Notes about vampires, vampyres and the difference between them:
The word "vampyre" has a lengthy etymology. The original source was the
proto-Indo-European (PIE) word "to fly" which became, in succession, the Old Slavic
word "oper," the Old Polish word "vaper", the German word "vampir,"
the English "vampyre," and finally the English word "vampire."
As stated in our vampire / vampyre menu, we use the
term "vampire," to refer to imaginary mythical
creatures who mainly inhabit ancient religious myths, horror movies and other works of imaginative
fiction. They are generally portrayed as once dead, reanimated,
blood-sucking human corpses.
They are very scary individuals. Fortunately, they
don't exist in reality.
Their existence and attributes are largely based on ancient religious myth, We
use the term "vampyres" to refer to a real phenomenon involving real people. This notation is fairly commonly used in the vampyre community, but its
far from a consensus.
The power attributed to blood in ancient religions:
Blood has had a special ritual magical and/or religious significance within
many religions, both ancient and modern. In prehistoric times, people would have
noticed that the lost of a few liters of
blood would severely weaken or cause the death of a person even if they were
Examples of the magical power of blood are found in the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament). They state that "...the life of the flesh
is in the blood:"
Leviticus 1 to 7 and other passages contain instruction for ritual
sacrifice and sprinkling of blood on the altar.
Leviticus 7:26 & 27 and similar passages state that the ancient Hebrews
must not eat blood upon penalty of execution.
Leviticus 15:19 specified that anyone touching a menstruating woman
became ritually unclean.
Leviticus 20:18 calls for the death penalty of both the man and woman
who have sex when the woman is menstruating.
With the special magical powers given to blood, a legend about a
vampire feeding off of the blood of another human would be particularly
horrendous. Thus, myths about vampires
would have great power.
Development of vampire legends within Christian west:
J. Gordon Melton, in his massive "The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of
the undead," 2 suggests that beliefs about vampires formed in pre-Christian
southern and eastern Europe from a number of sources:
Ancient Greek legends refer to:
The lamiai (a.k.a. lamia). The original Lamai was a woman who was Zeus'
lover. The Goddess Hera killed all of Lamai's and Zeus' children. Lamia,
angry and frustrated, retaliated by consuming the blood of human children
and thereby killing them. Other accounts have Lamia attacking pregnant women and consuming
their fetuses, or eating corpses in cemeteries. 3
The Empusas (a.k.a. Mormolykiai) were vampire-demons associated with
Hecate, a Greek Goddess of crossroads, the newborn, and of
Witchcraft. They would attack people at night and
drink their blood.
There were other ancient myths within the Slavic culture about
The Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies) may have imported beliefs
about vampires from
their place of origin in India.
Other sources may have been:
The Ekimmu, a type of vampire in ancient Assyria and Babylon.
Lilitu (a.k.a. Lilith) found in both Jewish and Babylonian myth, who
were believed to drink the blood of babies and young children.
With the spread of Christianity throughout Europe early in the second
millennium CE, Pagan legends of
vampires were generally ignored. Charlemagne, the emperor of the Holy Roman
Empire promulgated a law in the 11th century which made it a criminal offense to
attack and kill a person because they were believed to be a vampire.
Differences in traditions, beliefs, theological language and practices
emerged within Christianity between the Greek-speaking Eastern branch and the
Latin-speaking Rome-centered branch. This eventually lead to the formal schism
of 1054 CE and the division of much of Christianity into the
Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox
Churches. That schism has never been healed. One of the many differences in
belief between the two branches relates to the fate of corpses:
The Roman Catholic Church believed that the bodies of some saints do not
decompose at death. Rather, it would retain its integrity, and even smell
sweetly. This was proof of great spirituality.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches taught that it was the bodies of evil individuals
were incorruptible. That was because the earth refused to accept them. Any body that did
not properly decompose was a candidate for reanimation as a vampire.
Needless to say, beliefs about vampires were much more common in Eastern
Orthodox lands than in Roman Catholic regions. For example:
Greece: It was believed that children born between Christmas and
New Years became callicantzaros, a type of vampire, after their death. Some
beliefs extended this interval to Epiphany, the anniversary of the date when wizards
were said to have visited Bethlehem to deliver gifts to Jesus. The public
believed that the callicantzaros emerged from the netherworld every Christmas, attacking and
killing people over a next twelve day interval. This belief generated fear and
hostility towards children who were unlucky enough to have been born during
this interval. 4
Bulgaria: The ustrel were originally
children who were born on a Saturday and who died before being baptized.
Their corpses would become reanimated and feed off of the blood of livestock.
France and other European Christian countries had legends about Incubui, (singular:
incubus) -- male demons who sexually attacked women at night. There were also
succubi, (singular: succubus) -- female demons who similarly sexually attacked men. They
were vaguely similar to vampires. However, they did not devour their
victim's blood; they preferred to exhaust their victim's through sexual
Rare conditions & activities that may have contributed to
myths about vampires:
Hematolagnia: A small minority of people have a condition called hematolagnia
-- popularly called a blood fetish. They are sexually aroused by drinking human
Porphyria: This is another raredisorder. It causes
people to have a adverse reaction to strong light. They often have to avoid sunlight and only come out at
Renfield's Syndrome: This is a disorder first described by Richard Noll.
He suggested that a drive to consume human blood originates with a childhood injury
and develops over time. The American Psychiatric Association does not
recognize this as a valid disorder.
Satanic Ritual Abuse:
Gothic Satanism was invented by the Christian church in the 15th century
CE. They taught that that
Satan worship existed, was widespread, and was a massive threat to the
established order. These beliefs gave the Catholic church legal and moral
justification to conduct
Protestant countries also held witch hunts, but hung the unfortunate
victims. Some of the practices that were
attributed to Witches were: drinking the blood of unbaptized infants, devouring
infants' bodies, converting them into soup, baking them in an oven, or
converting their bones into ritual instruments. These beliefs may have contributed to the vampire panic.