therefore what vampires need to survive. Vampires are mentioned and recorded in numerous cultures around the world, described in history as old as man him/herself. Older parallels of similar creatures in legend, such as the Old Russian "????? (Upir')" seem to date much earlier at 1047 C.E. mentioned in a colophon in a manuscript of the Book of Psalms written by a priest who transcribed the book from Glagolitic to Cyrillic for the Novgorodian Prince Volodymyr Yaroslavovych calling him "Upir" Likhyi which translates to "Wicked or Foul Vampire". Local and associated Pagan mythology suggests there was Pagan worship from the 11-13th centuries of "upyri". There is mention of similar creatures throughout history in Greek mythology, Mesopotamian lore, Hebrew records, and Roman stories placing demons and spirits who fed on the life force of humans perhaps being the earliest vampires. Numerous world mythologies described demonic entities or Deities who drank blood of humans including Sekhmet, Lilith, and Kali. The Persians were the first to describe having blood drinking demons. Greek/Roman mythology spoke of the Empusae, the Lamia, the striges, the Gello, the strix, and the Goddess Hecate as demonic blood drinkers.

The documented case of Elizabeth Bathory who killed over 600 of her servants and bathed in their blood led to the reputation of her being a vampire. Same as with Vlad the Impaler of Count Dracula mythology of Transylvania who would impale his victims alive on upright stakes and would eat dinner while watching them suffer and slide down the poles in shrieks of torment. The Istrian (Croatia) 1672 legend of Giure Grando, a peasant who died in 1656, but was believed to have risen from the grave to drink the blood of the villagers and sexually harass his widow became a vampire-like legend. He was stopped by having a stake driven through his heart and then beheaded by the local village leader. Shortly after this legend, during the 18th century, a frenzy of vampire sighting in Eastern Europe went rampant including some notorious vampire hunting in Prussia (1721), Habsburg Monarchy (1725-1734), and the tales of Peter Logojowitz and Arnold Paole in Serbia.

Arnold Paole was a soldier who was attacked by a vampire. A few years later he became a farmer that died during harvest of his hay crop. He was buried and believed by the local villagers to be rising from the grave feeding off of them. The documented case of Plogojowitz, of a man who died at 62 only to return from the grave asking his son for food. Upon being turned down, the son was found dead the next day. Plogojowitz apparently had killed him as well as various neighbours by draining their blood. The Serbian tale of Sava Savanovic told of a man who lived in a local watermill that would kill the millers and drink their blood. This tale led to the creation of the 1973 Serbian horror film called "Leptirica".

The term itself as "vampire" however was not utilized until the early 18th century during a time when vampire hysteria was rampant. The first use of the term "Vampire" came from a 1734 travelogue titled "Travels of Three English Gentlemen" published in the 1745 Harleian Miscellany according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The English term "Vampire" may have come from the french term "Vampyre" or the German term "Vampir". These terms may have derived into the Serbian "??????/vampir". During the early 18th century tales of vampires throughout Eastern Europe became rampant. Vampires were often associated as revenants of evil beings, suicide vicims, or witches; or from malevolent spirits possessing a corpse or being bitten by a vampire. It was during this time that the hysteria caused individuals, families, and communities to dig up the graves of suspected vampires and them mutilating the corpses, staking them, or conducting rites of exorcism. In 1718, after Austria gained control of northern Serbia and Oltenia, officials recorded local practices of exhuming bodies and "killing the undead". Official recording of these practices from 1725 to 1732 led to widespread publicity of vampires. It was from this that led to many of the original vampire myths we have today that described vampires as either being in the form of a human, as a resurreced rotting corpse, or a demon-like creature roaming at night. Much of the hysteria was similar to the Witch Craze of the Inquisition. Neighbours would accuse the recently deceased for diseases, deaths, plagues, and tragedies that cursed the local village. Scholars at the time were steadfast that Vampires did not exist attributing the incidents to premature burials, rabies, or religion. However, the well-respected theologian and scholar Dom Augustine Calmet composed a 1746 treatise with reports claiming vampires did indeed exist. This was supported by Voltaire who claimed vampires were corpses who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomaches, after which they would return to the cemetery. This would lead the victim to wane, pale, and fall into consumption while the vampire would bloat, become fat, rosy, and become rejuvenated. They were disputed by Gerard van Swieten and the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria who passed laws prohibiting exhumation and desecration of bodies ending the vampire epidemics in Austria.

The "18th Century Vampire Controversy" or "Hysteria" gave birth to many fabricated myths and legends that lent stories about blood suckers evolving to the image we imagine of today when we think of "vampire". Many of these images today come from writers, authors, and film. John Polidori's 1819 novella "The Vampyre", Bram Stoker's 1897 novel "Dracula", and the film "Nosferatu" are the main culprits for much of today's image of a vampire, especially the pointed teeth, the sleeping in daylight, the drinking of blood, and sensitivity to sunlight. Stoker based much of his imagery and lore from former mythology of demons, faeries, and werewolves that he fit into the fears of late Victorian patriarchy. His book gave birth to a trend of vampire fandom that has lasted for over 100 years and still flourishing.

From Europe the vampire craze spread to parts of New England in the Americas, particularly Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut. Paranoia and hysteria went rampant in the same manner as Eastern Europe's 18th century Vampire Controversy. Documentation of cases with families accusing vampirism being the cause of the plague of consumption that devastated their communities. Families would dig up their dead to remove the hearts of suspected vampires. A very popular documented case was of the 1892 Rhode Island incident of Mercy Brown who died at age 19 of consumption, believed to be a vampire returning from the grave and feeding on her family and neighbours, was dug up by her father, had her heart cut out and burnt to ashes, only to be fed to her dying brother in attempts to save him from the rotting disease.

St. Michan's Church Crypt, Dublin, Ireland
legendary inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula

Most legend describes vampires as bloated undead beings, ruddy, purplish, or dark in color and often with a trace of red blood around the mouth area. Those believed to be vampires that are dug up often are described as having blood seeping from their mouth or nose, and its left eye sometime open. Sometimes the vampire corpse would be observed to move, lacking decomposition, healthier than expected appearances or skin tone, or having new growth of fingernails, hair, and teeth. Because of these observations of exhumed corpses rumored to be vampires exhibiting growth, skin tone improvement, movement, and blood around the mouth - a rampant practice of ensuring the death of loved ones buried was done. These practices would involve staking the heart of the corpse, burying corpses upside-down, placing of talismans or spells, scythes or sickles, and contraptions that would trigger stakes or beheading off any movement in the coffin. Breaking up of the bones, burning of bodies, and ritual placements of bones are commonplace after re-digging up the corpse. The Greek practice of the "vrykolakas" consisting of placing a small wax cross with a piece of pottery inscribed with "Jesus Christ conquers" are believed to have come from vampire hysteria. Some Chinese, Indian, and European practices involved severing the knee tendons, placing sand, poppy seeds or millet on the ground of a presumed vampire's grave would keep the vampire occupied all night as s/he'd have to count all the fallen grains suggesting vampires had arithmomania.

It is believed that various apotropaics could fend off vampire attacks such as Garlic, wild rose, hawthorn, mustard seeds, crucifixes, rosaries, mirrors, and/or holy water. Some lore states vampires cannot walk on consecrated ground (churches, temples, graveyards) nor cross running water. Some lore state that vampires do not have a reflection nor cast a shadow because they lack a soul. Some lore state that vampires cannot enter a dwelling without invitation from the homeowner, but can come and go as they please once invited. There is no folklore stating the modern urban myth that vampires are sensitive to sunlight. Vampires are believed to only be able to be killed by wooden stakes (preferably oak, ash, or thorn) to the heart (Russian/Baltic/Serbian/Silesian/Slavic mythology) or through the mouth (Russian/ Northern Germany mythology) or the stomach (northeast Serbia) as well as decapitation (German/Slavic). Mythology describing vampires as being severely bloated involve piercing the skin with sickles or sharp items to kill them. Gypsies often drove steel or iron needles ino a corpse's heart and placed bits of steel in the mouth or over the eyes during burial of a suspected vampire. Archaeological discoveries in 2006 show the use of bricks forced into the mouth of a suspected vampire was also common place as are exorcisms, dismemberment, and decapitation of corpses. Science explains the reports of exhumed bodies exhibiting plump, well fed, and ruddy changes being caused by decomposition. After death, the skin and gums lose fluids and contract, exposing roots of hair, nails, and teeth that were concealed in the jaw. This can create the "illusion" that these part have grown and that at certain stages, when nails fall off and skin peels away, he dermis and nail beds emerging underneath can be interpreted as new skin and nails. Darkening of skin is caused by decomposition and the staking of a swollen decomposing body can cause the body to bleed with escaped gases from the mouth or nose causing gasps, flatulence, and movement. There is also evidence of premature burial occuring alot during the 17th and 18th centuries due to lack of medical knowledge at that time causing sounds emenating from coffins as the person was truly buried alive. So when they were exhumed, signs of scratching in the coffin, fingernail marks, bleeding from the head, nose, or mouth that looked like they had drank blood could be rational explanations.

Today the vampire is portrayed as suave and charismatic. There are many self-proclaimed vampires in the modern era who claim to have blood lust with a need to survive off drinking human blood or energy. Many individuals within the Gothic music culture claim to be vampires. Some of these numbers exist within the Wiccan religious community. There are hundreds of vampire organizations, magazines, periodicals, and associations of vampires as well as vampire hunters. Many of these individuals consume the blood of others and mimick vampire folklore, horror films, writings from Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, and legends of Victorian England. In addition to blood vampirism, there are cases of sanguine vampirism, and psychic vampirism. Vampire Hunting in the late 1900's has become very popular. The "Vampire Murder" case in Stockholm Sweden, in 1932, as an unsolved murder, involved evidence and traits suspected to be caused by a vampire.
A major incident in 1970 took place at the Highgate Cemetery in London where amateur vampire hunters flocked in enormous numbers to find the "Highgate Vampire" and claimed to have killed a nest of vampires in the area. February 2004 in Romania, several relatives of Toma Petre feared he had become a vampire so dug up his corpse, tore out his heart, burnt it, and mixed the ashes with water to drink it. January 2005 numerous incidents and rumors of an attacker biting people in Birmingham England went rampant but no corresponding crimes could be found or verified later being labelled an urban legend. In 1985, the biochemist David Dolphin proposed a link between the rare blood disorder "porphyria" and "vampirism". "Porphyria" is treated by intravenous haem, and that the consumption of large amounts of blood can result in haem being transported across the stomach wall and into the bloodstream. He proposes that "vampires" are individuals suffering from porphyria seeking to replace haem to alleviate their symptoms. This can be accomplished by drinking human blood. He has recently been debunked as to have confused vampires of legend as being bloodsuckers (never proven). He published his works regardless, including statements that vampires had an allergic reaction or sensitivity to sunlight, which again has no bearing in folklore. Numerous serial killers and pyschopaths have used claims of being a vampire as cause for their bloodshed. Serial killers Peter Kurten and Richard Trenton Chase were both called vampires as they had drank the blood of their victims.

Scientists today believe much of the vampire hysteria was caused by plagues such as consumption or Tuberculosis and/or Rabies. Evidence of these can be found in New England cases of the supposed remains of JB the Vampire and the Johnson Children, Mercy Brown, or chronic vampirism.

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