Immortality: The Life of a Vampire It is dark, a young woman is walking home late from work. She feels eyes on her back, but when she turns around no one is there. She continues walking, the uneasy feeling of being watched never leaving her. Eventually reaching a crossroads, the woman spies a dark fgure walking towards her, it is difficult to see him in the streetlight, but step by step he gets closer until she can see the predatory look in his eyes and the deliberate walk reminiscent of a lion on the prowl.
The woman wants to run, tries to run, but her feet are planted firmly to the ground, frozen, in fear or interest, she is unsure. Her eyes are lost in the thrall of this mysterious and dangerous man. Then he is nearly on her, the last thing she sees is the glint of fangs before they sink into her neck. Vampires, both terrifying and romantic, have been the stuff of legends, the subject of novels, and the stars on stage and screen for centuries.
There is something about vampires that has kept them alive through the ages from the creation of their myths, past the Inquisition, to modern culture and art, but what is it that makes them so fascinating? A lifetime that lasts a millennia: Vampire lore predates written history with vampire-like entities being found in all ythologies. The Egyptians, while not possessing a vampiric monster, worshipped an ancient warrior sun goddess with a thirst for blood. The Goddess Sekhmet was depicted as a lioness, to attribute to her power and warrior status, and visuals dressed her in red, a direct connection to blood (See Appendix A).
In a record of Egyptian myth, Journalist Jenny Hill tells that Ra was angry with mankind and sent Sekhmet to punish them, but at the sight of blood and carnage Ra ordered her to stop. Sekhmet was so caught up in the bloodlust that stopping was impossible, so Ra ricked her by turning 7,000 Jugs of beer blood red, when Sekhmet drank the blood she slept for three days dissipating her bloodlust (www. ancientegyptonline. org). The Greeks had many different vampires, the oldest being the lamiai, from the Libyan princess Lamia, who had a love affair with Zeus.
As the legend goes, according to vampire aficionado Barbra Karg, a Jealous Hera kidnapped and killed all of Lamia’s god-spawned children, as revenge on humankind, Lamia stole babies and sucked the life out of them (6). The legend of the Lamia’ would have effectively explained the udden deaths of infants in Greece. One of the leading experts on the paranormal, Rosemary Gulley, records several Greek vampires including the vrykolaka, which refer to revenants (the returning dead) in general and survived the emergence of Christianity (310).
Perhaps the most influential vampire tales come from Slavic lore, which include vampires from Russia, Slovakia, Czechoslovakia, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and have spread to western Europe. In Russia vampires are called ‘upir’, a word that later transformed to vampire in English. In Bosnia vampires are called ‘lampir’ and are associated with werewolves. In Czechoslovakia there is the ‘kudlak’, which can transform into animal shapes and is active in both life and death. Croatians call vampires ‘kosci’ and they cause disease. n the Croatian island of Lastovo there was a case of kosci that residents testified “vampires had been sought whenever a plague or illness had occurred, including a recent malady involving severe diarrhea that resulted In many aeatns” (Ou ey 1 15). In SlovaKla a renex 0T tne orlglnal slavlc term for vampire is the ‘nelapsi’, which are capable of killing and vampirizing entire villages. Vampire legends in Latin America evolved separately from European nfluences and have probably originated from vampire bats, which are native to South America.
For instance, the Camazotz is a Mayan deity with the body of a man and the head of a bat (Karg 12). A vampiric entity that has become famous in both Latin America and the United States is the chupacabra, meaning “goatsucker”, and has been blamed for numerous attacks on livestock, but the few chupacabra that have been killed have proven to be “ill, emaciated, and mange-ridden coyotes” (Karg 12). Like the Lamiai, the kosci, and the vrykolaka, vampires have been blamed for diseases, plagues, and sudden deaths.
In 18th and 19th century New England, death y tuberculosis was not uncommon, especially among children. In an encounter described by Bonnie McMeans, an English professor with a degree in social anthropology and a masters in Journalism, a Rhode Island family experienced the death of their oldest daughter Sarah Tillinghast in 1796, which was followed by five more deaths out of their fourteen children within two years, with all the children complaining that Sarah had come in the night to cause them pain. When Mrs. Tillinghast got sick and was reporting that Sarah visited her too, Mr.
Tillinghast believed that a vampire was the cause and went to dig up the six corpses of his children. He found that they all had already started to decompose except Sarah, whose “eyes were open, her hair and nails had grown, and her veins appeared to be filled with fresh blood”(McMeans 15). Cases like the Tillinghast were not uncommon. People blame vampires for deaths they do not understand and then they dig up the bodies to find them decomposing, however, but without full understanding of the process of decomposition, it may further the idea that the bodies are a part of the living dead.
According to vampire lore corpses show signs of vampirism however, the signs are often due to the process of decomposition, and in some regions of the orld, any form of decomposition would point to vampirism. Rosemary Gulley includes an excerpt of an 18th-century vampire scare in Wallachia: We opened the coffin, and, to be sure, with most of the dead, one saw that a foaming, evil-smelling, brown-black ichor welled out of their mouths and noses, with the one more,with the other less. And what kind of Joy did this cause among the people? They all cried, “Those are vampires, those are vampires! ” (29).
The normal aspects of decomposition that have been attributed to vampirism include bloating, a warm corpse, oozing blood, the movement of limbs, new skin and growing nails, and noises. While these aspects may make the corpse appear alive and full of fresh blood, modern science has discovered the causes of such phenomena. The bloating, warmth, noise, and oozing blood is caused by the release ofa build up in gases. Sloughing off of skin is normal and reveals raw areas of skin and nails merely creating the appearance that there is life after death. After rigor mort’s, limbs become flaccid, and due to gravity may appear to move.
Besides explaining death and disease and decomposition there are other reasons vampires exist. Vampirism also explains birth defects, in some beliefs a person born ith the caul, “the inner fetal membrane of amniotic fluid”, means that person is going to be a vampire (Gulley 60). Other birth defects that may point to vampirism Include a Dany Dorn wltn teetn or a ta vampires also emooay tne Tears ana consequences that come from an improper burial or a life of sin and crime. To the Greeks, a proper burial was especially important, as evident by the fact that the Trojan War was stopped to give both sides time to properly dispose of their dead.
A number of reported vampires have arisen from people that lived evil lives or committed suicide. For instance, the Breslau Vampire was a shoemaker that suddenly ommitted suicide (Gulley 34). Although suicide and crime were always frowned upon, perhaps these became bigger reasons for vampirism after the conversion to Christianity. Vampirism meets humanity: As Christianity began to expand and convert pagan religions, vampires were not high on its ladder of concerns however, the church did make attempts to refute pagan ideas like vampires and witchcraft.
John Gordon Melton, a research specialist in religion and new religious movements with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, reports in his book, The Vampire Book, hat the continued presence of vampires was documented in laws, such as the one passed by Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor in the eleventh-century, “the law condemned anyone who promoted the belief in the witch/vampire” (101). By the 13th and 14th centuries, after failed attempts to eliminate paganism, the Christian church changed its view on paganism from a false religion to a form of Satanism.
Vampires became the work of the Devil therefore, demons, including vampires, were alienated from sacred and holy objects like the crucifix, holy water, and eucharistic wafers (Melton 103). Despite efforts to erase vampirism, the superstition has survived. Vampirism has a pull on the human psyche, whether it is the idea of immortality, the sexuality, or Just the sheer taboo of it all, there is something about vampires that ensnares the mind. And there are people out there that truly believe they are vampires.
Clinical vampirism, otherwise known as Renfleld’s Syndrome, named after Dracula’s assistant in Bram Stoker’s novel, is a mental illness characterized by a compulsion to drink blood. The compulsion may come from a physical need, thinking that they need the blood to survive, or for sexual gratification. Cara Santa Maria, a professor of psychology, wrote that people with Renfleld’s Syndrome may “feel sexually empowered after drinking blood and think it has mystical powers, as if theyre taking in their victim’s life force” (www. huffngtonpost. com).
Blood is life; blood has always had that connotation, but another aspect that has been attributed to blood is the ability to pass on the qualities and strength of the person from whom the blood was taken. Elizabeth Bathory, a noblewoman born in 1560, believed that by bathing in the blood of virgin girls she would retain their youth and beauty (Gulley 20). However, blood and beauty are not the only things that attract people to vampirism. Being a teenager is hard, it is the awkward time where you are not a kid, but you are not an adult either.
To a teen it can easily seem like no one understands them, so they start to think of themselves as outcasts. This makes teenagers much more susceptible to being drawn into vampire cults because they provide an outlet for any frustration they may feel and it creates a sense of belonging. The leaders of these cults tend to be charming and intelligent, capable of drawing in the weak- minded, but they also tend to be insane. Rod Ferrell from Murray, Kentucky was the sixteen year-old leader of his cult. He was described as having “long black hair and a matcnlng trencn coat”, tne typlcal 100K Tor tne modern vampire.
Heatner wenaorT, one of his former followers testifies that “he seemed older Just because of how he spoke, how intelligent he was. He was charming” (articles. orlandosentinel. com). While at first these cults may seem harmless, Just a little blood drinking from each other here and there, Just for fun, the scene can become deadly serious. In Heather’s case it was the death of her parents. She did not take vampirism seriously, describing it as “something to have, something special in your life that you feel secret about”, but then the cult murdered Heather’s family.
The vampire cult killings sparked a film, multiple books, and a docudrama, which says a lot about us as a society; we know the unknown can be dark and dangerous, but that is what makes it so enticing. Not all modern interests in vampires comes to fruition in the form of cults, the more mild version is the clubs’ inspired from vamp fiction. Local vampire-friendly nightclubs can be found on the Internet. Pop culture has gotten a firm grasp on the vampire scene and created fan clubs revolving around them and their fiction.
Vampire Empire, originally the Count Dracula Fan Club, founded by Jeanne Youngson in 1965 has grown to become an extensive research archive. The vampire theme has enthralled society, entering birthday parties, costumes, weddings, past the more formal arts. There is even a marathon based on the fanged bloodsuckers, the Vampire5k has several events that pit citizens against “vampires” in an attempt to get people to run, recommended “for everyone out there who says they only like running if they are eing chased” (www. ampire5k. com). The popularity of vampires and their continuous existence in society, despite the scrutiny of the church, proves their resilience and showcases the impact these fanged creatures of the night have on humanity. An artists take on an ancient being: Everybody knows Count Dracula, the most famous of all vampires, but were vampires always the same mysterious, predatory and sexual creatures? The answer is yes, yes they were. Taken directly from folklore vampires were considered sexually insatiable. Der Vampir”, the first modern poem about vampires, written in 1748 by Heinrich August Ossenfelder, depicts the vampire “creeping” to a maiden’s bed as she sleeps to “life’s blood drain away. And so shalt thou be trembling For thus shall I be kissing” (www. simplysupernatural-vampire. com). “Christabel”, the 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge shows the vampire’s power over the mind: That look, those shrunken serpent eyes, That all her features were resigned To this sole image in her mind: And passively did imitate That look of dull and treacherous hate!
And thus she stood, in dizzy trance; although Christabel doesn’t realize that Geraldine is a vampire, her vision indicates he intrusion into Christabel’s mind. John Polidori’s “The Vampyre”, the first vampire story written in English, portrays a suave British nobleman as a vampire, one that was liked by everyone he met and attracted the attention of many pretty woman despite the “deadly hue of his face”. At the time”The Vampyre” was written, 1819, it inspired several tneatrlcal proauctlons Deglnnlng In 1820 wltn tne Trencn play Le vampire ana its English translation The Vampire; or, The Bride of the Isles.
Twenty-five years before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, Sheridan Le Fanu wrote Carmilla. Carmilla is the story of a lesbian vampire, influenced by “Christabel”, which had underlying lesbian tones, and has been adapted into several films including Blood and Roses (1960) described as “A woman’s passion. A vampire’s bloodlust” on the movie poster (See Appendix B). In 1897 Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, named after the Wallachian folk-hero, Vlad the impaler, who impaled his enemies, both foreign and domestic.
The sexual themes in Dracula stem from Dracula’s own relationship with his victims, usually female, visiting them multiple times without drinking all their blood at once and then finally turning them. There is also the matter of Dracula’s wives, the three female vampires that visit Jonathan Harker as he sleeps, an encounter Harker described in his Journal that there was “something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips”(Stoker 45).
Since the first edition of Dracula was written there have been many more adaptations to both film and stage, some with a suave good-looking Dracula, some wearing the stereotypical vampire cape, or others like Nosferatu (1922) that show a more deformed and scary Count. In the 1930’s comic books became a popular form of literature, and by the end of the decade vampires had entered the panels. The first comic book vampire appeared in issue #6 of More Fun comics when Dr. Occult faced the Vampire Monster” (Melton 115). By the 40’s and 50’s vampires had entire comic books dedicated to them under the horror genre.
At that time comics were geared toward children and adolescents, but vampires were reflected as horrifying creatures with frames of blood and violence. The franchise died off when the Comic Magazine Association of America (CMAA) created a comic code prohibiting vampires and other onsters within the horror genre. The revival of vampire comics in the seventies was accredited partially by a revision of the comics code that allowed vampires and other creatures as long as they were “handled in the classic tradition such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and other high calibre literary works… read in schools throughout the world” (Melton 117).
Since then there came about a renewed interest in the beasts in both written fiction and film as comics became more adult-oriented. Through comic books vampires had entered the minds of children and families, especially through omic strips such as the Addams Family and The Munsters. These family friendly- vampires spawned family sitcoms in 1964, The Munsters family included three vampires, one of which, Grandpa, was actually Count Dracula (See Appendix E). The Munsters vampires shared similar and stereotypical vampire looks including dark hair, pale skin, fangs, widows peaks, and the cape and medallion Grandpa wore.
Today’s modern depiction of vampires still retains much of the horror and sex as vampire stories require, but there remains those censored family-friendly and child- oriented vampires so there remains a blood-drinking fandom for every age group. Adults can watch True Blood on HBO, teenagers can swoon at the vampire hotties in Vampire Diaries, preteens can enjoy vampire antics on My Babysitter’s a Vampire, kids can watch Dracula’s daughter Draculaura, on Monster High and play with her pink skinned doll, even the youngest children see their first vamp on Sesame Street. amplres nave evolved Trom Just tne rottlng revenants 0T TolKlore, to tne more appealing and enticing strangers of 18th and 19th century European literature and plays, to the subject of horror films and comics in the 20’s and 30’s, to the benign reatures 60’s comics and sitcoms, and finally to the versatile vampires that have reached a multitude of genres and styles. Conclusion: Vampires are fascinating, mysterious, and enticing. They have the power to dull the senses, to transform, to plague us or please us.
They have crawled into the human mind for over a millennia, taking root and infecting society from even our earliest ages. Vampires have crawled from the depth of Greek and Slavic minds, withstood the test of Christian persecution, and sunk their teeth into the minds and hearts of millions of people. Vampires are far from extinction; they are multiplying and they hrive, feeding off societys energy, making vampires truly immortal. Works Cited: “Blood and Roses. ” IMDb. IMDb. com, n. d. Web. 31 May 2013.. “Carmilla. ” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n. d.
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