Vampires. A subject of eternal fascination, that we meet everywhere, from books and movies to horror festivals. Deadly nocturnal creatures have an interesting story that has evolved over time, but the legends and superstitions have common psychological and mythical background that we try to capture in different eras.
Plus, of course, the inability to explain certain phenomena and many human fears which it gives form of some destructive entities. So, where the myth, legends and superstitions that have long fed the collective imagination?
Since ancient times we find allusions to such monsters. For example, in Persia a ceramic vessel it appears to be a man who is struggling with a gigantic creature that wants to suck his blood. If we look in Babylonian mythology, we meet the demonic Lilitu, who was feedin with the blood and marrow of newborns. According to ancient hebrew texts, Lilith was actually the first wife of Adam and would have rebelled against him, becoming the master of demons and evil spirits. In China of the 6th century BC was talkes about the living deads.
Many legends that speak of the same demonic creatures circulated through India, Malaysia, Polynesia and the lands of the Aztecs and even the Eskimos. The blood shed in the Aztec conception was that ensured the fertility of the earth. In Japan talking about Nukebuki, a creature whose head fly alone to hunt people. Indians had Vetala, who possessed any living being or dead body, leaving the impression they return to life.
Africans also have their demons. In the west dwelt asanbosamm the demon with iron teeth, and in the east, impundulu, entity posing as bird that ate human flesh. Germanic tribes mentioned about Krampus, a horned and furry monster who teared the victims apart. But the Valkyries too, Wotan’s beautiful companions, had the habit of eating the bodies of those who died in battle before taking the chosen spirits to Valhalla .
To move on a closer ground, at the ancient Greeks we find several precursors of ‘modern’ vampires too . Empusa, for example, the daughter of the goddess Hecate, was a demonic creature with bronze feet, which feed on the blood of young people whom she seduced. Lamia, daughter of king Belus and Zeus mistress, was hunting children and drink their blood to revenge on Hera who had killed her offspring. Communication with the dead could be done if they consumed blood before. Ulises, when traveling in the realm of Hades, must sacrifice a ram and a black sheep for the spirits to feed and to make an appearance.
With the spread of Christianity, the blood earns positive connotations associated with salvation. In the eleventh century, the doctors, but also the witches, believe that the blood of a virgin is panacea. Meanwhile, the discovery of intact bodies provoked general hysteria across Europe.
People believed that people who have not received the last sacrament, the suicide ones and the excommunicated heretics could return to haunt the living. Many such cases are found in works such as Le Dictionnaire Infernal of Bishop of Cahors, The nugis Curialium’s of Walter Map or Historia Rerum Anglicarum of William of Newburgh.
One of the most famous events related by the english chronicler, it concerns the vampire of Melrose Abbey. It’s about a priest who preferred a easy life instead of monastic debts , and after death he returned to the monastery. Finding the doors locked, he went to the house of one of his former mistress, who terrified alerts all the villagers. They follow him and see him coming out of the tomb, one of them hitting him with an ax . But the dead turns freely in the grave, but at dawn is dug and burned.
Vampire phenomenon reaches fever pitch in the late fourteenth century, especially in Prussia, Silesia and Bohemia. Bubonic plague begins to be attributed to the work of evil spirits, and fear of infection led people to bury the very sick without checking if they really were dead. No wonder that we have so many stories about vampires that are trying to get out of the tombs, in fact people who struggle buried alive and hurt to death.
Not only these unfortunates were confused with evil creatures. In many areas it was assumed that some deformities that children have at their birth indicates the risk of transformation into a vampire. However, the superstition was caused because of lack an understanding of the process of decomposition. Documents reveal similar descriptions: trouble strikes a family, such as a disease or a bad harvest. Vampires seem to be the right answer to the question of why bad things happen to good people…
Fear of death is therefore pushed to investigate the graves, and the natural processes of decomposition were often confused with supernatural phenomena. For example, if the coffin was sealed and made good for winter, the putrefaction could be delayed by several months. And the decomposition of the bowel can cause a pressure to push the blood to mouth, creating the appearance that would had a blood meal.
In the next century the vampirism is again the headlines, most notably beeing the trial of Gilles de Rais. Former member of the guard of Joan of Arc and important military commander, Gilles retires at some point at his estates in the south of France, where it is assumed that he the devoted his energy for the search of the Philosopher’s Stone. But he would have thought that it’s secret was in… blood, sacrificing for experimental purposes over 200 children. Later in the nineteenth century, Joris-Karl Huymans transforms his into a vampire in the novel La-Bas.
At about the same time, the vampirism it is charged to another figure with which we are more familiar: Vlad Tepes, who was providing Bram Stoker the idea that he’ll create the classic vampire stereotype.
In Romanian mythology, however, the west’s counterpart vampire is the undead. But not all. Our ghosts have horse feet, large mouths and take the appearance of impure animals like cat, rabbit, fly, wolf, owl etc. But they have the same goal too: absorbing vital energy of the relatives and friends and can be tackled in the same way, the stake through the heart. In our folklore there are poltergeists, unbaptized souls children coming back to torture mothers. In fact, concern over the evil powers of hell are a constant in indo-european space associated with belief in post-existence of the soul.
Vampire hysteria has not stopped either in the next centuries. In 1611 enters the stage another mysterious character. Countess Elizabeth Bathory Erszebet revives the legend through the terrible accusation against her. Countess, passionate on the black magic would had tortured and killed young girls, then bathed in their blood which she thought that will keep her young. Constant disappearances of young girls, determines the Countess cousin to make an investigation, and ultimately its dismal practices emerge. The Countess is not executed, but locked in a tower for life. Her case was and remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration for many authors.
Such events, plus the lack of education, ignorance and poverty of the population, caused an explosion of superstitions and legends of vampires and werewolves in the center and east of europe. The idea that werewolves (vrykolakas) came back to the living world, somehow tied the two myths. Also, in 1726 began to be used the term ‘vampire’, as a result of thousands of cases of vampirism and documents from the plague.
In the eighteenth century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Balkans and in Germany, occurs a real vampire hunting with large teams of soldiers, doctors and scientists who have panicked the population more than to reassure . One of the best documented cases we have it from the Viennese chronicles and looked on Peter Plogojowitz, a farmer who died in 1725, followed by several neighbors and relatives. Victims had be mentioned about his nightly attacks, the only one that was lucky to escape with life was the wife who left the village.
Court of Vienna sent several specialists who conducted the exhumation, finding signs of vampirism … the beard and nails continued to grow, fallen skin, mouth full of blood. It is said that the village priest stake through his heart and then the deaths ceased …
Age of Enlightenment had planned to destroy the superstitions. Scholars beginning to seriously question the work of the devil and his followers. A Benedictine monk named Don Calmet, publics a huge treaty that wants to end the controversy of the vampire . But the myth does not die. On the contrary, the categorization and stereotypes are just amplying the fears. People were afraid, for instance, of the fellow with thick and unitede yebrows , or those with too much hair on the hands. To detect the ones, the were used virgins climbed on black or white horses patrolling the cemeteries and snicker and shake beside a vampire tomb .
There were many rumors, that the vampires could join mortals to multiply. As the annihilation of a corpse suspected of vampirism, was proceeding with caution. Either stick a nail in his forehead, or heart, put garlic in the mouth, rub with pork fat, etc. Some traditions talk about wearing a bag with salt to get rid of the danger. As we forward the industrial revolution era, such behavior will be rare, but legends will persist.
Romantic current at the end of the eighteenth century attempts to recover emotion, sentimentality, mysteries, the most obscure part of existence. And so revive the Gothic literature. Die Braut von Corinth by Goethe and Lenore’s GA Buerger are prime examples. Keats, Coleridge and Baudelaire write poems with vampires, but also introduces a new element that rarely appear in the legends of before: the seduction, pleasure in the face of death, the link between love and death.
The grim and macabre is smoldering in works such as The Vampyre, by William Polidori which continues the idea of Lord Byron, Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu. Varney the Vampyre, written in 1847 by Prest & Rymer, will become the longest novel that deals with such a theme. Dark fantastic was very seek that era, but like anything exploited to exhaustion, loses its charm in the late nineteenth century.
But the decline last actually very little, because reappears immediately in the victorian era . Is slightly ironic that in an age where everything encourage repression of everything that means decadence, the vampire legend reaches its peak. Perhaps it was for many a refuge from a society too normal. So subject to regulations that forbade writing horror stories if they didn’t had a glorious end where triumphs the morality. Is where Bram Stoker wrote his opera, which has a phenomenal success and is still defining image of the vampires.
With the arrival of the twentieth century, macabre characters will fit perfectly in the new art form that allows better the exploration of various new or old legends. The first film on the subject was made in 1922 by German FW Murnau, Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens, starring Max Schreck. Vampire incorporates numerous features from folklore : hairy hands, ears like a bat etc. Then comes with power the American cinema, with Bela Lugosi in Dracula’s skin. The Vampire gains fangs , and seductive air. Then Christopher Lee plays in the production of British studio Hammer and complete the picture with long black hair, bright and red eyes or large cape .
And then will follow a whole myriad movies, some more romance like Coppolla’s Dracula 1992 or 1994 Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice’s book, others more focused on scary image of the character than on the story or complexity . However, as we see, vampires, by their omnipresence in all the arts (there are several music bands which use vampiric reasons) in various themed clubs or organizations Transylvanian Society type of Dracula and not only, seem to be indeed immortals…
What can we say about the psychological meanings of the myth? Vampire is said to contaminate the attacked nes, which in turn become vampires. So only survives through victim . It is a persecutor-persecuted relationship . Perhaps this monster of our imagination symbolizes lust and our needs taken to the extreme, which once satisfied all tend to recur because we can’t control them… The vampire is our dark piece, directed towards destruction and self-destruction.
If the accepts his limitations, responsibilities, fate of mortal, the vampire of him disappears and no longer feels the need to dominate in order to create the illusion that dominates itself. Perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to interpret it as a return to the vital force against oneself.