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A vampire is a mythical/folkloric creature that is said to subsist on human blood (animal blood can often suffice); usually the vampire is the corpse of a recently dead person, reanimated or made undead by one means or another. Vampires are often described as having a wide variety of additional powers and character traits, extremely variable in different traditions, and are a frequent subject of folklore, cinema, and contemporary fiction. Vampirism generally refers to a belief that one can gain supernatural powers by drinking human blood.

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Vampires in history and culture The tradition of the dead craving blood (regarded as containing the life force) is very old, going back to the ancient Greeks at least. An example is the episode in book 11 of the Odyssey where Odysseus carries out a necromantic ritual; the dead are lured to the fresh blood of sacrificed rams, and Odysseus holds them back with his sword until the shade of Tiresias, whom he had wanted to speak to, appears.

The most enduring incarnation of the vampire dates from ancient Romania, where the folklore seems to have evolved during the change from a pagan religious culture to Christian rule. Vampire folklore may have arisen as a response to conflicts in religion and culture; it is also widely theorized that missionaries and other new elements of the population brought new strains of disease, resulting in a greatly increased number of "mysterious" deaths during the period. In any event, records from the period indicate that anyone who died of unexplained causes was treated as a possible victim of vampiric attack, and ritualistic measures were taken in their burial to prevent them from rising again.

In this mythology, vampires are a self-propagating sub-species: a person killed by a vampire who exchanges blood with it will rise from the grave and become undead themselves. They will feed insatiably on human blood until destroyed or captured by specific means. In this ancient myth, vampires were treated as largely non-sapient, behaving more as animal-like demons. Legends associating the vampire with eternal youth and other powers did not arise until the Victorian era in Europe.

In popular western culture, vampires are depicted as unaging, intelligent, and mystically endowed in many ways. The vampire typically has a variety of abilities at its disposal. These include great strength and immunity to any lasting effect of any injury by mundane means, with specific exceptions. They can also change into a mist, wolf or a bat, and some can control the minds of others.

It is believed that vampires have no reflection, as traditionally it was thought that mirrors reflected your soul, and creatures of evil have no soul, consequently they have no reflection. Fiction has extended this belief to an actual aversion to mirrors, as depicted in Dracula when he casts Harker's shaving mirror out of the window.

A vampire (despite not being alive in the classical sense, and therefore referred to as undead) may be destroyed using several methods, which can vary between 'species':

  • Ram a wooden stake through a vampire's heart; traditionally the stake would be made from ash or hawthorn, and the vampire should be impaled with a single blow. In some areas, a red-hot iron was preferred. In many western stories and films, impalement with a wooden stake will only subdue a vampire and further measures must be taken to destroy the body. This can be done by burning or burying it at a crossroads.
  • The idea that exposing a vampire to sunlight will destroy it varies from culture to culture. Some 'species' of vampire are destroyed by sunlight, although it depends upon how powerful the vampire is; this is associated with vampires that are active from sunset to sunrise. Many species of vampires are active from 12 noon to midnight or the converse, and consequently sunlight is harmless.
  • Remove internal organs and burn them
  • Garlic, holy water, running water, objects made of silver can keep a vampire away or harm them if they are in physical contact. A popular American addition to the folklore is the idea of fashioning bullets made of silver so mortal vampire hunters can use firearms against the monster.
  • Such small items as rice can be strewn in a vampire's path. The vampire is forced to stop and count all of the rice grains before he or she can continue. This varies by tradition.
  • Vampires cannot cross running water. This varies by tradition.
  • Crosses and Bibles can keep vampires away. One simply holds the object in question in front of the creature. Other stories have established that any religious symbol used by a sincere believer is effective. For example, in these stories, a Jew can use the Star of David to ward off a vampire.
  • Western vampires are thought to be unable to enter a residence unless they are invited inside. After that invitation, they can enter the location freely.

According to Orthodox Christian belief, the soul does not depart the body until 40 days after it has been buried. In some places, bodies were often disinterred between 3 to 7 days after burial and examined: if there was no sign of decomposition a stake was driven through the heart of the corpse.

In Eastern Europe, the vampire is said to have two hearts or two souls; since one heart or soul never dies, the vampire remains undead. Also, until recently, European vampires were thought to be disgusting monsters often raised from the bodies of peasants and other low class people. Bram Stoker's tale of a vampire changed the image of the monster completely into one is that typically refined in social graces and can operate in human society without suspicion with ease as long as their weaknesses are accommodated.

In Aztec mythology, the Civatateo was a sort of vampire, created when a noblewoman died in childbirth.

Pathology and vampirism Folklore describing deathly paleness, people that avoid sunlight, drink blood, and loathe garlic could come from a rare illness called porphyria. The disease disrupts production of hemoglobin; for some reason, garlic aggravates the symptoms, causing intense illness in people with the disease. People with extreme cases of the (hereditary) disease are so sensitive to sunlight that they can get a sunburn through heavy cloud cover. In its very rare, most severe form, the teeth and bones of sufferers actually become fluorescent, shining pink or possibly red. (Incidentally, Britain's King George III may have had porphyria, which poisoned his nervous system, attacked his brain and caused delirium and mental disturbances. Contrary to its depiction in the film The Madness of King George, he did not recover.)

Lacking hemoglobin, it was thought that victims might crave the hematin (critical precursor to hemoglobin) in human blood. However, the link between porphyria and vampirism does not hold up under closer inspection: in particular, the consumption of blood, human or otherwise, does not ease the symptoms of porphyria.

There is also substantial evidence for the relation between vampirism and rabies. The legend of vampirism is known to take place in the 19th century Eastern Europe, where there were massive rabies outbreaks. Rabies causes high fever, loss of appetite and fatigue as initial symptoms. In later stages patients try to avoid the sunlight and prefer walking at night. Strong light and mirrors may cause episodes characterized by violent and animal-like behaviors and a tendency to attack people and bite them. Concomitant facial spasms may give the patient an animal-like (or a vampire-like) expression. In a furious form of the disease patients may have an increased urgency for sexual activity or may occasionally vomit blood. Rabies is contagious just like vampirism and a single bite may evoke the same symptoms in the victim.

Vampires in Literature Lord Byron introduced many common elements of the vampire theme to Western literature in his epic poem The Giaour[?] (1813). These include the combination of horror and lust that the vampire feels and the concept of the undead passing its inheritance on to the living. (Note: In the following excerpt, corse is "corpse".)

 But thou, false Infidel! shalt writhe
 Beneath avenging Monkir's scythe;
 And from its torment 'scape alone
 To wander round lost Eblis' throne;
 And fire unquenched, unquenchable,
 Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
 Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
 The tortures of that inward hell!
 But first, on earth as vampire sent,
 Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
 Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
 And suck the blood of all thy race;
 There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
 At midnight drain the stream of life;
 Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
 Must feed thy livid living corse:
 Thy victims ere they yet expire
 Shall know the demon for their sire,
 As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
 Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Ironically, Byron's own wild life became the model for the protagonist Lord Ruthven in the first vampire novel, The Vampyre (1819) by John William Polidori. An unauthorized sequel to this novel by Cyprien Bérard called Lord Ruthven on es Vampires (1820) was adapted by Charles Nodier into the first vampire stage melodrama.

Other literary vampire tales include:

Dracula has been the definitive description of the vampire in popular fiction for the last century. Its portrayal of vampirism as a disease (contagious demonic possession!), with all its undertones of sex, blood and death, seems to have struck a chord in a Victorian England where tuberculosis and syphilis were common. Before the Victorian era, the romantic connection between vampires and sex did not exist.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is not even partially based on legends about a real person - Vlad Tepes, a savagely cruel prince known also as Vlad Drakul (Drakul, or "Dracula" meaning "son of the dragon"; his father was called Dracul (The Dragon) after being "inducted into the Order of the Dragon in 1431") or Vlad the Impaler, who lived in the late Middle Ages in what is now Romania. All Stoker's information came from a brief reference in an article by Emily Gerard who said that Dracula was a word meaning the Devil. (Emily Gerard, "Transylvanian Superstitions." Nineteenth Century (July 1985): 130-150). Stoker found this reference in the public library in Whitby. Stoker also drew heavily on Irish myths of blood-sucking creatures, and was also indebted to a contemporary vampire story, Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu. Le Fanu was Stoker's editor when he was a theatre critic in Dublin, Ireland. Oral tradition regarding Tepes includes his having made a practice of torturing peasants who displeased him and hanging them or parts of them, such as heads, on stakes around his castle or manor house. Tepes may have suffered from porphyria. He is said to have roamed abroad at night only, to have a pathological distaste for garlic (a notable dietary quirk in Romania) and to crave human blood. His supposed periodic abdominal agony, especially after eating, and bouts of delirium would have also been characteristic of the disease. Legend has it that any food other than human blood will cause a vampire intense stomach pain and nausea.

Much 20th century vampire fiction draws heavily on Stoker's formulation; the early films such as Nosferatu and those featuring Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee are examples of this. (Nosferatu, in fact, was clearly based on Dracula , and Stoker's widow sued for copyright infringement and won; one result of the suit was that almost all known prints of the film were destroyed). She later allowed the remaining copy(s) to be shown in England.

Though most other works of vampire fiction do not feature Dracula as a character, there is typically a clear inspiration from Stoker, reflected in a fascination with sex and wealth, as well as overwhelmingly frequent use of Gothic settings and iconography. A contemporary descendant is the series of novels by Anne Rice, the most popular in a genre of modern stories which draw Vampires as their protagonists.

Vampires also appear in role playing games:

The "Vampyre subculture"

The Vampire (or "Vampyre") subculture is a contemporary deviant subculture/secret society comprised of 'Houses' (similar to covens), organized into a hierarchy of individuals interested in vampirism, who have undergone an initiation rite. It should be noted that the drinking of human blood exposes the consumer to a range of blood-borne diseases, including Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Members of the subculture prefer the spelling "vampyre" in order to distinguish the subculture from its mythic roots.

"Vampires" can be found in underground metro-area nightclubs.

Ethymology Eng. vampire < German vampir < early Old Polish *vaper’, [a=nasal “a” - close to Fr –an, e=short “ye”, r’=soft “r” similar to “ree” with very very short ee] < OldSlav. *oper' (o=nasal o); South Slav. (for example:Serbian): "vampir" just like modern Polish: "wampir" (Pl.w=v) from German. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it probably has its origins in a Turkish word for "witch" (but it's very questionable).

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