Vampires (sometimes vampyres) are mythological or folkloric creatures believed to be the re-animated corpses of human beings who subsist on human or animal blood. In folklore, the term usually refers to the blood-drinking humans of Eastern European legends, but it is often extended to cover similar legendary creatures from other regions and cultures. The characteristics of vampires vary widely between these different traditions. Some cultures also have stories of non-human vampires, including real animals such as bats, dogs,spiders, and mythical creatures such as the chupacabra.
Vampires are a frequent subject of fictional books and films, although fictional vampires are often attributed traits distinct from those of folkloric vampires.
Christopher Lee as Count Dracula
The term vampire is also used to refer to mythical or fictional creatures that act as predatory parasites, draining power, energy, or life from unwilling victims. Creatures who act in this manner are often considered part of the vampire archetype, even if they do not consume blood.
Vampirism is the practice of drinking blood from a person or animal. In folklore and popular culture, the term 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 (or flesh) has been used as a tactic of psychological warfare intended to terrorize the enemy, and can be used to reflect various spiritual beliefs.
In zoology and botany, the term vampirism is used in reference to leeches, mosquitos, mistletoe, vampire bats, and other organisms that subsist on the bodily fluids of others.
The English word vampire was borrowed (perhaps via French vampyre) from German Vampir, in turn borrowed in early 18th century from Serbian вампир/vampir, or, according to some sources, from Hungarian vámpír. The Serbian and Hungarian forms have some parallels in some Slavic languages. Bulgarian вампир (vampir) or въпир (vəpir), Macedonian вампир (vampir) or вапир (vapir), Polish wampir or (archaic) wąpierz, Czech vampýr. Previous links with the Slovak upír, Polish upiór, Russian упырь (upyr' ), Belarussian упiр (upyr), Ukrainian упир (upyr), from Old Russian упирь (upir' ), the etymology remains uncertain. Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are *ǫpyrь and *ǫpirь. The Slavic word might, like its possible Russian cognate netopyr' ("bat"), come from the Proto-Indo-European root for "to fly". Earlier theories had it that the Slavic word comes from a Turkic word denoting an evil supernatural entity (cf. Kazan Tatar ubyr "witch"). This theory has since been proved obsolete. The first recorded use of the word 'Vampire' was from Austrian-controlled Serbia in reports prepared by Austrian police officials between 1725 and 1732 investigating reports of a citizen arising from the dead to attack villagers.
Research by Prof Tallas et al, published November 2006 suggests that the etymology of the word 'vampire' is far more likely to be Germanic in origin based on the publication of the "Prolander Script" dated c. 944 AD where the word vampir is cited.
Vampire analogies in ancient cultures
Tales of the dead craving blood are found in nearly every culture around the world, including some of the most ancient ones. Vampire-like spirits called the Lilu are mentioned in early Babylonian demonology, and the bloodsucking Akhkharu even earlier in the Sumerian mythology. These female demons were said to roam during the hours of darkness, hunting and killing newborn babies and pregnant women. One of these demons, named Lilitu, was later adapted into Jewish demonology as Lilith.
In India, tales of the Vetalas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses, are found in old Sanskrit folklore. A prominent story tells of King Vikramāditya and his nightly quests to capture an elusive Vetala. The stories of the Vetala have been compiled in the book Baital Pachisi. The vetala is an undead, who like the bat associated with modern day vampire, is associated with hanging upside down on trees found in cremation grounds and cemeteries.
The hopping corpse is an equivalent of the vampire in Chinese tradition; however, it consumes the victim's life essence (qì) rather than blood.
The Ancient Egyptian goddess Sekhmet in one myth became full of bloodlust after slaughtering humans and was only sated after drinking alcohol colored as blood.
The strix, a nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood is mentioned in Roman tales. The Romanian word for vampires, strigoi, is derived from the word, and so is the name of the Albanian Shtriga, but the myths about those creatures show mainly Slavic influence.
As an example of the existence and prominence of similar legends at later times, it can be noted that 12th century English historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded accounts of revenants that arguably bear some resemblance to East European vampires.
The vampire myth as we know it is most strongly rooted in East European and above all Slavic folklore (dealt with more thoroughly in the next section), where vampires were revenants accused of killing people, often by drinking blood, but also by throttling, or sitting on them and preventing breathing. A vampire could be destroyed by cutting off its head, by driving a wooden stake into its heart, or by burning the corpse.
Folk beliefs in vampires
It seems that until the 19th century, vampires in Europe were thought to be hideous monsters from the grave. They were usually believed to rise from the bodies of suicide victims, criminals, or evil sorcerers, though in some cases an initial vampire thus "born of sin" could pass his vampirism onto his innocent victims. In other cases, however, a victim of a cruel, untimely, or violent death was susceptible to becoming a vampire. Most of Romanian vampire folk beliefs (except Strigoi) and European vampire stories have Slavic origins.
Modern belief in vampires
Belief in vampires persists to this day. While some cultures preserve their original traditions about the immortal, most modern-day believers are more influenced by the fictional image of the vampire as it occurs in films and literature.
In the 1970s, there were rumours (spread by the local press) that a vampire haunted Highgate Cemetery in London. Amateur vampire hunters flocked in large numbers in the cemetery. Several books have been written about the case, notably by Sean Manchester, a local man who was among the first to suggest the existence of the "Highgate Vampire" and who later claimed to have exorcised and destroyed a whole nest of vampires in the area.
In the modern folklore of Puerto Rico and Mexico, the chupacabra (goat-sucker) is said to be a creature that feeds upon the flesh or drinks the blood of domesticated animals, leading some to consider it a kind of vampire. The "chupacabra hysteria" was frequently associated with deep economic and political crises, particularly during the mid-1990s.
During late 2002 and early 2003, hysteria about alleged attacks of vampires swept through the African country of Malawi. Mobs stoned one individual to death and attacked at least four others, including Governor Eric Chiwaya, based on the belief that the government was colluding with vampires.
In Romania during February of 2004, several relatives of the late Toma Petre feared that he had become a vampire. They dug up his corpse, tore out his heart, burned it, and mixed the ashes with water in order to drink it.
In January 2005, rumors began to circulate that an attacker had bitten a number of people in Birmingham, England, fueling concerns about a vampire roaming the streets. However, local police stated that no such crime had been reported. This case appears to be an urban legend.
In 2006, Costas Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi published a piece that uses geometric progression to attempt to disprove the feeding habits of vampires, stating that, if each vampire's nourishment depended on making even one other person a vampire, it would only be a matter of years before the Earth's entire population was among the undead or vampires died out. However, this notion that a vampire's victims must themselves become vampires does not appear in all vampire folklore, and is not universally accepted by modern vampire believers. This theory also assumes that a single bite turns the victim into a vampire, which is not generally the case in most vampire lore.
During the late 18th and 19th centuries the belief in vampires was widespread in parts of New England, particularly in Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut. In this region there are many documented cases of families disinterring loved ones and removing their hearts in the belief that the deceased was a vampire who was responsible for sickness and death in the family (although the word "vampire" was never used to describe him/her). The deadly tuberculosis, or "consumption" as it was known at the time, was believed to be caused by nightly visitations on the part of a dead family member (who had died of consumption him/herself). The most famous (and latest recorded) case is that of nineteen year old Mercy Brown who died in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1892. Her father, assisted by the family physician, removed her from her tomb two months after her death. Her heart was cut out then burnt to ashes. An account of this incident was found among the papers of Bram Stoker and the story closely resembles the events in his classic novel, Dracula.
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