Scary Monster Lore ~ Vampires

Vampires

  • While most people can name several elements of vampire lore, there are no firmly established characteristics.
  • Some vampires are said to be able to turn into bats or wolves; others can’t.
  • Some are said not to cast a reflection, but others do.
  • Holy water and sunlight are said to repel or kill some vampires, but not others.
  • The one universal characteristic is the draining of a vital bodily fluid, typically blood.
  • One of the reasons that vampires make such successful literary figures is that they have a rich and varied history and folklore. Writers can play with the “rules” while adding, subtracting or changing them to fit whatever story they have in mind.
  • Interest and belief in revenants surged in the Middle Ages in Europe.
  • Though in most modern stories the classic way to become a vampire is to be bitten by one, that is a relatively new twist.
  • In his book “Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality” (Yale, 2008), folklorist Paul Barber noted that centuries ago, “Often potential revenants can be identified at birth, usually by some abnormality, some defect, as when a child is born with teeth.
  • Similarly suspicious are children born with an extra nipple (in Romania, for example); with a lack of cartilage in the nose, or a split lower lip (in Russia) … When a child is born with a red caul, or amniotic membrane, covering its head, this was regarded throughout much of Europe as presumptive evidence that it is destined to return from the dead.” Such minor deformities were looked upon as evil omens at the time.
  • The belief in vampires stems from superstition and mistaken assumptions about postmortem decay.
  • The first recorded accounts of vampires follow a consistent pattern: Some unexplained misfortune would befall a person, family or town — perhaps a drought dried up crops, or an infectious disease struck.
  • Before science could explain weather patterns and germ theory, any bad event for which there was not an obvious cause might be blamed on a vampire.
  • Vampires were one easy answer to the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people.
  • Villagers combined their belief that something had cursed them with fear of the dead, and concluded that perhaps the recently deceased might be responsible, having come back from the graves with evil intent.
  • Graves were unearthed, and surprised villagers often mistook ordinary decomposition processes for supernatural phenomenon.
  • For example, though laypeople might assume that a body would decompose immediately, if the coffin is well sealed and buried in winter, putrefaction might be delayed by weeks or months; intestinal decomposition creates bloating which can force blood up into the mouth, making it look like a dead body has recently sucked blood.
  • These processes are well understood by modern doctors and morticians, but in medieval Europe were taken as unmistakable signs that vampires were real and existed among them.

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