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Vampirism and Vampyrism

Blood, legends, conditions, activities

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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." 1

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 use is far from a consensus.

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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 otherwise uninjured.

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:"

bulletLeviticus 1 to 7 and other passages contain instruction for ritual sacrifice and sprinkling of blood on the altar.

bulletLeviticus 7:26 & 27 and similar passages state that the ancient Hebrews must not eat blood upon penalty of execution.

bulletLeviticus 15:19 specified that anyone touching a menstruating woman became ritually unclean.

bulletLeviticus 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.

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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:

bulletAncient Greek legends refer to:
bulletThe 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

bulletThe 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.
bulletThere were other ancient myths within the Slavic culture about vampire-like creatures.

bulletThe Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies) may have imported beliefs about vampires from their place of origin in India.

Other sources may have been:

bulletThe Ekimmu, a type of vampire in ancient Assyria and Babylon.

bullet 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:

bulletThe 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.

bulletThe 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:

bulletGreece: 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

bulletBulgaria: 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 activity.

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Rare conditions & activities that may have contributed to myths about vampires:

bulletHematolagnia: A small minority of people have a condition called hematolagnia -- popularly called a blood fetish. They are sexually aroused by drinking human blood.

bulletPorphyria: This is another rare disorder. It causes people to have a adverse reaction to strong light. They often have to avoid sunlight and only come out at night.

bulletRenfield'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.

bullet 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 Witch burnings. 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.

More information.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Vampire," Wikipedia, at:
  2. J. Gordon Melton, "The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the undead," Visible Ink Press, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  3. "Lamia," DeliriumsRealm, at:
  4. "Demon: Callicantzaros," DeliriumsRealm, at:
  5. Leviticus 17:11, King James Version

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Home > World religions, ethical systems, etc. > Vampirism > here

Home >Religious info. > Basic data > World religions, etc > Vampirism > here

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Copyright © 2005 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-SEP-25
Latest update: 2011-JAN-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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