Vampire legends are the stuff of many popular books and movies. Authors such as Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer brought stories of vampires to the bestseller list. Shows like HBO's True Blood and vampire movies like Underworld and Blade boast legions of fans. But did you ever wonder how vampire legends began? Here are some contributing factors from different cultures' folklore.
It's possible that early vampire stories came from an actual illness that was not understood by society. An illness called Porphyria could be something that contributed to rumors of vampires that came out of Transylvania. This disease causes blood cell loss and damage to tissues, rendering the victim very pale and extremely senstitive to sunlight. It also causes a predisposition to insanity. Victims of the disease were anemic, and often resorted to drinking animal blood to try to restore iron loss. The members of society who saw these ill people would have thought them supernaturally affected, and those who became insane as a result of the illness would have only frightened people more. This could have contributed to the Transylvanian vampire legends being spread.
Vampire bats have been part of the vampire legend for ages. Their habit of drinking blood and occasionally killing livestock made them feared and hated creatures in farm communities. The similarities between the behavior of people with Porphyria and vampire bats may have led some to assume that the two were related.
Many cultures have stories of blood-sucking demons or evil spirits who consume the blood of the dead or living. The ancient Chinese believed that a corpse would come back to life if an animal jumped over it. Russian folklore paints vampires as deceased witches. Some scholars believe that the ancient Greek tradition of putting coins in the mouth of a corpse was a way to prevent evil spirits from inhabiting it and bringing it back to life.
Vampire legends led to a public frenzy in Europe during the 1700s. Stories of vampire attacks circulated through small villages, leading the locals to dig up graves and drive wooden stakes through the hearts of corpses. There are two famous Serbian vampires from this era: Petar Blagojevic, who allegedly killed his son and neighbors after his death, and Sava Savonovic, a vampire who lived in a water mill and killed anyone who came to use it.
Vlad the Impaler
Much of our modern vampire lore comes from Bram Stoker's Dracula, the story of a man who must save the woman he loves from the clutches of a vampire. Much of Stoker's work was based on historical accounts of a real man, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler.
Vlad Draculea ruled Wallachia, now part of Romania, three times before his death. Struggles between nobles were common during his rule, and Vlad responded by executing the nobles by impaling them on pikes, leaving the bodies around his castle grounds for all to see. He was also known for torture and is rumored to have killed as many as 80,000 people during his reign.
Vlad wasn't a vampire, but Stoker was compelled by the tales of torture and killing at his castle. By combining these historical accounts with elements of vampire folklore, Stoker gave birth to our modern vision of vampires.
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