The Path of Vampires. From Legends to Literature

Essay, 2014

9 Pages


Path of vampires:

From legends to literature

Vampires. We are all familiar with this word, but do we really know what it means? Fangs, immortality, darkness? They are something greater than these. There is a reason why we, humans are drawn to them for more than a century now. Nowadays glimmering handsome teen-vampires are becoming more famous with every movie and book released. Well, to maintain the popularity of them, it is necessary to modernize the vampires so they will keep in good with the subsequent generations. Since the release of Twilight [1] , vampires started to become more human-like, considering their feelings. Their abilities remained supernatural, but they lost their demonic features, which they used to have in the 18th – 19th century. With immortality and their transformation into caring creatures comes the conception of eternal love, so it is not surprising that the main target group in the 21st century became teenage girls and young women. They seem to be satisfied with these renewed demons and their romantic stories. However, it was not the reason why people started to love these creatures. Now, I am going to explain where vampires come from and what they used to be like in the first literary works where they were mentioned.

So what do we call a vampire? It is a reanimated corpse that is believed to rise from the grave at night to suck the blood of sleeping people.[2] The main characteristics include fangs, pale or sometimes purplish (due to blood drinking) skin with high durability, preterhuman strength and speed and immortality (though there are certain special ways to kill a vampire). In folklore and older tales they had no reflection in the mirror, nor did they have a shadow.[3] Their attractiveness is almost always above humans'. Vampires are predators, and with a seductive appearance the hunting becomes easier, because the victim is drawn to the vampire, it can even start to feel affection towards them. Vampiric creatures are recorded in almost all cultures. It is really hard to identify, which vampire story was the first tale ever, but it is certain that the word 'vampire' has a Slavic origin. Aleksander Brückner argued that the Bulgarian term '(w)ąpyr is originated from 'pyr' which can be found in the ancient form of bat 'nietopryz', which is originated from 'per' that means 'to fly'.[4] In the beginning vampires were depicted as a night bird – we are still familiar with this picture, bats and vampires (in some tales, a vampire can transform into the form of a bat; a sort of bats, desmodus rotondus was believed to be the animal form of vampires[5] ) are almost inseparable from each other, both being a blood-sucking nocturnal predator. Ivan Vahilevics publicated an article in 1840 where he stated that Slavic people had a strong faith in vampires. He corroborated this with a semantic analysis: the words 'upiór' and 'upjr' along with the feminine form 'upiórzyca' are originated from the verb 'pić' that means 'to drink'.[6] There are various versions for the word, such as the Russian and Czech upir, the Polish wąpierz and upiór, the Southern-Greek vampirasz, and the German vampir. Similar cratures to vampires also exists; we can list here lamias and empuses from ancient Greece and ghouls from Arabic mythology. Lamias are child-eating female monsters. According to the myth, there was a goddess whom Zeus loved, and by jealousy Hera killed her children and transformed Lamia into a monster. Another version states, that Lamia lost her mind after losing her children, and this caused her to devour other children because of envy. Her name is derived from gullet (λαιμός; laimos in Greek). Empuses are lustful shape-shifting female demons. Their human form is a beautiful young woman and they can seduce men and later suck out their vitality. Ghouls (الغول al-ghūl, from ghala "to seize") are undead monsters; they consume human flesh, and live in graveyards. They are related to Gallu, a Mesopotamian demon, which hauled unfortunate victims to the underworld. Thus, we can ascertain that vampires and similar monsters have always been a part of mythology. In the Babylonian Talmud, a demon-like creature can be found. Lilith (the Hebrew term לילית‎; lilit, or Lilith is translated as 'night creature' or 'night monster') was the first woman, who was created like Adam[7]. God told her that she was supposed to be subordinated to Adam, but she refused this role, because the clay that was used to make her was poisoned with the saliva of Samuel (the archangel of death). She left the Paradise and gave birth to thousands of children. Legend says, that her children were murdered, because she resisted God's will, so as revenge she murdered children of humans. She is also known as a succubus, a female demon whose mission is to seduce men. When she resisted copulating with Adam, she said one of the secret names of God, and with that she acquired power big enough to grow wings and fly away from the Eden. The Lord entrusted three angels to hunt her down and kill her children. (Another version says, that they found her and cursed her children, so every day 100 of them dies.)[8] That's why she started to chase and murder children, pregnant women and mature men as well. ‘Rabbi Hanina said, "One may not sleep alone in a house, for Lilith takes hold of whoever sleeps alone in a house."’[9] Also, in the world-famous American series, True Blood, Lilith is considered as the ancestor of all vampires.[10] Another biblical character can be associated with vampires: Cain. He was the first man to be born, the first one to murder and the first one to be cursed. In Genesis, Cain and his brother Abel both made offerings to the Lord, but since Abel was a shepherd - so he could sacrifice lambs - and Cain was the cultivator of the land – he could sacrifice the land's produce – God only accepted Abel's offerings. That made Cain jealous and angry, so he killed his brother. Thus, God sentenced him to an eternal wandering outside the Eden. "11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so[e]; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him."[11] Here, we can clearly see that the punishment is immortality, which is a typical feature of vampires. Various movies (The redemption of Cain [12] ) and videogames (Vampire: The masquerade [13] ) considers him to be the father of all vampires. Well, these theories may be forced by people who try to connect vampires to the Bible, nonetheless, these origin stories are certainly remarkable.

Naturally, real life stories also exist. Now, we are speaking of recorded events, not just some kind of folktales which were used to frighten children. In the following, I am going to use Markus Heitz's book, Vampire! Vampire! Alles über Blutsauger. [14] In his volume we read that around 1337 in Germany, people spread the rumour, that a shepherd came back from the dead to haunt people. His heart was staked, but he removed the piece of wood, and laughed at the village people. Later, he was burnt on a bonfire that caused his death.[15] Heitz has another story about a potter's wife in Levin who was believed to have been a witch in her life, then after her death she returned in an animal form to murder people. An exhumation was committed, then her body was put on a bonfire and staked – to be precise, people tried to stake her, but she ripped out the stake and disappeared as a whirlwind.[16] Authorities reacted to this in a form of law, when, for example Serbian king Stephen Dusan commanded that all people who dig up and burn a dead body should be punished.[17] In 1612 at Jauer, then in 1614 at Giersdorf proceedings took place against dead people.[18] The main idea of this method was that the soul most certainly feels the pain of the body.[19] Corpses were dug up and truncated or burnt. However, this was not enough for certain people – here comes the most infamous vampire epidemic; Medveda, Serbia, 1731-1732. After the Turkish wars, Belgrade and most of the territory of Serbia were under the suzerainty of the Habsburg Empire, thus the authority which took place in Vienna, wanted to know everything that was going on in these regions – the fact that military officers reported these cases makes them even more interesting. In the winter of 1731-32 on the coast of the river Morava in a settlement called Medveda – an important detail is that in Heitz's book he calls the river 'Morava', however at Medveda the river is called Jablanica which is a left tributary of the South Morava that is a shorter headwater of Great Morava[20] - people were nervous because of some continuing sequential deaths. People died at night, in their sleep, without any reason. A doctor named Glaser was commanded to conduct an examination to find out if there is a contagious disease in the village that infects people. Not so surprisingly, he found nothing. Now, people believed even more, that vampires should be blamed for all these, so Glaser decided to dig up 10 suspicious corpses. The first one was an old lady, called Milica, who has been buried 7 weeks earlier. Glaser's experiences according to the original text: "the lady's mouth was open, bright coloured, fresh blood flowed out of her mouth and nose, her body was bloated, full of bruises… this was suspicious even for me, and I could not say that the people were wrong."[21] After this case, the doctor sent a letter to his superior in which he requested that these bodies be executed. Schnezzer passed this report on to the headquarters in Belgrade, where a further investigation was ordained. Therefore, Johannes Flückinger was sent to the village among with two medical assistants and some military officers, and then on the 7th of January, 1732 he started the examination.[22] His official report states that they found 10 corpses in the so-called 'vampire state', which is: fresh blood in the vessels and the chest, bloated body with new hair and nails; there was no sign of decomposition. Though, they have opened 3 further graves from the very same graveyard where the bodies have already started the process of putrefaction.[23] This document was signed and confirmed by doctors and military officers, so the case got the undivided attention of the headquarters in Belgrade. Thus, the document reached Prussia, France and every other country in Europe. So then, people started to pay more attention to these creatures than they ever did before.


[1] Romantic novel, written by Stephanie Meyer, released in 2005. The book was adapted into a movie, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, released in 2008.



[4] A. Brückner Słownik etymologiczny j ęzyka polskiego. Kraków, p. 594. in Maria, Janion Wampir. Biografia symboliczna p. 19 (Hungarian translation A vámpír. Szimbolikus biográfia, Európa kiadó, 2006 by Mihály Babits, Béla Balázs, István Bella, Szabolcs Benedek, Irén Fejér, László Kálnoky, István Kovács, Ildikó Lőrinszky, Imre Molnár, Zsuzsanna N. Kiss, Lajos Pálfalvi, Katalin Sóvágó, Margit Szoboszlai)

[5] Pál József, Edit Újvári Szimbólumtár. Budapest, 2001 'Vámpír'

[6] O. Kolberg Pokucie. Obraz etnograficzny. Volume 3, Kraków, 1888, p. 206. Reprinted in 1963 in Janion p. 19

[7] József/Újvári 'Lilith'

[8] Yliaster Daleth Demonomicon, 2009.

[9] Talmud – Sab. 151b

[10] The first season of True Blood was released in 2008, since then it was nominated for various awards, including Golden Globe and Emmy. Along with other prizes, it won 'Favourite Premium Cable TV Show' in 2013 at People's Choice Awards, USA.

[11] Genesis 4, New International Version.

[12] An upcoming movie production directed by Will Smith described as "an epic re-telling of the Biblical sibling tale, this time with a vampiric twist."

[13] Created by Mark Rein-Hagen, released in 1991 by White Wolf Publishing

[14] Hungarian translation Vámpírok! Vámpírok! Minden, amit a vérszopókról tudni kell, Könyvmolyképző Kiadó, 2010 by Gertrúd Szakál

[15] Dieter, Sturm / Klaus, Völker Vom Erscheinen der Vampire. Dokumente und Berichte pp. 71-72 München, 1973 quoted in Heitz, p. 22

[16] Sturm/Völker, p. 72 in Heitz p. 22

[17] Stefan Hock: Die Vampyrsagen und ihre Verwertung in der deutschen Literatur Berlin, 1900., pp. 30-31. quoted in Heitz, p. 22

[18] Sturm/Völker p. 74. in Heitz p. 23

[19] Believed by the people in various towns, in Heitz pp. 23-24

[20] ;

[21] Glaser's report, quoted by Krauß, Friedrich S.: Slavische Volksforschungen p. 131. Leipzig 1908 in Heitz p. 37

[22] Schrödert, Aribert Vampirismus. Seine Entwicklung vom Thema zum Motiv p. 49. Frankfurt am Main 1973 in Heitz p. 38

[23] Visum et repertum, über die sogenannten Vampirs, oder Blut-Aussauger. Nürnberg 1732 in Sturm/Völker pp. 17-21 quoted by Heitz pp. 39-44

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The Path of Vampires. From Legends to Literature
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vampire, john, polidori, english, literature, byron, myth, myths, legend, legends, religion, demon, demons, vampires, greece, mythology
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Tímea Pongrácz (Author), 2014, The Path of Vampires. From Legends to Literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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