When did vampires begin? As with many legends, the exact
date of origin is unknown; but evidence of the vampire tale can be found with
the ancient Chaldeans in Mesopotamia, near the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers,
and with Assyrian writings on clay or stone tablets. The land of the Chaldeans
is also called the "Ur of the Chaldeans," which was the original home
of Abraham from the Bible.
"Lilith" was a possible vampire from the ancient Hebrew Bible and its interpretations. Although she is described in the book of Isaiah, her roots are more likely in Babylonian demonology. Lilith was a monster who roamed at night taking on the appearance of an owl. She would hunt, seeking to kill newborn children and pregnant women. Lilith was the wife of Adam before there was Adam and Eve, according to tradition; but she was demonized because she refused to obey Adam. (Or to see it from a more liberated viewpoint, she demanded equal rights with Adam). Naturally, she was considered evil for such "radical" desires and became a vampire who eventually attacked the children of Adam and Eve -- namely, all human descendants.
References to vampires can be found in many lands, and some scholars believe this indicates that the vampire story developed independently in these various lands and was not passed from one to the other. Such an independently occurring folktale is curious indeed.
References to vampires can be found among the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean such as Egypt, Greece and Rome. The ancient Greeks believed in the strigoe or lamiae, who were monsters who ate children and drank their blood. Lamia, as the mythology goes, was the lover of Zeus; but Zeus' wife, Hera, fought against her. Lamia was driven insane, and she killed her own offspring. At night, it was said, she hunted other human children to kill as well.
One tale known by both the Greeks and Romans, for example, concerns the wedding of a young man named Menippus. At the wedding a guest, who was a noted philosopher called Apollonius of Tyana, carefully observed the bride, who was said to be beautiful. Apollonius finally accused the wife of being a vampire, and according to the story (as it was later told by a scholar named Philostratus in the first century A.D.) the wife confessed to vampirism. Allegedly she was planning to marry Menippus merely to have him handy as a source of fresh blood to drink.
Vampire tales occurred in ancient China, where the monsters were called kiang shi. In ancient India and Nepal, as well, vampires may have existed -- at least in legend. Ancient paintings on the walls of caves depict blood drinking creatures; the Nepalese "Lord of Death" is depicted holding a blood-filled goblet in the form of a human skull standing in a pool of blood. Some of these wall paintings are as old as 3000 B.C., it is believed. Rakshasas are described in the ancient Indian holy writings called the Vedas. These writings (circa 1500 B.C.) depict the Rakshasas (or destroyers) as vampires. There is also a monster in ancient India's lore which hangs from a tree upside-down, not unlike a bat, and is devoid of its own blood. This creature, called Baital, is in legend a vampire.
Other ancient Asians, such as the Malayans, believed in a type of vampire called the "Penanggalen." This creature consisted of a human head with entrails that left its body and searched for the blood of others, especially of infants. The creature lived by drinking the victims' blood.
It is also said that the vampire may have lived in Mexico prior to the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors, according to the renown vampire author Montague Summers whose 1928 book The Vampire -- His Kith and Kin is a classic. He further wrote that Arabia knew of the vampire as well. Vampire-like beings appeared in the "Tales of the Arabian Nights" called algul; this was a ghoul which consumed human flesh.
Africa, with its spirit-based religions, may be seen as having legends of vampire-like beings as well. One tribe, the Caffre, held the belief that the dead could return and survive on the blood of the living.
In ancient Peru there were also vampire legends; the canchus were believed to be devil worshipers who sucked the blood of the young.
Thus from ancient times and from a bounty of exotic lands came forth the vampires. It is from these ancient fears about death and the magical, life-sustaining powers of blood that the vampires as we know them today have evolved.
the Caribbean island of Granada, there is the Loogaroo.
This is a woman, usually, who in legend is in league with the devil. Under the
deal she will get magical abilities only if she gives the devil blood every
night. The term Loogaroo possibly comes from the French mythological creature
called the Loup-garou which is a type of werewolf, but the belief is also mixed
with African Vodu or voodoo.
The Loogaroo can leave its own skin and turn into a flame which haunts the night searching for blood for the devil. After it collects enough blood, it can return to its skin, resuming human form. This creature is apparently compulsive and must stop to count grains of sand spread upon the ground. So, a defense against it, if you were bothered by such a monster, was to leave a pile of rice or sand near your front door. Hopefully, the creature would take a long time to count it all, and the sun would eventually return with the next morning. By then the Loogaroo would have to return to its skin without making an attack.
The Loogaroo is an example of how a vampire belief can result from a combination of beliefs -- here a mixture of French and African. The Loogaroo is also evidence that not all vampires have Slavic accents, although many certainly seem to. With the vampire having been found in many lands, naturally it has many names.
The term vampir was used in Russia and in other Slavic lands such as Poland and Serbia. The word vampir may possibly be derived from the Magyar (Hungarian) language, although some say that vampir is related to the Russian word peets which means "to drink."
Vrykolakas was the Greek term for vampire. The Greek vampire may have been a person who was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church prior to death.
Ekimmu was a vampire spirit of ancient Babylonia which rose from the dead when hungry, especially if foolish humans forgot to leave food sacrifices near his grave. When hungry he returned to earth for human blood.
Murony was a vampire from Wallachia which was a shapeshifter as well as a bloodsucker. It could change its form into that of a dog, a cat, an insect or another creature. In Wallachian lore, a person who died unexpectedly was highly suspect of becoming a vampire. Sudden death was assumed to be the work of a vampire. Sometimes a long spike or nail was punched into the skull of a dead body to prevent it from returning from the grave. The Murony may also be seen as a werewolf, a living human who became a dog or wolf at night and hunted other animals especially cattle.
Lithuanian vampires apparently got drunk on blood, not being content to simply have a sip or two of the bright, red liquid. In Lithuanian the word wempti meant "to drink."
The English word "vampire" (also spelled "vampyre") was first seen in the early 1700s. Its exact origin is unknown. It may have its roots in the Turkish word uber, a term meaning "witch." This word in turn underwent a metamorphosis to Slavic tones to sound like "upior" or "upyr," eventually resulting in the words "vampyre," "vampir" and then "vampire."
In Sanskrit the monster was a Baital. There were other terms for this monster, from the Spanish vampiro and Latin vampyrus, to the unquestionably German-sounding Blutsaeuger (literally, "Bloodsucker") and my favorite, the elegant French version: Le Vampire.
"Nosferatu" is another Eastern European term for vampire, or at least it is believed to be. "Nosferatu" is one of the more curious words for the vampire. The Western world became acquainted with this term first with the Irish writer Bram Stoker in his novel Dracula. Later, in 1922, the word appeared again with the first film ever made about the evil Transylvanian count, called, of course, "Nosferatu." (There were earlier silent films made about vampires, but they no longer exist for viewing purposes.)
The word "nosferatu," however, might not actually be a Slavic word. In fact, it might not be a real word at all. David J. Skal, a modern researcher of vampires, believes that the word "nosferatu" was a mistake or alteration of the Romanian word nesuferit, which comes from ancient Latin and means "not to suffer," or could imply "insufferable" or "intolerable" -- all words descriptive of a vampire's offensive personality. It is argued that Bram Stoker first discovered the word "nosferatu" while doing research for his book Dracula. He apparently read an 1885 writing called Transylvanian Superstitions by Emily de Laszowska Gerard, wherein she used the term "nosferatu" in place of "nesuferit." It is also possible that "nosferatu" could have been a slang term or variant for "nesuferit."
Whatever the case, today "nosferatu" means vampire largely because of director F.W. Murnau's 1922 German film which bears the name.
Still another interpretation of the word "nosferatu," from author Manuela Dunn-Mascetti, implies the word could be related to the Romanian term meaning "unclean one" -- necuratul. The people of Transylvania (which, by the way, is a real place in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania) have long held a belief in the so-called nosferatu (or vampire) -- a term which has demonic connotations as well.