Vampires ~ Global Mythology and History
The phenomena we call vampires has existed across the world in a variety of cultures for a millennia. They have appeared in many shapes, but they always have the same connection – Blood. They are practically the definition of fear, an evil entity crawling into your house, at night, to feed on you as you sleep.
The concept of the vampire started in Mesopotamia though in it’s early forms it was attributed to demons before revenants. The mythology has evolved for thousands of years and continues today.
This article will delve into that evolution throughout the world and history. The purpose of this article is to get a glimpse at how diverse the global mythology and history of vampires is. It will get into the different and strange incarnations from all over the world then get into how the concept of vampires has affected our world today. In an attempt to fain order, this will be cut into categories.
“Vampirism is one of the most demonic outbreaks of mass hysteria ever to sweep the world. It’s origins are rooted at the beginning of time and almost all of them are founded on superstition.” – Anthony Masters
Types of Vampires from Around the World
Vampires in Europe and the U.K.
Many of the modern myths surrounding vampires have originated from Europe, especially Eastern Europe. Most likely born from the spread of the folklore from the many bands of traveling gypsies from eastern Europe that were prevalent at the time.
Romania is strife with vampiric legends like the strigoi, described as a witch during life. Has red hair, blue eyes and two hearts. It can also leave its body at night in the form of an animal or a small spark of light that can be seen flying through the air. The varacolaci is said to be attached to it’s coffin by an invisible (astral) thread and can go wherever it wants as long as the thread is not broken. It is said to have the ability to cause both lunar and solar eclipses. They fall asleep when they cause the eclipses. Is said to be the most powerful of all the undead.
Bosnia has the Blautsauger which is a hairy vampire with no skeleton. It can turn into a rat or a wolf.
Albania has the Kukuthi which is a reasonably harmless vampire that feeds briefly on its victims without killing them. It returns to its grave until it reaches maturity, after thirty years it may travel as a merchant. They also has the Sampiro which are Albanians of Turkish descent that were said to return in a shroud and high heeled shoes. And the Sriz which, during the day, would climb to the top of the village church steeple and called out names of villagers. If a persons name was called they were to be a victim that night.
Russia has it’s own myths about vampires, like the Siberian Vampire which is an ethereal vampire that desires human blood for sustenance and warmth. They live in the stars and on cold nights, fall back to earth as shooting stars. They are strangely afraid of a wakeful human. There is also the Wampir which looks exactly like a regular person with the only exception of a stinger under their tongue. If burned, the body will explode with vermin (bugs, bats, maggots, rats, etc) and if any animal or insect escapes, the Wampir can return to life.
The Bulgarians have the Obur, a gluttonous, invisible, vampire That would create loud noises and throw objects if not given offerings. They also have the Ustrel, a newborn that died on a Saturday before being baptized usually turned into this type of vampire. After the 9th night of burial, it would rise again and attack livestock. If enough blood was consumed, it would grow strong enough stay out during the daytime. There is also the ubour which is a vampire created by a violent death or the spirits refusal to leave the body. The corpse remains buried for forty days and then rises to cause mischief. It generally won’t drink blood until its other sources of nourishment are gone, and as these include regular food the attacking of humans rarely occurs. It is said to create sparks by its movement.
The Czech Republic has the Olgolgen, a roaming vampire that travels naked with dirt from it’s tomb in it’s navel. They also have the Up�r, this vampire was born of the thought that a person had two souls, and a vampire was a corpse animated by one of the souls, the lesser soul, that remained in the body after death. It had two hearts, and was known to have its eyes open in the grave and two curls in its hair.
In Germany there is the Nachtsehrer which would psychically cause people to waste away by actually eating itself and it’s shroud while still in it’s coffin.
Poland had the Upier, a vampire that rises at mid day and returns to sleep at midnight. It has a barbed tongue and consumes large quantities of blood. It also sleeps in blood as well.
Hungary has the Nora, a bald man that crawls on all fours and sucks blood out of the breasts of women.
Portugal had the Bruxa which were vampiric witches that assumed animal forms such as a duck, rat, dove or ant, would meet at crossroads and attack infants in groups.
Montenegro and Serbia has the Veshtitza, a spiritual vampire that possesses a hen or black moth. It then drinks the blood of infants. They then come together in trees to share what they caught earlier.
Greece has the callicantzaros, a person born between Christmas and New Years. This vampire, with long talons, would attack people and tear them to pieces on those days between Christmas and New Years. It is also said to constantly smile and spit acidic blood on it’s victims.
There is also the lamia, a half woman, half serpent vampire that lives in caves, where she drinks the blood of children. She sometimes transforms into a beautiful maiden to seduce young men to drink their blood (this is just one description of the Lamia, many civilizations have different descriptions for this creature).
Among the many kinds of vampires borrowed from surrounding countries, Italy has the Stregoni benefici, a good vampire said to fight evil vampires.
Vampires in The Americas and Mexico
The Americas and Mexico have their own strange forms of vampires.
The Cherokee had the U`tl??’t�, a shape shifting ogress, with rock hard skin, who slaughters people and eats their livers. on her right hand is a stony forefinger made from hard bone, shaped like the head of a spear used to stab her victims.
Vampires in the Rocky Mountains sucked the blood out of its victim’s ears using its pointed nose.
Mexico has the Tlaciques which are vampiric witches who can turn into a ball of flame or a turkey, in which they can feed unnoticed. They also have the Tlahuelpuchi, a witch which detaches it’s legs and turns into any animal it chooses, to attack women.
In South America, Brazil has Lobishomen, a vampire that attacks women and turns them into nymphomaniacs. Columbia has the Tunda, a shape shifting vampire that usually appears as a loved one or beautiful woman to lure her victims into her forest home. She then feeds her victims shrimp she has farted on to keep them complacent. Also prevalent among South America is the Asema which would remove it’s skin at night and fly around as a gaseous ball (This is also very similar to the Haitian Loogaroo).
The Aztecs have the Tlacteulty which was in the shape of a huge frog and would cause mayhem. It’s main source of sustenance was blood.
Vampires in Africa
Africa is rich in folklore and legend.
The Ewe tribe of Ghana have the Adze which is a vampire spirit that dwells in tribal sorcerers among the Ewe. The Adze flies around in the form of firefly but, if caught, changes into a human which is a small hunchbacked, misshapen humanoid with jet black skin that does not fit it. The Asiman for the Ashanti, also known as Obyifo to the Dahomey people, are known to possess people and animals and are described as having shifty eyes and are obsessed with food. While traveling, they are described as emiting a phosphorescent glow from their armpits and anus, and can also travel in a ball of light. They kill children from remotely sucking their blood from afar. They also suck the life from crops, especially the cocoa plant.
Also in Ghana is the Ashanti tribe which has the asasabonsam which lives in trees and has iron fangs with hook like legs used to catch it’s prey. They also have the Obayifo, a witch that would magically leave it’s body by night in the form of a glowing ball to suck the blood of children.
The country of Guinea has the Owenga which is the reincarnation of evil sorcerers, had books for feet and sucked blood from the thumb of a sleeping person.
Vampires in Asia
Asia has a very diverse mythology. Collected into it are many beliefs including Arabian, Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu and Japanese.
China has the Kuang-shi which is a vampire caused by the demonic possession of a recently deceased corpse. Said to have a terrifying appearance, as it matures it gains new skills. The older among them rumored to have the ability to fly.
Japan has the Kappa, a vampire that lived in water, it attacked livestock and would drag them into the water and devour them. It has a dent in it’s head, filled with water, and the only way to defeat it is to spill the water.
Japan also has the Rokurokubi. It is a Yokai, a Japanese spirit or demon. In the daytime, the Rokurokubi appear as a regular human but at night, they will stretch their necks to extraordinary lengths. Just like a human, they have different personalities. Some will be nice while others can be mischivous and evil. They usually hide their long neck from the general public, only showing them to drunkards or the blind. They were once normal human beings but were transformed by karma for breaking various precepts of Buddhism and like to drink blood.
The Philippines have the Manananggal which is a female vampire that would separate it’s upper body from it’s hips and flew with wings. They also have the Aswang, a witch who, after rubbing on a magical ointment, would appear as a beautiful woman. At night, she would fly to the roof of a house and would send her long tongue through an open window to pierce the throat of a sleeping victim and drink the blood. When fully fed she appeared as a pregnant woman. It is believed that if the aswang were to lick someone’s shadow, they would die soon after.
Malaysia has the Langsuir which is a mother who has died in childbirth. The langsuir has long sharp nails, black, “weightless” hair and green robes. On the back of her neck is a second mouth used to drink the blood of infants. Is said to be able to fly and shape shift into an owl. They also have the Toyol, a still born baby brought back to life by a sorcerer to do his bidding. It is kept in a jar during the day and demand an offering of blood. If there is no blood, the sorcerer soon withers and dies.
India has the Brahmaparush, a vampire that would cheerfully drink a victims blood through its skull, than eat the brain and wrap the victims intestines around its body and perform a ritualistic dance. And the Chedipe which would ride a tiger naked. At night she would enter a household and suck the blood from the man through his big toe. And the Churel, a woman vampire with feet turned backwards. She is described as a hideous creature with long, sagging breasts and unkempt hair or a beaufiful young woman with a long thick black tongue. She is said to have died during childbirth or while menstruating, and preys on young men. There’s also the Vetala which is technically a spirit but once possessing a corpse it will roam the earth drinking the blood of the living. The Baital is half human, half bat, stands four feet tall and drinks the blood of children, and the Masani is a female vampire that is said to be the spirit of burial grounds, is black in appearance, from ash, and emerges from a funeral pyre at night to hunt.
Burma has the Thaye which are disembodied spirits that appear as tall dark people with huge ears, a long tongue and tusk-like teeth.
The Malay Peninsula has the Penanggalan, or Penanggal. It is a woman who either has made a pact with the devil, was cursed, or was startled so much that her head fell off. By day they appear as a normal, maybe even beautiful, woman. But at night she will remove her head and, with her entrails hanging from her neck, will fly around looking for victims. Her main prey is pregnant women and children who she feeds on with a long invisible tongue. It is usually followed by an odor of vinegar.
Vampires in Australia
Australia is both the worlds smallest continent and the largest island. Early in it’s history it had a great diversity between different Indigenous inhabitants.
Australia has the Garkain which is a half man, half bat with a deadly stench, the Garkain would hide in mangrove trees and swoop down on it’s forsaken victim, wrapping them tightly in it’s wings. They would at first choke on the stench then suffocate. The Garkain would then begin to feed.
Also prevelent among aboriginal tribes is the Yara-ma-yha-who which is a four foot tall red man with a big head and large mouth. It lives in fig trees and leaps onto it’s victims and sucks their blood through suckers on the tips of it’s fingers and toes.
The Talamaur is a living vampire. It could communicate with the spirit world, making one of these spirits its servant which it would send out to suck the life essence out of a fresh corpse.
The nearby Melanesian Islands have the Abere. Described as a beautiful, wild, woman with female servants. She draws people into the marshes inwhich she dwells to devour them.
The concept of vampirism has evolved in recent decades. They have grown from recent novels and films and advances in science.
Romance has been part of vampire history for hundreds of years but only recently was shown in a lighter way. There are many mythical vampires that will seduce or lure a victim to their death. But starting with Dracula, by Bram Stoker, this was the first story in which the lust from his potential victims was not shown in a bad light. Portrayed as suave and charismatic, they tend to lure their victims more than sneak up on them and are seen as sympathetic. This can later be seen in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and more recently in the Twilight series.
This being the newest form of fictional vampires. Starting, roughly, within the last sixty years. With the advent of the Atomic Age and scientific advances, modern vampire stories would change from gothic European castles to cities and suburbia. This type of vampire would usually be seen in comic books, novels, television and film. The vampire strain usually being attributed to a virus or mutation.
A Malaysian creature that lived in a wild pandanus plant. If a human harmed the plant, the creature would attach itself to a mans elbow, or a woman’s nipple, where it sucked their blood until they gave something in substitution, such as a nut.
A witch’s familiar (helper, usually an everyday animal or imp), from Malaysia, that would do the bidding of the witch in exchange for small amounts of blood taken from a cut in the witches finger.
A Latin American creature reported to suck the blood of live stock. Usually attributed to be a scientific experiment or an alien (sometimes, the pet of an alien). Usually described as being reptilian in appearance. Stands three to four feet tall and is said to hop like a kangaroo. The attribute that sticks out to many are it’s eyes which are very large with a red or black appearance.
A Hungarian creature that can be one of three forms. One is a magical chicken whose egg, which is sometimes black, has to be placed in manure to hatch. The second form is a tiny imp like creature that can also be hatched in a black egg or found in inanimate objects (old clothes, trash, cans, etc). The third is a human sized satanic creature or sometimes a dead relative. No matter the form, they all bring good luck and riches and performs tasks for it’s owner, yet eventually grows bothersome and will have to be given an impossible duty to be ridden of. Sometimes drinks the blood of it’s owner.
Vampiric Pumpkins (aka Mullo)
Roma folklore states that a pumpkin left to rot will drink the blood of it’s owners.
(This myth can basically be added to anything left to rot).
A tree from Madagascar that looks like a large pineapple and exudes an addictive drugged liquid. Once a victim goes far enough inside it, it closes and squeezes all juices out of the victim.
Impundulu (aka Izulu, Inyoni and Yezulu)
A South African creature of the Pondo, Zulu and Xhosa peoples. Translated to “Lightning Bird”, it is described a a black and white, human sized bird that can summon lightning and thunder. It is the familiar (helper) of a witch or witch doctor and ravenously craves blood. It is also said to sometimes take the form of a handsome man to seduce women.
Indonesia has the Jenglot. It is described as looking like a mummified doll with long claws and fangs along with long blond or black hair. It stands 12 to 15 centimeters tall and can sometimes have a snake or mermaid appearance. Jenglots are often sold to tourists and is claimed to only appear dead. These are usually the mummified remains of a dead monkey. If a drop of blood is placed near it, it reportedly will somehow obsorb the nutrients in an unseen manner. They can be found in tree trunks, underground and in the roof of an old house.
A Philippino bird/bat-like creature that comes out at night looking for victims. It is named after the sound it’s wings make while flying and is said to have sharp claws and wings.
A half vampire, half human said to have all of the vampires strengths and none of their weaknesses. The signs of a dhampir is usually ugliness- snub-nose, large ears, teeth or eyes, paleness, blackness under the eyes, bow-legged ,and sometimes a tail. They can see invisible vampires (sometimes vampires in general) and are, in Bulgaria and Serbia, usually the only hope in fighting the undead. A Dhampir can enable others to see invisible vampires by taking off his shirt and letting them see through the sleeves. Some myth further states that they have soft, gelatinous skin and sometimes even no skeleton.
A Bulgarian vampire hunter who bottles vampires. The hunter would fill a bottle with blood and leave it alone. The vampire would eventually be drawn to the blood filled bottle or be chased into it by the hunter. The bottle would then be corked and thrown into a fire.
A human vampire hunter. They may have similar abilities to Dhampir’s but are not half vampire. It is said that they like to eat the meat of a sheep killed by a wolf and can entice vampires with music and kill them, or throw their hat in water, telling the vampire to fetch it, and drown in the process.
How to Detect Vampires
Along with everything else, the ways to detect a vampire is very diverse.
Some ways to detect a living vampire are fangs, red eyes, a tail, long nails, has really bad breath, no appetite, paleness, cold skin, hairy palms, has no shadow or reflection in a mirror, unable to enter a house without invitation, aversion to bright lights or fire, has quiet footsteps, possesses remarkable strength (though not always the case), extensive knowledge about botany, a large collection of soil in a house or in the vicinity, deemed evil by others, strange clothing habits, are considered an outcast, emits unusually large sexual appeal, friends and family of them frequently die, and they rarely, if ever, discuss religion.
The Signs of a Vampire Victim
The signs of a victim are sleeplessness, nightmares, anemia (blood loss), paleness, exhaustion, sleepwalking, difficulty in breathing, heightened sexual apatite, nervousness or irritability, weight loss, aversion to garlic, gaps in memory, strange dental growths, random mood swings, no appetite, photosensitivity, bite marks, usually on the neck, sexual organs, over the heart, the breast, the nipple, between the eyes or the feet.
Detecting a Vampire in a Cemetery
Signs of a vampire in a cemetery are constant mists, disturbed earth, finger-size holes, moved, broken or fallen crosses, disturbed coffins, footprints leading from a grave, a blood trail leading to a grave, no birds singing, dead animals, a constant quiet stillness, dogs barking (or refusing to enter cemetery), wolves howling, horses shying from grave, nearby poltergeist activity, and groaning, screaming and scratching sounds heard from under the earth.
Detecting Vampirism in a Corpse
The signs once the body has been exhumed are open eyes, fangs (though not always the case), healthy complexion, bloated body, growth of nails and hair, long, talon-like nails, flexible limbs, lack of decomposition, half devoured shroud, “new” skin, sense of impending doom about the corpse, other similar corpses nearby, white liver, open mouth and blood in the mouth, coffin or tomb.
How to Protect Yourself from Vampires
The most common way to protect yourself from the undead is an Apotrope, an object used to ward off evil. These consist of holy water, rosary beads, crucifix, silver, salt, roses, holy, garlic, amulets, sacred objects, etc. For the Strix, the common form of protection was the sacrifice of a pig as an alterative source of food. Because of it’s association with Jesus Christ, hawthorn is used as protection in Europe, China and the Americas. You may also place a block of wood or stone in the mouth to keep it from chewing it’s way out of it’s coul and coffin. You can also place a sickle in front of the neck in the coffin to keep the vampire from rising.
In many cultures it is commonly believed that vampires suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder and one way to take advantage of this was to distract the vampire. This was usually done by sprinkling seeds, beads, or rice around the grave or suspected place of attack. The vampire would either be compelled to count each grain until dawn arrives or count one grain per year. Another way to exploit this obsessive activity is to sleep with your shoes on. The vampire would be so compelled to untie knots that they may be kept busy until dawn. Fire is usually the best form of protection against vampires but not exactly a good idea if you want to keep them out of your house. In the end, the best defense is a good offense.
How to Kill Vampires
The only good vampire is a dead vampire. When a bloodsucker has been identified, the best thing to do is to put it out of it’s misery, and there are many ways to do that.
Drive an aspen, hawthorn, ash or silver stake through it’s heart, shoot it with a silver bullet, decapitation, pour boiling water, oil or holy water into the grave and cremate the corpse, pour the ashes into water and drink it.
Some other methods of disposal are placing coins, lemons or garlic in the mouth, burying the body facing downward, hammering an iron nail into the corpses temple, cutting off and burning the head, boiling the head in vinegar, bury the grave at crossroads, nail down the lid with silver or iron nails and chain the coffin shut.
How to Reverse Vampirism
Though there aren’t many ways for vampirism to be reversed, there are a few. In Europe and early America, drinking the blood of the vampire before it bites you, is one. Myth says it avoids it’s own blood. It can be baked into bread, smeared onto a potential victim, or mixed with brandy or water. Another way is to remove and burn the heart of the vampire and inhale the smoke.
Traits of Vampires
Besides the consumption of blood, vampires around the world do have some similarities, though with the diversity of legends, these similarities are limited.
Vampires are usually considered to have a pale complexion, though this is technically not always true.
Vampires are sometimes considered to be shape shifters.
Vampires almost always have a connection to animals (bats, rats foxes, wolves, owls, etc).
Some vampires can fly. Sometimes this power is supernatural, other times it is connected to the vampire’s ability to turn into flying creatures.
Most stories of vampires usually identify them as being dead although this is not always the case
Some eastern European traditions hold that a vampire cannot enter a house unless he or she is invited in.
Vampires in some tales have very specific dietary requirements while others do not.
Most tend to not live in a house, i.e. the woods, trees, under ground, water, abandoned buildings, etc.
The best protection from a vampire is a apotrope, an object that wards off evil (holy water, crucifix, silver, roses, holy, garlic, amulets, sacred objects, etc).
Most early legends have no mention of the damaging effects of sunlight on vampires. This is a new trait starting within the last 100 years.
Vampirism and the Affects on Our History
As you can see, the affect vampirism has caused on our history is vast. The fact that they are the most used monster in film shows how they have had such staying power. In all incarnations they are always the most terrifying creatures any civilization has. Sometimes they can leave popular insight into our times.
Stoker’s Dracula dealt with the pasts conflict with the present, the folklore of the past vs. the technology and speed of the present times, at it’s core it is the struggle between tradition and modernity. The vampire has been the primary explanation for disease and contagion until Empress Maria Theresa of Austria outlawed the disturbance of the dead. This prompted a search for an alternate explanation which led to modern medical practice.
Vampires can fulfill our dreams of immortality yet at the same time explore our fears of the unknown inconceivability of it. History has shown that they will never leave and will continue to evolve with our times and, personally, I can’t wait to see what else they will be shown to do.
Vampiric Entities in a Variety of Guises
Vampiric entities appear in a variety of guises in myth in almost every civilization. For instance the original attributes of a vampire are very different compared to today. Nowadays they are usually thin, gaunt, pale and seductive , while in the middle ages they were bloated with a dark purplish color (because of the blood drinking) and extremely neurotic, having the overwhelming need to untie knots and count grains of seed.
In other parts of the world they get even stranger. Like in Africa there is the asasabonsam which lives in trees and has iron fangs with hook like legs used to catch it’s prey. Malaysia has the penanggalan which, at night, detaches it’s head from it’s body and flies around with it’s intestines as tenticles. Australia has the yara-ma-yha-who which is a 4 foot tall bright red man with a large head and mouth but uses suckers on the ends of it’s fingers and toes to suck blood. The loogaroo from Haiti and the asema from South America would remove it’s skin at night and fly around as a gaseous ball. In Germany there is the nachtsehrer which would psychically cause people to waste away by actually eating itself while still in it’s coffin. In China the chiang-shih was covered with green or white hair, had sharp nails and teeth with deadly breath. The cihuateteo of Mexico would have no face, just a skull as it’s head with eagle claws for hands and Vampires reported in the Rocky Mountains would suck your blood out of your ear with their nose. Fangs and sunlight weren’t even connected to them until semi-recent times.
There is also the dhampir which is half human and half vampire (like Blade). They would usually become vampire hunters because of their enhanced strength and agility and also had the ability to see invisible vampires.
Further blurring the lines between vampires and humans are people who claim to have vampiric tendencies, they are called sanguine vampires. There are also psychic vampires who feed on the life-force of others. Empathic vampires feed on the emotional energies of others and soul vampires feed directly from your soul.
The thing is, vampires would be very secretive and consider us like cattle and psychologically have a superiority complex attributed to their immortality and extreme strength, so basically you probably wouldn’t want to meet one, although they may, to an extent, “worship” blood in an almost religious fashion because of it’s life giving and regenerative properties it gives them.
Written by Bracket, Copyright TrueGhostTales.com
Fascinatingly exhaustive lens, with an important detail mistaken/missing: “veshtiza” in Serbian lore (and language) is simply a witch, not a vampire. English word “vampire” is, in fact, derived directly from the old Serbian term “vampir”, denoting the undead – the vampires. So, in Serbia, ‘vampire’ is ‘vampir’, not “veshtiza”. There’s much more about the vampires in Serbian folklore and legends, but it’s surely not possible to list all of it.
Also, the “Bosnian” vampire listed here is entirely unknown in the local folktales. It sounds like a German term, from the time Bosnia and Herzegovina were under the Austro-Hungarian rule.
Hey, i really liked your comments on this other article about vampires so i’m really excited to find YOUR article haven’t read it yet, but i’m going to now
Hmm Interesting read for us who love the Vampire legends and folklore . Thanks!