Through countless folklore, novels, or films from around the world, vampires have been a part of our culture since the dawn of civilization. The glamorous imagery of these blood sucking human creatures romancing our youth that drive them into gothic subcultures are entirely fictional characters that were created for pure entertainment. However, there are real people from the past and present who have been portrayed or claim to be real vampires that have been documented by historians, journalist, and scientists. Before I continue any further with this blog post, It is not my intention to convince you that immortal vampires that are portrayed in pop-culture exist. The intention is to shed light on the subject of Vampirism itself by separating the facts from the myths.
Vampirism: [vam-pahyuh r-iz-uh m, -puh-riz-]
- Belief in the existence of vampires.
- The acts or practices of vampires.
- The act of preying upon or exploiting others
Vampires have been found in unearthed documents dating all the way back to the first known human civilization in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) known as the Sumerians roughly around 4000 B.C.E. There hasn’t been any documented evidence found stating that they encountered vampires, but the belief in vampires was very real in their religious texts. The Sumerians believed in two types of vampires, the immortal blood drinking vampires and psychic vampires. The psychic vampires were referred to as the ekimmu which were described as an evil dust of wind that would find a human victim and torment them until a priest or priestess arrived and banished the evil presence away. The Sumerians believed that this evil entity was created from a violent death or the body was not buried properly forcing the spirit to roam around earth looking for easy prey. The other race of vampires, the immortal blood drinking variety, that the Sumerians also feared were the Seven Demons. These creatures were known not only for drinking the blood from the veins of their victims but were also known to be afraid of the images of the gods of Sumer which were typically found in the Sumerian temples. Coincidentally, looking at the western modern day vampire folklore, you can see the similarities of modern day vampires not being able to enter a church or having the fear of a crucifix.
1,500 miles away and a few centuries later the Indus tribes of Northern India not only believed in vampires but were the first to believe in the concept of vampire gods. These vampire gods were ruthless demonic beings that were appeased by the people out of fear. Paintings and carvings were found in the Indus valley, that date back to this time period, of demonic looking creatures with green skin and fangs. As of now there hasn’t been any literature found from the same time period that describes these beliefs, however in the surrounding areas these beliefs developed and these vampiric gods were eventually given names. The Nepalese Lord of Death was the first known vampire god. This god had fangs and was depicted by holding a skull used as a cup filled with blood while standing over a pile of human skeletons. The Lord of Death was also a god believed by the Tibetans. Their version of the god was depicted as being a green demon with fangs and it lived off of the blood of humans.
A more modern vampire-like deity known as Kali was worshiped by the Thugee cult until wiped out by the British Empire in early 1800s. Kali battled a demon known as Raktavija. Every time Raktavija’s blood spilled onto the ground, more demons would appear. Kali, so the tale goes, drank Raktavija’s blood to defeat him. The Thugee cult were responsible for killing tens of thousands of people, draining their blood, and roasting the remains on spits to appease the goddess Kali. Kali is often depicted being covered in blood, having fangs, and sticking her tongue out presumably to lick up the blood sacrifices. Sometimes pictures of Kali would have her standing over human skeletons like her predecessors.
The ancient Egyptians are suspected of being the culprits of bringing the vampire creatures to this realm by summoning a demon from another realm. In Asia, they refer to vampires as Jiangshi, which are evil spirits that attack people and drain their life energy. The Tibetan Book of the Dead mentioned 58 deities that were described as wraith-like entities that roamed the land of the dead. It is believed that these spirits would posses a corpse, rise from the grave, and attack the living. An old Romanian legend claims that to find a vampire’s grave one needs a white horse and a 7-year- old boy. The boy needs to be wearing all white, placed on the horse and let the team go in midday in a graveyard. When the horse stops, the closest grave to the horse is the resting spot of a vampire.
A common theme in the undead vampire folklore, is the fear of the dead rising from the grave. Most folklore states that the best way of dispatching a vampire is to stake the vampire in the chest to pin the creature to the earth so it never comes back. According to other folklore many supernatural beings such as djinn (genies) and vampires fear iron. Some folklore state that the head needs to be chopped off of the creature. Placing garlic or a brick in the mouth of the suspected vampires to prevent them from biting was another way of dealing with vampires.
In time periods before modern knowledge of science, superstitions ran rampant in cultures and societies. Tragic events were usually blamed on some supernatural creature/entity and sometimes vampires were the chosen culprit. This belief was even brought over to the Americas when European immigrants stepped off the boats onto the land of their new home. Graves were found by children playing near a gravel mine in Griswold, Connecticut, in 1990. At first the police suspected that these graves were unknown victims of a local serial killer, Michael Ross, but later Nick Bellantoni, a Connecticut state archaeologist, confirmed that the unknown graves were colonial-era farm cemetery that was typical of the 1700s. The dead, many of them being children, were laid resting in the similar Yankee style, simple wood coffins with their arms resting by their sides or crossed over their chest except Burial Number 4. It was one of only two stone crypts in the cemetery. While archaeologists uncovered the large rock forming the roof of the crypt, they found remnants of a smashed coffin and a pile of a skeleton bones with the skull sitting on the top of the pile. After analyzing the remains of the skeleton, it was reported that the decapitation of the head, rib fractures, and the arrangement of the bones occurred 5 years after the individual was laid to rest. Other graves have been found in the United States and Europe with similar characteristics like a brick found in a skull’s mouth or a sickle wedged between the head and the spinal cord.
Vlad the Impaler ( Vlad Tepes 1431-1476) the most famous known vampire due to Bram Stoker’s Dracula set the standard image of the modern day interpretation of a vampire. Vlad earned his nickname Vlad the Impaler by striking fear and intimidation to his enemies by impaling captured enemy soldiers while alive. While enemy troops approached the scene of battle they would hear their captured comrades moaning in agony while dying a slow death. It was also claimed that Vlad was seen sitting at a table with a cup of the blood of the dying soldiers and dipping bread into the blood and eating it while smiling at his enemies approaching.
Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) also known as the Bloody Countess was born into Protestant nobility in Hungary. Her family controlled Transylvania and an uncle was the king of Poland. In 1609, after her husband’s death, the Hungarian countess developed a reputation for being cruel and violent with her servants. Young women started to disappear from nearby villages and towns. Eventually it was discovered that Elizabeth developed a craving to bathe in young women’s blood believing that it was keeping her skin looking younger. Elizabeth’s servants were accused of aiding her blood thirst hobby and three of them were executed. And go figure, the wealthy countess was sentenced to house arrest, more like sent to her room, at the Castle Cachtice where she died.
Not your typical goth teenagers romanticizing about being the sexy undead creatures of the night, yes I am talking about people who claim to be real mortal vampires. They believe that feeding off of other’s blood or other’s psychic energy keeps them healthy and strong. These are ordinary people who have ordinary jobs who prefer to be anonymous for the fear of prejudices from other human beings. This is understandable, people hating others because of the color of their skin, sexual identity/preference, or religious differences is a common social issue throughout the world. There are also other organisms that have vampire characteristics such as the vampire bat, mosquitoes, leeches, and spiders.
Now that I covered real life examples of the first two definitions of vampirism let’s look at the third definition, the act of preying upon or exploiting others. Crooked politicians, con artists, sex offenders, and TV evangelists come to my mind first when I think of vampirism.
K.(1996). Vampires: The occult truth. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
Browning, J. E. (2015). Real-Life Vampires Exist, and Researchers Are Studying Them. Retrieved June 19, 2016, from http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/03/26/real-life-vampires-exist/
Pallardy, R. (n.d.). Elizabeth Bathory. Retrieved June 19, 2016, from http://www.britannica.com/biography/Elizabeth-Bathory
The Great New England Vampire Panic. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-great-new-england-vampire-panic-36482878/?no-ist
Vampires: Fact, Fiction and Folklore. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2016, from http://www.livescience.com/24374-vampires-real-history.html