History of Vampires
- By Jenna Maxwell
Not Always So Glamorous
Vampires weren’t always such glamorous creatures, however. The term “Vampire” didn’t even exist in ancient days, but even way back then, there was rumored creatures with attributes similar to those of Vampires. These dark beings, spoken of in legend and mythology seemed to have one common denominator amongst them; drinking the blood of living beings as a force of maintaining their own evil existence.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Empusa, the daughter of the Goddess Hecate was considered to be a Vampire-like being. Empusa would transform herself into a beautiful young woman and then would seduce men in order to then feast upon their blood. She also was known to drink the blood of young children.
Fear Feasts on Fear
Throughout European legends and folklore, many tales of Vampire-like creatures were told, but these Vampires were nothing like the charming characters dressed in vampire costumes that would come into vogue in later years. These early Vampires were considered to be half-decomposed, repugnant creatures that looked as if they literally had climbed out of a grave that they had been rotting in for awhile. The interesting thing to note about these early Vampires is that no one ever really saw them in action, but their existence was deduced based on a couple of different things. The first thing noted was that something bad that happened, usually an unexpected death of a person or an animal. Secondly, if a likely Vampire suspect was exhumed from the grave and what they found inside the coffin wasn’t exactly what they thought it should be—well, all sorts of weird conclusions would be drawn.
Take for example one of the first documented cases on record of an actual Vampire. In the early part of the 18th century, Arnold Paole was a farmer who had a serious accident while working on his farm and unfortunately was killed. After his death and subsequent burial, many people in his neighborhood also started dying suddenly with strange symptoms including weird bleeding from their bodies. Rumors spread that some had seen the personage of Arnold out and about at night, and before too long a mild hysteria grew and many blamed the unexpected deaths in the neighborhood on Arnold and suspected that he may be continuing to live on after death as a Vampire and was now preying on the neighbors.
During this time in history, a full-blown fervor had erupted in many villages when it came to these supposed Vampires, so this episode with Arnold Paole was far from an isolated incident. It had become commonplace for bodies to be exhumed on a regular basis to check for any indications that the person may be carrying on some other supernatural existence after their death. This was exactly what happened with Arnold. His grave was opened and what the people saw was very shocking to them. It was expected that Arnold would be decomposing rapidly and drying up quickly. What was seen instead inside of Arnold’s coffin was a very bloated body with blood running out of his mouth. Of course, the superstitious people of this time period had no other logical explanation for his odd appearance after death and so it was assumed he must be a Vampire and was bloated due to being out recently feeding on blood. The most common way to permanently eradicate a Vampire was to drive a stake through the heart of the body, which is what they immediately did to poor Arnold. Blood poured from his wound, further fueling the false notion in their minds that Arnold must indeed have been a Vampire, because he appeared to be full of blood. This early vampire persona however, was considered anything but sexy. In fact, his appearance, usually swollen and purplish with blood spewing from the mouth, was actually considered both grisly as well as gruesome.
Knowing what we know now about the decomposition process, Arnold’s bloated appearance can easily be explained. In the early days after death, it is quite common for a body to actually swell as natural gases made during the decomposition process are made. These gases as they expand will force out any fluids that are remaining in the body (such as blood) and these will flow from the nose and mouth. Skin and hair naturally retracts, thus giving the appearance to hair and nails that they had grown, when in actuality they did not, they just became more pronounced. Because of these natural death processes there were probably many graves that were needlessly desecrated and many supposed Vampires had stakes driven into their corpses. Thank goodness they were already deceased! As far as the unexplained deaths in the neighborhood, these likely can be explained by some contagious illness that went rampant through that vicinity, such as bubonic plague, tuberculosis, or E-Coli.
The “18th Century Vampire Controversy” continued on for many years as did the hysteria and fear that was felt amongst the people living during these times. Bodies continued to be dug up at any hint of suspicion so they could be staked. The feeling at the time was that you just couldn’t be too safe when it came to the risk of a Vampire and if there was any possibility of one being around, it had to be dealt with immediately.
Of course there were a few preventative measures that could be attempted in order to prevent a person from ever becoming a Vampire in the first place and these were often implemented. Bodies were often buried upside down. Other times corpses had coins put in their mouths because it was thought that this would pay the toll that might be necessary to cross the river Styx in the underworld, keeping them on the other side so they wouldn’t come back to haunt the living. Crosses were sometimes placed on the bodies during burial in hopes that a religious symbol would repel off any evil spirits. Garlic was placed everywhere as a repellent to Vampires as well as sacred items such as crosses, rosaries, and holy water. These people were highly superstitious and when they didn’t have logical explanations for things, they seemed to often assume the worst possible scenario and their remedies, although completely useless, often assuaged their fears and worries to a small degree.
Sometimes when bad things were happening, no immediate suspect could be identified and it became a bit of a guessing game as to which grave may actually contain a Vampire. Strange rituals were commonplace and were used to identify the graves of Vampires. A virgin boy was taken on a stallion to a graveyard. It was thought that the horse would stop short on the grave of a Vampire. These graves of course, were then dug up and if the corpse looked unusually healthy or showed little decomposition, or if blood were seen coming from the mouth, more drastic measures (a stake through the heart) would need to be taken.
As if these early, very suspicious people needed any more reasons to fear Vampires, every now and then what they considered positive proof of the Vampires existence would occur. Occasionally when coffins were opened, there would be evidence of scratching on the lid of the coffin or signs that the body had been banging his head on the lid. On rare occasions, actual sounds were purported to be coming from an occasional coffin. The most likely (as well as unfortunate) explanation for these occurrences is that the individual was likely buried while still alive and had tried to make some effort to escape or to be heard. Without modern medical advances such as we have today, it is possible that a person was thought to be deceased when in actuality he was not, thus unfortunately had been buried alive.
After many years of hysteria and fear regarding the existence of Vampires running completely rampant, in 1897, an author named Bram Stoker came along and changed the image of Vampires forevermore. Curious about the legends and myths of these blood-sucking beings, Bram created an epic Vampire story based largely on these myths, but with some notable differences. The book he wrote was called Dracula.
Extreme Makeover-Vampire Style
Dracula was not yesterday’s bloated and grisly Vampire. Stoker’s characterization of Dracula was much more akin to the Vampire characters we are familiar with today. A foreigner with a sharp accent, Dracula was suave and charismatic, very wealthy, had superhuman powers and lived in a big castle. His very demeanor was seductive and powerful and clearly women fell immediately under his intoxicating and mesmerizing spell. The Vampire, from that point on had his image changed dramatically. No longer was the Vampire just a macabre demon out killing people and animals. Now the Vampire was considered a dark, deadly and sexy lover, both dangerous as well as forbidden. To love a Vampire was to risk ones very own life, and apparently there were many women who fell prey to his well guised and captivating form of entrapment.
The "New" Vampire
The new Vampire seems to have a few vulnerabilities of his own. Vampires are known to be nocturnal beings and must stay out of the sunlight, thus the modern image of a Vampire is that of a very pale skinned being. He’s also very susceptible to female beauty and seems to be torn between his love of female virtue and purity and his bloodlust. Once the traditional Vampire has corrupted a virgin he no longer lusts and desires her and his passion for her immediately ends. This encounter historically often leaves the woman now a Vampire herself.
The Vampires portrayed in today’s media are a much more sentimental and emotional. Seen as victims, some of them want to change their evil ways and they seem to struggle with their desire and craving for human blood. Modern Vampires sometimes are even portrayed as heroes as they try to get in touch with what once was human within them and try to squelch the demon that also rages inside.
Vampires are always going to be one of the most dominant figures associated with Halloween. Dressing up as a Vampire or Vampiress will always be a favorite and frightful costume choice for Halloween as well. Understanding the legends behind Vampires makes recreating one yourself all the more interesting as well as appealing. The sexy, powerful and bewitching character of a Vampire is rich in tradition, folklore and is based on thousands of years of history. The Vampire indeed, seems to have found his own way into immortality.