A History Of Vampires
Not all that glitters is gold, and not all vampires glitter. Before vampires made modern day fantasies a little unbearable there was a huge mysticium and bloody history behind these creatures of the night known for turning into bats and sucking on the blood of humans.
The origins of the vampire mythology can be hard to trace, but some say it can be linked to Ancient Greece, where the Sun God Apollo cursed an Italian-born adventurer named Ambrogio for falling in love with one of Apollo's temple maidens. The curse he laid on Ambrogio was so that his skin would burn if he was ever out in the sunlight. Ambrogio later ended up gambling his soul away to the God of the Underworld Hades and ended up being pitied by Apollo's sister Artemis, the goddess of the moon and hunting. Artemis gave him the gift of immortality in his current form, but he would have to carry his curses around. 1
Basically, don't mess with ancient Greek Gods!
Apparently, after being cursed to live eternity with his curses, Ambrogio later moved back to Italy where legend traces him to the city of Florence and then looses him, speculating that this is where he began changing others in vampires to live with him.
Despite the shady ending of the legend, the European adventures of the vampire continued, with most eastern European cultures recording some form of blood sucking demons in ancient legends. The resulting legends, and the mass-hysteria against demonic entities and magical powers at the time reached an all time high in the 18th century amongst witch burnings and strong superstitious beliefs. The mass-hysteria, known as the "18th Century Vampire Controversy" began as an outbreak of suspicious vampire-like behaviour in East Prussia in 1721 and in the Habsburg Monarchy from 1725 to 1734. Two well-documented cases of this time was the story of Petar Blagojevich and Milos Cecar from Servia, who were both documented to have died and returned from the grave, attacking some neighbours who later died from blood loss 2
After the panic of possible vampire attacks set in to mid-century villagers, most of European began turning on each other, often resulting in the mutilation and staking of corpses, which have often been found by archeologists today who dig up different burial sites and discover the remains of people who have been beheaded or staked in their graves. 3
Photo by Byron Carr Photography
Around this time came other historical figures who became prominent in the vampire legends today. One of the most well known vampires is Vlad the Impaler, who has come to be known as the inspiration behind the legendary Count Dracula. Vlad Dracul was the ruler of Walachia in Romania during the 14th century, and was a cruel warlord who was often imprisioned for his war crimes. Tales were told of his torterous acts to his prisoners, where he would often impale monks, criminals, and their animals, and had nailed the turbans to the heads of two respectful Turkish messengers. He was said to have invented terrible tortures, often involving impalement, and was said to have gladly impaled women with their children on the same stake. His terrible crimes are constant and often taken with a grain of salt due to the exaggerating nature of humanity, but it was no secret that Vlad Dracul was cruel.
Vlad the Impaler's rule soon came to an end as he fought a war against the Ottoman's from Maldova. Vlad died fighting against the Ottomans in December 1476, and it was known that the Ottoman's cut Vlad's corpse into pieces and impaled his own head on a stake outside his castle. 4
Another fascinating vampire figure comes in the form of Elizabeth Bathory, who was in fact Vlad the Impaler's cousin. Nicknamed The Blood Countess, Bathory was born in Transylvania in 1560 to a distinguished and disturbed family, who while being kings, cardinals, knights and judges, also instructed her in the ways of Satanism and sadomasochism. At the age of 15 Bathory was married off to Count Nadady and relocated to Hungary, where her love of torture thrived. Believing that bathing in the blood of virgins would keep her young and healthy, Bathory's acts of torture would include biting chunks of flesh from her victims, bloodletting, smearing servents in honey and leaving them to be attacked by bees and ants, and even forcing servents and maids to cook and eat their own flesh. It was known that after the deaths of the servents, Elizabeth would have others remove their bodies and throw them over the wall of her castle, where up to 60 corpses of young noblewomen were found.
Bathory's crimes were largely ignored by locals due to her well-distinguished family. Eventually, King Matthias intervened after finding the dead noblewomen and convicted Elizabeth Bathory and her coherts in 1611. Bathory was the only person not sentenced to be executed due to her high-standing, and she was then confined to imprisionment in a castle where she survived for three years until she was found dead in August of 1614. 5
Eventually, working off the inspiration of the hysteria of the villagers, and the prominent cruel figures of history, books about vampires began to emerge. The first work of vampire fiction was actually an influential and successful novel called The Vampyre by John Polidori, which was released in the early 19th century, but it is in fact Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula that is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel of all time, inspiring modern fiction and turning legends of Vlad the Impaler into a more charismatic and sophisticated figure. 6
The success of the novel spawed a very distinctive vampire genre that is still popular in the 21st century today and a dominant figure of the horror genre thanks to the black and white film creation of Stoker's Dracula in 1931, starring infamous Bela Lugosi as the silent caped villian who created the classic vampire look of pale skin, enloged fangs, black and red robes and a cape, sleeping in coffins, and living in castles.
Vampirsim of modern day fiction are a relevant part of occultist movements and the mythos of the vampire's abilities of allure, predatory ideals and magical qualities are a strong symbol of neo gothic aesthetics or spiritual symbolism. Hundreds and thousands of vampires now exist as characters in the world today, and many have taken a unique form of the symbolism grown by Bram Stoker. Some modern day romanticised vampires are "vegetarians" who sparkle like Edward Cullen and his family in the romance fiction Twilight and it's series. Some are true to form with sexual allure, grace and violence the characters of Bill Compton and Eric Northman in the romantic fantasy series of True Blood. In the movie Daybreakers, vampires have taken over the world and facing a blood-crisis, turning into winged nightmarish creatures of cannabalistic creations. Some, such as Blade, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Van Helsing all focus on the eradication and hunting of vampires instead.
These are just some of the unique looks of vampires in modern day culture today, and this has even spawned a brand new "supernatural" style genre of novels and other pop culture works that are often seen dominated by vampire literature in book stores.
Mass vampire hysteria is back, but instead of fearing the supernatural creatures, some have begun to sympathise and idolise the blood-sucking creatures of the night. Some cases of modern day vampirism occured as recently as 2011, but some notable cases included a sex offender named Jeffrey Mitchell who sexually assualted a four year old girl in 2008, and when arrested insisted that he was a 225 year old vampire named Draven who even capped his teeth so that he looked like he had fangs, which he refused to remove for his police photo. A 17 year old student from Wales named Mathew Hardman butchered his elderly neighbour in 2001 in hopes of becoming a a true vampire, removing her heart and putting it on a silver platter. And in 2001, a couple named Manuela and Daniel Ruda killed and drank the blood of one of their friends, claiming they were acting on the devil's wishes after attending "bite parties". 7
It's certainly a far cry from the terror of the vampire of the medieval century!
Cover photo by Ms Salo