What are the vampires‘ origins? The concept of the vampire and its true beginnings is debated by folklorists. There are many interesting theories, but it makes sense to recognize the modern-day vampire as an amalgamation of ancient myths, legends, and folklore from all over the world. Here, we discuss the ancient secret truth about vampires including their complex origins.
“As if the night had said to me, ‘You are the night and the night alone understands you and enfolds you in its arms’ One with the shadows. Without nightmare. An inexplicable peace.” ~ Anne Rice, Interview with a Vampire
Where does the word vampire actually come from? “The word vampire is a derivative of the German vampir, which became “vampire” when passed into French, and stayed the same when it was assimilated into English. The German form came from Slavic and Slovak variants, such as the Polish upior, the Belarussian upyr, Ukrainian, Russian upir, and Bulgarian vapir which may mean “witch”. The first recorded use of the English variation “vampire” comes from a police report in Austrian-controlled Serbia during the sixteenth century, in which the police were investigating vampire claims made by local peasants.” New World Encyclopedia
There is more than one modern definitions of the vampire. The mainstream definition says it is an undead being that stays hidden in darkness with an incurable lust and hunger for blood. They were once human who have been “turned” by another vampire. Then there’s the psychic vampire, which is a creature said to feed off the “life force” of other living creatures. The term can also be used to describe a person who gets increased energy around other people, but leaves those other people exhausted or “drained” of energy. We believe these people exist today and most of us know at least one or two (narcissists). And there’s also the Sanguineous vampire. These are self-proclaimed vampires in modern times who claim to need the blood from humans in order to feel whole or healthy.
One of the most well-known monsters dominating literature, movies, and television is the vampire. Since Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was written in the late eighteen hundreds, hundreds of vampire books have been published. Some have been turned into movies and TV shows. Vampires are depicted as attractive people who are undead, who seduce and feast on the blood of the living. Some of them sparkle in the sunlight, some ride motorcycles. Some loathe the fact they are vampires and long to be among the living. But are these illustrations of vampires purely the result of modern imagination? And if they are, where did the first vampire originate?
Most scholars believe the vampires origins stem from the belief in evil spirits. Since the beginning of time, people have believed in spirits. Many of those spirits were beneficial like ancestors and angels, while others were malevolent. These were evil spirits and later called demons. Ancient civilizations, such as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Hebrews, and Phoenicians had their legends of demons who fed on the life-force of the living.
In Mesopotamia, the vampires’ origins was the goddess Lilith. She was the first wife of Adam, who was kicked out of Eden then lay with fallen angels to create a legion of demons. Following her fall from Eden, legend says she drank the blood of mothers and babies. These tales were distorted to show Lilith as an demon rather than her original goddess form. We see this happening time over throughout history—mother goddesses become evil, bloodsucking or child-eating demons.
Another example is the Germanic/Celtic goddess Berchta, who once guided children’s souls to the afterlife and eventually became a kidnapping, child-eating hag. Other blood-sucking ancient “demons” include the Sumerian goddess Dime, Lamashtu, the Greek Empusa and Striges, and the Indian creatures akin to wraiths known as vetalas. As the church came into power, the old tales of goddesses and gods faded and new terrors overwhelmed the people. Revenants and wraiths were just the beginning…
We believe the main origin of the vampire trickles down from the belief in the revenant. A revenant is one of two things: a ghost or an animated dead body. Typically, there was no way to tell if it was a ghost or corpse. Nevertheless, in the Middle Ages a revenant was a revenant and had to be destroyed. But why were revenants feared so? Revenants weren’t just undead, they were creatures who sought to drain human life-force to fuel their existence. In some sources, they drank blood.
One famous example of a revenant, according to Claude Lecouteux, is the tale of Beowulf. Beowulf is a Medieval epic poem that tells the story of the warrior Beowulf who defeats the monster Grendel. Grendel and Grendel’s mother are theorized to have been revenants, because Beowulf finds the corpses and cuts off their heads. This was the only known way to destroy a revenant.
A revenant was created when a person’s body was buried off holy ground. Revenants were evil people in life including murderers and traitors. Additionally, they committed suicide or didn’t believe in God. These people entered a state of unrest following death and stick around to torment the living. Those who became revenants were cursed and thwarted because of their sins. In Ukraine, it was thought when a witch mated with a werewolf, a vampire was born.
People were buried alive in Medieval times because no one knew how to tell if a person was truly dead. It happened so often, in fact, bodies in coffins were buried with a string leading to a bell above. In case the individual was still alive, he or she could pull the string, ring the bell, and be saved. “Saved by the bell”, indeed. Some criminals were buried alive as a means of capital punishment. There were instructions to stake the criminal through the heart after exhumation. Scholars don’t know whether this was part of punishment or whether this tied into the belief of the revenant.
Fear of vampires was brought to the Colonial United States by European immigrants. Following the Salem Witch Trials by two hundred years, dread of the undead ran rampant in New England. There are documented accounts of bodies being exhumed to have a stake put through their hearts and their heads chopped off. One such case is the sad story of Rhode Island’s Mercy Brown in 1892. She was a young woman who died of consumption, whose father thought she’d become the undead. Her body was exhumed and decimated because of her family’s vampire superstition. You can visit her grave in Exeter, RI.
In the historic Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland lies a circular crypt. In one particular crypt, the door has been sealed up with stones and cement. Causing us to wonder if there might have been a vampire scare in Dublin at that time. Read more about the Glasnevin Cemetery crypts here.
Let’s look at the psychic vampire. The psychic vampire is essentially a person who steals another person’s energy in a spiritual or psychic manner. If you’ve ever come in contact with a psychic vampire, you’ll leave feeling drained without explanation. Another type of psychic vampire is a disembodied spirit that feeds off the energy of sleeping humans. Psychic vampires are the same as the folkloric “night hag”, a demon that sits on the chest of a sleeping victim.
These life-force sucking spirits could also be the cause for sleep paralysis in which an individual “wakes” from his sleep to find they can’t move. While in a perceived-paralyzed state, the person often has strong hallucinations with their eyes wide open. Sometimes people see creatures sitting on their chests and choking them, keeping them from moving or screaming out. Science explains this away as a sleep disorder or condition, but those who have suffered it say otherwise.
Vampires could also have arisen from the ancient worship of ancestors in Eastern European countries. Certain cultural groups believed strongly in their ancestors’ return to earth from the land of the dead. To prepare for their ancestors’ return, some gave offerings of blood. Sometimes the blood was menstrual, other times from elsewhere. The blood offering was put in a pot or it was buried in the ground. The idea that hungry spirits fed off blood offerings could be the origin of vampires.
In a past Otherworldly Oracle Official Podcast episode, a few seasons ago, Allorah and I theorized that vampires might actually be elemental in origin. We did some digging and found we might be right! Here are some actual elementals and fairies with vampiric-like qualities:
Baobhan Sith: female fairy in Scottish Highlands folklore similar to succubi. They have the feet of deer, typically wear green gowns, and cover their heads with cloaks. Stories tell of men who are seduced by these beings, then drained of their blood and left for dead.
Glaistig: a type of malevolent water spirit in Scotland that’s also typically female. She is half-woman half-goat like a faun, there’s speculation as to whether she’s a ghost, a fairy, or was once a goddess of the hunt as she’s supposedly very protective over herds of sheep, deer, etc. more recent legends claim she drains men of their blood.
Leanan-sidhe: The Leanan Sidhe is a complex figure in Irish fairy mythology. Her name translates to fairy lover, as her purpose is to take a human lover as a mate. This beautiful fairy woman lives in sacred wells and streams, but unfortunately, you can’t trust her. She’s vampiric in nature, because she sucks the life out of her lovers directly after gifting them with unbelievable musical talent. Some claim she keeps her victims blood in a red cauldron. Once again, I believe her image may have been distorted and demonized over the years and she may have once been a Celtic goddess.
Draugr: is an old norse form of the revenant. This undead creature guards its treasure in the burial mound. They have actual bodies, not just spirit. Interestingly, these guys don’t suck blood but they do “turn” others by contagion and so are often considered a type of vampire. Even more interestingly, a berserker named Thrain supposedly turned into a troll of sorts but is also considered a draugr. So we see crossover here again between fae/elemental and vampire.
Abere: a Melanesian wild woman who resides in marshes; seduces with her beauty, entraps men with quick growing reeds and eats them
Moroi – from Romanian folklore and thought to be a ghost/phantom who leave the grave to suck the energy from the living. The Romanians also have a second type of vampire known as Strigoi who are actually the ‘traditional’ type of vampire in that they shapeshift into animals and drink the blood of their victims. It is believed that Stoker’s Dracula has become the modern interpretation of Strigoi.
A vampire in today’s terms is quite different from the past. The fear of blood-sucking demons mixed with fears of revenants and hungry ancestors to make the vampire. Still there are those who claim they’re actual vampires: they need to drink human blood to live. Others claim to be psychic vampires: they must feed off life-force of other humans. There are vampire clubs and meetings in urban areas all over the United States. In this regard, yes vampires exist. In the Hollywood form where they sparkle and drink blood from teenage girls, perhaps not. But one cannot deny the fact our ancestors had a deep-seated fear of the undead.
These days when someone says Viking, Norse God, or Marvel, many of us have images …September 28, 2023