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Home > Archives > Vampyres > Investigating the Vampyre Legend

Investigating the Vampyre Legend
by Everglais
POSTED: March 98

When people think of vampyres, many images come to mind - Bela Legosi's famous portrayal of Dracula, Max Schreck's old, hideous impression of a Nosferatu, and the modern day kids who claim they are vampyres. We think of vampyres generally as male villains who steal life savagely by sucking their blood. But now, there are such things called Psychic vampyres and Energy vampires. Once can easily become confused as to what exactly a vampyre is.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a vampyre is a reanimated corpse that rises from the grave in the form of a male, also called a "inkubus", or a female seductress, a "sukkubus". This definition mentions nothing of psychic or energy vampyres. However, many people feel that these different kinds of vampyres are just names given to the special powers that vampyres have. They are said to be able to transform into animals such as wolves, bats, rats, black cats, owls, ravens, and spiders. A vampyre may also turn into a mist or dust. Another power ascribed to vampyres is superhuman strength, speed and sensory perception. A vampyre is said to be able to move faster than a human eye can follow. Vampyres can also control the minds of animals or humans by hypnosis or telepathy. Through mental control, the vampyre obtains some of the energy from their victim.

But where did the vampyre image come from? Is there any truth behind it? Any facts? Though the belief of people who rise from the dead has been traced back to Babylonian times, the most prominent shaping of the vampyre myth came from a city in Romania called Transylvania. It was there that Vlad Dracul was born. From his birth in 1431, he was raised by the Roman Catholic Church. At age 11, Vlad and his brother, Radu, were taken hostage by the Turks until 1448. During this time, he adopted a very pessimistic view of life. While still a captive, the Turks informed him of his father's death, and his brother's brutal death by torture. Vlad was freed after hearing this news.

In the summer of 1456, Vlad became Prince of Wallachia, and reigned for 6 years. During this time, he revenged his father's death, and proceeded to kill people, both guilty and innocent. His favourite form of death was by impailment. This earned him the name commonly known today, Vlad the Impailer. He was said to have dismembered children and fed them to their parents. He would throw a feast for the peasants, and then lock the doors and burn the building with them still inside. Historians have said that Vlad is the first documented blood thirsty man and has so been named the first vampyre.

At the same time that Vlad was terrorizing Romania, there was another blood-thirsty person living in the same country. Her name was Elizabeth Bathory, also known as The Blood Countess. She would order her young servant and peasant girls to join her for tea or a small meal. Then she would bind and hang the girls to the ceiling, and pierce them with a spike while still alive. When blood splattered on her face during one of her murders, she thought it made her skin look younger. From then on, she'd save the blood of her victims and spread it on her face or bathe in it. She would even stand under the dying girls and let their blood trickle down her own body. In 1610, she was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment for her vampyric crimes. She died three years later.

Since Vlad and Bathory, other supposed vampyres have been discovered. In a village called Medvegia, a military man named Arnold Paole died from a tragic fall. Five years after his death, reports started arising from people who claimed to see him in their homes or around town. After these visitations, the people started dying, and permission was given for his body to be exhumed. Once out of the grave, the village people opened the coffin and found that his body was still warm and decay had not set in. They noticed blood coming from his mouth, and they panicked, and labeled him a vampyre. A wooden steak was driven through his heart and it is said that the corpse let out a moan.

Another incident occurred in a small town called Croglin Grange. A young woman had been attacked by a vampyre and her brother wounded it by a shot in the leg. The vampyre escaped to a nearby crypt. In the morning, the brother summoned the townspeople, and the vault was opened. Inside lay a bunch of broken coffins. One remained intact, and upon opening, they found a mummified corpse with a fresh bullet wound. The corpse was then burned.

Throughout history, the vampyre image has changed from Vlad Dracul to the modern image. Part of this is due to the famous novel by Bram Stoker, Dracula. But despite the many changes to the myth, one aspect has seemingly stayed the same - how to kill the vampyre. The most commonly used way was a wooden steak through the heart, though beheading and incineration were also used. For female vampyres, cutting out the heart appeared to be the favoured way to kill a vampyre, though wooden steaks were used often too.

Folklorists have presented some possible explanations for vampyres, using historical and medical facts. For example, during the Black Plague, it was thought that if a family member died, it would come back for the rest of the family, killing them. This can easily be explained by the fact that the plague was contagious and it spread among family members and people living in close areas. As for incidents such as Arnold Paole's, when they dug up the body, this is a natural part of the decaying process. The gumline recedes, making the teeth appear longer. The fingernails continues to grow, as does the hair. Blood vessels in the mouth break, causing blood to leak out. Blood inside the body makes the body bloated, which could keep the corpse warm for a while. Air remains in the cavity of the lungs for a long period of time. Therefore, if a wooden steak punctures the cavity, the corpse would let out a groan, but it is only because the air is escaping.

Part 2: "The Distortion of the Vampyre Image" ***Coming Next Month!!!

For more information, check out the following sources:

In Search of Dracula by Raymond T. McNally and Radu Floresca
Vampyres, Burial and Death by Paul Barber
A Natural History of the Vampyre by Anthony Masters
The Vampyre Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead By J. Gordon Melton
Vampires by B.J. Hurwood
The Vampyre : his Kith and Kin By Montague Summers.

Everglais is a gothic writer and poet who writes a frequent Vampyre column for the X-Project Paranormal Magazine.

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