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Investigating the Vampyre Legend
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
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.