Welcome to my essay section. Now, I may only be a history major, but I'm going to try to write like a sociology person and deeply analyze all these aspects of our culture. So read on and be sure to tell me what you think. Too many people quickly dismiss vampires as a product of fiction, or superstition or cultism. However, I have found they are a much more useful tool; vampires directly correlate with the society that they appear in. For instance, in plague-ravished Europe, they were seen as evil bearers of diseases. However, some 500 years later, they are considered very sexual beings. Certainly they may have the power to kill you, but they are not the demon-like rotting corpses they once were. For heaven's sakes, they are on Sesame Street, and on boxes of cereal (read Step 7 for a closer look at vampires in modern culture). What does that mean? Well, in this series of essays, I hope to address vampires from all their different aspects, past and present, and shed some light on these creatures and legitimize them as icons of the human world.
Vampires–An Urban Legend of the Middle Ages? Did people actually believe that vampires existed, or were they just a campfire ghost story? This essay explores the similiarities between vampire folklore and modern-day urban legends.
Women in the Vampire World My first essay for this web page, it examines how women are portrayed as vampires, as victims and how they look at vampires as an audience.
The Problem with Immortality Why we secretly long to to be vampires and the problems vampires face with living forever.
Visually Identifying the Vampire What makes a vampire look like a vampire? Here are 9 characteristic traits that make vampire images easily identifiable.
Vampire Princess Miyu
Picture provided by: Countess. Click picture for link.
In modern society, vampires are relegated to an icon at Halloween, or at most, a symbol of an alternate lifestyle, which is seen as anything from a fad to a cult religion. However, during the Middle Ages, vampires were seen as a very real threat to mankind. As the werewolf was a symbol of the very real fear of animal attack, so too the vampire took on– or was created to be– a symbol for another threat in the lives of the people. This threat, represented by the vampire, was of nature out of control, specifically natural cycles. The most blatant of these cycles was that of death and birth, but the vampire too played a role in weather and farming seasons. While no one could control the amount of rain or illnesses that swept through the villages, people found that they could control vampires. When rituals failed to prevent a natural disaster, the people went through more elaborate practices, often having to repeat them many times, until the disaster ceased. With something tangible, like a dead body, to both blame and manipulate, the people were able to put some semblance of control on nature.
Before further exploring the factors behind the vampire, the aspects associated with it must first be defined. To begin with, the vampire must be defined and classified.
Vampire accounts are what folklorists call legends, that is, stories told as true and set in the post-creation world.1
While it may seem like splitting hairs when it comes to referring to the vampire as a legend or myth or folktale, it is relatively important to nail down the proper term. Myth, to a folklorist or anthropologist, refers to a religious concept dealing with the creation of the world.2 In the vernacular it is misused, and is synonymous for fantasy or untruth. The vampire fits neither of these interpretations. And because "folklore" is also associated with a story that is to be taken as untrue, it may not be used. "Legend," therefore, is the only alternative left for use.
Vampires tend to be difficult to understand and define, as the European variety is sometimes confused with vampire-like creatures in other cultures. Legendary vampires– those dating before 1730– often overlap characteristics with literary vampires, and at other times completely contradict them. The modern scholar must set aside all his or her previous concepts of the vampire, especially those gathered from books or film, and begin afresh with the simplest, most universal definition of a vampire.
A vampire is a dead body which continues to live in the grave, which it leaves, however, by night, for the purpose of sucking blood of the living, whereby it is nourished and preserved in good condition, instead of becoming decomposed like other dead bodies.3
There are other characteristics of the European vampire, but these traits vary by region, country, religious and cultural background, village and even individual. This definition, though, provides the core features of the European vampire.
In this definition of a vampire, there is little difference between the European vampire and vampires in other cultures across the world.
With a persistent sense of the fitting (and a deplorable sense of taxonomy), European scholars have commonly referred to these, and to the undead in far-off cultures– for example, China, Indonesia, the Philippines– as "vampires" as well. There are such creatures everywhere in the world, is seems, in a variety of disparate cultures....4
Scholars, as is pointed out here, use the word "vampire" too freely when labeling similar phenomena across cultures. While a vampire may be any dead body which refuses to stay dead, it might be fitting to refine the definition to any dead body in Eastern Europe which refuses to stay dead. This would lead to much less confusion when vampire characteristics are discussed; generally European vampires are alike, whereas international vampires vary greatly from these and from each other.
The European vampire did not exist in all parts of Europe. It had a range roughly equal to modern Eastern Europe.
Among the East Slavs, the vampire is well known to the Ukrainians. The Russians knew it by its name in former times (from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries). The vampire tradition is well documented among the West Slavs– the Czechs, Poles and particularly the Kasubs, who live at the mouth of the Vistula River– and among the South Slavs– Macedonians, Bulgarians, Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.5
[See map for additional reference.] This provides an almost complete picture of the countries involved in the vampire myth, with the exception of Greece, Romania, Hungary and Albania, where the vampire also appeared.
As was mentioned above, the vampire possibly dates back to the eleventh century. A generally accepted date of the origin of the word "vampire" is 1047 in Russia.6 In a historical account, a Russian prince is referred to as a "lichezy upir" or "wicked vampire," according to its modern translation.7 There is, however, a problem with the assumption that "upir" meant "vampire" in that context. Little, if any, evidence points to the Slavs or others referring to living people as vampires. Furthermore, people of noble birth are almost always excluded from suspicion of being vampires.8 This insult appears to have been directed at a prince who was doing something wicked while still alive, all but disproving that "upir" is being used, in this case, to mean "vampire" as a malicious, though dead, body.
Disproving the Russian reference to the word "vampire" collapses almost all hope of dating the start of the vampire legend. Without this one reference, there is no written proof that the vampire legends began before the late seventeenth century. Of course folklorists know that the vampire legends existed long before they were written down, but it makes it hard to define when they began. To pinpoint the best frame of time to work with, it is necessary to know a little history of the Balkan region.
[Slavic people] began to move southward from Central Europe into the Danube Valley in significant numbers in the fourth century A.D. The process was a gradual drift and infiltration rather than a sudden invasion. By the sixth century the Slavs firmly occupied the Danube Basin and began to cross the Balkans.9
Taking the common theory– that the origin of the word "vampire" comes from the Slavs– as truth, then 500 A.D. is the earliest possible time for the concept of the vampire to emerge.10 This, however, is almost certainly too premature as the vampire requires a number of variables to be present, not least among them some measure of stability. There was likely little time to develop legends while the Slavic people were migrating, then later setting up states of their own.
These Slavic newcomers organized a number of powerful empires in the Balkans during the medieval period (before 800 A.D.). The first of these was the creation of the Bulgarians, a people who were not Slavs, but rather Finno-Tatars related to the Huns. Within a comparatively short time the Bulgarian minority was assimilated and became Slavic in everything but name. [The Serbs and Bulgarian Slavs] organized great, though short-lived medieval kingdoms which borrowed their culture from Byzantium. In contrast, the Slovenes and Croatians, because of their position in the western part of the peninsula, became subjects of the Holy Roman Empire and were influenced by Rome rather than Constantinople in their cultural development.11
The Slavic tribes did not find cohesion until 800-900 A.D. with the wide adoption of Orthodoxy and two centuries later they managed to form into two states.12 These states began collapsing and warring among themselves after just a few generations of self-rule. "We may conclude that the entire Balkan peninsula on the eve of the Turkish invasion was socially as well as politically ripe for conquest."13 By 1480 the Turks controlled the Balkans as far north as Serbia and Wallachia (part of modern-day Romania) and by 1683 they controlled all of present-day Romania and part of Croatia and Hungary. [See map for additional reference.]
Because of certain conditions that existed among the occupied Slavs, it is likely that the vampire concept developed during this time. Secondly, the date should be placed after the Black Plague. It was likely that after dealing with this devastating pestilence that the image of the vampire as a harbinger of the plague began. Averaging between the Plague in 1348 and the Turkish conquest of the 1400's,14 a probable guess to the start of the vampire concept was around 1400.
Though less of a guessing game than the start date of the vampire, the end date is no less arbitrary. Though the vampire himself has never disappeared, his status as a real, legendary creature has. Certainly no one in the modern world believes that their dead grandmother could get out of the grave and attack them. At what point did this change? Where should the measure of this change be recorded? In some very rural Slavic areas this legendary vampire still exists, but over the majority of Eastern Europe it has long since been laid to rest. Almost any date, therefore, is as good as another. It was around 1730 that the declining Ottoman empire lost Serbia and Wallachia to the Austrian Empire. Western Europeans were first introduced to the vampire legend when the Austrian forces returned home with stories and report of the undecomposed dead. Shortly thereafter a wave of vampire hysteria swept over all of Europe. Just as quickly it petered out and the literary vampire was born. Taken out of Eastern Europe it becomes merely a generic icon for any culture's use. And the vampire's quick acceptance and quick disappearance in Western Europe points to it merely being a fad and not an entrenched cultural icon, as it was in Eastern Europe.
With the vampire defined as a dead body, classified as a legend, limited to Eastern Europe and dated between 1400 and 1730, there only remains one more issue to address before inspecting the function of the vampire further: the unique characteristics of Eastern Europe that allowed them– or even encouraged them– to use vampires as a means of controlling nature. There are certain characteristics among the Eastern European countries that make them different from Western Europe, and some of these characteristics are what allowed Eastern Europe to develop the vampire when Western Europe did not. The most notable difference were the Ottoman Turks. Certainly this was not the only factor– after all, Poland, Russia and Czechoslovakia had vampires, though lesser in intensity than in the Balkan states– but it was a powerful one. And the Turks influenced the population through governing, and indirectly through their policy making.
In tolerating the religions of the non-Muslims [the Ottoman Empire] also accepted their usages and customs. This was implemented by permitting non-Muslim subjects to organize into communities with their own ecclesiastical leaders.15This illustrates one of the most significant factors in the occupied territories– although they were allowed to keep their own religions and religious leaders within their own communities, no one religion controlled both the church and the state, unlike Western Europe where almost every country had to answer to the Church in Rome. This, of course, greatly affected the amount of power that the church had.
Closely related to this was how the Ottomans viewed their subjects and how their subjects organized themselves.
The Ottoman authorities divided their subjects not into Greeks or Bulgarians or Romanians, but rather into the following [groupings]: Orthodox, Gregorian Armenian, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Protestant.16The land of the Ottoman occupation was diverse and many religions coexisted side-by-side without the strife that was often prevalent in Western Europe. This is relevant when it is noted that much of the vampire myth comes from gypsies, a normally marginalized group of people in society. It would seem, from the survival of their vampire myths, that there was a heavy exchange between gypsies and local people.
Another factor that contributed to the vampire myth was a de-urbanization of Slavic people. This move from the cities to the country was also a result of the Ottoman occupation.
...There was a common tendency among the Balkan Christians to move out of the urban centers in order to avoid the Turkish officials and garrisons. When a Serb, Romanian, or Bulgarian went into a town in his native land he found himself a foreigner.17As there is a rich legacy of folklore among the peoples of Appalachia, so too there is a wealth of myth among the occupied Slavs who were forced to retreat from their cities. There was also another condition that existed along with the rural factor that made a fertile ground for folklore.
The Balkan people themselves have left few records of this period (Ottoman occupation) of their history. Having lost their ruling class, which alone was educated and articulate, they were left leaderless, anonymous and silent. Even their clergymen were largely illiterate.18Coupled with a lack of supreme church control, a retreat from the centers of Muslim government and a lack of a natural ruling class in aristocrats or former noblemen, the people were left largely to themselves, and without literacy, to their own imaginations and oral traditions.
The superficiality of Turkish influence allowed the Balkan people to develop their respective cultures freely. In each case they made their most important contributions in their folk literature. This was usually anonymous, composed in the vernacular and passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. 19This ability not only to cultivate but to preserve folklore and legends allowed the vampire to be born.
Though there were resources for folk tales, it takes a few more elements to turn those fictional tales into vampires, which were believed to be real. There are two factors that probably endowed the vampire with life, rather than keeping it relegated to a mere folktale. One was the penchant for the people of the Balkans to personify everything.
Certain characteristics are common to all Balkan folk songs. Most striking is the personification of nature. Mountain peaks dispute each other; plants and animals hold allegorical conversations; and birds bring aid, give advice and deliver love messages.20There is, obviously, more to this than the simple personification of inanimate objects, though this certainly points to the ease with which the vampire was accepted by the people of the Balkans as a natural phenomenon.
The final obvious factor for the Balkan to develop vampires was the plague. Though this was prevalent throughout Europe, it remained in Eastern Europe, giving the vampire reason to stay once he was developed.
One of the most appalling results of Turkish obscurantism was the persistence of the bubonic plague in the Ottoman Empire for over a century after it had petered out in the West. Following the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century the plague continued to devastate Western Europe until the eighteenth century. Then is receded to the Eastern European lands, and until the mid-nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire suffered cruelly from the effects of this dread disease.21This continual wave of contagious disease as well as an affinity for portraying passive objects as real and alive surely formed the basis of the need and the potential for the vampire.
Certainly there was ample opportunity, basis and need for a being that could be controlled in the ways that nature could not. But in what ways did the vampire fulfill that role? How was he connected to nature and the life cycles? Once created, how was he controlled? An in depth look at these questions will, if not answer them, provide a better understanding of the rural, uneducated people of Eastern Europe and the beliefs behind the vampire.
It is hard to say, with any degree of certainty, what exactly spurred the creation of a vampire myth. As mentioned in the introduction, there were many factors at work in Eastern Europe that would certainly allow for a vampire superstition to take shape. However, it is unclear which of these lead to his actual formation. While it may be hard to point out an exact cause for vampires, it can be determined, with some measure of certainty, which factors contributed to the growth and continuation of a vampire myth.
Ancestor worship was part of the practices found in the pagan religions that predated Christianity in the Balkans. Later these pagan practices became refined down into what is generally labeled "superstition," and were practiced alongside and in concert with Christian beliefs.22 It is partly because of this coexistence of superstition and Christianity that vampires were able to come about and persist. Ancestor worship too found a niche in Christian beliefs, with the formation of such religious holidays as All Hallow's Eve and All Soul's Day, when offerings were left for the spirits of the dead, who were thought to cross over from the other realm to the world of the living.23
The people of Eastern Europe had superstitions concerning their dead before the vampire was introduced. Many of the beliefs concerning the dead and spirits were later transferred and incorporated into vampire myths. Some of these concerned the harm that the dead could inflict upon the living.
In Russia and Germany there is the belief that the open eyes of a corpse can draw someone into the grave.24
This is very similar to the situation that occurs when vampires appear; oftentimes the simple sight of the vampire can claim victims.
Another cross-over trait between spirits and vampires is their thirst for liquids, blood being the most notable. Alan Dundes suggests that aging and dying were correlated to dehydrating; the same way a ripe plum shrivels into a prune. He further hypothesizes that people, therefore, assumed that the dead would be thirsty since they are dried out.25 This belief led to the practice of pouring libations on graves to appease the dead. This belief was later applied to vampires who went looking for their offerings.
A third commonality between spirits of old and vampires was their propensity for exacting revenge, usually due to neglect. Burial customs everywhere demand that a certain amount of care and respect is shown to the dead. When the dead are not given their dues, for whatever reason, it is generally believed that the deceased's spirit will make mischief or bring harm to others to show his displeasure.
Generally it is considered dangerous for a corpse to be left unattended. ...Greek revenants [are] dead people who died alone and had no one there to take care of them. ...Among the Gypsies, "if someone dies unseen" he becomes a vampire, and among the Finns it is enough that a corpse is neglected for it to return to harm the living.26
It would seem that revenge alone is enough to animate a corpse.
Vampires were not born from ancestor worship alone. Spirits and bodies are two different things entirely. But the foundation for the vampire is clearly laid. Spirits demanded respect and liquid offerings; without these they could grow violent and cause others to die. The vampires is all of these things. Indeed, he seems to replace spirit worship, as it is the body that is given food and drink to keep it appeased. Eventually the Balkan people moved the intangible concept of the wicked spirit into the wicked body, the vampire, but what led them to this is not entirely clear.
Rampant and deadly diseases had a large impact on how medieval people viewed the world.
Lacking a proper grounding in physiology, pathology, and immunology, how are people to account for disease and death? The common course, as we shall see, is to blame death on the dead, who are apt to be observed closely for clues as to how they accomplish their mischief.27
Vampires continued the tradition of spirits by bringing death from beyond the grave. Due to his physical presence, however, the vampire was accused of bringing death in a more widespread manner.
To understand how a walking corpse may bring death to the living, it must first be seen how an unanimated corpse, through no magical powers, brought death by means of disease.
The violence of this disease was such that the sick communicated it to the healthy who came near them, just as a fire catches anything dry or oily near it. And it went even further. To speak to or go near the sick brought the infection and a common death to the living; and moreover to touch the clothes or anything else the sick person had touched or wore gave the disease to the person touching.28Modern-day science can explain the transmission of diseases by germs, or in the case of the Black Plague mentioned above, through parasites such as fleas. To medieval people who had no such explanation, it appeared that the dead themselves were the source of the illness.
Once it was established that dead bodies– as opposed to spirits of the dead– were the cause of death, the vampire became the icon for the plague.
The stench of the vampire, by the way, is one aspect of the nexus between vampirism and the plague. Now, foul smells were commonly associated with disease, also as a cause, perhaps because people reasoned that, since corpses smelled bad, bad smells must be the cause of death and disease.29
An interesting progression can be seen in the logic of medieval people: corpses, by just being, can cause others to fall ill and die. These corpses smell bad, as do people who are stricken with open sores, caused by the Black Plague. It appears then that smells cause, or at least denote plague. So when bodies are dug up that are accused of being vampiric, and they smell foul, it is logical to conclude that the dead body in question, the vampire, is likely causing the plague.
There is a tricky situation in this logic; which came first, the chicken or the egg? It is hard to judge whether the vampire was invented to explain plagues, or whether plagues were added as another trait to the already existent vampire.
...Vampirism occurs as an epidemic... as the first person who died is held responsible for the deaths that followed: post hoc, ergo propter hoc.30
In this situation, the first to die of the plague is accused of spreading it to others, but a catch to this is that the person who got it first must have gotten it from someone else. It, therefore, makes it impossible to ascertain whether plague or vampires came first.
Although ancestor worship probably forms the basis of the vampire myth, and the plague both helped it form and continued it, one element remains to be explored– those people who, in death, became vampires. Without someone to become a vampire, there would have been no vampires. And not just anyone could become a vampire; as there were rules governing how the vampire acted, so too were there rules governing who became a vampire.
One of the few hard and fast traits of the vampire is that he is from peasant stock.31 The wealthy and nobles– few though they were in this time period in the Balkans– were never accused of vampirism. Peasants both fostered the belief in the vampire and were subjected to him– some being vampire victims while others were victims to the vampire curse.
Vampire victims, other than being peasant, had no other limitations. Vampires come out of their graves in the nighttime, rush upon people sleeping in their beds and destroy them. They attack men, women and children, sparing neither age nor sex.32
People who would become vampires, however, had a number of characteristics that distinguished them from those who would be victims.33 Some would-be vampires truly were victims to the curse of vampirism, as they had no control over what made them vampires.
Frequently people become revenants through no fault of their own, as when they are conceived during a holy period, according to the Church calendar, or when they are the illegitimate offspring of illegitimate parents. Indeed, in Romania it is reported that merely being the seventh child in a family is apt to cause one to become a revenant.34
The second class of vampire is similar to the one above; in it are those who were born with abnormalities. Although they, like those conceived on church holidays, etc. are unable to change their circumstances, they are fit to be in a second category. Stigmas placed on social faux pas– as those above– are much more likely to change, whereas humankind has had a long history in marginalizing or blaming those who are physically different than those in the majority.
Even within the category for the physically different there are rules that are very specific. For instance, not included in this category are lepers, the mentally ill or the lame. Those who are singled out to become vampires have certain traits that were meaningful to those involved in vampire folklore.
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 with an extra nipple; with a lack of cartilage in the nose, or a split lower lip; or with features that are viewed as bestial, such as fur down the front or back or with a tail-like extension of the spine, especially if it is covered with fur.35
Although there is room for speculation as to what an extra nipple might mean in a vampire myth, children being born with teeth has obvious implications, as vampires are known for their sharp teeth and biting. Likewise fur or a tail would point to werewolves, a close cousin and predecessor of vampires.
The final category for those likely to become a vampire are those who commit crimes against man or religion.
...Categories of revenants: the godless (people of a different faith are included here too!), evildoers, suicides, in addition sorcerers, witches and werewolves; among the Bulgarians the group is expanded by robbers, highwaymen, arsonists, prostitutes, deceitful and treacherous barmaids and other dishonorable people.36
This is certainly the broadest– if not most abundant– category for potential vampires. People on the fringes of society and the church not only made an easy target for blame, but a logical one. Since the vampire causes so much harm, then it must follow that he comes from those people who caused harm in life.
Many factors existed in the Balkans that allowed for the possibility of the vampire. Three factors lead to the vampire's "birth:" a historic tradition of blaming death on the dead, a need to explain present disasters on something, and an inexhaustible supply potential vampires and vampire victims to perpetuate the myth. It is the combination of these factors, rather than any one thing, that created the vampire in the Balkans.
A vampire's actions and characteristics are very much like those of a living person. A vampire is "born," he feeds, procreates and "dies." Once there is a reason for vampires to be, they appear. But vampires do not simply crop up like weeds, then disappear when there is no longer a threat. The vampire myth is a highly structured set of guidelines that vampires must follow. While these rules governing a vampire's characteristics are open to interpretation, many of them can be seen as a direct correlation between vampires and a perversity of man or nature.
When the need arises, a vampire is "born." As discussed before, vampires usually appear simultaneously with a plague, drought fierce storms, famines, or livestock illness.37 Their "birth" is an ordered one. Vampires do not appear out of nowhere, but come out of their graves.
Death is a reversal of the birth act leading to a return to the pre-natal existence within the maternal womb.38The maternal womb, in this case, is the earth itself, considered the mother of all and life giver. This both allows the dead body to come back to life, to be "born" again, and ties it to nature.
The first act of a newly "born" vampire was to return to his family, and almost always proceed to attack them. "The Slavic vampire's hostility was directed almost entirely at his next of kin."39 There are many possible reasons behind this act. The vampire may have cause to see revenge against his family.
It was much feared that a member of one's house would become a vampire. In spite of this, the Greek habit of cursing the dead seems to almost invite this.40Trouble between family members and the vampire would, in all likelihood, cause the vampire to come back to attack those who had wounded him. It also must not be forgotten that a vampire's kin are his "blood" relatives; the vampire may be attracted to his family for this very reason. If the vampire's blood (life) is deficient, then he might wish to take blood (life) from those who have blood that is the same as his. The vampire is also a mockery of human life– he seems to be alive, but he isn't; he "lives" a life opposite that of a living person. By the vampire being a creature of opposites, it would seem logical that he should kill his family rather than love them. And last, the vampire followed a very logical pattern; the vampire, carrier of– and symbolic of– the plague, killed his family first simply because they had been closest to the diseased deceased. Anyone who has had a cold can witness how it is spread among family members, then travels out to friends and colleagues. As was shown before, medieval people understood that disease was communicable. It is reasonable that they should accuse the vampire of attacking its family simply because the death of whole families was witnessed and needed explaining.
Vampires commonly had three options available to them for a meal: food, blood or milk. Food was most usually procured directly from family members, usually in the form of offerings, which might include the funerary feast.
[The wife of a clergyman] had been in the habit of visiting the grave [of her late husband].... There she spent many hours. At every visit she brought provisions– chickens, pigeonpies [sic], fruit, bread, wine and various other dainties– which she left behind on the grave.41
The act of sacrificing to the dead was continued with vampires. In the case of vampires, the meal was done less out of devotion and more in the hopes that the vampire would occupy himself with food, rather than living people.42
...Millet must be scattered over the vampire's body, as the vampire delays his exit from the tomb until each grain of millet has been eaten or counted.43
Although food was sometimes left at the grave or buried with a corpse, this was not a great deterrent of vampire attacks, nor did it seem to be the vampire's meal of choice.
Perhaps the single most notorious characteristic of the vampire is his penchant for drinking blood. As was mentioned in chapter one, "...all the dead in the Indo-European and Semitic world are considered thirsty, not just vampires."44 One reason behind this is through the logical observation that the elderly and the dead wrinkle and appear to dry out like fruit. Therefore, the dead would be thirsty, as plants withered from drought are thirsty. A less apparent answer is that liquids are life. The dead's craving for liquids is not merely to regain the appearance of youth, but to give them life again.
While some dead were content with any liquid offered, vampires almost always choose blood.
Some believed that the soul lived within the blood; others, more simply, that it was source of life.45
Again, the reasoning is clear: blood is a person's life, therefore life should be (or could be) gained by taking blood. The blood of the living was so vital to survival that vampires would never attack a body already dead.
It also bears mentioning that the vampire's blood-drinking habits are not only a perversity of human morality, but also of Christianity. At Communion, the priest recites the following before giving wine– symbolic of blood– to the congregation:
The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ's Blood was shed for thee and be thankful.46
In drinking blood, the vampire took communion. But rather than drinking Christ's immortal blood, the vampire drinks the blood of the mortal. Rather enjoying his eternal life in the hereafter, he spends it on earth.
To point back to the grave as a form of "birth," one curious characteristic of the vampire should be noted– The vampire may choose to drink milk rather than blood. "Blood and milk are inextricably linked as both are donors of the life-stuff,"47 so it may be for this reason that vampires can just as easily live off milk as blood. Also, drinking milk seems logical for a vampire who was just "born." In the case of blood drinking, the vampire's sucking points to this infantile practice– it is important to note that the vampire sucks rather than laps up blood.
Second only to his appetite for blood is the vampire's desire for sex. Sometimes feeding and sex appear linked, as the vampire causes his partner to waste away while he presumably grows stronger.
The vampire of folklore is a sexual creature, and his sexuality is obsessive– indeed, in Yugoslavia, when he is not sucking blood, he is apt to wear out his widow with his intentions, so that she too pines away, much like his other victims.48In this one case alone there is both the vampire's tendency to attack his family, and his ravenous hunger, here expressed through his sex drive.
Interestingly enough, however, here the vampire has a second, opposite reaction. The vampire is just as likely to return to his widow or lover to pursue relations, with her consent, that are not harmful. In fact, these trysts can go on so long that the woman can conceive and bear a child by the vampire.
...Gypsies believe that a vampire can come to his wife at night and procreate a "child...." In Kosovo-Methoija the Orthodox Gypsies call such a child, supposed to be born of a Gypsy mother and vampire father through their intercourse after the husband's death, "Vampirić."49The vampire can even appear to be a loving and doting mate, contrary to his otherwise ruthless nature.
There is also a belief that the vampire helps his wife in her housework, winds the thread while she is weaving, threads the cotton through the eye of a needle as she sews, talks with her, and eats the sweets she has prepared for him. There are some vampires who, where they come into their relatives' homes, bring with them little wax candles nearly burned out. Such a one brings washing-soap and leaves it in the cupboard where the flour is kept, knocks on the chimney and tidies up things. The vampire does no harm to its relations.50Rather than his usual style of living his life in reverse of a living man's, here the vampire seems very normal, very alive. Indeed, why would any family member expose this loving husband. It may have been believed that the vampire, in this way, could pass himself off as human to avoid detection and prolong his own "life." This undercover life could then allow him easy access to normal devilry that he likes to accomplish.
Thirty years since a stranger arrived in this village, established himself, and married a wife with whom he lived on very good terms, she making but one complaint, that her husband absented himself from the conjugal roof [sic] every night and all night.51Here the vampire passes himself off as a man, but cannot escape his vampire nature, and so he leaves his wife at night to do, presumably, harm to either livestock or man.
The only thing that might possibly account for this unusual behavior, both by the living and the dead, is ancestor worship. Spirits of the dead who were given their due reverence were often seen as benign. On such holidays as All Souls' Day, food was prepared for the dead and chairs were set out for them, and they were generally welcomed into the house.52 The vampire may have been viewed as other (unanimated) dead were, and given a proper welcome and treated like he was still part of the family.
Having created the vampire to explain what caused a disruption in nature, such as plagues and famine, and having given the vampire the means to accomplish his malicious deeds– eternal "life" through blood drinking– it now falls to people to devise a way to get rid of that thing– the vampire– which brings misery to them. Like the creation of the vampire, and his exploits, "killing" the vampire was symbolic, logical and a mix of folkloric and Christian remedies.
How people took care of the dead harkens back, once again, to ancestor worship. Few, if any, peoples have shown no respect to the dead, both before and after burial.53 It is, then, not surprising that the Slavic people too should exert a certain amount of care when handling and burying their dead. When the threat of vampires exist, it would be important to avoid them at all costs. So to begin combating the vampire, preventive measures must be taken.
There were a variety of preventive measures, all aimed at keeping a corpse from rising in its grave. Some of these were done using folk remedies, other Christian remedies and finally people used common sense. They were used alone, and in conjunction with other methods. Like vampire characteristics, the methods of choice depended on the people, region and dominant religion.
As was mentioned with ancestor worship, vampires– like their spirit predecessors before them– were fed to try and bribe them into not rising from the grave.
Food was buried with the corpse– presumably to assuage any immediate pangs of hunger and satisfy the corpse within its own grave.54Millet was a common "offering" to a would-be vampire, perhaps because of its abundance in farming villages.
The vampire delays his exit from the tomb until each grain of millet has been eaten or counted.55
Along the lines of millet were stones of other small objects.
Small stones or grains of incense must be placed in all the extremities so that the vampire would have something to nibble upon awakening– thus diverting his attention from more succulent fare.56
Although this doesn't have the connotations of being an offering, as food is, the purpose here seems to be less along the lines of honoring and more toward keeping the vampire busy. Grain and rocks are both plentiful and small, and so are easy to put in a grave in sufficient numbers. In Western Europe there was a similar practice to deter witches, in which a dead dog or cat was laid on one's doorstep. The witch had to stop and count all the hairs on the animal before sunrise, lest she be caught.57 No adequate explanation has been given for why vampires and witches had a need to count things, but the fact that this act was widespread and crossed between various superstitious entities (witches and vampires), points to this belief being a folk remedy, and most likely predating vampires. When vampires appeared , this pre-existing act was copied from the prevention practices of another entity, most likely the witch, and applied to vampires. Another witch/demon remedy that was applied to vampires was the use of garlic. The use of garlic as protection so far predates vampires that how it accomplishes its deed of repelling evil has been lost. Like many superstitions which have been held over to modern day, tradition gave garlic its power, rather than a specific belief or reason.
A simple way to avoid vampires was to bury the body in such a way that it would become disoriented and have a difficult time finding its way out of its grave or into the village. The first way this may be accomplished is by burying the body face down.58 This either confuses a rising vampire as to which direction is up, or makes it impossible to get out of the coffin. The second method is to bury a body at a crossroads.
The suicide, totally frustrated and unhallowed in death, had the reputation of being a wanderer abroad, so it was considered essential that he should be buried at the crossroads. He would then have some difficulty in deciding which path to choose and his activities would be considerably delayed.59
This method was reserved almost exclusively for suicides and strangers, who were not allowed burial in a consecrated cemetery. There was a simple logic in removing the unwanted, potentially dangerous dead out of the village and away from where others lived. It also had health benefits as well– something the Romans were aware of when they passed a law that all cemeteries must be outside the city walls to prevent contamination and disease.
Another practical solution to walking corpses was to keep them from walking simply by tying their feet and legs together with a strong rope.60 Like garlic, another folk remedy for the vampire were wild roses or thorns. Although roses themselves may have had a magical use, they were probably used because of their thorns.
Wild thorny roses must be strung around the outside of the coffin in order to impede the vampire's progress out of the tomb.61
In this case the thorny vine is used as little more than a rope. In other cases, the thorn has an even greater role to play.
[Orthodox Gypsies] also have a custom of putting thorns into a hole in the grave from which it is though the vampire emerges, so that is pricks itself when it arises, and dies.62
Thorns, however, were used for other reasons than their ability to prick and draw blood.
It is the opinion of many that an hearbe that it is Whyt thorne... is neuer struken nor touched with any euyl from heaven. [sic]63
The thorns, then, are not only practical as a painful deterrent, but also have a mystical power to deter evil. This power almost certain predates Christianity– as Pliny, in 77 A.D. refers to thorns as being auspicious at weddings64 – but it was also reinforced by Christianity. "Under a thorn Our Savior was born"65 and "unto the Virgin Mary our Savior was he born, And on his head he wore a crown of thorn..."66 are two of the superstitions that connect the thorn to Christianity. The crown of thorns, a symbol Christ's suffering for man, was particularly relevant in the power of the thorn in keeping away evil.
Last– but not least– of the vampire prevention methods were those concerned solely with Christian rituals of symbols. Crosses were put into graves to immobilize potential vampires,67 or hung indoors to prevent vampires from entering.68 Various parts of the Bible were recited to help heal and prevent further vampire attacks,69 or copies of the Gospel (or verses from the Gospels) may be carried on the person to prevent attacks.70 One should also take communion, attend Mass and pray to prevent attacks by any evil entity.71
When prevention alone was not enough to deter the vampire, more drastic measures had to be devised.
Our sources, in Europe as elsewhere, show a remarkable unanimity on this point: the dead may bring us death. To prevent this we must lay them to rest properly, propitiate them, and, when all else fails, kill them a second time.72
Like everything else about the vampire, the method of killing him was not random, but a specific set of choices.
The most widely recognized method of killing a vampire was by staking him through the heart. As the heart is organ which contains and pumps blood, it is a logical place to strike to kill a vampire that sucks away blood and life. Among the ancient Egyptians, the heart was considered the seat of the soul and organ or both emotions and intelligence. It may be that this idea of the heart containing the soul carried over or was already existent in other cultures. As vampires were often believed to be animated by a soul still in the body,73 staking the heart may have been seen as a way of releasing the trapped soul from the body. Whether the heart itself held the soul, or the blood contained in the heart did, piercing the heart with a stake opened the heart and released the blood– and the soul.
Staking the heart also had another level of complexity, in that the stake itself was an important part of the ritual. While there were various beliefs as to what the stake should be made of, a large majority of stakes were made from a thorn tree. These included blackthorn, hawthorn, or whitethorn.74 This connects back to the belief that thorns prevent evil. Staking the heart both released the soul and pinned down evil.
The other known vampire remedies included dismemberment, decapitation and/ or burning.75 Few conclusions can be drawn from these acts other than the logic that no body (or body parts) means no vampire. Decapitation and dismemberment, however, may have been connected with punishment for crimes. Some criminals were beheaded, including traitors, who were also dismembered. Doing these acts to a corpse may have been symbolic of meting out justice or revenge on that (dead) person who has turned on his own family and murdered them. Burning was also an old and widely practiced method of killing witches.
The final step in combating the vampire was by thwarting it. Through most vampire victims died after a one-day illness– not counting those women who were the vampire's lover– a few were able to survive the initial attack. Although the victim lived through this first attack, survival was by no means guaranteed. In fact, only when certain steps were taken, certain measures applied, did the victim continue to live.
It would seem that it wasn't enough to merely kill the vampire to survive the illness his attack brought on. The only way to cure the illness was to consume part of the vampire.
When slaughtered, a great deal of blood pours from this voracious vampire, which is mixed with flour and made into bread. If this bread is eaten then one is free from vampire persecution.76
In some places vampire blood is substituted for his ashes and is drunk, rather than eaten. This "ritualistic vampirism" is the vampire's actions in reverse. Where the vampire takes life by drinking the victim's blood, so here the victim takes the vampire's life by drinking his blood, thus taking back that which was lost.
The significance of how the blood is consumed must not be forgotten either. The mixing of blood and bread is very much like the sacrament. In this case the blood and "body" of the vampire give (or restore) life. In the case of ashes, rather than blood, there is simply a reverse; the ashes represent the vampire's body while the water they are mixed in is the "blood."
The modern-day trend in our culture is to worship the new and scorn the old. For many years this was applied to anthropology and history, where, while looked at with interest, older or previous cultures were looked at as primitive. The idea behind cultural evolution was that people began with simple social groups and worked up into complex social structures, including patriarchy and monotheism.77 Because society evolved lineally, there was only one thing or the other. This way of thinking about past people has led to many misconceptions, including concerning those who believed in vampires.
It is true that Christianity rested very lightly on the mass of peasantry, which was illiterate and superstitious.78
Despite the rigor of the Christian proselytizers in stamping out the Old Religion, elements have survived in our times. The vampire is one of them.79
In neither of these examples is there room for superstition and Christianity to coexist, as it does today. The former quote hints that the peasants were not fully Christian, and that this is caused by their lack education– they are, therefore, primitive. In the second quote, superstitions are part of a pagan religion that slipped through the cracks and are left in more modern cultures like outdated clothes missed when the wardrobe was updated to something new.
In dealing with vampires, many elements of Christianity can be found. It seemed to be used about equally with older customs. In tracing vampire characteristics, as may can be attributed to Christian ideas as "pagan" ones. It would seem then that the Eastern European peasantry were not just slightly converted Christians, but true Christians who married older beliefs to new ones. A more correct view on how the two faiths coincide is as follows:
[Folklore] is strongest among the more pious adherents of the [Christian] religion. This is not at all surprising. Those who seek comfort and power in belief are often strengthened by the act of belief itself. The exact substance of the belief is not always significant.80
Here superstitious beliefs strengthen the belief in Christianity, not weaken it. Vampires are not a threat to Christianity; they give it a practical application. Priests did not fight against the belief in vampires, they fought against the vampires themselves. It must be thought that the people did not have two religions warring for their faith, but two religions joined to fight a common enemy.
If vampires were not just a traditional remnant of an archaic, pre-Christian religion, then what purpose did they serve? Paul Barber explains vampires as
...how people in pre-industrial cultures look at the processes and phenomena associated with death and the dissolution of the body. As it happens, their interpretations of such phenomena, from our perspective, are generally quite wrong. What makes them interesting, however, is that they are also usually coherent, cover all the data, and provide the rationale for some common practices that seem, at first glance, to be inexplicable.81
Vampires, then, are not "most amazing specters" located in "imaginations run riot" by peasants in "a backward country;" they were not "summoned forth by ignorance," nor were the vampire's activities an example of a "pagan holocaust." 82 Vampires existed because there was a need to explain the unexplainable. People used their knowledge of traditional methods and Christian practices, along with what they observed in the natural world to explain these events and try to control them.
It cannot truly be known what the medieval Eastern European people thought about when they integrated vampires into their lives. More than likely, the characteristics that were chosen for the vampire were as much selected by instinct as careful thought to the traditions of previous beliefs and the symbolism that can be inferred from connections with present day life and religion. Many still avoid the number thirteen when it occurs in daily activities; it is said that it is bad luck. Someone from outside Western society could point to the origin of the number's unluckiness from the Last Supper-- in which Jesus and his twelve disciples, who included Judas, made up thirteen, or from Jewish numerology, which places great importance on the number 7 and its multiples– 14, 21, etc.– and condemns anything that is less than perfect, such as 13. While these all have a basis into why thirteen is unlucky, people hardly think about them when they generalize the unluckiness of thirteen. Who is to say how much self-analysis the medieval people did on why they had vampires or why vampires did certain things, especially when there was a precedent for it. If it cannot be known what the people were thinking, then the second best thing is to learn about the background in which these things came from, and what led to those "gut feelings" or subconscious thoughts that brought the vampire myth into its full form.
The vampire, in fact, may have never been a popular belief, though evidence points to it being widespread across most of Eastern Europe. Because the vampire was strictly a rural, peasant phenomenon, believers would have been few in number. Evidence hints at the vampire being a gypsy notion– as most vampire tales are attributed to them– which would leave the vampire an exclusive product of a marginalized people. It is not until the West gets involved in the 1700's that the vampire gains its notoriety. Bodies were exhumed, records kept, stories written down. It is hard to tell if vampires were "discovered" often prior to written records, or if an obscure legend found root and flourished with the written word. Certainly the vampire's fame and popularity as a literary and film figure has grown since that time. It is only through putting away a modern notion of the vampire and studying sources that were will be an answer to where the vampire originated and how it flourished.
2) Ibid, 159.
3) Dudley Wright, The History of Vampires (New York: Dorset Press, 1993), 2.
4) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 2.
5) Felix Oinas, "East European Vampires," in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998),47-49.
6) Katherine M. Wilson, "The History of the Word ‘Vampire,'" Journal of the History of Ideas 46: 582.
7) J. Gordon Melton, The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994), xxxiii.
8) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 2.
9) L.S. Stavrianos, The Balkans Since 1453 (New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1958), 23.
10) I link the concept of the vampire with the word. Without a word for it, the concept of the vampire surely did not exist. Likewise the word did not exist without the concept.
11) L.S. Stavrianos, The Balkans Since 1453 (New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1958), 24.
12) Ibid, 27.
13) Ibid, 41.
14) Even though the map shows the Balkans conquered in 1480, the Turks were on the move well before then.
15) L.S. Stavrianos, The Balkans Since 1453 (New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1958), 80.
16) Ibid, 90.
17) Ibid, 88-89.
18) Ibid, 96.
19) Ibid, 108.
20) Ibid, 108.
21) Ibid, 134.
22) In much the same way that many people today, no matter what their faith, avoid black cats, carry a rabbit's foot, don't walk under ladders, etc.
23) Jan Perkowski, Vampires of the Slavs (Cambridge: Slavica Publishing, Inc., 1976), 23.
24) Felix Oinas, "East European Vampires," in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 53.
25) Alan Dundes, "The Vampire as Bloodthirsty Revenant: A Psychoanalytic Postmortem," in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 164.
26) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 37.
27) Ibid, 3.
28) Boccaccio, 1348. R. S. Bray, Armies of Pestilence: The Impact of Disease on History (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), 49.
29) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 8.
30) Ibid, 7.
31) Ibid, 4.
32) Dudley Wright, The History of Vampires (New York: Dorset Press, 1993), 3.
33) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 30.
34) Ibid, 30.
35) Ibid, 30-31
36) Ibid, 30.
37) Felix Oinas, "East European Vampires," in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 49.
38) Alan Dundes, "The Vampire as Bloodthirsty Revenant: A Psychoanalytic Postmortem," in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 168.
39) Anthony Masters, The Natural History of the Vampire (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 72.
40) Ibid, 72.
41) Ibid, 163.
42) Ibid, 124.
43) Ibid, 99.
44) Alan Dundes, "The Vampire as Bloodthirsty Revenant: A Psychoanalytic Postmortem," in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 170.
45) Anthony Masters, The Natural History of the Vampire (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 4.
46) Ibid, 4.
47) Ibid, 4.
48) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 9.
49) Jan Perkowski, Vampires of the Slavs (Cambridge: Slavica Publishing, Inc., 1976), 217.
50) Ibid, 218-219.
51) Anthony Masters, The Natural History of the Vampire (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 68.
52) Ibid, 62
53) This does not usually include those who are outside the particular society; little honor is usually given fallen enemies, outcasts or religious outsiders.
54) Anthony Masters, The Natural History of the Vampire (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 124.
55) Ibid, 99.
56) Ibid, 99.
57) Ibid, 125.
58) Ibid, 99.
59) Ibid, 183.
60) Ibid, 13.
61) Ibid, 99.
62) Ibid, 147.
63) Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, eds., A Dictionary of Superstitions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 400.
64) Ibid, 400.
65) Ibid, 400.
66) Ibid, 400.
67) Anthony Masters, The Natural History of the Vampire (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 90.
68) Ibid, 125.
69) Ibid, 125.
70) Ibid, 180.
71) Ibid, 180.
72) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 3.
73) Anthony Masters, The Natural History of the Vampire (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 92.
74) Ibid, 44, 190.
75) Ibid, 13.
76) Ibid, 90.
77) David Hicks and Margaret A. Gwynne, Cultural Anthropology, Second Edition (New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1996), 17.
78) L.S. Stavrianos, The Balkans Since 1453 (New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1958), 149.
79) Ibid, 9.
80) Jan Perkowski, Vampires of the Slavs (Cambridge: Slavica Publishing, Inc., 1976), 188.
81) Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 1.
82) Anthony Masters, The Natural History of the Vampire (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), 67.
Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial and Death: Folklore and Reality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.
Bray, R. S. Armies of Pestilence: The Impact of Disease on History. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996.
Cohn, Norman. Europe's Inner Demons: An Enquiry Inspired by the Great Witch Hunt. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1975.
Dundes, Alan. "The Vampire as Bloodthirsty Revenant: A Psychoanalytic Postmortem." In The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
Dundes, Alan, ed. The Vampire: A Casebook. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
Durham, Edith. "Of Magic, Witches and Vampires in the Balkans." Man 23 (December, 1923): 189-192.
Hicks, David and Margaret A. Gwynne. Cultural Anthropology, Second Edition. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1996.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.
Masters, Anthony. The Natural History of the Vampire. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1972.
Perkowski, Jan. Vampires of the Slavs. Cambridge: Slavica Publishing, Inc., 1976.
Mercatante, Anthony S. Good and Evil in Myth and Legend. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1978.
Oinas, Felix. "East European Vampires." In The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. Alan Dundes. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem, eds. A Dictionary of Superstitions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Perkowski, Jan. The Darkling: A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, 1989.
Senn, Harry. Were-wolf and Vampire in Romania. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
Stavrianos, L.S. The Balkans Since 1453. New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1958.
Summers, Montague. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. New York: University Books, 1960.
Wilson, Katherine M. "The History of the Word ‘Vampire.'" Journal of the History of Ideas 46: 577-583.
Wright, Dudley, The History of Vampires. New York: Dorset Press, 1993.
This essay is 32 printed pages (more or less).
When I was writing my thesis, my advisor asked me how widespread the belief in vampires was; who all believed in it; did they actually believe in vampires. I couldn't give him an answer because no one, it seems, has ever asked that question. Did people in the middle ages believe in vampires? While surfing the internet I came across a really good site on urban legends (see link above) and some of the red flags for identifying urban legends sounded familiar. It was then that I started thinking about vampires in terms of an urban legend. I think it is quite possible that the vampire myth was, in fact, an urban (or would that be rural?) legend. So having made that rather bold statement, let's take a look at vampire legend as just that– a legend.
An Urban Legend is usually a (good / captivating / titillating / engrossing / incredible / worrying) story that has had a wide audience, is circulated spontaneously, has been told in several forms, and which many have chosen to believe (whether actively or passively) despite the lack of actual evidence to substantiate the story.1
Vampire stories (see Step 6 for some) are captivating, etc. So much so, that the ones I have retold on my site are stories that I read as a child in a book of horror/ monster stories. Even today, these vampire stories are interesting. The only difference– and a very important one at that– is that we consider these vampire stories as mere fiction. In the middle ages, the supernatural aspects of the vampire were not so improbable. The Church (whether Catholic or Orthodox) taught that the Devil was a very real creature, that could come to Earth, and could manipulate things as he chose. Witches and demons could do any number of incredible things that ordinary people could not. Though we would rank stories of demons and witches as fiction, right along with vampire stories, in the middle ages the supernatural was natural– for certain people/ things.
Vampire legend certainly had a wide audience. What we would recognize as vampire legend was spread across all of Eastern Europe– including Russia and former Russian states– and the countries of the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and even parts of Muslim Turkey. (See my map) After 1730, the belief escaped Eastern Europe and spread like wildfire into all of Western Europe and even into America, before finally dying out by the 1760's in most places and certainly by the 1800's in all but the most remote sections of Eastern Europe. It is this last fact– that the belief jumped out of Eastern Europe and went into Western Europe– that most points towards an urban legend. 1730 is a significant date in history, believe it or not. It is at this time that the Ottoman Empire– which controls most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans– is being driven out by the Hapsburg (Austrian) Empire. The Hapsburg army represents the first large group of Westerners to enter the East in centuries– and possibly not since the split of the Roman Empire. So why is that significant, you ask? Well the traffic flow was not one way into the East. Those soldiers who went into Eastern Europe also came back out of it. And when they did come back home, they came back with tales of the living dead and plagues that killed off whole villages and attacks in the form of sex and blood drinking. So it is very significant that the explosion in vampire beliefs comes at the exact same time that people are traveling between an area that had the myth and one which did not.
Vampire myth also conforms to the urban legend in that it has several forms. In fact, vampire legends have so many different forms that they are often contradictory. One look at vampire legends (See Step 2) will show you two dozen different ways to find a vampire and a dozen more ways to kill it. Even the goal of a vampire is not certain: sometimes he kills at random with disease, at other times he personally attacks specific people, namely family members, whom he seems to have a vendetta against, and sometimes vampires come back home and actually turn out to be nice guys, playing the role of a loving and helpful husband. Now how can you possibly rationalize that? A simple myth, one that people actually believe in-- say the story of George Washington and the cherry tree-- stays the same, no matter where it goes. In Oregon, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and then confessed the deed to his father. In Vermont, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and then confessed the deed to his father. No matter where you go in the U.S., schoolchildren are going to tell you the exact same story. George didn't chop down a cherry tree and confess to it in one version and chop down a cherry tree and turn it into a soap box racer in another version. However, urban legends are known for evolving to fit the situation (the situation being the time, place, and persons participating). Compare the following vampire "fact" to George's story: In the Balkan states, the vampire roams from dusk until dawn. In Poland and Russia, the vampire roams from noon until midnight. How about the offspring of vampires: 1. Children born from a union with a vampire are born without bones– they are like jelly– and die immediately. 2. Vampires only have sons. 3. Vampires may have male and female offspring. Like with urban legends, the vampire legend can be changed to fit the situation, which is why certain aspects of vampire legend can be localized and unique to each individual village, while at the same time, as a whole, be spread across most of Europe.
An Urban Legend can be based on a true story. In these circumstances, what makes the story an Urban Legend is how it's told -- i.e., being told in the first, second or third person (or, as having happened to me, to my friend or to my friend's friend) when in fact the true event took place to someone entirely unknown to the person relating the story.<1>
Until the 1730's, all vampire myth was told from a third person point of view. Even after 1730, vampire myth was something of a second-hand account. We have documents written by people– doctors and army officers primarily– who claimed to have witnessed, first-hand, exhumations and the staking of bodies believed to be vampires. Did this really happen? It is questionable. The people who wrote these stories down might have actually witnessed this vampire hunt. Or they might have simply heard tale of such an event from someone they believed to be a reliable source and they wrote it down as if they were the ones who witnessed it; it's hard to say. People in Eastern Europe were seen as unedcuated, backwards, rural peasants, so tales of this kind would fit that stereotype. A native urban legend may have been embellished by Western outsiders to illustrate the ignorance of the people who believed in it. The only thing is that when these respectable army officers and doctors told such tales, they were taken for gospel truth, much in the same way people today blindly trust the newspaper or nightly news on t.v. What is evident is there is no first-hand accounts of a vampire attack. No one has ever written down, "I was attacked last night by a vampire." Stories tell of people living after a vampire's attack (Arnold Paole survived a long time after his vampire attack), so it would, therefor, not be impossible for a victim to step forward and relate his or her tale directly. But this never seems to happen.
Robert Pollock, author of "Good Luck, Mr Gorsky," suggested that we are prone to accepting stories that do not directly contradict our personal experiences as being true because we have an underlying need to increase our understanding of the world in which we live. Where formal methods of information have been lacking in educating us about the world, we rely on informal methods, such as the oral stories we hear from others.<1>
This is quite possibly the best explanation for why the vampire myth was so wide spread and persisted for such a long time (whereas modern urban legends come and go rather quickly, as soon as someone reports them as being false). Before the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, people's understanding of the world was limited to what they could see. Things like germs and viruses, which cannot be seen, were unknown. When a plague came through, people did not link it to an unseen bacteria, poor hygiene or contaminated food or water. They tried to rationalize what was happening based on what they could observe. This is how smell came to be linked with the plague. Bad smells were thought to cause disease (though, in actuality, they were the result of disease), so it was thought that good smells would prevent disease. Thus we get: "Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, achoo, achoo, we all fall down." A nursery rhyme we've all skipped to as children is actually a tale of the bubonic plague. A "ring around the rosy" refers to a pink rash that formed on the skin– a sure sign of plague. "A pocketful of posies" refers to the flowers that people carried around with them to try and ward off the disease-causing bad smells of the plague. "Achoo, achoo, we all fall down" then refers to the sickness (sneezing) and then death. People were intimately acquainted with the disease, though they didn't know its true cause. So vampires were linked with this devastating illness as a way to explain it. People could see dead bodies lying around easier than they could see a virus in a flea's bloodstream. (And yes, I did enjoy crushing your sweet memories of innocent childhood.)
It's interesting to note that often people will tell or distribute an Urban Legend as being true when they don't wholly believe it. This is best demonstrated by the large number of chain e-mails that promise wealth from companies such as Microsoft for being forwarded, or warnings about a new gang initiation ritual etc. We may recognize that the claim is unlikely, but we distribute it any way, just in case. We don't have enough information to entirely discredit the story, so we keep our bases covered. I call this the "What if it is true?" factor.<1>
It may have been that the great majority of people in the middle ages never actually– or at least fully– believed in vampires. Although the supernatural forces at work behind witches, demons, and vampires are all closely related, there is a fundamental difference between vampires and those elements controlled by the devil, such as witches and demons. Namely, the Devil himself controlled the actions of witches and demons, whereas vampires– while often driven by an evil nature– are independent of God and the Devil. It is easier to believe that the Devil could evoke the worst in people (and thus make them witches or something of the sort) than it is to believe that the dead just get up and do whatever they want. Where would they get the power from? Witches got their power from the Devil, who, in turn, ultimately gets his power from God, but vampires were once ordinary people (in the majority of cases, at any rate). It would seem that the vampire myth might have been a bit harder to swallow than tales of wicked men and women who did things contrary to Christianity. But since there was no scientific evidence at the time to discount the undead, the story was circulated– whether or not people wholly believed it or not.
Urban legends are simply the modern version of traditional folklore. In most cultures of the world, folklore has always existed alongside, or in place of, recorded history. In this tradition, the storyteller will usually add new twists and turns to a story related by another storyteller. Just as with modern legends, old folk tales often focus on the things a society found frightening. Many of the "fairy tales" we read today began life as believable stories, passed from person to person. Instead of warning against organ thieves and gang members, these tales relayed the dangers of the forest. In old Europe, the deep woods were a mysterious place to people, and there were indeed creatures that might attack you there.<1>
If the vampire myth is a cautionary tale, what is it warning against? Actually, there are a variety of different warnings among vampire folklore. In some accounts, eating an animal killed by a vampire can turn the eater into a vampire. Warning: don't eat animals that you didn't kill yourself. This is an important warning because eating the meat of animals that die from disease, or that have been dead a while can cause any number of illnesses. Vampirism was seen a curse, an earthly hellish torment, meant to be punishment– not so much punishment for the victims of the vampire, but punishment for the person turned into a vampire. The single biggest reason for people becoming vampires was sin. If you were a bad person in life, you would be forced to walk the earth as the undead. Warning: don't lead a wicked life. Another element that is common in vampire stories is that a poor woman gets married to a wealthy stranger who turns out either to be a vampire or turns into a vampire as soon as he dies. Warning: don't marry outside your village or close acquaintances; you never know what kind of person you might end up with. Illegitimate children were also likely to become vampires. Warning: don't have sex outside of marriage or you'll curse your children. (This was very true because, even if they didn't become vampires, illegitimate children were outcasts from society.) Vampires could also be created when a body was handled properly. Warning: do your social duty and respect the dead.
The list, of course, goes on further, as it seems that most anything could turn someone into a vampire. What it illustrates is that the vampire-- whether it was an urban legend or believed to be real– was often used not only to explain the otherwise unexplainable, but it was used to keep people in line with a certain social order. The vampire was not created by any person or group in particular to accomplish this, but somewhere along the way it got twisted into a form of propaganda that urged people to stay faithful to the Church and live good lives.
So, after comparing vampire legend from the middle ages to modern day urban legends, can it be said with certainty that the vampire story at the time was just an urban legend? No. But it cannot be refuted either. Of course, we can't refute that people actually believed there were vampires out to get them, or even that there really were vampires, so perhaps we're not any closer to getting into the heads of medieval peasants than we were to begin with. Though, if you want my opinion, I think the vampire was an urban legend. Like the story of Blood Mary (if you say her name three times while looking into a mirror, you will see her reflection in the mirror and suffer because of it), the tale of the vampire's deeds was told on long winter nights around the fire for entertainment. And though most people treated it as a story (they didn't make it a habit to go around staking dead bodies), there was something there-- a little twinge of truth-- that kept them a little afraid to completely discount the possibility of vampires, somewhere, being real (in the same way that I have had too many strange ghost encounters to take it upon myself to prove the Bloody Mary legend wrong). Having decided that, is the vampire legend any less intriguing? Certainly not-- at least it's not for me. I think this study just calls for us to give the people of rural Eastern Europe a little more credit for common sense and rationality than was previously rewarded them.
1 Urban Legends Research Centre)
There are essentially three roles of women in the vampire world. Women may be victims or vampires themselves. The third level of attachment to the vampire world (VW) is an outside attachment, and that belongs to the women who are mere observers, such as anyone who reads a vampire book and is drawn to it. Though harder to analyze, a woman's attraction to vampire movies or literature speaks something for the appeal of the vampire in this culture, which this essay series is all about.
Unfortunately, this the category that the majority of fictional women, as well as those in the ancient and medieval world-- where vampires were thought to really exist-- fall into. How to approach defining a victim when some women consent, some do not, and some consent only under persuasion, of which vampires are masters of? Well, for the purposes of this essay, I shall define a victim as anyone who serves a vampire, either through meals or companionship or actual servitude. A woman need not always be the blood donor of a vampire to find herself ensnared by him and unable to escape. A vampire's needs for a companion or servant to help him can be as taxing as being fed from nightly. From the definition of a victim, we can then break it down further to willing and unwilling. But again, due to the arts of a vampire-- which I see as being a refined hunting technique-- willing and unwilling becomes a blurred line. So we will leave it at this: a willing victim is one who has 1, the ability to leave the vampire's grasp of influence at any time and 2, the knowledge that he is a vampire, that he is using her, in whatever form as a means of sustaining himself, and despite this knowledge the woman stays anyway and gives herself freely to him. This being defined, assigning characteristics to an unwilling victim is much easier. Even a woman who is coaxed into agreeing to a vampire's demands does not usually know the full nature of the vampire, nor is she able to escape, precisely because the vampire in question is keeping her under some form of control.
Let's explore first the willing victim. This victim may have willingly gone to the vampire from the start, or may have been tricked or deluded by the vampire, but eventually was given freedom of choice and chose to stay with the vampire. The character of Anita Blake in Laurell K. Hamilton's popular "Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter"¹ series is good example of the willing victim. Anita is very clearly not coerced into being a vampire victim. In the first few books she is very hard-nosed concerning her dealings with the vampires; she is unwilling to compromise and unaffected by their hypnotic abilities due to her own inner power. But, over the course of the eight books, she slowly becomes entangled with the Master vampire of the city, becoming his lover and something of a hired thug, keeping all his underling vampires and vampire rivals in line, as well as being pretty persuasive over the wereleopards and werewolves. With such a tough customer, one has to worry if she or the vampire is the victim!
Now, while it may seem that Anita has Jean-Claude wrapped around her finger, and that she is in complete control of the situation, she is, in fact, a victim. Being a vampire hunter leaves her in a precarious situation. Certainly one can't make enemies out of the entire vampire population, given their great numbers. And allying herself to Jean-Claude has forced her deeper into his debt, more attached to him and most noticeably, he seems to end her up in increasingly desperate situations where she begins to turn into a "monster" herself. Let us look first at how she has wound up in his debt. Master vampires in Hamilton's book may take a human servant, who become nearly as hard to kill as the vampire himself. To keep the peace and help out her close friends, Anita finds herself slipping further into the dark world of the predators. It eventually comes to the point that Jean-Claude has to make her his human servant to keep her from being killed by those who are of the same element as himself.
After being made a human servant, Anita finds herself drawn in more to the vampire world. While she could renounce herself as his servant, she can not remove the marks that bind her to him. Nor is he very willing to let her appear out of his control, as it sets a bad precedent and makes him look weak to his rivals. However, he's rather lucky in that Anita is emotionally attached to him and prefers not to have a showdown with him, which everyone secretly believes she could win. But the problem of being tied to a vampire is larger than that for Anita. A Christian, she was raised to believe in the evilness of vampires. Though she herself is an animator (voodoo priestess of sorts), she tries to keep her supernatural abilities out of her life, Unfortunately previous run-ins with bad vampires led her to become a vampire executioner. And as her survival instincts slowly took over, so did her ruthlessness. And being thrust into the dark side of the non-human nature, she finds herself having to kill more and more people, and do it with less forethought and more gut reaction. And the more she kills the more detached she gets from those she is killing. Though as of yet they are all self defense killings, to a degree, she is intelligent enough to realize what she is becoming. Edward, a friend of hers, is a mercenary-- a hired gun who would kill anyone for a price. With Edward in her life to act as a mirror, she can see the darkness into which she is descending, loosing her humanity by constantly siding with the "monsters" and fighting in their battles.
As can be seen, Anita falls victim to the VW. Jean-Claude is not the only culprit, but his whole way of life is to blame for changing Anita. While she entered it willing, she seems to be stuck about getting out. Certainly she has the abilities and the potential to kill her vampire "captor" and break free without repercussions, but she does not have the will power. And that lack of initiative stems not from the vampire or any of his tricks, but her own emotions.
Having delved into how a person with either good intentions or willingness (or both) may find herself sinking into a world that is not her own, let us examine those women who are forced into the VW. Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra, from Bram Stoker's Dracula², are probably the best known-- and best recognizable victims of a vampire. I choose to show both women because, though they are both victims, they show two levels of victimization, giving a broader example of the numerous ways a woman can fall prey to a vampire.
Lucy is the first (female) victim that we see in Dracula. Lucy is merely a meal for the Count, who visits her every night, slowing draining away her strength. He has no regard for her as a person or as a potential fledgling vampire. After Lucy's death, the Count himself takes no action to prevent her from rising from the grave, but leaves her to her own demise. Lucy wanders the moors, mindless, taking children to feed on until Van Helsing and the others lay her to rest permanently. Lucy dies not only in life, but in her vampire afterlife as well. A young woman, she is cut down in her prime, and is left with no hope of surviving as a vampire. Lucy the woman and the vampire both suffer unjustly at the hands of the Count through his cold indifference and negligence.
Mina, on the other hand, is treated very differently than Lucy, who was only a meal ticket for the Count. Mina, for whatever reason, caught the Count's eye and his fancy, and she became his prize. He expressed wanting to turn her into a vampire as he was so that she could live with him forever. Through falling in love with Mina, the count threatened not only her soul, but her marriage, as well as her way of life. In the early part of the book, Jonathan's diary shows us the horrible conditions at the castle, and the life-style that the Count lives in. For all his wealth and ancient lands, the Count is feared by the people, hunted, and living in crumbling squalor, even as the modern world slowly encroaches on his ancient ways. If his mistake with Lucy is any indication, the Count would not have been able to survive the transition into the modern world. For all the easy hunting in this new industrial society, devoid of superstition and based in science, in Van Helsing and a few obscure others there are enough to pass around the legends, and eventually even science would come to be questioned should the Count's vampire offspring grow in number. This is the life he tried to drag Mina into-- certain death, even in her vampire state. Luckily for Mina, killing the head vampire, in this case Count Dracula, removes the curse from others, so that she will no longer be at risk for becoming a vampire in her death.
Looking at women as vampires makes for a very interesting study. Namely because there aren't very many. Strangely enough, most vampires are male, including a very high percentage of the lead literary characters. What does this mean for women? Well, it leaves fewer roles open for a vampiress to fill. And what roles may she find herself in? She may be a vampiress fulfilling the whims of a mortal man, or a male vampire. I.e. even as a vampiress the woman may find herself again a victim. She may be a lesbian, where she is almost always in the dominant role in the relationship, as befits her abilities and general vampiric powers. Or she may be a dominant, independent, heterosexual vampiress with male consorts of either mortal or vampiric background. But, there is one little problem; the latter does not exist as far as I have seen. I am not saying that there is no literature that portrays a vampiress in a lead role with male consorts, but the apparent lack has lead me to speculate as to why.
We must first find out what it is about a vampire that makes him or her appealing to a reader. Let's look at the more popular male vampire character first. Now certainly there is something charming or sexy about almost all male vampires. Lacking these qualities, he's at least mysterious and hypnotic. Give him any less and he would never be able to hunt effectively. Now, what does he fulfill in a female reader? Certainly women are nearly the complete audience for romance novels. And what is the overwhelming trait of the stud muffins in such books? Sex appeal. Certainly women can enjoy erotic stimulation as much as any man (who has the blatant sex in Playboy and other magazines). But, there are also a lot of men who are fascinated by the vampire. What is in it for him? A male may enjoy the sex appeal of the vampire, but in a different way. For men, the vampire tends to be a fantasy. Here is a vampire that gets all the women, is usually wealthy, dashing, sexy and most importantly, in all of those categories, he is powerful. Does that mean that women enjoy the power as well that is possessed by the vampire? Yes. Does that mean women like to be dominated by men? Certainly not. Though a vampire may be powerful, he rarely needs to force domination. Rather he acts as an outlet for female fantasies of sexual freedom. So we can safely say that both men and women appreciate the heterosexual male vampire.
Now, the other trait lacking in literary male vampires is homosexuality. I have run across a few cases of male vampires being bisexual, for the purposes of mass orgies, but other than those rare instances, male vampires are straight. Seeing as how the modern vampire represents most of society's sexual urges that they tend to keep repressed, why do we not see more homosexuality in male vampires? I think the main reason is that women have little interest in male homosexuals and that heterosexual men tend to be repelled by blantant homosexuality, though bisexual fantasies certainly get played out in the vampire world, which most men are comfortable with, although it is usually kept repressed. What of homosexual vampiresses? Well, they certainly appeal to homosexual women and bisexual women. This is true of homosexual male vampires appealing to gays and bisexuals. But, as has been pointed out, there is little market for homosexual vampires. While straight men can tolerate bisexuality, out and out homosexuality is too much for most to take. So, why are there lesbian vampiresses? Certainly straight women have as little interest in homosexual vampiresses as straight men have in homosexual vampires. What's the other factor that makes homosexual vampiresses appealing? Men. Whereas women are not drawn to lesbian vampiresses, men are. For whatever reason, many men fantasize about lesbian women. A friend of mine thought, as I do, that men have an inherent denial of women being able to be homosexuals. Men cannot fathom that a woman can be independent of a male in all things, including sex. Men secretly think that they have "the right stuff" to change a lesbian into a straight woman. So because of this fascination with lesbian vampiresses, men make up a big enough audience to support such literary work, whereas homosexual male vampires play to a much smaller audience.
What does the vampiress victim satisfy in the reader? For women, a vampiress in such a position is no different than a mortal woman, with whom the female reader can identify and long to be. What better thing than to have your sexual fantasies fulfilled every night for an eternity? For the male, a vampiress under heel-- as the three wives of Dracula were to him-- only furthers the feelings of power, and perhaps even more envy, because a tamed vampiress is certainly a bigger prize than a hypnotised mortal woman.
That leaves us to our final category, and the most difficult one to answer, perhaps. Why are there no dominant, heterosexual female vampiresses? Well, let's look at our readers once again. Can women really identify with a powerful vampiress, or long to be her? Well, we've already come to the conclusion that women like the powerful male vampire because there is something fulfilling in his animalistic tendencies. A male vampire is all about sexual appeal for a woman. So can it really be said that the same women who want to be taken in bed would find a woman who was in control appealing? Not very likely. While women can appreciate the strong, in control woman for being the ideal of feminism, and as something they'd like to be in the workplace, perhaps, the majority of women just don't want to dominate in the bedroom. Romance novels and fairy tales are built on the basis of men being the protector and the ravisher. Women are taught to rely on more inner strengths and wit. And so you will find that most of your female victims, mortal or not, have some sort of voice. Mina Harker, for instance, was a strong character, and very brave and outspoken for a woman of her time. That is the kind of victim a woman wants to identify with. If a book was solely about a womanizing vampire who had a string of inconsequential female victims, few women would find it appealing. Though a vampire may dominate in sex, he must also be willing to play out to the ideals of a prince charming.
Given that most heterosexual women would not identify with a dominant vampiress, we should look at the other categories. Lesbian women would prefer, I'm sure, to read about homosexual vampiresses, rather than straight ones. As there are books and stories about such, they do not need to turn to the heterosexual, dominant vampiress. That only leaves the men. There certainly are men who like to be dominated, so indisputably a powerful vampiress would appeal to them. But an overwhelming majority of men prefer to be the dominant partner. Just as the homosexual male vampire plays to a very small audience of readers, so does the female dominant vampire only appeal to a certain few.
A curious side question that arises from the study of the female vampire is why, though there is a lack of vampiresses, they are ingrained in our culture. For instance, a vamp is defined as 1. a seductive woman who uses her sexuality to exploit men; 2. to seduce with feminine charms, while the third definition of a vampire is a woman who seduces and exploits men.³ Where do these definitions come from if there is little written about historical vampiresses, and equally few literary vampiresses? Slightly outside of the realm of vampires are the nocturnal creatures called lamia. These creatures are always female and survive by slowly draining away a man's strength, usually by visiting him in dreams of sexual fantasies. But to get into them is to go off on a completely different tangent, so be on the lookout for additional information on those lusty vamps, the lamias.
¹ "Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter." By Laurell K. Hamilton. Copyright 1993. Ace Publishing, New York.
There's not much left to say about women as an audience to the VW; most of it was covered in the previous section. The stickier question of why women are drawn to powerful men, domination or general rough sex has to be answered on an individual basis. Personally, I am very drawn to the powerful male vampire not to be dominated so much as to find someone who is sexual, and yet is still chivalrous. Gets so a girl nowadays has to look for a guy that's over 100 years old to find any of those gallant qualities. The other thing that most vampire males do, for all their controlling, is to be much more aware of how their female partner is feeling. Though a vampire male may be the one to call the shots in the relationship, you very often see him working to make his female victim happy. Excluding the vampires who are real animalistic butchers, killing ruthlessly, you will find male vampires taking care of their victim and seeing that she is pleased, at least sexually. Because a vampire is dependent on mortal blood, an alliance can often be struck that forms a much closer bond than two mortals alone can share. With a symbiotic relationship, both vampire and victim can be drawn very close together, and the relationship can reach a depth not found in the mortal realm, where both partners know in the back of their mind that either could leave anytime they want and be self-sufficient. Perhaps in the vampire we are looking for a greater perfection in our relationships, a closeness and dependency that is lost in a modern society, full of broken homes and t.v. marriages.
This essay is seven printed pages.
This essay grew out of my watching Death Becomes Her. I began to question what I had always taken for granted– immortality is a good thing. In the movie, eternal youth is granted, so long as one stays alive. When the immortal dies, the body begins to rot, though the soul stays intact, as do the mental facilities. By the end of the movie, the two women's bodies have completely shattered from abuse and they are left as no more than talking heads, with no hope for release. In their case, death seems to be the greatest of gifts, yet because of their greed to gain youth, death is denied them.
While the women in the movie are not what anyone would really define as vampires– so their ailment is not really a vampire ailment– some vampires suffer a like fate. The most noticeable characteristic of almost all vampires is that they are caught eternally at the age of death. For some, this can mean living out many lifetimes stuck in the body of a child, or as a decrepit adult of 80. While vampires vary from book to book, most are stuck with every ailment that was their's at the time of death. In Laurell K. Hamilton's series, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter¹ many of her vampires carry various scars. One vampire, Asher, was scarred on his face and body by holy water, and was unable to heal or correct it. Jean-Claude bore scars on his back from when he was a child; they remained unchanged, even after he was transformed. While some of these things seem minor, other problems can become extremely irritating after many hundreds of years. And they can sorely hurt the image of the ever-beautiful and perfect vampire. Being a vampire is often a big role to fill.
Even if a vampire is without blemish at the time of death, they are not necessarily guaranteed to remain that way forever. Vampires are notorious for having pale features, but they can suffer as many different ailments as there are different types of vampires. They can cry or sweat blood, smell like a corpse, have changing eye colors, or any other number of noticeable signs. They are also afflicted with being unable to digest regular food, and almost all cannot tolerate the sun on some level. Going into blood lust almost always changes them into little more than a wild animal. If vampires' weaknesses are studied enough, it becomes clear that they suffer just as much as any human. But for humans there is almost always a belief in the afterlife, and perfection of the body, and a cure for all their ailments. But vampires seem to be denied this hope, as the main definition of a (historical) vampire is that it is a damned or demonic soul trapped in a body. Final death does not hold any promise for the vampire.
Putting aside a vampire's imperfections, he may live– in theory– forever. If he has nothing much to suffer with his own body, then it would look like he would do well. But he will face that forever alone. A vampire outlives all his family, lovers and friends. Even if a vampire comes from a family of vampires, has a vampire mate and vampire friends, there is always a risk. A vampire never lives forever. Vampires, like anything, can always be killed. While every human has to deal with death at some point in their life, a vampire would have to deal with death over and over again. A human has only one set of parents to loose. Few people outlive more than one spouse. For a vampire with mortals for friends and lovers, he would outlive one after another. A vampire 500 years old may have already outlived 6 mates. After a while the continual pain of death would slowly drive one crazy, and there would only be a future of more lost loves.
Emotional pain is not the only thing that a vampire may suffer. His self-healing body may become a curse to him. In the case of some violent crimes, death is a release, a blessing. But for a vampire, if he is tortured right, he can be made to suffer for thousands of years. His body can withstand constant torture much longer than his mind ever could. In an ancient Greek myth, Prometheus was bound to a rock for eternity while a raven picked at his liver. At night the raven would cease and the liver would grow back, only to be eaten again. Vampires could easily suffer this same fate. Very much like the women in the movie Death Becomes Her, he would be forever trapped in a body that would not let him escape into death.
And vampires that closet themselves away from social contact do not escape the ravages of time either. They are forced to watch the slow march of human progress as the years wear on. Vampires born in the time of the Crusades would have to adapt with the populace around them as they were carried out of the feudal world, through religious upheaval, into the Age of Exploration, past the Industrial Revolution, and straight to the modern technological society that we are today. That's a lot of change, even if it's gradual. If we just look at our own grandparents we see how resistant to change people can be.
Thinking of immortality insensibly, it is easy to see why we would enjoy the vampire. We think he was what we will never have– a way to cheat death– wouldn't it be great if we could do the same? But taking a moment to reflect on the vampire's condition, we can easily see that he has no more advantage than we do. He suffers the same heartaches, similar ailments, and a fear of the unknown beyond his own death, same as we. So, if we are not to admire the vampire for his long life, why are we still so fascinated with him? Certainly his other qualities help– sensuousness and power– but if we take away a vampire's demi-god status as an immortal being, we start to think less of his other powers. Even mortals have sex appeal, and youth is no requirement. (Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood are thought to be very sexy by young and old women alike.) And how can we respect a vampire's power if he can die just like the rest of us? That doesn't seem very awe-inspiring to me. But, on some level, we realize that the vampire is not immortal and not without bodily flaws. So what makes us continue to worship our imperfect idol?
The funny thing about humans is that we enjoy seeing reflections of ourselves. If a novel doesn't touch some part of us, so that we can identify with it, we do not like it. A great example of this is Catcher in the Rye. Readers either instantly identify with the teenager, Holden Caulfield, as someone who is very much like themselves, or they do not. And as the book hinges on the one character, it can only be a love-hate relationship. While my friends all liked the book, it didn't do a thing for me. There was nothing in it that I identified with, so I never cared for the character. But vampires, even despite their varying forms and personalities, all seem to connect with something that is within everyone of us.
Humans always long for more time, yet we waste a great deal of it in futile pursuits, anger, sadness, and other worthless endeavors. Humans long to have a vampire's immortality, yet we never see a vampire who has accomplished anything with all his years. No vampire in a book has ever cured world hunger, seen every site there is to see or fully used all of his or her potential. Vampires, like humans, are flawed in that respect. It's what keeps them recognizable to us. Humans often wonder what they would do if they had all the time in the world, and vampires are that answer; we'd keep on doing what we're doing now, no different.
Scientists predict that in the next twenty years, they will have figured out how to keep us alive and young for 150-200 years. What will this longer life span mean for vampires? Will they become obsolete as we enjoy our own extended long lives? They are slowly being undermined as sexual creatures as more an more people live out their fantasies in a less strict society. Will we ever see a day when humans don't need a vampire? I think that day will never come. Vampires have evolved as successfully as humans have. After the fall of the Roman Empire the domination of Islam and Christianity over the previously pagan world should have marked the end of the blood gods. But superstitions– most of them originating from pagan beliefs– and a Church's crafty use of demons and vampires as conversion tools evolved the vampire into the walking corpse, a step closer to humanity. With the loss of control by the Church, education increasing and the Industrial and Scientific Revolution, the vampire again faced extinction. But with the sexual repression of the Victorian Era in full swing, the vampire fell into its new role easily. Now, with a new step in human evolution approaching, the vampire will have to again adapt. What's left to be? Well, like fashion, the past repeats itself. The vampire will most likely fall back into the role of a god again. We can already see this happening in our disillusioned society. People, unhappy with their choices of religion, which can't seem to keep up with science and society, are making their own religion, which often involves old-style pagan rituals and sharing blood as a way to bond members together. Vampires will survive, because, after all, they are immortal.
¹ "Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter." By Laurell K. Hamilton. Copyright 1993. Ace Publishing, New York.
This essay is three printed pages.
This essay is three printed pages.
Vampires almost always have a widow’s peak (that’s where the hairline forms a point on the forehead). Not all film vampires have this trait—though all portrayals of Count Dracula certainly do—but I have yet to see a vampire image that is missing this trait. I do not know where this characteristic has come from, but I have a suspicion that at the time of its connection to vampires, this trait had sinister overtones. In the 1700 and 1800’s it was a common practice to identify certain behaviors with certain looks. Thus criminals looked one way and intelligent people looked another way, and etc. This was use even in the 1940’s as part of Nazi doctrine. The sharp widow’s peak may have been seen as accentuating a low or sloping forehead, usually identified as a “criminal look.”
Additionally a vampire’s hair is always black in images, and it is usually black or dark in films. Though film vampires have gotten away from the slicked-back look of Bela Lugosi, vampire images still retain that hair style. Centuries without a new look? And I thought I was stuck in a rut.
In vampire images these are usually pointed. Count Chocula © and the Count © from Sesame Street are two widely-known examples of this elven-ear trait. Pointed ears, however, are almost non-existent in film vampires, with the exception of Nosferatu. With him the ears are not simply pointed, but elongated and sort of ruffled, possibly to mimic the look of a bat’s wings. However, when the vampire’s shadow (yes, he had one) appears on the wall, the ears look pointed. My only conclusion for why this trait has appeared on vampires is that the pointed ear is symbolic and visually linked to the pointed fang. Because it is used as a subliminal visual cue, you will never read in a book about a vampire with pointed ears.
Most vampires have bulging, bloodshot or red-iris eyes. This emphasizes the vampire’s wild or animalistic nature. Because most vampires also have the ability to control minds or mesmerize their victims, the eyes are an important tool, and so need to be obvious. Sometimes a vampire’s unblinking stare is the only clue to the audience that the vampire is controlling or trying to control someone’s mind. The color of the eye may also indicate the vampire’s emotions—especially blood lust.
4. Skin Color
Vampires have a small range of possible skin colors, all of which are unnatural. The most common vampire skin tone is white. Almost all film vampires are painted to be ghastly pale. Another popular skin color for vampires—though only among vampire images and not vampire films—is purple or blue. These colors are not only dark—both reflecting the vampire’s nature and acting as a natural sort of camouflage—but they are reminiscent of the blue-purple color of people who have died due to a lack of oxygen (asphyxiation).
Most vampires have a high, Roman nose. This is probably the direct result of Bela Lugosi’s role as Count Dracula. The Roman nose became a characteristic of Europe’s noble families hundreds of years ago, and as such, it has carried over into the vampire image, as most vampires are portrayed as being nobility.
Fangs are the most obvious of vampire traits. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In Nosferatu Count Orlock does not have elongated canines but rodent’s teeth. The folkloric vampire had only many sharp teeth, but not fangs specifically. In early vampire movies, such as Lugosi’s Dracula there were no fangs at all. Lon Chaney, Jr. is credited with bringing the first set of fangs to the screen in the 1950’s. Though fangs are a relatively new addition to the vampire’s list of traits, they are by far and away the most recognizable and the most popular.
Anything that wears a black opera cape with a red lining is automatically identified as a vampire, no questions asked. Alas no one can wear a cape to the opera anymore, but all-in-all it is positive, conjuring up images of wealth and noble status. Again, we have Bela Lugosi to thank for this vampire trait.
8. Body Shape
The very height and weight of a vampire is an identity trait. With few exceptions, vampires are tall and slender. I suppose a blood diet is relatively low in fat. Diet combined with flying 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes increases the vampire’s chance of a long life by up to 10%. That and he eats heart-healthy Cheerios. (I crack myself up sometimes; I honestly do.)
Like it or not, most vampires are male. Film vampires can be either, though I estimate there’s only about one female vampire for every four male ones. Images of female vampires are very rare. Out of a dozen or more vampire items that I have, not one is female. I dare not even estimate the percentage of female vampire images there are; I don’t know that I’ve seen one ever.
I hope you all now know the main characteristics of vampires. Now that you will think to consciously look for them, I think you will see how accurate I am. Another good use for this information is to spot vampires when there are none. For example, when I watched the Matrix I was practically rolling on the floor with laughter, accusing it of being a vampiresque (even though, overall, I did like the movie). Between Keanu Reeve’s black, slicked back hair with a window’s peak, his existence in a coffin-shaped, goo-filled container, the ruffling, cape-like trench coat, and everyone’s pale features and lankiness, I could not help but see “vampire” written all over the place. Now what that unconsciously-made vampire look means to the interpretation of the movie, I have no idea. I’ll leave you all to think about that one on your own.
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