The vampire has held its place in superstition as long as any other creature. The vampire of today is, for the most part, quite different from the one of ancient times. In researching the vampire lore, I attempted to find out just how different they are. I wondered what people thought of them now compared to yesteryear.
I surveyed sixty-four people, ages 6 to sixty-three, of many ethnic backgrounds. I researched the lore throughout history, finding that most cultures have some form of vampire. I studied characteristics, creation, and what approaches people took when faced with the vampire.
What Exactly is a "Vampire?"
Basically, of all the vampire forms I studied, they all in some way fed on the life-force of their victims, usually the victim's blood. The reasons for this partaking varied, such as needing the blood to remain animated to blood drinking just being a really bad habit. Most of the creatures were of the night, sunlight being harmful or fatal. Most also had fangs, in order to draw out the blood. This is where the similarities end.
Of the 64 informants, only three of them answered that the only kind of vampire was the Vampire Bat of Central and South America. I was surprised to learn that the bat was named after the vampire of folklore, not the other way around! I have included their answers in statistics, as vampires bats are a kind of vampire, they do drink (or rather lap up) their victims blood! Of these three, all answered that vampires do indeed fly, and that they have an interest in vampires. The Bat variety, that is. Only two answered that the vampire (bat) does exist, or that it ever did!
Characteristics of the Vampire
The image of the vampire has changed in more recent beliefs. The vampire was almost always a person who has died, and for one reason or another, has returned from the dead...usually to haunt the people they knew in life. The vampire had fangs, if not a whole mouth of unusually sharp teeth (easier to rip you apart, my dear) and has the intelligence of...well...a dead person. Not that I've ever had a conversation with a dead person, mind you, but I can imagine that they were not the brightest of folks. Nighttime was the appointed hour of the vampire, the sunlight, or light in general, being a great aversion. They were "as pale as death." The clothes were those they wore when buried, and often became tattered rags by the time the vampire was disposed of for good. Vampires were vile, evil, sometimes thought to be a creature of the devil. They could change into a bat or wolf, which were also considered "evil" creatures. The physical appearance was of an ugly monster, whose nails had grown long, sometimes into claws. They were no longer human, as only the living could be considered human. In short, you wouldn't want to meet up with one.
Thanks to the Romance Era of literature, the vampire has become a being of great power. They can be sensual, desirable, and have power over the minds of their victims. They can also shapeshift into a bat, wolf, or even mist. Long, sharp incisors and claws are the norm. They can seduce, then kill their victims. They have high IQ's, and shed tears of blood. They are pale, yet have a ruddy complexion after they feed. They sleep during the day in a coffin, which is located in a grave or tomb. Of my informants, 22% felt that the vampire was, at least in part, human. Fifty-nine percent said a vampire could change into a bat, 53% a wolf, and 55% said vampires could become mist as well. Hypnotism, 45% believe, was an ability of the vampire. Half of my informants said the vampire had an extreme level of strength, and 41% said that they were capable of extreme speed. As far as an ability to fly, 55% thought it possible, some guessing that if the vampire could turn into a bat, it should be able to fly. Fifty-six percent said that the vampire is immortal. Only 36% believe that vampires exist today, or did at one time. Only 6% viewed the vampire of today as brainless, and 42% considered them sensual. While 17% thought them ugly, 31% thought them physically appealing. Fifty-six percent believed that vampires were fearful.
Vampires of the World
The vampire is known by many names, and lore can be found in the traditions of Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Greece, India, Germany, China, Japan, Finland, Bohemia, Africa, to name a few. Some names of vampires of the world are: Strigoi, Romanian; Alukah, Jewish; Hantu Pari (sucks the blood of the wounded) and Langsuir (women who die in childbirth return to suck the blood of children), Malays; Upir and Nocnitz (night-hags who torment children by tickling or sucking their blood), Russian; Upior, Polish; Mura, Bohemian; Lamia, Grecian; and Jilaiya, Indian.
Causes of Vampirism
In the older lore, vampires where usually people who had died unnaturally (such as falling off a wagon, murdered, etc.) and couldn't face true death yet, had been killed by a vampire, or an animal had walked over their grave. Also, witches, were-wolves, and cruel or evil people became vampires after death. It was believed that children born with cauls, teeth, or feet first were going to become vampires, as well as any child who died before baptism. In modern lore, a vampire can bite his victim one to three times, or perform a blood exchange (suck his victim dry and replace the victim's blood with his own) to make the victim a vampire. Thirty-nine percent of the informants thought that an exchange of blood was the correct way, only one person believed that an animal had to walk over the grave, and 30% believed in the three-bite method. And of course the three people who believed in the vampire-as-bat-only believe, to quote Informant "N" (a 55 year old Episcopalian teacher from the east) "People do not become bats."
Throughout the ages, is has been believed that vampires (being 'corrupted') have aversions to anything pure or anything that was natural to a live human being. Silver, crosses, seeds, sunlight, and garlic were all thought to be deterrents to a vampire. Crosses became aversions when Christianity took over. If a person had any suspicion that he were to be visited by a vampire (i.e., a relative had just died) he would sprinkle seeds around doors and windows, as the vampire would have a compulsion to pick up or count each seed. Hopefully this would take all night, so that the vampire would either have to return to his grave or be caught by the sun, in which case the intended victim would no longer have to worry. It was also believed that anything 'spirit-like' (such as vampires, witches, ghosts, and were-wolves) could not cross moving water.
With today's vampire, they still have an aversion to crosses, but some can venture into the sunlight if they have fed. Since the vampires are intelligent, they don't bother with counting seeds, but they must be invited in to any dwelling. Naturally some vampires do not believe that the cross has power, after all, why would a Jewish vampire fear a Christian symbol? And if the vampire can indeed fly, how could he help not crossing water? Still, 58% of the informants believe that a vampire is deterred by a cross, 45% by garlic, and 31% say sunlight is a big no-no for a vampire. Only 8 people believed in the water-crossing stuff.
To Spot and Kill a Vampire
Before anyone understood the process of decomposition, it was believed that any corpse that became bloated, showed blood at the mouth, grew long hair and nails, "moved" or had a ruddy complexion was a vampire. It was popular to exhume bodies to make sure the dead stayed dead. When a corpse was believed to a vampire, the exhumers would take a stake made of ash, hawthorn, or maple and pound it into the corpse. Then the head would be cut off. At this point, one had several options. The decapitated body could be burned, its ashes spread to the winds, or the corpse could be buried on the opposite side of stream. If the stake and cut measures didn't work, the moving water would stop it. At least for the people who lived on the right side of the stream...
Today, we know that a corpse will naturally bloat from the gases released by decomposition, which in turn causes the pressure against and rupture of internal organs, and low and behold, where does that blood go? Why, out the natural orifices of the body, such as the mouth, the nose, etc. So now instead of exhuming bodies, a surer way of detection is to give the Vampire Test: Is the critter pale? Does it have a reflection? Does it hate garlic? Does it avoid normal food? If yes, then you may have a vampire on your hands. It's also a good indication that its a vampire if you catch your suspect sucking the blood out of someone. The stake and decapitation method still works, although the body will turn immediately to dust when it reaches the "true death." Torching the vampire works as well, or even trapping it, unfed, in the sunlight.
I found the many differences in the lore of the vampire. The vampire has truly changed from a monster to a creature that is desirable. I have personally always had an interest in the vampire superstition, and it was really an experience to find out what the people around me thought about them. I have found that I held stereotypes about my fellow "vamp-ophiles," in thinking what type of people go for the vampire tales. Most importantly, I have found that people--all people--whether they realize it or not, hold some superstitious beliefs, some belief in the world of the Unknown.
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Natural History. "The Real Vampire: Forensic Pathology and the Lore of the Undead." By Paul Barber. October, 1990.
Senn, Harry A. Were-Wolf and Vampire in Romania. Columbia University Press, New York, 1982.
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© 1996 DanaRae Proctor.
Author: DanaRae Proctor