The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







A vampire is a mythical or folkloric creature said to subsist on human and/or animal blood often having magical powers and the ability to transform. Usually the vampire is the corpse of a dead person, reanimated or made undead by one means or another. Some cultures have myths of non-human vampires, such as demons or animals like bats, dogs, and spiders. Vampires are often described as having a wide variety of additional powers and character traits, extremely variable in different traditions, and are a frequent subject of folklore, cinema, and contemporary fiction.

Vampirism is the practice of drinking blood. In folklore and popular culture the term generally refers to a belief that one can gain supernatural powers by drinking human blood. The historical practice of vampirism can generally be considered a more specific and less commonly-occurring form of cannibalism. The consumption of another's blood has been used as a tactic of psychological warfare intended to terrorize the enemy, and it can be used to reflect various spiritual beliefs.

In zoology the term vampirism is used to refer to leeches, mosquitos, mistletoe, vampire bats, and other organisms that prey upon the bodily fluids of other creatures. This term also applies to mythic animals of the same nature, including the chupacabra.


Vampires in history and culture

Tales of the dead craving blood are ancient. In Homer's Odyssey, for example, the shades that Odysseus meets on his journey to the underworld are lured to the blood of freshly sacrificed rams, a fact which Odysseus uses to his advantage to summon the shade of Tiresias. Roman fables describe the strix, a nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood.

Some Slavic peoples believed in vampires as early as the 4th century. In their mythology, a vampire drank blood, was afraid of (but could not be killed by) silver, and could be destroyed by cutting off its head and putting it between the corpse's legs, or by putting a wooden stake into its heart.

Medieval historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded the earliest English stories of vampires in the 12th century.

In popular western culture, vampires are depicted as unaging, intelligent, and mystically endowed in many ways. The vampire typically has a variety of notable abilities. These include great strength and immunity to any lasting effect of any injury by mundane means, with specific exceptions. Vampires can also change into a mist, wolf, or bat; and some can control the minds of others. They typically have extended canines or fangs.

It is believed that vampires have no reflection, as traditionally it was thought that mirrors reflected your soul and creatures of evil have no soul. Fiction has extended this belief to an actual aversion to mirrors, as depicted in Bram Stoker's novel Dracula when the vampire casts Harker's shaving mirror out of the window.

Destroying and avoiding vampires

A western vampire (which is not alive in the classical sense, and therefore referred to as undead) can be destroyed using several methods, which vary among "species" and between mythologies:

  • Ramming a wooden stake through a vampire's heart. Traditionally the stake is made from ash or hawthorn and the vampire should be impaled with a single blow. In some traditions, a red-hot iron was preferred. In many western stories and films, impalement with a wooden stake only subdues a vampire and further measures must be taken to destroy the body, otherwise the monster will quickly recover once the stake is removed. This can be done by decapitating the body and burying the head separately, burning, burying the body at a crossroads or moving the body so it would be exposed to sunlight. Some stories extend the idea with vampire hunters using arrows or crossbow bolts made completely of wood to attempt to strike the monster's heart from a distance. If you ram a wooden stake into a vampire's heart three times, the vampire is said to return to the state it was in before it died. Sometimes it doesn't work as said in Interview with The Vampire by Louis himself and in Van Helsing by Count Vladislaus Dragulia himself.
  • Beheading - basically as above, but without first using a stake.
  • Exposing a vampire to sunlight. This varies from culture to culture. Vampires that are active from sunset to sunrise often avoid sunlight as they can be weakened or sometimes destroyed by it. Many species of vampires are active from noon to midnight, and consequently sunlight is harmless. The idea of western vampires being vulnerable to sunlight began with the 1922 film Nosferatu, and has come to be seen as the absolute surest way to completely destroy a vampire. Previously western vampires could go out in the sunlight like in Bram Stoker's Dracula or Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla.
  • Removing internal organs and burning them.
  • Pouring boiling water into a hole beside the vampire's grave.

Other typical weaknesses of the vampire include:

  • Garlic or holy water, which repel or injure vampires.
  • Objects made of silver preferably silver nitrate, which can keep a vampire away or harm them if they are in physical contact. A popular American addition to the folklore is the idea of fashioning bullets made of silver so mortal vampire hunters can use firearms against the monster.
  • Such small items as rice, poppy seeds or salt, which can be strewn in a vampire's path. Possibly caused by OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it is a common facet of many vampire myths. Thus the hanging of many cloves of garlic, or the scattering of small objects is said to cause the vampire to have to spend much time counting the exact number of spilled (or hung) objects before moving on. This can keep them out of mischief until morning. Possible origin of Count von Count (also see Sesame Street). This varies by tradition.
  • Running water, which vampires cannot cross. This varies by tradition with some stories having vampires simply turning into a bat and flying over when faced with this obstacle.
  • Crosses and Bibles, which can keep vampires away. One simply holds the object in question in front of the vampire and the monster is kept at distance. Other stories have established that any religious symbol used by a sincere believer is effective. For example, in some stories, a Jew can use the Star of David to ward off a vampire. However in many stories, the monster can use its mind control powers to force the wielder to put down the object.
  • Requiring an invitation to enter a home: Western vampires are thought to be unable to enter a residence unless they are invited inside. After that invitation, they can enter the location freely.
  • Stealing of the left sock: Gypsy vampires can be killed if their left sock is stolen, filled with garlic or a stone, and tossed into a river. In theory, the vampire will leap into the river to retrieve it and will drown.

According to the belief of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the predominant Christian denomination in Eastern Europe, the soul is not given its permanent place in Heaven or Hell until 40 days after it has been buried. Accordingly, in some places, bodies were often disinterred between 3 to 7 days after burial and examined: If there was no sign of decomposition, a stake was driven through the heart of the corpse.

Vampire "species"

In Eastern Europe, the vampire is said to have two hearts or two souls; because one heart or soul never dies, the vampire remains undead. Until recently, European vampires were thought to be disgusting monsters often raised from the bodies of peasants and other lower-class people. John William Polidori's Lord Ruthven, featured in his short story The Vampyre and based on Polidori's employer, the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron, was the first recorded vampire to possess intelligence and a kind of preternatural charm; hence, Ruthven could also operate within human society without creating suspicion, as long as his weaknesses are accommodated. Later, Bram Stoker's immensely successful Dracula popularized this new conception of the vampire.

In Aztec mythology, the Civatateo was a sort of vampire, created when a noblewoman died in childbirth.

In Australian aboriginal mythology, the "Yara-Ma-Yha-Who" [1] was a vampire with suckers on his fingers that lurked in fig trees.

In Malaysian folklore, the Penanggalan was a vampire whose head could separate from its body, with its entrails dangling from the base of its neck. The Pontianak was a female vampire that sucked the blood of newborn babies and sometimes that of young children or pregnant women.

In Philippine folklore, the Manananggal was a female vampire whose entire upper body could separate from her lower body and who could fly using wings. She sucked the blood of fetuses. The Aswang was believed to always be a female of considerable beauty by day and, by night, a fearsome flying fiend. She lived in a house, could marry and have children, and was a seemingly normal human during the daylight hours.

In Bulgaria, a vampire had only one nostril and slept with its left eye open and its thumbs linked. It was also held responsible for cattle plagues.

In Moravia, vampires were fond of throwing off their shrouds and attacking their victims in the nude.

Roma tradition in the Balkans is said to have held that melons and pumpkins may become vampires; see the article on vampire watermelons.

In the Caribbean, vampires known as Soucoyant in Trinidad and Tobago, Ol' Higue in Jamaica, and Loogaroo in Grenada, take the form of old women during the day, and at night shed their skin to become flying balls of flame who seek blood. They were said to be notoriously obsessive compulsive, and could be thwarted by sprinkling salt or rice at entrances, crossroads and near beds. The vampire would feel compelled to pick up every grain. They could also be killed by rubbing salt into their discarded skin, which would burn them upon returning to it before morning.

In India (especially in the southern state of Kerala) vampires (known as Yakshis) were beautiful women who seduced men in order to kill or eat them. They are said to be averse to iron objects in addition to other religious symbols, and could be killed by driving an iron nail through the head. They could also be imprisoned in trees using blessed objects. India is also home to the vetala, a wraithly vampire that can leave its host body to feed.

Other vampire characteristics:

Contemporary belief in vampires

Belief in vampires still persists across the globe. During January of 2003, mobs in Malawi stoned to death one individual and attacked four others, including Governor Eric Chiwaya, due to a belief that the government is colluding with vampires.

In Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania there was said to be a clan of vampires called the "Children of Judas" who supposedly were the immortal spawn of Judas Iscariot. Judas was the betrayer of Jesus and was paid thirty pieces of silver for his betrayal. The Children of Judas were said to leave a scar of "XXX" (Roman numeral for thirty) on the victims they kiss and are noticeable by their red hair, just as Judas supposedly had.

In January 2005, it was reported that an attacker had bitten a number of people in Birmingham, England, fuelling concerns about a vampire roaming the streets. However, local police stated that no such crimes had been reported to them, and this case appears to be an urban legend.

Natural phenomena that propagate the vampire myth

Pathology and vampirism

Some people argue that vampire stories might have been influenced by a rare illness called porphyria. The disease disrupts the production of heme. People with extreme cases of this hereditary disease can be so sensitive to sunlight that they can get a sunburn through heavy cloud cover, causing them to be nocturnal and avoid all light. People with porphyria can also have red eyes and teeth, resulting from buildup of red heme intermediates (porphyrins). Certain forms of porphyria are also associated with neurological symptoms, which can create psychiatric disorders. However, the hypotheses that porphyria sufferers "crave" the heme in human blood, or that the consumption of blood might ease the symptoms of porphyria, are based in ignorance.

Others argue that there is a relationship between vampirism and rabies. The legend of vampirism is known to have existed in the 19th century Eastern Europe, where there were massive rabies outbreaks. Rabies causes high fever, loss of appetite, and fatigue as initial symptoms. In later stages, patients try to avoid the sunlight and prefer walking at night. Strong light and mirrors can cause episodes characterized by violent and animal-like behaviors and a tendency to attack people and bite them. Concomitant facial spasms might give the patient an animal-like (or a vampire-like) expression. In a furious form of the disease, patients might have an increased urgency for sexual activity or occasionally vomit blood. Rabies is contagious.

Fountain of blood when staked

As a body decomposes, the internal organs rot first because the food that is fermenting there continues fermenting and gases produced cannot get out. As a result, a body can swell like a balloon. Put pressure on this and the pressure seeks a way to escape.

Finding vampires in graves

When the coffin of an alleged vampire was opened, people sometimes found the cadaver in a "healthy state" and beautiful, meaning that the corpse was a well-fed vampire. Folkloric accounts almost universally represent the vampire as having ruddy or dark skin, not the pale skin of vampires in literature and film. Reasons for this appearance include:

  • In the past, people were often malnourished and therefore thin in life. Corpses swell as gases from decomposition accumulate in the torso. The implication was that the corpse was not famished and, because blood was sometimes found in the corners of the mouth, it was assumed that the "vampire" had been drinking blood.
  • Natural processes of decomposition, absent embalming, tend to darken the skin of a corpse--hence the black, blue, or red complexion of the folkloric vampire.

Vampire bats

The three species of vampire bat 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 unlikely that the folkloric vampire represents a distorted presentation or memory of the bat. 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. However, once the vampire bats became known in western culture, their existence certainly reinforced and shaped the vampire legend, and it is common for vampires to be represented as bat-like in one way or another and have the ability to transform into one when desired which in turns grants the ability to fly.

Other vampire myths


According to The Alphabet of Ben-Sira, Lilith was the first Vampire. She is also mentioned in Babylonian demonology, and is described as a monster, who roams during the hours of darkness. She hunts, with a view to killing newborn babies and pregnant women. Lilith was the first wife of Adam, according to this anonymous work, but became demonized and cast out because she refused to obey him. Since she was created at the same time as Adam, coming from the same clay as Adam, she believed she was his equal in all ways. As a result of her “sin” she became a vampire who attacked the offspring of Adam and Eve. (i.e. all of their human descendants). The Alphabet of Ben-Sira also tells us that Lilith was fond of attacking men who slept alone, seducing them in their dreams, then sucking their blood. According to Legend, Cain, the son of Adam, came across Lilith at the Red Sea. Lilith took him in and gave to him the power of the blood. From the union of Lilith and Cain came a host of Demons and vampires. [2]

The Chupacabra

The Chupacabra is a fabled blood sucking creature said to exist in parts of Latin America, mostly Mexico and on the island of Puerto Rico. The Chupacabra has also been sighted by multiple eye-witnesses in Calaveras County, California. Reports say that the creature might have first appeared during the early to middle 1990s, harming animals of different species. Translated literally from Spanish as "goat-sucker" (compare with chotacabras, the nightjar), the chupacabra is said to attack small livestock and drink their blood. Descriptions of this creature vary; from mammalian, to reptilian, to extra terrestrial; but no one has produced undisputable evidence of its existence.

Vampire watermelons

Main article: Vampire watermelon

Another alleged vampire myth is that of the vampire watermelon. Vampire watermelons are a folk legend from the Balkan peninsula of south-eastern Europe, though it is unclear whether the idea was ever taken seriously. The belief in vampire watermelons is similar to the belief that any inanimate object left outside during the night of a full moon will become a vampire, and can be extended beyond watermelons to include other fruits and vegetables. The earliest known reference in scholarship is T. P. Vukanović 's account of his journeys in Serbia from 1933 to 1948. The story was popularised by Terry Pratchett's 1998 book Carpe Jugulum, a comic fantasy novel making extensive use of vampire legends.

Some recent commentators have suggested that the story was simply a joke played on Professor Vukanović by the Roma. It may well be misleading to ask whether they "really" believed the story: they may have told it in the same way as people today might talk about Santa Claus or the bogeyman. In a culture saturated with ideas like the dhampir, all kinds of stories might have taken on a vampiric flavour.

Vampires in literature, art, and pop culture

Lord Byron introduced many common elements of the vampire theme to Western literature in his epic poem The Giaour (1813). These include the combination of horror and lust that the vampire feels and the concept of the undead passing its inheritance to the living (Note: In the following excerpt, corse is "corpse"):

But thou, false Infidel! shalt writhe
Beneath avenging Monkir's scythe;
And from its torment 'scape alone
To wander round lost Eblis' throne;
And fire unquenched, unquenchable,
Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Ironically, Byron's own wild life became the model for the protagonist Lord Ruthven in the first vampire novel, The Vampyre (1819) by John William Polidori. An unauthorized sequel to this novel by Cyprien Bérard called Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires (1820) was adapted by Charles Nodier into the first vampire stage melodrama.

Bram Stoker's Dracula has been the definitive description of the vampire in popular fiction for the last century. Its portrayal of vampirism as a disease (contagious demonic possession), with its undertones of sex, blood, and death, struck a chord in a Victorian England where tuberculosis and syphilis were common. Before the Victorian era, the romantic connection between vampires and sex did not exist.

Dracula is believed to be based at least partially on legends about a real person, Vlad Ţepeş, a savagely cruel prince known also as Vlad III Dracula (Drăculea, or "Dracula", meaning "son of the dragon"; his father was called Dracul (The Dragon) after being "inducted into the Order of the Dragon in 1431") also known as Vlad the Impaler, who lived in the late Middle Ages in what is now Romania. Stoker is believed to have seen a reference in an article by Emily Gerard who said that Dracula was a word meaning the Devil. (Emily Gerard, "Transylvanian Superstitions." Nineteenth Century (July 1885): 130–150). Oral tradition regarding Ţepeş includes his having made a practice of torturing enemy prisoners and hanging them, or parts of them, such as heads, on stakes around his castle or manor house. Ţepeş may have suffered from porphyria. His rumored periodic abdominal agony, especially after eating, and bouts of delirium might indicate presence of the disease.

 met in in a landmark vampire film.
Filmgoers met Dracula (Bela Lugosi) in 1931 in a landmark vampire film.

Stoker also probably derived inspiration from Irish myths of blood-sucking creatures. He also was almost certainly influenced by a contemporary vampire story, Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu. Le Fanu was Stoker's editor when Stoker was a theatre critic in Dublin, Ireland.

Much 20th-century vampire fiction draws heavily on Stoker's formulation; early films such as Nosferatu and those featuring Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee are examples of this. Nosferatu, in fact, was clearly based on Dracula, and Stoker's widow sued for copyright infringement and won. As a result of the suit, most prints of the film were destroyed. She later allowed the film to be shown in England.

Though most other works of vampire fiction do not feature Dracula as a character, there is typically a clear inspiration from Stoker, reflected in a fascination with sex and wealth, as well as overwhelmingly frequent use of Gothic settings and iconography. A contemporary descendant is the series of novels by Anne Rice, the most popular in a genre of modern stories that use vampires as their protagonists.

Other vampire tales seen in several places include:

The "Vampire subculture"

The vampire subculture describes a contemporary subculture marked by an obsessive fascination with, and emulation of, contemporary vampire lore, including everything from fashion and music to, in the more extreme cases, the actual exchange of blood. Members of the subculture ("vampirists") often prefer the spelling "vampyre" to distinguish themselves from the "fictional" vampire while simultaneously lending a pseudo-Victorian flair to their activities. These contemporary consumers of blood typically appeal to myths about vampires for legitimacy.

The subculture is typically delineated by a particular style of dress and decor that combines elements of the Victorian, Punk, Glam and Gothic fashions with styles featured in vampire films and fiction. Although often associated with the Goth subculture, most goths do not enjoy the association with the negative stereotype portrayed in the media and, as a result, actively dislike members of the vampire subculture. Although this subculture is most popular in the United States of America, it has members throughout Europe and eastern Asia.

Most modern practitioners of vampirism do not believe themselves to be undead creatures; rather, they use vampirism as a means of practicing magic(k). For example, they claim that they are taking life energy or qi from another (usually a willing donor who also practices vampirism) to increase their own energy and vitality. Vampirists do not necessarily obtain this energy from blood, but will use other physical, spiritual or psychic means to obtain this energy (for example, there are self-styled "sexual vampires" and "psychic vampires").

A number of these vampires not only practice the drinking of blood but actually believe themselves to be the vampires of legend, or some other supernatural entity (for example, a "lost race" of Homo sapiens); see otherkin for further discussion of this type of phenomenon. Self-styled vampires of this sort will often claim that their own personal physical or psychological characteristics, such as pale skin, sensitive night vision, quick reflexes, emotional irritability and instability, and any number of self-professed psychic abilities are direct results of vampirism rather than independent or imagined traits. Many outside this group see this as a result of a mental illness such as disassociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, or antisocial personality disorder. A few vampiric groups have been likened to cults, and a few self-proclaimed vampires have murdered in order to drink human blood, such as Brisbane's notorious "lesbian vampire murderer" Tracey Wigginton.

It should be noted that consumption of human blood exposes both parties involved to a range of high-risk blood-borne pathogens and diseases.

For more on the topic of modern vampire cults, see vampire lifestyle.


Eng. vampire < German Vampir < early Old Polish *vąper', [a=nasal "a" - close to Fr -an, e=short "ye", r'=soft "r" similar to "ree" with very very short ee] < OldSlav. *oper' (o=nasal o); South Slav. (for example:Serbian): "vampir" just like modern Polish: "wampir" (Pl.w=v) from German. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it probably has its origins in a Turkish word for "witch", although others dispute this.

Further reading

  • Christopher Frayling - Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula 1992. ISBN 0571167926

See also

External links

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