The vampire myth has evolved from early times from stories or legends of the undead based upon rumour and ignorance - from voodoo in the Caribbean to sects in Europe. These early myths then grew and incorporated more legends from other cultures. Ignorance of rare medical conditions and decomposition seem to be the key components in all vampire cultures and myths.
The original vampire stories were triggered by observation of unusual behaviour in ill or unstable murder suspects. Cases of rabies outbreaks were most likely behind many of the stories, as symptoms of the disease have many similarities with early vampire myths. Throughout history, vampires have been predominantly male, and rabies affected a much larger proportion of men than women due to the nature of the work carried out by the male population. The contorted aggressive mannerisms of rabies victims and the tendency to bite other humans in the final stages before death would certainly horrify the uneducated.
Popular belief, although incorrect, that a rabid man cannot bear to look at his own reflection in the mirror corresponds to the myth that a vampire doesn't have a reflection. Intense sensory input such as bright sunlight and strong odours (such as garlic) also causes a rabies sufferer pain in the stages before death, making onlookers believe that the vampire had been killed by these things. If the supposed 'vampire' had close contact with others before his death then these may be suspected also, especially if he had bitten them, passing on the disease through his saliva.
Believing that they may be dealing with some form of supernatural being, the locals may have chosen to dig up the body of the alleged vampire. Due to ignorance of the decomposition process, belief in the undead was strengthened because on opening the coffin lid to view the corpse, the body (depending on which state of decomposition it had entered) may well have looked healthier than it did in life - fatter and rosier then ever. It could even have groaned or broken wind. In rare cases, the corpse would have a bigger erection than possible in life - indicating to the unsuspecting onlooker recent sexual exploits - and as the upper layer of skin on the body decayed it would reveal fresher looking skin underneath. Choosing to drive a wooden stake into the heart of this 'vampire' would have seen it convulse, expel wind and excrete blood through the mouth and nose.
As word spread, and as villagers continued to drop down dead, the rumours reached fever pitch and widespread paranoia resulted. Eventually the rabies epidemic would end and the vampire hunters would claim success even though all they had done was desecrate the graves and tombs of rabies victims.
In 1897, the author Bram Stoker wrote Dracula to wide acclaim, even the church declared it as one of the best ever romantic novels. Set in Transylvania, the book introduced Count Dracula and immortalised the vampire myth. Dracula could not be seen in mirrors, he slept in a coffin, feared daylight, crosses and garlic, and his mouth contained two fangs to puncture his victims' throats to suck out their blood. He was one of the undead and once bitten the victim would also become a vampire. This image of the cloaked vampire in a castle continued in further books and movies, until Ann Rice began a new version with her book An Interview with a Vampire.
The book and subsequent film further modified and updated the vampire story, and many of today's vampire tales mirror Ann Rice's image of characters like Lestat - suave and sophisticated aristocrats with a passion for blood and sexual activities. Various psychological conditions have similar traits to this type of vampire, where the afflicted person has a desire to drink blood during sex and in extreme cases would resort to necrophilia (sleeping with the dead) and even murder.
World Vampire Myths
Despite the contention put forward by most people on Earth that they have very little in common with one another - one curious fear seems to cross all cultural boundaries: the vampire.
Albania - Liugat/Sampiro
In this myth, unfortunate Albanians of Turkish descent will turn into a vampire upon death, driven to go out at night in a shroud and high heel shoes to spread death and destruction. A will-o'-the-wisp1 will indicate where the tomb lies. Like the rest of Eastern Europe, these legends were reported more frequently after the 16th Century - the Eastern Orthodoxy's flexible position on superstition seems to be a major cause for the myth's increase in popularity.
Armenia - Dakhanavar
Dakhanavar protected a valley near Mount Ararat by sucking blood from the feet of travellers. When two men slept with their feet under each other's heads Dakhanavar mistook them for a monster with two heads and no feet and was never heard of again.
Austria - Vampire
Reports from Austrian-controlled Serbia prepared by Austrian officials between 1725 and 1732 introduced the word vampire into European consciousness. In 1755 the town of Olmutz in Austria was itself the scene of several vampire reports.
Australia - Yara-ma-yha-who
Localised Koori legend tells of a short creature with a huge head and mouth, whose feet and hands have suckers like an octopus. It drops on people from its fig tree and drains them of blood, later returning to swallow them whole and regurgitate them. The whole process is non-fatal though you will eventually turn into a furry bush creature.
Babylonia - Ekimmu
The oldest of all the myths seems to be the Babylonian Ekimmu, in which the ghost of an unburied person, and in some cases a spirit who does not receive enough offerings, dwells underground and emerges at night to feed off the living. While the Ekimmu seems to have influenced several neighbouring cultures, other regions on Earth seem to have developed similar legends in parallel evolution.
Belarus - Mjertovjec
The Mjertovjec is an apostate (someone who renounces their beliefs), werewolf or witch who has died. This vampire will follow poppy seeds from its home back to its tomb.
Benin - Asiman/Obayifo
Witches travel at night in the guise ofs a glowing ball and suck blood from children.
Bosnia-Herzegovina - Blautsauger
The Blautsauger is a hairy vampire with no skeleton. It can turn into a rat or a wolf. The Blautsauger attempts to get people to eat dirt from its tomb so they'll become vampires. Scattering hawthorn flowers along the road from its home to the tomb will slow it down.
Brazil - Lobishomen
Small, stumpy and hunch-backed, with bloodless lips, yellow skin, black teeth, bushy beard and the looks of a monkey, the bite of this vampire turns its female victims into nymphomaniacs. To dispose of Lobishoen, get it drunk on blood and crucify it to a tree while stabbing it.
Bulgaria - Krvopijac/Obur
One becomes a Krvopijac by smoking or drinking during Lent. Disposal involves a Djadadjii (or monk) calling the soul into a bottle of blood, which is then burnt. To locate your Krvopijac, get a nude teen virgin on a black foal to ride through the graveyard. Where the horse won't go is where your vampire is.
The Obur is a gluttonous blood drinker, it can be enticed with excrement or rich food and has the ability to move objects from a distance and create loud noises.
Burma - Thaye/Tasei
These are evil people condemned to be disembodied spirits. They can appear as tall dark people with huge ears, long tongues and tusk-like teeth. They enter town at noon or by dark and usually cause minor illness.
China - Ch'ing Shih
This Chinese vampire has red staring eyes, long curved nails, long hair, is a green-white colour and flies. Powered by the moon, it can be held in place by a circle of rice around it. The Ch'ing Shih often dwells underground (influences from the Ekimmu of Babylon) and was first journalised by J de Groot in The Religious System of China in 1892.
Croatia - Pijawika/Kuzlak
Croatia was the site of one of the first vampire epidemics of the modern age. In 1672 Giure Grando, late of Khring on the Istrian peninsula, Croatia, apparently returned from the grave and caused many deaths.
To kill a Pijawika, cut off its head and stick it between its legs.
A Kuzlak is created when an infant is not breast-fed enough and dies.
The Czech Republic - Ogoljen
The Ogoljen wanders about with soil from its tomb in its navel. Bury it at a crossroads to get rid of it. There is also a Moravian vampire who drops its death shroud and wanders about naked. It can be destroyed by stealing its shroud.
France - Moribondo
A Moribondo assaults cattle in particular. Protection for the herd is provided by moving the cattle through a circle of fire.
Germany - Nachzehrer/Neuntöter
A child born with an amniotic membrane over their head (caul) or anyone who dies by drowning, becomes a Nachzehrer. It lies in its tomb with its left eye open and gnaws upon its shroud or itself. It causes plagues (and also ties cows tails together). To deal with it, shove something in its mouth or chop the head off with an executioner's axe. Garlic will keep this one at bay. Minister Georg Röhrer reported these creatures in detail to none other than Martin Luther.
The Neuntöter from Pomerania is similar to the Nachzehrer, but must be decapitated between 11pm and midnight.
Ghana - Asasabonsam
These vampires have hooks for feet and come in three types (male, female and child). They have iron teeth and dangle their feet down from trees onto victims. Asasabonsum also sucks blood from the thumbs of sleeping people.
Greece - Catacano/Bruculaco/Callicantzaros
Catacano - the happy vampire - grins constantly, showing its pearlies. It spits blood on people who subsequently become its victims if they are hit by said bloody discharge - it burns. To kill it, isolate it behind salt water or boil its head in vinegar.
The Bruculaco has swollen, hard skin and sounds like a drum when struck and it also spreads the plague. It can scream once per night, if you answer the call you will die. Cut of its head and either burn or boil it to kill it for good.
A child born between Christmas and the Twelfth Night (5 January) becomes a Callicantzaros after death - appearing between Christmas and Twelfth Night each year to tear people to pieces with its extended fingernails. The rest of the year it exists in some nether world.
India - Churel/Punyaiama/Bhuta/Rakshasas/Chedipe
A woman who has died unnaturally or in childbirth may return with her feet on back to front. The Churel (also known as Jakhin, Mukai or Nagulai) attempts to dry the blood of the men of the family.
The Punyaiama looks like an old woman. It passes a magic thread down a chimney and sucks the blood from the sleeping or mad/drunk women. It is also a cannibal.
Appearing at night as shadows, flickering lights or mists, the Bhuta (in North India, Brahmaparusha) are souls of those who died untimely. They are mostly harmless, although they will attack babies who have just fed as they love milk. They can transmogrify into owls or bats.
Rakshasas are ogres or demons living in cemeteries having a human, humanoid or half-animal shape. They have fangs and attack infants and pregnant women. First described in Atharva Veda.
The Chedipe (lit. prostitute) enters a house at night sending all into a trance and sucks blood from the toe of the male of the house.
Indonesia - Pontianak/Buo
A Pontianak is a woman who died either a virgin or in childbirth. Out of jealousy it will attack infants or emasculate the men it seduces. They fly at night as birds, but in human form, the hole in their backs is a dead give-away. To escape one, pluck a strand of their long black hair.
Warriors of Borneo slain in battle can become Buo.
Ireland - Dearg-Dul
According to Montague Summers, this Irish vampire can be held at bay by piling large amount of stones on its grave - but no Irish mythologist can find any reference to it.
Italy - Strix/Strega
Strix was a night demon from ancient Rome which attacked infants, Ovid described them in Fasti. This Strix developed into the Stegra - a woman who flies about in bird form and attacks infants. These were also chronicled in the Saxon capitulary of Charlemagne in 781.
Japan - Kappa
These are ugly, green child-like creatures who drag horses and cows into their watery homes where they suck the blood from their anuses. They will leave the water to steal fruit, rape women and steal people's livers but can enter into binding agreements promising not to attack people. Another Japanese vampire legend involves a vampire cat taking the form of a prince's concubine after killing her.
Malaysia - Langsuyar/Penanggalan
Much like the Pontianak (which it is also known as the Langsuyar), it is recognised by her long fingernails, green robe and the hole in her neck. She died during childbirth. This hole is where she feeds on infants' blood. They may fool men into marrying them as humans but at the first big dance they get over excited and fly off into the trees. The Langsuyar was recorded by Sir William Maxwell in the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society circa 1885.
Like the Phii Krasue of Thailand, the Penanggalan consists of a head and some entrails. The Penanggalan actually separates from its whole, female form into a motionless, headless, gutless body and flying head. It seeks out the blood of children or the blood from childbirth.
Macedonia - Vryolakas
A messy wine drinker in life, when undead it can be killed by a nail through the navel or pouring oil over the body. It can be deterred by scattering bird seed on the tomb (it'll stop and count the seeds, one per century).
Mexico - Cihuateteo/Camazotz/Tlahuelpuchi
This is either a stillborn baby or a mother who died in childbirth which attacks and paralyses babies. It flies and is chalked white on its hands, arms and face. Offer it bread to fill them up so they don't go attacking humans. If you don't have any bread, meteorites will do. They die if they are caught in sunlight - one of the few vampire legends to actually mention sunlight.
Described as a 'man-bat' with a sharp nose, large teeth and claws, the Camazotz is an integral part of Mayan agricultural myth. The descent of the Camazotz into the earth is linked to the planting of maize.
The Tlahuelpuchi could transform itself into several different animal types (usually leaving its legs behind) and attacked infants, and occasionally adults or children. It is always female.
Namibia - Otgiruru
The Herero people believe that this vampire, which looks like a dog, kills those who answer its call
Peru - Pishtaco
This is a vampire which feeds off your fat first, then goes for the blood.
The Philippines - Aswang
A beautiful maiden who flies through the night, lands on the roof of the victim and proceeds to feed via a long pointed tubular tongue which reaches from the roof to the bed below and pierces the skin of the sleeping victim. The Aswang then flies home before dawn (looking pregnant from the blood) and breast-feeds her children.
Polynesia - Talamaur
Talamaur sucks the life from the dying and sometimes devours the heart of healthy men while they sleep.
Portugal - Bruxsa
A woman at day, a bird by night: it sucks the blood of children, and was a popular excuse to murder women during the Inquisition.
Prussia - Gierach/Viesczy/Stryz
Sprinkling poppy seeds in the grave of this vampire will send it to sleep or keep it busy (a stocking or fishing net to unravel will do just as well). East Prussia (now North Poland) reported vampire epidemics in 1710, 1721 and 1750.
Romania - Vircolac/Nosferatu/Strigoiu
All Romanian vampires are particularly active on St George's day (23 April) and St Andrew's Day (30 November). They can take on the shape of dogs, cats, frogs and insects. A Vircolac (or Murohy/Strigol) drains the energy from people. To kill it, cut out the heart and split it, nail in the forehead (or in eyes and heart if female), dump the body in the mountains, shove garlic in the mouth, or you can even smear it with pig fat on St Ignatius Day.
Nosferatu is old Slavonic for plague carrier, it does not mean undead. A myriad of causes are quoted - the illegitimate son of two illegitimate parents or the seventh son of a seventh son, a bastard, born with a caul, if the mother had not eaten salt while pregnant or had been looked at by a vampire while pregnant. The Nosferatu feeds on its family and makes husbands impotent.
A Strigoiu is a dead red-headed women, who squats in deserted houses at night. To kill it nail through it the chest or blow up its coffin.
Russia - Vampir/Ereticy
Heretics, witches and suicides were considered to turn into Vampirs (or Uppyr/Upierczi) after death. They cause drought and while running them through with an stake will kill them, if you strike more than once it will revive.
Ereticy (or Erestuny) are either re-animated corpses brought back by sorcerers to begin feeding on their relatives or women who'd sold their souls to Satan and who sleep on graves and make unseemly noises in the public bathhouses!
Scotland - Baobban Sith
Occasionally seen as crows or ravens, usually these vampires are young maidens in long green dresses (which hide their cloven hooves). They are afraid or repelled by horses and cause massive wounds on the necks and shoulders of men they dance with.
Thailand - Phii
One of countless spirits from Thai mythology, the Phii Song Nang is basically identical to the Pontianak of Indonesia and Malaysia - it attacks young men mostly. A seer or 'Maw Du' should be called in to make spells and incantations to get rid of this Phii. The Phii Krasue is similar to the Pelagganan of Malaysia and Krappa of Japan in that it consists of a head and entrails and has a tendency to feed from people's bottoms with its long tongue
Tibet - The Wrathful Dieties
Also known as the 58 blood-drinking deities, these vampires are figures representing the brain's reason and the deceased's (metaphorically) vampiric activities, which appear to the spirit of the recently dead from the eigth day onwards whilst they wander the karma-dominated zones of the afterlife in Buddhist teachings. These include: Bhagavan Vajra- Heruka, Vajra-Krotishaurima, Ratna-Herucka, Padma-Heruka, Dark-Green Ghasmari, plus eight Kerimas and the Lotus Order.
West Indies - Asema/Loogaroo/Sukuyan
An elderly person by day, a skin shedding ball of flying blue light by night, the Asema will drain a person to death if it liked the taste of their blood. Killed by sunlight (hence a mixture of seeds and nails will keep them busy - picking, dropping, picking... till dawn). Better yet, you can shrink the skin while they are a ball so they can't fit back into it!
Known in Surinam as the Asema, in Haiti as the Loogaroo, and in Trinidad as the Sukuyan. Ther roots are thought to be the Aziman of the Fo peoples of Benin.
Yugoslavia - Vlkodlak/Mulo/Vukodlak
In 1725, villagers of Kisilovo in the Vojvodina region of Serbia reported that Peter Plogojowitz had returned from the grave - the Austrian government report on this incident used the word 'vampire' for the first time.
The French version of the word 'vampyre' was introduced into the language seven years later when Arnold Paole was blamed for dozens of deaths of people and cattle around the town of Medvegia, Serbia. He was apparently bitten by a vampire while fighting on the Turkish front in Kosova. The detailed description of his corpse being dug up (with growing hair, flesh complexion and fresh blood evident) as well as his dramatic staking became one of the best selling government reports ever.
A Serbian Vlkodlak looks drunk, is over 20 years old and can only be undead for 7 years, then having to repeat the process elsewhere. It causes eclipses and can be killed by piercing its navel with a hawthorn branch and setting it on fire with vigil candles.
A Mulo is a dead gypsy who wears white and is active all day and night. It will boil the women it wants and fillet them. To dispatch it call in a Dhampir (a vampire's degenerate son) who will defeat it in combat.
The Montenegran Vukodlak can turn into a wolf and only goes out in the full moon. Crows will not go near its tomb.
1 A will-o'-the-wisp is a person that is difficult to see or catch.