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Vampires are an area where myth, fiction and historical events merge in attempts to express a primitive human fear of being eaten alive.

Both the vampire and the werewolf have magical shape-shifting or changing abilities that are also associated with occult and often malevolent powers. The Vampire can, it is said, transform himself to wolf; bat or, according to the Romans, these striges could change into owls and drink the blood of babies.

The vampire also has sexual connotations and would often according to myth seduce victims with great charm.

Vampires in history and literature

Dracula by Bram Stoker, an Irish writer, was published in 1897, providing through the voice of Van Helsing the vampire hunter, a great deal of legendary vampire lore that has since fuelled a whole vampire industry.

Van Helsing claims that the original Dracula was a genuine historical character – the fifteenth century Vlad Tepes (the Impaler), King of Wallachia, which included the now Vampire Mecca of Transylvania (now part of Romania).

Vlad killed his enemies by impaling them on stakes – it is estimated that he killed 100,000 in this fashion during his lifetime.

Cases of vampires began to filter into Western Europe after Charles VI, Emperor of Austria, drove the Turkish out of Eastern Europe in 1718. The most famous was that in the village of Medvegia near Belgrade in 1732 when five Austrian officers signed a sworn statement about a spate of murders apparently by ghosts who throttled sleeping victims, leaving small livid marks on the necks. These spirits had supposedly been infected by vampires during their lifetime and their exhumed corpses, according to the officers, spurted fresh blood and their skin and nails were freshly grown.

Vampires and Science

The tradition of the sun being fatal to vampires may have its roots, according to recent medical research, in the rare genetic blood condition porphyria, which causes its victims to be extremely sensitive to light, causes pale skin and makes incisors look bigger than normal.

Sufferers may have been blamed for outbreaks of ill luck in villages in more superstitious times and lost their lives for it. Vampires traditionally return to their coffins at dawn and only briefly in some traditions, appear exactly at noon.

Dr Juan Gomez-Alonso, a neurologist at Xeral Hospital in Vigo, put forward an alternative view in September 1997 that rabies was behind the outbreaks of vampirism that allegedly plagued 18th century Europe.

The doctor was inspired while watching a Dracula film. He noted that the classic characteristics of a vampire – frothing at the mouth, bared teeth, an aversion to mirrors and nocturnal habits – were all well-documented symptoms of rabies.

Another one is hyper-sexuality. In his paper published in the journal Neurology, he says that rabies victims have been known to have intercourse up to 30 times a day. Rabies would explain the deadliness of the vampire’s “kiss” as biting transmits the disease. What about the bats and wolves who were said to be vampires in disguise? They are common carriers of rabies.

The doctor makes a convincing case when he points out that early tales of vampires frequently coincided with reports of rabies outbreaks in and around the Balkans, stretching back to a particularly devastating epidemic of rabies in dogs, wolves and other animals in Hungary in 1721‑1728. But others say that the vast literature on the subject would suggest more occult forces at work.

Vampire lore

In some legends the vampire becomes a vampire only after death, but in others, children or grandchildren of existing vampires, inherit the trait.

Other myths tell that people become vampires by being bitten, but not killed, by a vampire or eating an animal that had been bitten by a vampire.

Immortality is thereby granted to the vampire as long as he (the vampire is more commonly regarded as male because of the Vlad/Dracula association) or she can feed on the blood of the living, preferably human. Vampires usually obtain blood by biting a victim’s neck and drinking the blood, in some legends sucking the blood through long, hollow front incisors.

Vampires throw no shadow nor have a reflection in the mirror.

It is said, too that he or she can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide.

Traditionally vampires can be repelled with garlic, holy water and the crucifix, a branch of wild rose on the coffin that contains the vampire within.

But total destruction results by a stake of hawthorn through the heart. In some versions the vampire needs to be sleeping for this to work. Sometimes fire, exposure to sunlight or beheading is also considered necessary to be sure the impaled vampire will rise no more.

Female Vampires

Female vampires were also reported at the height of vampire fever, actual as well as legendary , the most famous being Elizabeth Bathory.

How many of her vile deeds are myth is uncertain since the records of her trial were considered to be so horrendous that they were locked away and only partially survived. What is more most of the evidence came from confessions of her alleged accomplices who were tortured and executed.

Most significant perhaps is that Elizabeth Bathory was born in 1560 into a family of wealthy landowners in Transylvania and married an older and equally rich Count Ferencz Nadasdy. When he died in 1604 and she moved back to her family lands near Vienna. Elizabeth became the target of envy of local male landowners who coveted her property and wealth....

It is claimed her vampire career began when because of her husband’s frequent infidelities, she feared losing her beauty. She discovered when she hit a servant girl across the face with scissors that the young girl’s blood made her skin appear younger and so, according to her accusers, she sought to obtain the blood of young girls to keep her youth. Her husband was apparently unaware of the source of her new radiance.

It is said that by 1610 she had murdered 600 young women. The idea that one could draw the life force through blood was quite common and Elizabeth apparently tortured her victims for months before they died, even sticking sharp spikes into them while they were in a cage on the ceiling so she might bathe in their blood.

The time between the first investigations of her crimes, her trial and the confiscation of her lands was a matter of months and she was walled up in an upper room in her own castle with only air slits and a hatch for food for the rest of her life.

Did Elizabeth Bathory’s continuing beauty and maybe refusal to accept the sexual favours of local landowners attract spite, also from wives of lustful predators, who spread rumours that Elizabeth could only maintain her beauty by vampirism?

Had her experiences with an unfaithful first husband convinced her it was better not to marry again and so the only way to obtain her lands was by accusation that appealed to popular superstition?

Vampires in the 21st century

At its most spiritual level the modern vampire cult links with the energies of wise Underworld goddesses such as Hecate and also the Hindu creator and destroyer goddess Kali.

Even beyond cults, the vampire symbolism can if consciously worked with in fantasy and dream give expression to and empower the inner wild woman who is not ashamed or afraid of her own blood (especially menstrual) and of taking the initiative in sexuality.

It also helps a man to overcome centuries old taboos about female menstruation and sexuality.

Because also the vampire is by definition beyond conventional society, it can also be a helpful way of working through repressed anger and restrictive conventions for men and women who want to express in a materialistic often artificial age, pure instinctive energy and unbridled energy through music, fantasy and role playing games.

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