VAMPIRE MYTHOLOGY: INTRODUCTION
To those people who believe that there are such creatures in the supernatural, bloodsucking predators who stalk mankind in the night, just hearing this word aloud in a crowded room instantly draws their attention to the speaker. All eyes turn to face him as their bodies tense up, becoming like a herd of deer in the communal process of deciding whether or not to bolt.
Perhaps there is still some primitive part of our brain that is hardwired yet into fearing this life-taking entity of the night. Modern man, for all his achievements and developments in the fields of science and technology, knows that there is no such thing as a vampire, and yet ... there is that little voice in the back of our heads or in the twitch we get in the bottom of our stomachs at night that whispers, “But what if...”
Then, there are those people who hold a deep-rooted fascination with the vampire; to them the vampire is not a monster seeking lives to claim in sadistic acts of terror and violence night after eternal night. Rather, the image they fancy is that of a poor Byronic figure in need of understanding, compassion, and love. To the fans of paranormal romance, the vampire with his hundreds of years of sexual experience to draw from is a near perfect lover: passionate, dominant and seductive—it loves only her, wants only her, needs only her, the one person who can save him from an isolated, dismal and droning eternity of loneliness.
I would think that the fewest number of people think “parasitic life form” when they heard the word “vampire”; perhaps this one word is the rogue exception of Occam’s Razor, the principle that the simplest and most logical answer is most likely the correct one. Seeing a bat flying at night, who among us truly thinks, “There is a creature that eats 8,000 mosquitoes a night, and without it we’d all have died of malaria by now.” It may be safe to say that the opposite is true, that we see a bat and think illness and death, all words akin to the vampire because it has always been blamed as the carrier for such horrors.
Since the dawn of man, there has been the belief in supernatural vampires. Just like flood myths, every society has had vampire myths as well. In fact, one of the earliest pieces of writing that archeologists have discovered was not a love poem, recipe, or a religious text but rather a magical spell written around 4000 B.C. It is alleged to have been written by a mother in an attempt to keep her child safe from the attack of the EKIMMOU, a type of vampiric spirit that even then was considered to be an ancient evil. A February 13, 1892, article in the New York Times discusses ad nauseam some ancient letters transcribed between the Assyrian monarch, Dusratta, king of Mitain, to Amenophis III, king of Egypt. Dating from around 1500 B.C., these letters discuss the arrival of envoys and ambassadors. What makes the letters so valuable is that they contain 500 lines of Acadian and Babylonian ideas regarding the belief of witches and maligned spirits that haunt man kind. The article even translates into English for its readers’ pleasure most of an incantation used to exorcize a demon as well as a complete translation for a brief magical formula for use against ten different types of devils, including LILITH and the EKIMMOU:
I hold aloft the torch, set fire to the images
Of Utukku, Schedu, Rabisu, Ekimmou,
Lamastu, Labasn, Achahaza,
Lila, Lilitu of the maid Lilu,
Of all that is hostile, that attacks me.
May their smoke mount heaven,
May their sparks cover the sun,
May the priest, the son of the god Ea, break their spell.
Often reality and the perception of reality are two very different things. It seems highly unlikely that there ever were such beings, or that the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Inuits all could develop and fear this very same vampire at about the same time, and yet they did.
To be certain, this is not proof that vampires such as the EKIMMOU once existed, only that ancient man believed they did. In fact, man need not be all that ancient to have a profound belief in vampires.
In 1576 the plague was ravaging the Italian city of Venice; it was believed by some to be spread by vampires. In an attempt to gain the upper hand on the undead and help bring the widespread disease under control it is speculated that the gravediggers who buried plague victims took matters into their own hands. Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy found the skeletal remains of a woman who had a brick wedged into her mouth, a telltale sign that it was assumed that she was a vampire. Borrini believes that the gravediggers would have returned to the mass grave with more bodies for burial after a two or three-day absence.
It would have been at that time that they would have noticed that one of the corpses, a woman, had apparently chewed through her burial shroud. He also suspects that the men would have noticed what would have appeared to look like fresh blood on her lips and teeth as well as on the remains of her shroud. Five hundred years ago it was commonly believed and widely accepted that vampires spread the plague by chewing their own burial shrouds while they lay in their graves, that this act somehow mystically spread the plague to their surviving family members. The gravediggers thought that placing the brick in the mouth of the vampire prevented the creature from continuing to chew on its shroud and thereby saved the lives of an untold number of people. The “blood” that the gravediggers must have seen was in fact not blood but rather bodily fluids loaded with enzymes escaping the corpse, some of which apparently bubbled up from the mouth and, being mildly acidic, dissolved part of the shroud.
By the time the brick would have been placed in the jaws of the corpse, that stage of decomposition would have already passed, so if the gravediggers ever did check on their vampire, they would have been very pleased with themselves to have seen that the remedy worked. Hardly an isolated incident, this folkloric custom was also practiced in Poland and through the Greek isles. Shards of pottery know as POTSHERD would have been inscribed with the words INNK (“Jesus Christ conquers”) by a priest before being placed in the mouth of the deceased.
Vampires are without a doubt the single most adaptable monster that mankind has ever dreamt up. Unicorns and griffons have come and gone within the dreams of man, yet the vampire has remained.
At every stage of our social development, the vampire was there. When man was a huntergatherer, the vampire lurked in the dark jungles and ambushed, an invisible entity that left nothing behind but the mangled and unwanted remains of its kill. Only in the light of day or in the glow of the nightly campfires was a person safe from the WURWOLAKA of Albanian lore, for example. And just to be fair, just because a vampire attacked its prey at night did not mean that it was automatically susceptible to sunlight; it very well could mean that it for the most part is nocturnal and by use of cunning takes advantage of mankind’s natural fear of the night.
The MRART of Australia is one such ambush predator. Its supernatural powers are at their peak at night, but that does not mean that one is automatically safe from its attack during the light of day. As cultures continued to become more socially dynamic, so did the most insidious and notorious stalker.
When man stopped following the animal herds and decided to make permanent settlements, cultivate crops and develop societies, the vampire settled down with him. It had the power to cause droughts and destroy precious grains. It made rivers run dry and sent the plague.
All throughout eastern Europe, a vampiric REVENANT known as a TAXIM, fueled by a lust for vengeance, spread the plague wherever it wandered. In societies where herds of cattle were considered invaluable, vampires attacked them; the NUCKELAVEE, a vampiric fay of the Orkney Islands, Scotland, was known to drive herds off the steep cliffs and into the ocean. If a tribe of people considered their children to be most precious, their children were the only food their vampire would feed on, as is the case with the UPOR of Russia. High in the mountains and in the near–Arctic regions where keeping warm was the most important priority, the vampires in those places, like the KHARISIRI, LIK’ICHIRI, ?AKAQ and the PISHTACO, survived on body fat and heat.
Furthermore, no matter where in the world man settled or how his societies were established and run, the vampires of that particular region always appeared as that which man found to be the most terrifying aspect of his society imaginable. Be it an invisible and intangible spirit, a corpse risen up and animated by a demonic force, or one’s very own next door neighbor, the vampire was always near and ready to strike.
It is no wonder that such a far-reaching fear, namely the vampire, would have an equally far-reaching resource to confront it: GARLIC. Not only did this vegetable grow in abundance in the wild in most parts of the world in a wide range of soil conditions, it was very easy to cultivate, a delicious and healthy food to eat, and just so happened to be a natural vampire repellant. From the ASEMA of the Republic of Suriname to the ZBURATOR of Romanian lore, a simple clove of garlic is used to stave off mankind’s worst and most dangerous supernatural enemy.
In truth garlic is not a universal deterrent; other common foods that can be used to thwart a vampire attack are poppy seeds, grains of rice, sesame seeds, iron shavings and peppercorns. Each of these items when thrown or left for a vampire to discover will compel it to stop and count each one. Ideally, this obsessive counting will take the monster all night, stalling it long enough for the sun to rise and destroy it; this is believed to be true of the SUCOYAN of the West Indies.
Additionally, as it so happened, in just about every spot in the world where early man settled, fraxinus excelsior, more commonly known as the ash tree, was revealed to be the most perfect wood for making stakes to drive into vampires’ hearts. According to Pliny the Elder, “All things evil fear ash.” The vampiric REVENANTS know as STRIGON of Istrian lore can be destroyed only with such a weapon. Even when organized religions began to gain power and influence, their gods and faith alone could not quench the innate and deeprooted fear and belief that people had always had in the vampire. Rather than trying to dispel the creature, they accepted it, gave validity to the fear and then applied their own beliefs onto the existing vampire lore, further legitimizing it themselves. No better example of this process can be given than the transformation of the TOMTIN. Once they were feared as the vampiric fay that served the fertility gods of the ancient Germanic tribes, whipping travelers to death with chains and then lapping up the blood from the corpses. Christianity and the church’s desire to have new converts absorbed the regional TOMTIN lore. Rather than serving their pagan gods the TOMTIN became Christian converts themselves and freely chose to serve Saint Nicholas. In true vampiric fashion the TOMTIN, many years later, evolved once again, but this time into something we are all very familiar with—Santa Claus’s toy-making elves.
Once the CRUCIFIX and rice paper prayer sheets were easily accessible to the common man, it was small wonder that these easy to get religious items could protect a person from the attack of the TLACIQUES and the HULI JING. No matter how vicious or violent or bloodthirsty the vampire, there is always a simple, inexpensive and common means by which it can be defeated, that is, providing one is able to stand up, confront and face the fear.
Even today, in the twenty-first century, people all over the world still believe in vampires. Why is that? There has never been a shred of archeological evidence to prove that one of the more than 600 different species included in this encyclopedia ever existed. We have discovered the fossilized remains of flora and fauna that lived millions and millions of years ago. We are cloning animals with such frequency in laboratories around the world now that it hardly even makes the news. Regularly, rocket ships and satellites penetrate our atmosphere and send humans into outer space, so often in fact that their debris is becoming a serious travel hazard, turning our sky into a landfill, and no one even thinks this to be exciting or newsworthy. We have found life thriving on the deepest parts of our oceans’ floors. We have even found what in all likelihood is significant scientific proof that life once existed on Mars— a planet some 36 million miles from Earth. We are clever and smart and learned people, and yet the belief of the vampire remains. Why is that? How can it be? Why does the belief in this mythical being linger in spite of the lack of any supporting facts or corroborating evidence, especially in our modern day and age? Could it possibly be that somewhere we, as a species, need to believe that vampires are real? That such horrors exist just beyond our sight, just out of our reach, that are far worse than the ones we know to be real and accept and live with? Will we ever grow beyond this fear we seem to have as a species that causes us to need to believe in the existence of the vampire, or at the very least, need the fear it causes within ourselves? Thus far we have been unable to shake it off. We overcame our fear of fire, why not the vampire?
The shark, perhaps the natural world’s most perfect killer, has changed very little over the eons, whereas the vampire has been in a constant state of flux. A Darwinian delight, the undead beings that we are apparently forever to be in fear of are always adapting to new environments. Today, the vampire is seen by many as an object of sexual desire, a Byronic and wounded soul that needs and seeks out a living human companion to inspire him to continue on.
Books, comics, movies, music, television shows, theater—there is no form of media that the vampire has not conquered. And as our world grows smaller, due to the ease and accessibility of communication devices such as the Internet and due to the ever-increasing world population, the vampire is right there in the mix. As cultures collide, their mythologies mingle and the vampire once again is morphed into something modern and newly fearsome to a wider audience.
It is difficult to remain stoic and objective about a supernatural predatory being such as the vampire because even if one is not inclined to believe that they are real and walk among us, the crimes that they are believed to have committed are absolutely the most horrific that our society can imagine. Simply trying to imagine what its victims experience as they are consumed alive is enough to turn one’s hair white and inspire one to sleep with his lights on.
It is because of the horrific nature of the crimes they commit, the methodology that they employ, the feelings of trust and safety that they so easily shatter, that we would be hard pressed to find someone who had no opinion on the matter at all. That is exactly the reason why encyclopedias, regardless of the subject matter, are so important to researchers. These books are meant to be a comprehensive resource on a subject, pulling together all related bits of reliable data from all branches of knowledge in one place—and this is the most important part—in an impartial and unbiased voice. Admittedly this sort of book is seldom the sort seen on best selling lists, as they opt for the credible rather than the sensational, but long after the title du jour is forgotten the encyclopedia remains, its factual content and integrity intact.