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A Brief History of Vampirism: My Pre-Teen Obsession

Post by; Jessica

Currently Listening to: Type O Negative - October Rust

When I was a teenager I would read and watch anything to do with vampires. You could say that these supernatural beings were my first foray into the world of horror. Ever since I had seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I was completely intrigued by the undead creatures that walked the Earth as immortals through the consumption of living blood. Not only was I fascinated by how they were portrayed on screen but also in the fictional works of Anne Rice, Stephen King and Laurell K. Hamilton. I was also into reading about the more non-fictional works such as the old folklore, legends and even scholarly works about the vampire and exploring systematic beliefs and hysteria.

Vampire, or vamprye, is defined as a creature in folklore/myth that is an undead creature that preys upon the blood of humans to sustain their immortal life. The term vampire originates from Eastern Europe. In cultures around the world there are variations of the vampire or vampire-like creatures but the belief in them was predominantly in Europe. However, undead creatures with vampiric characteristics have been spoken about as far back as Ancient Greece and during medieval Europe during times of infectious disease. This was due to some certain diseases that had vampiric characteristics such as porphyria (sensitive to sunlight), tuberculosis (wasting), pellagra (thins the skin), and rabies (biting and sensitivities to light or garlic). Sometimes, particularly during a time of premature burials, people believed that vampires existed when they reopened coffins and saw elements of what looked like the corpse was still alive. This would lead to these corpses being staked, beheaded or buried face down to keep them from crawling their graves. Vampires of this time were ugly, peasant-like undead creatures.

It was in the 18th / 19th century with the rise of Gothic European literature, where the image of the vampire was transformed into mysterious aristocratic strangers that prayed on innocent maidens for their life giving blood. We saw this in John Stagg’s “The Vampyre” (1810), Lord Byron’s The Giaour (1813), Bram Stoker’s Dracula(1897) , and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872). Stoker’s Dracula had the most important impact on the modern vampire myth. This was largely due to the novel being inspired by the historical cruel acts of 15th Century prince Vlad III Dracula of Transylvania, “The Impaler” and the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth. The story of Dracula inspired many variations of the modern vampire. But over the decades, there have been various characteristics compiled to define the vampire.

Some of these characteristics are:

  • To become a vampire a person could be: bitten by another vampire, through sorcery, committing suicide, contagion, having a cat jump over a person’s corpse

  • Their destruction can be done by: a wooden stake to the heart, decapitation and exposure to sunlight.

  • Other characteristics: repelled by garlic, running water, Christian crucifixes, holy water, silver, can’t enter into a home without an invitation, can’t see themselves in mirrors, can’t walk on consecrated ground

  • Powers: Hypnosis, mind control, unnatural strength and speed, can transform into bats or wolves or can communication and control bats, rats and wolves, immortality, wounds can be healed

There is an in-depth history and belief system surrounding the vampire that comes from Ancient times, Medieval Europe, Africa, The Americas and Asia. Modern beliefs still persist today with vampire hunting societies, unexplained vampiric related events and occultists who celebrate the vampire through a vampiric lifestyle in the Goth subculture. The ideology of the vampire is still explored through psychodynamic theories, political interpretations, and psychopathology.

I could write for hours about vampire lore and subculture. From information that has been studied from the 18th century mass hysteria around vampirism in Eastern Europe to the modern interpretation of vampires on film in the 20th century. However, this is just some of the information I have learned over the years and I continue to learn about. The vampire will always remain a fascinating supernatural creature to me and one that I will always want to read and watch a horror movie about. Except for Twilight - that series is abhorrent to the whole concept of the vampire.

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