Vampire Folklore

August 1st, 2009

Most people are very much acquainted with Bram Stoker’s Dracula but are unaware of other important literary vampires that preceded him.  These literary vampires include Lord Ruthven, Varney, and Carmilla.  In this series, these vampires and their respective authors will be introduced and show how these lesser known characters greatly impacted both Bram Stoker and other authors such as Anne Rice.

Dr. John Polidori was originally hired as a medical advisor to the infamous Lord Byron.  Polidori was to be his travelling companion as well.  However, his greater mission was to chronicle Byron’s journeys because he was commissioned to do so from Byron’s publisher.  One would figure such an arrangement would be perfect, but the two quarreled from the very beginning (Masters 199).  It was during one of these argumentative travels that Polidori gathered inspiration for his upcoming work.  Byron and Polidori happened to be in the company of Claire Clairmont, Mary Godwin, and Percy Shelley, and they all decided to fabricate ghost stories one evening.  Polidori’s attempt failed of course, while Mary Godwin achieved success with her story becoming the legendary Frankenstein.  During this story-telling session, Polidori managed to take notes as instructed by Byron’s publisher (Melton 480).  It was from these notes that the first vampire story came to be published in English (Guiley 229).

Polidori examined his notes from the evening of storytelling and using pieces from the story that Lord Byron told about a Greek and his travelling companion, created ”The Vampyre”.  In addition to using Byron’s initial ideas, Polidori decide to mock him as well with his choice of name for the main character.  The vampire’s name was Lord Ruthven which was the name chosen by Byron’s former lover to ridicule Byron in a novel titled, Glenarvon.  The character himself could be described as cold and aristocratic individual whose deadly hue attracted the ladies much like Lord Byron (Gregory 26).  The story remained unpublished for quite some time until 1819 when Polidori sold it, and it appeared in the New Monthly Magazine.  Unfortunately, Polidori initially did not receive credit for the work.  The magazine implied that Byron was the author, and it was due to this mistake that the novella achieved instant success.  Although Polidori eventually laid claim to the work, the recognition did not do him much good.  His troubled life and gambling losses caused him to commit suicide in 1821 (Guiley 230).  He would never realize how much of an impact his work would be to the aristocratic and sexy vampire cult that continued throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond (Mascetti 189).

To better grasp how “The Vampyre” impacted future vampiric writings and how it mirrored the relationship between Polidori and Byron, one must better understand the character Lord Ruthven.    Lord Ruthven is an English vampire living in London.  He frequents the many various parties held by the upper crust of society.    He spends his summers in Greece so he may be alone.  In regards to his personality, he is cool by nature (Mascetti 154).  He is charismatic but can be sadistic when it comes to not caring about the misfortunes of others.  He is a gambler and a seducer of women.  He is a master manipulator in how he uses his money to taint those who simply want assistance.  One could reasonably argue that Lord Ruthven is the epitome of a psychic vampire by the way he causes others to lose their vitality, health, and most importantly, their respectability (Guiley 185).  In the story, all of these traits are displayed in how he treats his traveling companion, Aubrey.  Throughout the tale, Lord Ruthven constantly destroys Aubrey’s life by killing his loved ones, which include a lady friend and his sister.  He manipulates Aubrey into taking an oath for a year and a day.  The oath does not allow Aubrey to discuss the matter of the Lord’s death after the pair was attacked by bandits.  When the Lord reappears and seeks Aubrey’s sister’s hand in marriage, Aubrey can do nothing to stop it or his sister’s death that quickly follows.  In the end, Aubrey suffers a nervous breakdown while Lord Ruthven continues his life of leisure and deceit (Melton 528).

Next month…meet Varney

***To those in the vampire community:  I am looking for individuals who are interested in a case study/survey to be conducted by yours truly.  If you are interested in participating in this activity, please email me at [email protected]  The results will be published as an article in Paganpages!***

Works Cited

Gregory, Constantine.  The Vampire Watcher’s Handbook:  A Guide For Slayers.  New York:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen.  The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters.  New York:  Checkmark Books, 2005.

Mascetti, Manuela.  Vampire:  The Complete Guide to the World of the Undead.  New York:  Penguin Books, 1992.

Masters, Anthony.  The Natural History of the Vampire.  London:  Rupert Hart-Davis    Ltd, 1972.

Melton, J. Gordon.  The Vampire Book.  Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.

Arise From the Past!:  I Found A Vampire, Now What?

When one stumbled upon what was thought to be a vampire or living corpse, the first idea that must have run through his or her mind was quite simple.  What was one to do with such a find?  Although many people cannot agree on the correct way to dispose of a vampire, they can all agree that any technique used has to work indefinitely.  Such methods include a stake through the heart, decapitation, burning, the usage of holy items, garlic, and exposure to sunlight.

One of the most common methods for disposing of a vampire is a stake through the heart.  The idea originated in Europe before the use of coffins became widespread.  Any deceased person who was likely to come back from the grave for any reason was staked to keep that individual attached to the ground.  When the practice was first used, the stake was placed anywhere.  It could be driven into the stomach or the back if the corpse was facing downward.  When coffins were introduced, the stake was plunged specifically into the heart as a direct assault on the corpse itself (Melton 580).  The method became even more refined when Slavic stories implemented the strategy of making sure the task was done with a single blow, and any repetition of such a blow could kill the destroyer or awaken the vampire.  Such a precise set of directions came from Slavic stories that always stressed the idea of a hero who must strike a monster once and once only (Masters 107).  Furthermore, Slavic lore specified the use of aspen as the best wood to use for a stake.  Other woods such as ashwood, hawthorne, and maple could be used as well (Guiley 80).  Thus, the stake through the heart as a way of disposal could be very involved.

While a stake through the heart might suffice for some, other would-be vampire hunters would argue that more must be done to properly dispose of a vampire.  The next method of preventing a vampire’s return to the living is decapitation or mutilation.  This practice became commonplace in Germany and Eastern Europe.  When a vampire was indentified, the head was cut off to make sure the body did not receive any direction from the missing fixture.  The head could be placed between the knees or under the arm.  Some people would take the head and bury it elsewhere for greater certainty (Melton 163).  In Slavic lore, it is best to decapitate a vampire with a shovel belonging to a gravedigger or sexton.  A gravedigger’s shovel was supposed to have a supernatural power due to its association with the dead while a sexton’s shovel carried with it the powers of the Christian God.  However, regardless of the tool or placement of the head, one needed to take care to make sure none of the blood sprayed upon the executioner and helpers.  If the blood happened to hit anybody, the people affected would either go mad or die instantly (Guiley 80).

Although a stake through the heart and decapitation could stop or at least hinder a vampire, those affected by supposed vampire epidemics went a step further.  This step involved the burning of the corpse.  The practice of burning the dead started sporadically throughout the world as early as the Stone Age.  It became frowned upon when the resurrection of Jesus Christ was recognized by the Church.  Pagans challenged the resurrection and Christian faith by digging up saints and martyrs and burning them (Gregory 98).  To add to the difficulty of seeking a cremation, bonfires were the chief means of burning, and bodies did not burn well because of their high water content.  As a result, the body may have been further mutilated and cut into parts to make it easier to burn.   Stories differ as to how much of the body should be burned.  Some argue that certain parts, such as the head, need to be burned (Guiley 80).  Other cultures strongly suggest that every last scrap of bone and flesh must be destroyed.  Otherwise, the vampire could rise again (Masters 100).

Besides physically destroying or mutilating a vampire corpse, other remedies exist to assist with the process.

To be continued in April…

Works Cited

Gregory, Constantine.  The Vampire Watcher’s Handbook:  A Guide For Slayers.  New York:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen.  The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters.  New York:  Checkmark Books, 2005.

Masters, Anthony.  The Natural History of the Vampire.  London:  Rupert Hart-Davis    Ltd, 1972.

Melton, J. Gordon.  The Vampire Book.  Detroit:  Visible Ink Press, 1994.

With mainstream media placing the vampire subculture in the spotlight, society has begun to wonder who or what causes an individual to choose such a lifestyle.  Society also ponders and searches for reasonable yet scientific explanations that would cause an individual to exhibit vampiric-like traits.  One of these scientific explanations comes from the medical field, and that explanation is called porphyria.

The word porphyria comes from the Greek word porphyros, meaning reddish-purple (Melton 486).  A reference to reddish-purple or purple color is made because people who suffer from the rare disease typically have darker urine.  This urine may appear even darker after exposure to light.  The purple color is caused by an excess of porphyrins, a substance found in bone marrow (Guiley 231).  These porphyrins normally do not accumulate in strong concentrations (APF “About Porphyria”).  The disease was first recognized in the case of King George III, and the disease manifested itself in the sovereign with symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, constipation, dark urine, headaches, and convulsions (Ramsland 71).  Using King’s ailments as a general guideline, porphyria can be described as a condition with any of the following:

* Severe sensitivity to light
* Reddish brown or purple urine and teeth
* Severe anemia
* Jaundiced skin
* Skin lesions
* Progressive deformation of cartilage and bone especially around the face and fingers
* Nervous disorders including hysteria and bipolar disorder (Guiley 231)

However, the American Porphyria Foundation has recognized eight forms of porphyria, and each form displays different combinations of the conditions listed above

(APF “About  Porphyria”).  The most common of the eight are acute intermittent, and cutanea tarda.

Acute intermittent and cutanea tarda porphyria appear to be the most common of the eight types of porphyria.  Acute intermittent porphyria masks itself by appearing as other common ailments.  This type is commonly hereditary and causes an enzyme deficiency.  The deficiency alone does not trigger the condition.  It has been shown that hormones, drugs, and dietary changes amplify the problem.  The symptoms of acute intermittent porphyria are abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, back pain, muscle weakness, urinary retention, palpitation, and seizures (APF “About: Types of Porphyria, AIP”).  The other most common porphyria, cutanea tarda, focuses more on the vampire idea.  The most significant problem in individuals who suffer from cutanea tarda is sun inflected skin blisters.  They have increased hair growth as well as darkening and thickening of the skin (APF “About:  Types of Porphyria, PCT”).  One could see clearly, then, how one with this type of porphyria could be labeled as a vampire by those who are not educated in true vampire folklore.

While those who are educated in vampire folklore would be quick to argue against porphyria being linked to vampirism, one argument could still hold.  In 1985, David Dolphin speculated in a writing offered to the American Association for Science that porphyria may explain some reports of vampirism.  In the paper, Dolphin analyzed a treatment for porphyria that included the injection of heme.  Additionally, he hypothesized a concept in which those who suffered from the disease drank blood from others as a means to fight it off.  One could argue that Dolphin came to this conclusion due to the iron deficiency found in some porphyria sufferers.  While some have dismissed this paper altogether, it has gained both attention and negativity from the medical and vampiric communities (Melton 486).

Porphyria is a rare disease that has a variety of symptoms that could be mistaken for vampirism to those who are not readily acquainted with vampire folklore.  Some of those symptoms include an aversion to sunlight and excessive hair growth.  Furthermore, although it is highly debatable, those diagnosed with porphyria may try to use blood to combat their plight.  Therefore, one could see where it is possible to debate how one could consider porphyria the true vampire disease.

Works Cited

American Porphyria Foundation.  2009.  American Porphyria Foundation.  26 Apr. 2009 <>.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen.  The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters.  New York:  Checkmark Books, 2005.

Melton, J. Gordon.  The Vampire Book.  Detroit:  Visible Ink Press, 1994.

Ramsland, Katherine.  The Science of Vampires.  New York:  Berkley Boulevard Books, 2002.

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