Step 3--Vampire Creation Myths

Where do vampires come from? In my studies, I have found three possible origin myths for the vampires.

Cain and Lilith

Enter Lilith: This myth begins at the very creation of man. Lilith, according to Hebrew/ Jewish texts, was the first woman created for Adam.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it.
Genesis 1:27-28

Many have made her a model for feminism, because when Adam demanded that she always be on the bottom for... um... sleeping purposes, she grew angry. "Why must I always be on the bottom? I was made of the same stuff as you. I should be on the top equally." When Adam would not relent in his domination of her, she grew so angry that she uttered the holy name of God and vanished. God then had to make Eve for Adam, making her of his rib bone, rather than wholly dust, so that she would be attached to him and not leave as Lilith had done.

Lilith went out to the Red Sea, where she made a bargain with the angels who had been sent to fetch her back to Adam. She was allowed to stay out on her own, as a witch, mother of all demons. She was allowed to kill infants up until their naming day (I believe 7 days for girls and 8 days for boys), unless they had a charm over their sleeping place with the names of the angels on them. Then, she promised, she would not kill them. (This story is usually explained as being an explanation for SIDS-- sudden infant death syndrome.) Lilith killed human children in retaliation for the thousands of her own demon children who were killed in the wars between good and evil.

Enter Cain: Cain was the firstborn son of Adam and Eve. He was banished, with a mark, from the land of his parents because he killed his brother in a jealous rage.

10 What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crith unto me from the ground.
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
15 And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him seven fold. And the LORD set a mark on Cain, lest any finding him shall kill him."
Genesis 4:10-15

According to vampire legend, Cain wandered until he found Lilith by the Red Sea. She took him in and showed him the power of blood. (My religion teacher put it that the tree of life is represented in blood. Thus why Jewish persons staunchly drain all blood away from their meat before cooking and eating it. And thus why drinking blood/ being a vampire is such a big deal in a religious context.)

From Cain and Lilith came a host of demons and vampires in the vague myths. Cain is mentioned in the Bible as having a number of legitimate children, with an unnamed woman/ wife. Some of his children are even highly regarded, as they are listed with their inventions, such as the harp and metal working. But, past Gen. 4:26 there is no more mention of Cain's children or his line. Cain himself is referred to only twice more, in the New Testament, as "the prototype of the wicked man."

From what there is presented in the Bible, there is little to go on with the myth of Cain and Lilith. Lilith herself appears only in Jewish apocrypha texts-- she is in neither the Torah or the Bible. But what is interesting is Cain-- and it might be inferred Lilith too-- appears in the epic poem Beowulf, and with much more mention than he ever receives in the Bible.

...Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend,
Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild
Marshes, and made his home in a hell
Not hell but earth. He was spawned in that slime,
Conceived by a pair of those monsters born
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abel's death. The Almighty drove
Those demons out, and their exile was bitter,
Shut away from men; they split
Into a thousand forms of evil-- spirits
And fiends, goblins, monsters, giants,
A brood forever opposing the Lord's
Will, and again and again defeated.
(Ll. 101-114)

...Cain had killed his only
Brother, slain his father's son
With an angry sword, God drove him off,
Outlawed him to the dry and barren desert,
And branded him with a murder's mark. And he bore
A race of fiends accursed like their father...
(Ll. 1261-1266)

How intriguing is that? Where does the author's venom for Cain come from? Yes, he's a sinner, but in the Bible it seems that he goes off and does the best he can, building the city of Enoch, and having a lineage of creative descendants. In the other references to him, he is used as an example of a sinner, but without malice. But the author(s) of Beowulf seems to heap undue vileness onto Cain. There is simply no place in the Bible that speaks of Cain in such a hate-filled regard.

What's even more interesting is that Grendel's forefathers are referred to as a pair. "The Almighty drove/ Those demons out" when there is clearly no mention of God driving anyone out of Eden but Cain. The only other time we see sin in (around) Eden is when we look at the legends of Lilith. It was she who said the holy name of God and vanished out from Eden. And Lilith, in the Jewish tradition, has always been seen as the mother of demons. So for there to have been demons, Lilith must have conceived them (Cain's wife was busy having good children). I think the original author of Beowulf must have known of this Lilith legend (it certainly isn't obscure) and implied this in his writing, because the audience otherwise knows that there was no one expelled but Cain, and that, in the Bible, he stays a legitimate person, not a bearer of monsters.

To further drive home the point that the author knew what he was talking about, Beowulf was first written down and preserved by monks-- who were the only literate people in their time. The tale originated somewhere in the 600's in England, and was thought to have been written down at a later time (it was a bard's tale before that, made to be sung). As monks have a notorious reputation for adding God and His works into things as they write, we would certainly expect to find more references to Christianity than would have probably been present in the newly-Christian world that the poem was composed in. So it can only be concluded that the author knew what he was talking about and wrote down something that had meaning to his audience at the time, but which has been lost to us since. At the time of the composing of the poem, and during the later years when it was written down, the Bible of choice was the Vulgate, of Jerome's Latin Bible. I have attempted to look through the Latin text of this Bible, and have searched for Cain references, but it appears to have no more to say about Cain than does the later (and most popular) version, the King James Version (which most all of us know). The origin of the Cain = monstrous evil myth is well obscured and lost, which allows us to speculate even more as to where monsters-- in particular, vampires-- came from.

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Vlad Tepes (Dracula)

Anyone who has read Dracula or seen any version of its movies, will know about the legend that Vlad Tepes started the vampiric line. Pretty self-explanatory. If you want to know more about him, go to straight to Step 7--"Living" Vampires.

Judas Iscariot

A somewhat obscure myth, folklore holds that vampires originated with Judas Iscariot, betrayer of Christ. Because Judas had betrayed Christ to the Romans, he and his family were cursed. The Bible holds that Judas committed suicide because of his guilt; suicides in vampire folklore were very likely to come back as vampires, so this may have helped contribute to the belief that vampires originated with Judas. Also, vampires descended from Judas were usually identifiable by their red hair. This probably points to the origin of the myth among the Greeks, as they believed red hair to be a mark of vampirism. Among the dark Greek, red-hair would certainly seem strange, but among people farther north, closer to the Scandinavian countries which feature such hair, there would be little to no stigma attached to it.

Someone pointed out to me that the vampire's aversion to silver perhaps comes from this myth, as Judas betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver. When Judas tried to return the silver and could not, he cast it away as something hateful to himself. However, the use of silver as a deterrent for vampires is more widespread than the Judas myth. Though I have yet to find any good explaination of it, silver may be used because of its religious signifigance among pagan religions, which were carried over into vampire folklore.

3 Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
4 Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himsef.
(Matthew 27:3-5)

Information provided by:

The Holy Bible
King James Version
World Bible Publishers
C.R. Gibson, Iowa Falls

Translated by Burton Raffel
Mentor, pub.
New York, ©1963

The above picture was taken by myself. Corcomroe Abbey, a 12th century Cistercian abbey. Although the Abbey is abandoned, the churchyard is still in use. The Burren, County Galway, Ireland. © August 2001.

Celtic spacer bar reproduced with kind permission from: Karen Nicholas--Celtic Web Art

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Dictionary/Terms | Step 1, The History of Eastern Europe | Step 2, Pre-Vampire Entities | Step 4, How Vampires Are Made | Step 5, Vampire Folklore | Step 6, "Living" Vampires | Step 7, Medical Information | Step 8, Vampire Names | Step 9, Vampires in Modern Culture | Step 10A, Vampire Book Reviews | Step 10B, Vampire Movie Reviews | Essays | The End | Home