Make your own free website on

Creatures of Death

Home | Banshee | Vampires | Draugrs | Demonic Death | Angel of Death | The Other | Thanatos | Anubis | Santa Muerte | Persephone | Grim Reaper | Yama | Morrigan | Mictlantecuhtli | Psychopomp | Skeletons | Mummies | Ghouls | Ravens | Death Hounds | Ankou | Charon | Zombies | The Wild Hunt | Mot | Bean Nighe | Wraith | Zombies

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Vampires are mythological or folkloric beings that are renowned for subsisting on human blood or lifeforce, but in some cases may prey on animals. Although vampires have different characteristics depending on which lore one reads, in most cases, they are described as reanimated corpses who feed by draining and consuming the blood of living beings. The term was popularised in the early 18th century and arose from the folklore of southeastern Europe, particularly the Balkans and Greece. Folkloric vampires were depicted as revenants who visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighbourhoods they inhabited when they were living. They wore shrouds, did not bear fangs and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or darkened countenance.

The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre (1819) by John Polidori. The wild life of Lord Byron became the model for Polidori's undead protagonist Lord Ruthven after Polidori became Byron's personal physician. The story was highly successful and the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. However it is the 1897 novel Dracula which is best remembered as the quintessential vampire novel. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century. Though books and films of the genre have portrayed vampires with attributes markedly distinct from those of original folkloric vampires, some folkloric traits such as aversion to garlic and vulnerability to staking have been simply incorporated.

Numerous cultures the world over have similar entities that suck blood or energy and prey on the living; indeed, some also have stories of non-human vampires, including real animals such as bats, dogs, spiders and mythical creatures and cryptids such as the chupacabra. Vampire lore stems from ancient demonology, which had vampiric beings, but are not classified as vampires.


The word vampire appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1734 as much was appearing in German literature on the subject. After the 1718 Treaty of Passarowitz where parts of Serbia and Wallachia came under Austrian control, the Austrian officials noted the local practice of exhuming bodies and "killing vampires". These reports prepared between 1725 and 1732 received widespread publicity. Several theories of the word's origin exist. The English term was derived (possibly via French vampyre) from the German Vampir, in turn thought to be derived in the early 18th century from Serbian вампир/vampir, or Hungarian vámpír. The Serbian and Hungarian forms have parallels in virtually all Slavic languages: Bulgarian вампир (vampir), Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Russian упырь (upyr'), Belarusian упыр (upyr), Ukrainian упирь (upir'), from Old Russian упирь (upir'). (Note that many of these languages have also borrowed forms such as "vampir/wampir" secondarily from the West). Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are *ǫpyrь and *ǫpirь. The Slavic word might, like its possible cognate that means "bat" (Czech netopýr, Slovak netopier, Polish nietoperz, Russian нетопырь / netopyr' - a species of bat), contain a Proto-Indo-European root for "to fly".

The first recorded use of the Old Russian form Упирь (Upir') is commonly believed to be in a document dated 6555 (1047 AD). It is a colophon in a manuscript of the Book of Psalms written by a priest who transcribed the book from Glagolitic into Cyrillic for the Novgorodian Prince Vladimir Yaroslavovich. The priest writes that his name is "Upir' Likhyi " (Упирь Лихый), which would mean something like "Wicked Vampire" or "Foul Vampire." This apparently strange name has been cited as an example of surviving paganism and/or of the use of nicknames as personal names. However, in 1982, Swedish Slavicist Anders Sjöberg suggested that "Upir' likhyi" was in fact an Old Russian transcription and/or translation of the name of Öpir Ofeigr, a well-known Swedish rune carver. Sjöberg argued that Öpir could possibly have lived in Novgorod before moving to Sweden, considering the connection between Eastern Scandinavia and Russia at the time. This theory is still controversial, although at least one Swedish historian, Henrik Janson, has expressed support for it. Another early use of the Old Russian word is in the anti-pagan treatise "Word of Saint Grigoriy," dated variously to the 11th—13th centuries, where pagan worship of upyri is reported.

Folk beliefs

The notion of vampirism has been in use for millennia; cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans had tales of demons and spirits including the Empusa,[21] Lamia,[22] and Lilitu,[23] who would eat flesh and drink blood; even the devil was considered synonymous with the vampire in earlier times.[24] However, despite the occurrence of vampire-like creatures in these ancient civilizations, the folklore for the entity we know today as the vampire originates almost exclusively from Southeastern Europe.[1] In most cases, vampires are revenants of evil beings, suicide victims or witches, but can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire itself. The legends of the vampire grew to such a height, that in some areas it caused mass hysteria and even public executions of people believed to be vampires. Although the original lore has been distorted due to new fictional references such as Dracula, there are many ways to destroy a vampire; decapitation, a stake to the heart, incineration and exposure to sunlight are commonly cited.[25]

Description and common attributes

It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire though there are several elements common to many European legends. It is usually reported as bloated in appearance and ruddy, purplish or dark in colour, often attributed to drinking blood. Indeed, blood is often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one is seen in its shroud or coffin and his left eye is often open.[26] Clothing often consisted of the linen shroud they were buried in and teeth, hair and nails may have grown somewhat, though in general fangs were not a feature.[27]

Other attributes may vary greatly from culture to culture; some vampires, such as those found in Transylvanian tales, are gaunt, pale and have long fingernails, while Bulgarian vampires only had one nostril,[28] while Bavarian vampires slept with thumbs crossed and one eye open.[29] Moravian vampires only attacked victims naked and the vampires of Albanian folklore wore high heeled shoes.[29] As stories of vampires spread throughout the globe to the Americas and elsewhere, so did the varied and sometimes bizarre descriptions of them; Mexican vampires have a bare skull instead of a head,[29] Brazilian vampires had furry feet and vampires from the Rocky Mountains only sucked blood with their noses from the victim's ears.[29] Even broad descriptions were implemented, such as having red hair.[29] So from these various descriptions across time, works of literature such as Bram Stoker's Dracula and the influences of historical figures such as Gilles de Rais and Vlad Tepes, the vampire has developed into the stereotype we perceive today; over time, a selection of more common reported attributes from a huge variety of ancient and medieval stories have coalesced to form a contemporary vampire profile as seen in literature and film today. [29]

Creation beliefs

It is commonly accepted in modern cultural depictions that one is likely to become a vampire if bitten by one. However the causes were far more varied in original vampire folklore. In Slavic and also Chinese traditions any corpse which was jumped over by an animal, particularly a dog or cat, would become one of the undead.[30] If a body had a wound which had not been treated with boiling water. And in Russian mythology, vampires were said to have once been witches while they were living, or people who rebelled against the church. [29]

Practices often arose that were intended to prevent a recently deceased loved one turning into an undead revenant. Burying a corpse upside-down was a common prevention method, as well as placing earthly objects, such as scythes or sickles,[31] near the grave to satisfy any demons entering the body or to appease the dead so that it would not wish to arise from its coffin. This method is similar to the ancient Greek practice of placing a obolus in the corpse's mouth so that they may pay their way across the River Styx in the underworld; it has been argued that instead, the obolus was intended to ward off any evil spirits from entering the body and this may have influenced later mythology surrounding the vampire. This Greek tradition was continued on in regard to modern Greek folklore about the vrykolakas, the equivalent of a modern vampire, in which a wax cross and piece of pottery with the inscription "Jesus Christ conquers" were placed on the corpse to prevent the body becoming a vrykolakas.[32] Other methods commonly practised in Europe included severing the tendons at the knees or placing poppy seeds, millet or sand on the ground at the gravesite of a presumed vampire; this was intended to keep the vampire occupied all night by counting the fallen grains.[33] In similar Chinese narratives about vampire-like beings, it is stated that if one of these creatures comes across a sack of rice, he will have to count all of the grains; this is a theme similar to myths recorded on the Indian subcontinent as well as in South American tales of witches and other sorts of evil or mischievous spirits or beings.[34]

Identifying vampires

The rituals behind identifying a vampire were in most cases elaborate, with several methods arising throughout Eastern Europe and other areas where vampire legends became prominent. In some Eastern European instances, the method of finding a vampire's grave involved leading a virgin boy through a graveyard or church grounds on a virgin, black stallion; the tomb which the horse stopped at first was said to be that of the vampire's.[29] Corpses thought to be vampires were generally described as having a healthier appearance than expected, plump and showing little or no signs of decomposition.[35] In some cases, when suspected graves were opened, villagers even described the corpse as having fresh blood from a victim all over its face.[36] Evidence that a vampire was active in a given locality included death of cattle, sheep, relatives or neighbours; folkloric vampires could also make their presence felt by engaging in minor poltergeist-like activity and pressing on people in their sleep.


A common theme is the use of apotropaics to ward the revenants off, namely mundane or sacred items or things such as garlic,[37] sunlight or holy water. Items vary from region to region; a branch of wild rose is said to harm vampires as well as the hawthorn plant; in Europe, sprinkling mustard seeds on the roof of a house was said to keep vampires away.[38] Other apotropaics include sacred items, for example a crucifix, rosary beads and the aforementioned holy water; vampires are said to be unable to walk on consecrated ground, such as those of churches or temples or cross running water.[39] In Asian legends, vampiric creatures are often warded by holy devices such as Shintō seals.[40] In South American superstition, Aloe vera hung backwards behind or near a door has the same function.[34] Although not regarded as a vampire apotropaic, mirrors have been used to ward off vampires when placed facing outwards on a door; it's a well known myth that vampires do not have a reflection and in some cultures, do not cast shadows either, perhaps to express the vampire's lack of a soul.[40] This attribute, although not universal as the Greek vrykolakas/tympanios was capable of both reflection and shadow, was utilized by Bram Stoker in Dracula and has since remained popular with subsequent authors and filmmakers.[41] In addition to apotropaics, some traditions hold that a vampire cannot enter a house unless invited by the owner, although they only have to be invited once as after this they can come and go as they please without further permission.[40]

Traditional methods of destroying vampires are numerous, with the most commonly cited the driving of a wooden, or less commonly metal, stake through the heart. The preferred wood is ash in Russia and the Baltic states,[42] or hawthorn in Serbia,[43] with a record of oak in Silesia.[44] This is thought to have originated in Eastern Europe along with many other vampire legends; unlike today's cloaked and suave vampires, the original revenants were described as largely bloated. Thus the act of piercing the skin of the chest was a way of "deflating" the vampire; this is similar to the act of burying sharp objects, such as sickles, in with the corpse, so that they may penetrate the skin if the body bloats sufficiently whilst transforming into a revenant.[45] Other methods include decapitation or complete incineration of the body. Other than being decapitated, the vampire's head may also have a spike driven through it, often with force so as to pin it to the ground.[46] The act of cutting off the head was also seen as a way of hastening the departure of the soul from the body, which in some cultures, was said to linger in the corpse for a prolonged amount of time before dispersing.

Vampires are sometimes endowed with special abilities when described in folklore; some are given great strength, while others the ability to transform not only into a bat, as is often depicted in modern cartoons and film, but rather other familiars such as rats, dogs, wolves, spiders and even moths. An attribute shared by the 19th century literary vampires Lord Ruthven and Varney the Vampire was the ability to be healed by moonlight, although no account of this is known in traditional folklore.[47] Though folkloric vampires thought more active at night, they were not generally considered vulnerable to sunlight. This vulnerability has developed with subsequent vampire fiction

Natural propagations for beliefs



People sometimes reported that the cadaver did not look as they thought a normal corpse should when the coffin of an alleged vampire was opened. This was often taken to be evidence of vampirism. However, corpses decompose at different speeds depending on temperature and soil composition, and some of the signs of decomposition are not widely known. This has led vampire hunters to mistakenly conclude that a dead body had not decomposed at all, or, ironically, to interpret signs of decomposition as signs of continued life.[107][108] Corpses swell as gases from decomposition accumulate in the torso and the increased pressure forces blood to ooze from the nose and mouth. This causes the body to look "plump", "well-fed" and "ruddy" - changes that are all the more striking if the person was pale or thin in life. In the Arnold Paole case, an old woman's exhumed corpse was judged by her neighbours to look more plump and healthy than she had ever looked in life.[109] The exuding blood gave the impression that the corpse had recently been engaging in vampiric activity.[36] The staking of a swollen, decomposing body could cause the body to bleed and force the accumulated gases to escape the body. This could produce a groan when the gases moved past the vocal chords, or a sound reminiscent of flatus when they passed through the anus. The official reporting on the Peter Plogojowitz case speaks of "other wild signs which I pass by out of high respect".

After death, the skin and gums lose fluids and contract, exposing the roots of the hair, nails, and teeth, even teeth that were concealed in the jaw. This can produce the illusion that the hair, nails, and teeth have grown.[110] At a certain stage, the nails fall off and the skin peels away, as reported in the Plogojowitz case - the dermis and nail beds emerging underneath were interpreted as "new skin" and "new nails". Finally, decomposition also causes the body to shift or contort itself, adding to the illusion that the corpse has been active after death.

Premature burial

It has also been hypothesized that vampire legends were influenced by individuals being buried alive, due to primitive knowledge in medicine. In some cases where people reported sounds emanating from a specific coffin, it was later dug up and fingernail marks were discovered on the inside from the victim trying to escape. In other cases the person would hit their heads/noses/faces and it would appear that they had been "feeding".[111] A problem with this theory is how people presumably buried alive managed to stay alive for an extended period without food, water or oxygen. An alternate explanation for noise is the bubbling of escaping gases from natural decomposition of bodies.[112] Another likely cause of disordered tombs, though, is that of graverobbing.[113]


Folkloric vampirism has been associated with a series of deaths due to unindentifiable or mysterious illnesses, usually within the same family or the same small community.[114] The "epidemic pattern" is obvious in the classical cases of Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole, and even more so in the case of Mercy Brown and in the vampire beliefs of New England generally, where a specific disease, tuberculosis, was associated with outbreaks of vampirism (see above).

In his book, De masticatione mortuorum in tumulis (1725), Michaël Ranft attempted to explain folk beliefs in vampires in a natural way. He says that, in the event of the death of every villager, some other person or people - much probably a person related to the first dead - who saw or touched the corpse, would eventually die either of some disease related to exposure to the corpse or of a frenetic delirium caused by the panic of merely seeing the corpse. These dying people would say that the dead man had appeared to them and tortured them in many ways. The other people in the village would exhume the corpse to see what it had been doing. He gives the following explanation when talking about the case of Peter Plogojowitz:

This brave man perished by a sudden or violent death. This death, whatever it is, can provoke in the survivors the visions they had after his death. Sudden death gives rise to inquietude in the familiar circle. Inquietude has sorrow as a companion. Sorrow brings melancholy. Melancholy engenders restless nights and tormenting dreams. These dreams enfeeble body and spirit until illness overcomes and, eventually, death.


Porphyria, a rare blood disorder that disrupts the production of haem, has been proposed as an origin of reported vampirism. It was thought to be more common than elsewhere in small Transylvanian villages (roughly 1000 years ago) where inbreeding probably occurred. The haem group, found in every blood cell in the human body, is excited by electrons, but in a controlled fashion. However, the haem groups in porphyria sufferers causes uncontrollable tissue, bone and skin damage, made worse when the person comes into contact with sunlight.[clarify] This would have given the porphyria sufferer a very pallid skin colour, with teeth that appear larger than normal, due to the porphyria damaging the gum tissue and causing it to recede. These people would have been very anemic, and drinking (animal) blood was a traditional treatment for anemia.[citation needed]

Certain forms of porphyria are also associated with neurological or psychiatric symptoms. However, suggestions that porphyria sufferers crave the heme in human blood, or that the consumption of blood might ease the symptoms of porphyria, are based on a misunderstanding of the disease.


Rabies has been linked with vampire folklore. Dr Juan Gomez-Alonso, a neurologist at Xeral Hospital in Vigo, Spain, examined this in a report in the journal Neurology. The susceptibility to garlic and light could be due to hypersensitivity, which is a symptom of rabies. The disease can also affect portions of the brain that could lead to disturbance of normal sleep patterns (i.e., becoming nocturnal) and hypersexuality. Legend once said a man was not rabid if he could look at his own reflection, which relates to the legend of a vampire not having a reflection. Wolves and bats, which are often associated with vampires, can be carriers of rabies. The disease can also lead to a drive to bite others, and to a bloody frothing at the mouth.[115]


Some psychologists in modern times recognize a disorder called clinical vampirism or Renfield syndrome, from Dracula's insect-eating henchman, Renfield, in the novel by Bram Stoker in which the victim is obsessed with drinking blood, either from animals or humans.

There have been a number of murderers who performed seemingly vampiric rituals upon their victims. Serial killers Peter Kurten and Richard Trenton Chase were both called "vampires" in the tabloids after they were discovered drinking the blood of the people they murdered. Similarly, in 1932, an unsolved murder case in Stockholm, Sweden, was nicknamed the "Vampire murder", due to the circumstances of the victim’s death.[116] The infamous Hungarian countess and mass murderer Elizabeth Báthory of the late 16th and early 17th century was popularised in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most common motif of these works that of her bathing in her victims' blood in order to retain beauty or youth clearly has a common theme with vampirism and was belately linked in the 1970s.

Vampire lifestyle is a term for a contemporary subculture of people largely within the Goth subculture who consume the blood of others as a pastime; drawing from the rich recent history of popular culture related to cult symbolism, horror films, the fiction of Anne Rice, and the styles of Victorian England.[117]

Vampire bats

Bats have become an integral part of the traditional vampire only recently, although many cultures have stories about them. In Europe, bats and owls were long associated with the supernatural, mainly because they were night creatures. Conversely, the Gypsies thought them lucky and wore charms made of bat bones. In English heraldic tradition, a bat means "Awareness of the powers of darkness and chaos".[118] In South America, Camazotz was a bat god of the caves living in the Bathouse of the Underworld. The three species of actual vampire bats are all endemic to Latin America, and there is no evidence to suggest that they had any Old World relatives within human memory. It is therefore extremely unlikely that the folkloric vampire represents a distorted presentation or memory of the bat. During the 16th century the Spanish conquistadors first came into contact with vampire bats and recognized the similarity between the feeding habits of the bats and those of their legendary vampires. The bats were named after the folkloric vampire rather than vice versa; the Oxford English Dictionary records the folkloric use in English from 1734 and the zoological not until 1774. It wasn't long before vampire bats were adapted into fictional tales, and they have become one of the more important vampire associations in popular culture.

copyright @ 2006 by DCPI