Vampires: World Myths & Legends

Creatures of the night, drinkers of blood, the scourge of the living, vampires

From Dracula to Twilight, vampires have been a pervasive part of our culture for decades and a part of folklore for centuries beyond that, from campfire stories to novels, films, comics and much more

Vampires are a staple of the horror genre and have appeared in countless pieces of fiction. Although the image and common traits of the vampires have varied over the years, it is hard to find someone who is not familiar with at least the usual themes in this presentation, I’ll attempt to cover the history of vampires from the earliest mythological bases into the modern era of literature and cinema.

Many ancient civilizations possessed folklore of some sort of creatures akin to a vampire, from the Persians to the Jews and Egyptians. The myths surrounding these creatures varied wildly with some also having traits in common with other horrific creatures like zombies but the theme of the undead monster or a spirit drinking the blood of the living pervaded many different cultures. Some of the myths mentioned the creatures preferring to drink the blood of the newborns or pregnant women, other myths mentioned the creatures’ ability to change its shape to attract or charm their victims. 

The European myths formed the main basis of the modern of a vampire, in Albanian folklore, the Shtriga was a vampiric witch that would drain the blood of infants at night before transforming into an insect and flying away there were ways of protecting oneself from Shtriga including leaving a cross made of pig bones at the entrance of a church on Easter Sunday. In Iceland, they had the myth of the Draugr, an undead creature that retained a physical body and either remained near their burial place to protect their treasures from thieves or roamed the earth to harass and kill the living turning them into more Draugr, if a corpse was suspected to be a Draugr he would be decapitated or staked down in their grave to pin them.

 In more Modern Greek folklore Lycanthrope or werewolves, it was believed that someone could turn into a werewolf after death due to a sacrilegious way of life, excommunication from the church and other holy acts. 

The panic worked its way into poetry. Heinrich August Ossenfelder’s 1748 poem “The Vampire”, was one of the first to speak about the nocturnal horror:

The epic poem “Thalaba the Destroyer,” by Robert Southey, is considered to be first appearance of a vampire in English literature. Thalaba, the hero, is confronted by Oneiza, his recently-deceased bride who has risen again as a vampire. This was in keeping with the European tales: Vampires were often related to their victims. 

“The Vampyre” sparked a pop culture phenomenon: There were unauthorized sequels, a flurry of other vampire tales and numerous stage adaptations. Even Queen Victoria saw the vampire plays, according to one of her biographies”.

Fifty years later, Sheridan Le Fanu gave the world its first favorite female vampire in “Carmilla,” which he published in 1872. In “Carmilla,” a young woman falls prey to a vampire in an isolated castle. Sound familiar? Scholars have noted many similarities between “Carmilla” and Bram Stoker’s vampire masterpiece, “Dracula,” which followed twenty-five years later.

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