History of Vampires: Truth and Fantasy

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Curiosities often drive us to dig out some of the most notorious secret societies of the world- Vampires. Vampires are everywhere- in your head, books, television, ideas, or even in one’s fantasy. Everyone wants to become a vampire and why not, they are the coolest monsters! Isn’t it? With the release of Twilight, the craze for vampires has romanticized at an extensive pitch. With cold white skin, super-speed to charming looks, the popular image about vampires has certainly modernized. The myth about blood-sucking vampires has categorized into two sects- a nightmarish coldblooded predator or a romantic superhero with a conscience?  

The tales of ancient Mesopotamia to 18th century Eastern European culture, the history of vampires are quite intriguing. The origin of these creatures is confusing in Albanian, Romanian, Greek, African, Mexican, etc. The folklores, facts, myths to fantasy, understanding the bloodsucker is a tough task. Though, that doesn’t hamper the hype they have created otherwise.

The Origin of Vampires

The characteristics of vampires vary when we jump from mythologies to books to movies, yet one trait that remains intact is their thirst for blood. Whether be it ancient vrykolakas to the present day Edward Cullen, they all are pictured with great fangs sucking the life out of mortals. Thus commonly, it is believed that these predators hunt for blood, doesn’t matter if it’s human or an animal’s.

The first origin trace back to Romania’s ‘Strigoi’, which are believed to have two hearts or souls. These vampires suck the blood either from the mortal’s heart or between their eyes, even the female Strigoi are believed to pretend as beautiful maidens and make marriages with the youth. These marriages aren’t made out of love but for hunger or sexual pleasures which soon led to the death of their partners. Strigoi communicates with the fellow vampires through their souls during the night. Be it Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) or Van Helsing (2004), a lot of local myths can be witnessed. Apparently, to get rid of this evil, people perform certain rites such as sprinkling the body with garlic or removing the heart, burning it and drinking the ashes.

The mythologies surrounding vampires in Albania recognize them as shtriga and dhampir. A Shtriga is pictured as a female while a dhampir is a male who sucks an infant’s blood at night while sleep in the day. Things got crazy when this legend became so rife that people started suspecting each other and caused mass hysteria or even public execution of those who are suspected to be a vampire. The same happened in Mesotopia, where locals believe in the existence of the un-dead known as ‘Lilitu’. A demonic figure mentioned in Biblical Hebrew in Isaiah 34:14, drinking the blood of the babies. Another cool demon is known as Lamashtu with a lion’s head and the body of a donkey. These demons were believed to rage at people, eat their flesh and drink their blood.

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Nearly as old as us humans, these vampires have become a part of our traditional belief system. But surprisingly, most of these demons were not pictured the way vampires are believed to be today. In fact, their anatomy totally differs the modern beliefs. The ancient Greek ‘Striges’ was described as a blood-thirsty bird and Manannangal from the Philippines was a bat who could split in two by her torso. Whereas, the Malaysian ‘Pennanggalan’ was a female bird with the head of a woman and a body with open intestines. Things get even peculiar with the Australian ‘Yara-ma-yha-who’ who was a frog-like creature with a big head, huge mouth, and suckers at the end of each limp. The Mexicans Civatateo was a white, shrivelled creature with clucking Turkey. Similarly the images of Germany’s ‘Nachzehrer’ or India’s ‘Brahmaparusha’ are clearly more terrible than the way we imagined.

The Modern Vampires Identity

The modern identity of Vampires arrived in 18th century Eastern Europe when superstitions surrounding them became further spiced and locals claimed frenzy vampires sightings and an alleged vampires attack in the East. These testimonies were the result of mass death by an unknown disease or plague. And it is well accounted that whenever the cause is unknown, people unconsciously shifts towards mythological explanations which often are supernatural. Things got worst with staking and grave-digging activities taking place to identify the demons among all and kill them the foremost. Even the government of that time was compelled to take action to hunt and murder vampires. People irrevocably believed in the existence of vampires and though there weren’t any clear image of how they could be people just imagined them to be a demon in human skin. The panic began and set off the nightmare of mass hysteria, killed at the sight and public execution at most. Other famous cases of vampire attack involve the corpses of Petar Blagojevich and Arnold Paole from Serbia, who both were believed to return from the dead. Simultaneously, talks surrounding man-eaters got their first prevalence. Also known as the Age of Enlightenment, the 18th century too served as an age of superstitious killings. 

Things go twisted with a certain human who gained the expression of ‘Dracula’, the now known vampire. He was Vlad the Impaler, most commonly known as Vlad Dracula was Voivode of Wallachia who is remembered for his brutal killings and murders. His torture includes boiling or skinning of his victims alive, impalement, or driving a wooden stick through their bodies and leaving them to die exposed. And do you know that it’s Vlad the Impaler that provoked inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Then came the Mercy Brown incident of Rhode Island, when members of George and Mary Brown’s family suffered from tuberculosis infection and died. The neighbors believed that one of the family members was a vampire because of their daughter, Mercy, who when exhibited showed no decomposition, and still had blood in the heart, while the other dead members were decomposed. This was a demonic symbol and locals started believing that Mercy Brown was un-dead. They cut out her heart, burned it, and fed the remains to her sick brother who died shortly thereafter. However, it is now proved that these incidents do have a scientific reason behind them and none is a vampire.

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But how did these horrific deadly nocturnal parasites turned out to be a superhero fantasy for us? The major undergoing of blood-suckers started from the emergence of the 1990s when vampires became key protagonists for many of the then authors. Remember Edward Cullen from Stephanie Meyer’s hit series ‘Twilight’, Eric Northman from Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries’ or  L. J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries? The sexy monsters who knew the difference between their nasty dietary requirements and the necessary survival of all! These demons knew that drinking the blood of an innocent human is surely a wrong felony. And if these aren’t enough, try recalling the charming looks, super strength, and enormous love for the main lead, who wouldn’t want a man like that? These fictions surely transformed the popular image of Vampires and somehow turned them into superhumans who fought for the greater good of the world.

Do Real Vampires Exist?

Many communities around the world identify themselves as vampires and feed on human or animal blood for survival. There’s even an organization named Atlanta Vampire Alliance formed in 2005 is an alliance created for people showing vampirism. They claim themselves a house of ‘real vampires’ and conducted a survey that found there are at least 5,000 people in the U.S who identify themselves as vampires. And just as you are thinking it’s all a joke try googling Vampirism! Clinical vampirism also known as Renfield’s syndrome is an obsession with drinking blood. Thus, the existence of people who shows several traits of Vampirism does exist although they are not quite as same as you imagined.  

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