This month’s spotlight is inspired by Halloween! We’re in October now with the end of the year fast approaching. So I couldn’t resist looking into some of the creepy tales that inspire Halloween fright night around the world. More specifically I will be talking about Vampires!
The idea of the vampire has existed for a long time. Back to Ancient Egypt and China to modern day culture.
There seems to have been a fixation on vampires in popular culture over the past few years with everything from Twilight to Vampire Diaries, True Blood and Daybreakers.
Lots of different interpretations of vampires have arisen. Personally my least favourite is the sparkly twilight kind but that’s personal preference!
So where does the vampire myth come from? Were there any real vampires?
Read on to find out!
Countess Elizabeth Bathory
Countess Elizabeth Bathory is a famous female serial killer and suspected vampire. She was born in 1560 to a Hungarian Aristocratic family. At 14 she was married to Count Ferenc Nádasdy, who later fought against the Ottoman Army invading Europe.
Elizabeth had a taste for torture and pain. It is a said as a child she suffered seizures and fits of rage. It is believe that after she married she built on these tastes with her husband and they were cruel masters.
After the death of her husband Elizabeth moved to a castle at Čachtice in northwest Hungary (now Slovakia). Here she developed an obsession with bathing in the blood of virgins. She believe that the blood kept her youthful.
It is thought hundreds of servants and peasant girls were killed by the Countess. No longer able to contain herself to this cohort she started to prey on noble girls sent to her to learn etiquette.
In 1609 Elizabeth murdered a noble girl and tried to make it look like suicide. Unconvinced the authorities searched the castle and found dead bodies of young girls everywhere. All showing signs of torture.
Many servants and survivors came forward to testify against the Countess and her servants. She was convicted of the deaths of 80 girls, although many believe the real number to be closer to 650. Her servants were executed but due to her noble blood Elizabeth was sealed up in a tower. She was found dead three years later.
Count Dracula, often depicted as the first vampire in literature and film, was actually a Romanian hero who fought against the Ottoman advance.
Vlad the Impaler was a prince of Wallachia. He spent his childhood as a political prisoner under the Ottoman Sultan. While a hostage he received a good education including in the art of war. When he returned to Wallachia he used this knowledge against the Ottoman Sultan during his campaign in Europe.
In 1431 Vlad was inducted into the Holy Order of the Dragon by the Hungarian King. This gave him the new surname Dracul and his son the designation Draculea, son of Dracul. The Order of the Dragon was dedicate to one task: holding back the Ottoman advancement into Europe.
It is said that Vlad like to impale his victims on spikes, wash his hands in their blood, eat bread dipped in their blood and other cruelties. Far from simply enjoying cruelty it is argued that Vlad used these tactics to inspire fear in his enemies. When the Ottoman army reached the capital of Wallachia it was deserted. The bodies of Ottoman soldiers who were prisoners of war impaled before it.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is often associate with Vlad the Impaler. Some believe that Vlad was the inspiration for the book and that he particularly liked the title Dracul.
The myth of blood drinkers can be dated back to Ancient Egpytian times. There are several references in Egyptian literature of drinking blood.
In Ancient Egyptian writing there is a reference made that if the Ka of a dead person’s soul was not given suitable offerings it would rise and drink blood.
In addition, the goddess Sekhmet was said to drink blood.
In Chinese mythology the vampire also appears in the form of Ch’iang Shih. This is more of a ghoul that the traditional Western view of the vampire. The Ch’iang Shih are a part of the soul that doesn’t leave when a person dies. This is normally triggered by a violent or painful death or if the burial has not been completed properly.
The Ch’iang Shih kills to absorb the life force of people. These attacks usually occur at night, while the Chi’ang Shih rests during the day.
The Ch’iang Shih are vulnerable to garlic, much like the modern vampire, and salt.
As the Ch’iang Shih kills it becomes stronger. Eventually it can fly, grows white hair and shape shift. The only way to kill a Ch’iang Shih at this stage is with thunder or a bullet. The body must be burnt.
Real Life Diseases
There are several diseases diagnosed in modern times that could have looked like vampirism in other times.
Porphyria – This disease affects the chemical compound that makes haemoglobin in our blood. The result is a severe reaction to sunlight. This could vary from rashes to loosing body parts such as noses and ears. In some cases it caused the gums to recede from the teeth. It is thought that the British King George III, also known as the mad King, suffered from Porphria.
Rabies – An infection now understood and treatable would have been fatal in other times. The symptoms of rabies are aversion to light and water, aggression, biting and delirium.
In other cases normal processes of decomposition were attributed to vampires. For example, bodies that sat up when the coffin was opened. Or what looked like fresh blood in their mouths when exhumed. These can now be explained during the decomposition process but must have been very frightening during earlier time periods. During times of plague those not yet dead could be tossed into the plague pits and climb back out. This fuelled the idea that the plague was a supernatural caused disease
What’s really interesting is that most civilisations has a concept of a vampire or similar supernatural creature. Is this due to similar burial discoveries and diseases? Or is there something more sinister behind these myths and legends?
Let me know what you think below!