A creature of lore, legend, folktale, and myth that is believed to be an undead human (human brought back from the dead) that either feeds on the blood or life force of living humans in order to survive. There is much controversy in the folkloric record on whether vampires either drank blood or just fed off the life energy of others. Some believe that “blood” is the best representation of “life essence” and is therefore what vampires need to survive. Vampires are mentioned and recorded in numerous cultures around the world, described in history as old as man him/herself. Older parallels of similar creatures in legend, such as the Old Russian “????? (Upir’)” seem to date much earlier at 1047 C.E. mentioned in a colophon in a manuscript of the Book of Psalms written by a priest who transcribed the book from Glagolitic to Cyrillic for the Novgorodian Prince Volodymyr Yaroslavovych calling him “Upir” Likhyi which translates to “Wicked or Foul Vampire”. Local and associated Pagan mythology suggests there was Pagan worship from the 11-13th centuries of “upyri”. There is mention of similar creatures throughout history in Greek mythology, Mesopotamian lore, Hebrew records, and Roman stories placing demons and spirits who fed on the life force of humans perhaps being the earliest vampires. Numerous world mythologies described demonic entities or Deities who drank blood of humans including Sekhmet, Lilith, and Kali. The Persians were the first to describe having blood drinking demons. Greek/Roman mythology spoke of the Empusae, the Lamia, the striges, the Gello, the strix, and the Goddess Hecate as demonic blood drinkers.
The documented case of Elizabeth Bathory who killed over 600 of her servants and bathed in their blood led to the reputation of her being a vampire. Same as with Vlad the Impaler of Count Dracula mythology of Transylvania who would impale his victims alive on upright stakes and would eat dinner while watching them suffer and slide down the poles in shrieks of torment. The Istrian (Croatia) 1672 legend of Giure Grando, a peasant who died in 1656, but was believed to have risen from the grave to drink the blood of the villagers and sexually harass his widow became a vampire-like legend. He was stopped by having a stake driven through his heart and then beheaded by the local village leader. Shortly after this legend, during the 18th century, a frenzy of vampire sighting in Eastern Europe went rampant including some notorious vampire hunting in Prussia (1721), Habsburg Monarchy (1725-1734), and the tales of Peter Logojowitz and Arnold Paole in Serbia.
Arnold Paole was a soldier who was attacked by a vampire. A few years later he became a farmer that died during harvest of his hay crop. He was buried and believed by the local villagers to be rising from the grave feeding off of them. The documented case of Plogojowitz, of a man who died at 62 only to return from the grave asking his son for food. Upon being turned down, the son was found dead the next day. Plogojowitz apparently had killed him as well as various neighbours by draining their blood. The Serbian tale of Sava Savanovic told of a man who lived in a local watermill that would kill the millers and drink their blood. This tale led to the creation of the 1973 Serbian horror film called “Leptirica”.
The term itself as “vampire” however was not utilized until the early 18th century during a time when vampire hysteria was rampant. The first use of the term “Vampire” came from a 1734 travelogue titled “Travels of Three English Gentlemen” published in the 1745 Harleian Miscellany according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The English term “Vampire” may have come from the french term “Vampyre” or the German term “Vampir”. These terms may have derived into the Serbian “??????/vampir”. During the early 18th century tales of vampires throughout Eastern Europe became rampant. Vampires were often associated as revenants of evil beings, suicide vicims, or witches; or from malevolent spirits possessing a corpse or being bitten by a vampire. It was during this time that the hysteria caused individuals, families, and communities to dig up the graves of suspected vampires and them mutilating the corpses, staking them, or conducting rites of exorcism. In 1718, after Austria gained control of northern Serbia and Oltenia, officials recorded local practices of exhuming bodies and “killing the undead”. Official recording of these practices from 1725 to 1732 led to widespread publicity of vampires. It was from this that led to many of the original vampire myths we have today that described vampires as either being in the form of a human, as a resurreced rotting corpse, or a demon-like creature roaming at night. Much of the hysteria was similar to the Witch Craze of the Inquisition. Neighbours would accuse the recently deceased for diseases, deaths, plagues, and tragedies that cursed the local village. Scholars at the time were steadfast that Vampires did not exist attributing the incidents to premature burials, rabies, or religion. However, the well-respected theologian and scholar Dom Augustine Calmet composed a 1746 treatise with reports claiming vampires did indeed exist. This was supported by Voltaire who claimed vampires were corpses who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomaches, after which they would return to the cemetery. This would lead the victim to wane, pale, and fall into consumption while the vampire would bloat, become fat, rosy, and become rejuvenated. They were disputed by Gerard van Swieten and the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria who passed laws prohibiting exhumation and desecration of bodies ending the vampire epidemics in Austria.
The “18th Century Vampire Controversy” or “Hysteria” gave birth to many fabricated myths and legends that lent stories about blood suckers evolving to the image we imagine of today when we think of “vampire”. Many of these images today come from writers, authors, and film. John Polidori’s 1819 novella “The Vampyre”, Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula”, and the film “Nosferatu” are the main culprits for much of today’s image of a vampire, especially the pointed teeth, the sleeping in daylight, the drinking of blood, and sensitivity to sunlight. Stoker based much of his imagery and lore from former mythology of demons, faeries, and werewolves that he fit into the fears of late Victorian patriarchy. His book gave birth to a trend of vampire fandom that has lasted for over 100 years and still flourishing.
From Europe the vampire craze spread to parts of New England in the Americas, particularly Rhode Island and Eastern Connecticut. Paranoia and hysteria went rampant in the same manner as Eastern Europe’s 18th century Vampire Controversy. Documentation of cases with families accusing vampirism being the cause of the plague of consumption that devastated their communities. Families would dig up their dead to remove the hearts of suspected vampires. A very popular documented case was of the 1892 Rhode Island incident of Mercy Brown who died at age 19 of consumption, believed to be a vampire returning from the grave and feeding on her family and neighbours, was dug up by her father, had her heart cut out and burnt to ashes, only to be fed to her dying brother in attempts to save him from the rotting disease.