Everybody knows vampires, those immortal creatures that drink the blood of their victims. Hollywood is especially fond of them -- there are probably as many vampire pictures as there are gangster movies. In fact, it's mostly through this medium that they've gained their popularity.
With the new vampire flick Eternal coming out soon, interest in the genre is expected to shoot up again. Let's get prepped by exploring the mythical world of vampires from a scientific, historical and sociological standpoint.
Let's start with what most of us know of the vampire myth. People are said to become vampires after being bitten by one. They then move through death to a resuscitation of sorts; they become "living dead." The body stops exhibiting signs of age, and the vampire can sustain this state eternally providing that they regularly drink blood. Vampires are frequently depicted as being sophisticated and intelligent people.
Some special powers are believed to come with this new condition. Vampires are usually very strong, capable of sustaining many injuries before being hurt and able to fly or jump great distances. They have also been depicted as having the ability to change into an animal, such as a bat or wolf.
Physically speaking, the mythological vampire's primary characteristics are his pale skin and fangs. They are said to not project a reflection; the basis for this aspect of the myth lies in the archaic belief that mirrors reflected the soul of an individual. As creatures of evil, the vampire possesses no soul.
Though undead, it has always been held that such beasts can still be killed. Methods range from driving a wooden stake into a vampire's heart to shedding sunlight on one to pouring boiling water into its grave.
There are other ways to ruin a vampire's day. They are susceptible to religious relics, garlic, holy water, rice, salt, running water, and items made of silver.
Many believe that the vampire myth originated with a condition called porphyria. This extremely rare illness is related to the disruption of the production of red blood cells. Those who suffer from it tend to be very sensitive to sunlight, and will therefore choose a more nocturnal lifestyle.
Furthermore, porphyria sufferers often have red teeth and eyes. In the past, people have erroneously believed that one way to treat these symptoms was to drink human blood. Thus, we see many of the elements of the vampire myth coming together in this condition.
Another source could be rabies. The vampire myth was particularly widespread in Eastern Europe roughly 200 years ago. During that same period, a rabies epidemic was underway. Symptoms of rabies include loss of appetite, fatigue and fever. Sunlight becomes a burden as it can trigger violent outbursts. The infected person will often attack and bite people. Patients will exhibit an insipid complexion and increased sexual appetite, and it is not unknown for them to vomit blood.
Vampires in graves:
The notion that these creatures of the night spend their days in coffins is essential to the mythology of vampires.
In the past, Orthodox Christians would often examine bodies after they had been buried, as they believed that the soul wouldn't leave the body for 40 days. Upon opening the casket, cadavers were sometimes found to have a healthy appearance. This is because decomposition gases would bloat the otherwise malnourished body, giving it a vibrant, if pale, appearance. Blood would sometimes gather around the mouth, leading people to believe that they were looking at a vampire that had been feasting.
Furthermore, aristocrats of yesteryear stayed indoors most of the time, and therefore had excessively white skin. They also kept their fingernails fashionably long. Upon their death, the skin would shrink and make the fingernails look even longer. It's not hard to understand how a layperson could mistake such a corpse for a fabled vampire.
Vampires around the world:
The concept of vampires is not a modern one. There is evidence of the myth dating back to the 4th century. While at this time, beliefs about wooden stakes, silver and feeding on blood were already established elements of the story, vampires of this period were thought to be ghastly monsters.
It wasn't until John William Polidori's short story The Vampyre was published in 1819 that the vampire took a human form and became the debonair charmer we know today. Later still, Bram Stoker's Dracula character made this figure even more popular.
Still, there is no single prototype for the vampire, and people all over the world believe in different species of the beast. The Aztecs have the Civatateo, the Malaysians, the Penanggalan. The Yara-ma-yha-who was said to have plagued aboriginal Australia using suckers on their fingers and toes. Filipinos have the female Manananggal, while Moravian vampires are believed to attack their victims in the nude. While they might be different in appearance and behavior, all these incarnations are united by their thirst for human blood.
The most famous vampire of them all is undeniably Count Dracula. This fictional character was created by Irish writer Bram Stoker in 1897, and was based on an actual historical person. Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad III Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, was a cruel prince who lived in the Balkans in the Middle Ages.
Legend holds it that whenever Tepes was displeased with someone, he would torture them and impale their body on a stake. Their impaled corpse would be prominently displayed among other ones on his property, so as to serve as a warning for would-be transgressors. Many believe that Tepes suffered from porphyria, which would further cement the idea that he was Stoker's inspiration.
While most everyone is curious about the vampire myth, others are obsessed to the extent that they emulate vampire culture as it is recounted in the lore. Vampirists, as they are often called, adopt a fashion style that has been depicted in vampire movies -- namely a mixture of Punk, Goth, Victorian, and Glam.
While the exchange of blood is widespread in this subculture, the drinking of it isn't a unanimous practice. Most vampirists don't actually believe themselves to be undead, but are into the spiritual side of the culture, and believe they are increasing their energy levels by consuming and swapping blood.
While this subculture is a hobby and weekend lifestyle for some, others take it very seriously, and live their lives -- and take those of others -- according to it.
Self-professed vampires have committed some pretty gory deeds.
Those who do seriously view themselves as vampires often run into a supply problem: Not many people are willing to give away their blood. Thus, self-professed vampires often resort to crime to feed themselves. In 1924, German citizen Fritz Haarmann was beheaded after he killed at least 24 people by biting into their necks like a vampire.
In 1989, Tracey Wigginton made news throughout Australia when she killed a man in order to drink his blood. Believing herself to be a genuine vampire, until then she had been feeding off the veins of her lesbian lover, Lisa Ptaschinski.
More recently, the African country of Malawi was shaken when Eric Chiwaya, a senior political official, was stoned outside his residence. The attackers believed that Chiwaya, along with other members of the government, was harboring and colluding with vampires.
But perhaps the most famous such case to date was that of the 17th century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory. It is said that Bathory killed over 600 young women, most of them her servants. Her motivation in doing so was her belief that drinking and bathing in the blood of virgins helped keep her young.
Why is it searched?
Aside from the fact that they are undead, vampires are basically perfect people. They are often depicted as rich, sophisticated, cultured, and suave. They have extraordinary powers that allow them to do and get whatever they want. There is also a significant correlation between vampires and sex.
It's worth mentioning that people may also be interested in vampires because they represent the unknown. Having already crossed the threshold between life and death, vampires would seem to have all the answers, not to mention complete freedom in its purest form.
Length of the public's interest?
Although vampires have been part of the folklore of many cultures for centuries, it was Lord Byron who first introduced them to the West with his 1813 poem, The Giaour . His colleague, John William Polidori, elevated the creature to a socially graceful being six years later in the short story The Vampyre . Interestingly, the model for this story's protagonist, Lord Ruthven, was Lord Byron himself, thanks to his outrageous lifestyle. Bram Stoker's Dracula , published in 1897, continued the process of molding the vampire into the creature that we know today, and Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles novels helped bring the genre further into the mainstream. The Tom Cruise movie Interview with the Vampire (1994), based on one of Rice's books, made a fortune.
Tom Cruise wasn't the first vampire to hit the silver screen -- Hollywood had found these beasts to be lucrative ever since the landmark expressionist German film Nosferatu (1922). A new movie sure to elicit interest is Eternal (2004). Filmed in gothic Italian and Canadian locations, Eternal follows a detective exploring the possibility that Elizabeth Bathory is still alive and on another killing spree.
Other popular vampire films include Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), The Lost Boys (1987), Blade (1998) and its sequels, and the George Clooney vehicle From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).
Television also has had its share of vampire shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer , Angel , The Munsters , and The Addams Family . The legend of vampires has lasted over 1,000 years; there is no reason to believe it won't last 1,000 more.
Author: Bernie Alexander
Source: Ask Men Magazine
Original publish date: Unknown.