Origin

In its origin, the vampire is a combination of old myths of different cultures. For example the Mesopotamian, Ancient Greeks, Manipuri, the Romans and all older religions and beliefs are talking about evil entities and evil spirits.

Lamashtu – in Mesopotamia is a female demon with a hairy body, lioness head, donkey teeth, long fingers and fingernails. Unlike other gods in the Mesopotamian lore, Lamashtu is a demon or demi-goddess that acts according to her own will. She is closely related to the Hebrew Lilith and later, Lilith will be the Mother of all Vampires in common perception.

Strix (Striges) – in Metamorphoses striges is a metamorphosis of Polyphonte (daughter of Hipponous and Thrassa) – was punished into becoming a bird for her cannibalism. She is described as a bloodthirsty monster that hows into the night a harbinger of war.

Manananggal, Penanggalan and  Yara-Ma-Yha-Who were also demons and creatures of the night with their own traits that all fit the description of drinking blood, feeding with humans and overall creatures of the night.

Modern Concept

Mostly through the Slavic people and migrations to Europe, the old myths were kinda combined into the modern perception we see today. Archaeologists found a 13th century vampire grave in Bulgaria – a stake through the heart. Modern science can tell us why the body when dead, it is bloated due to gases, fingernails appear longer due to shrinking of the skin and hair longer, also appearing blood on the mouths of the dead. But for the people of the Middle Ages there were no scientific explanation except the belief that the dead were rising from the graves to feed on the innocent. These graves can be seen all over the Balkans. Folk tales and old legends were recited and so, the cause was vampires. The infamous Vlad Țepeș Dracula is attributed to the evil powers of darkness because of his crude and efficient ways to deal with his enemies with various tortures. And this is the main inspiration to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, the famous novel about the Count that feast on the blood of the innocent.

13th century vampire, Perperikon, Bulgaria (Photo: Nikolay Ovcharov)

Popularization

Vampire “craze” is rooted in the 18th century – a clash between Christianity and paganism. Many were considered witches like the Baba Yaga legend, where paganism was prosecuted from Christianity. May be we can call this the “revival of the old legends” into a modern look we see today, largely due to literature. Folk tales aside, these few novels helped the vampire mythos to be largely famous today – “The Vampyre” (1816, John William Polidori ), “Carmilla” (Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872) and “Dracula” (Bram Stoker, 1897).

 

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