What is a vampire, anyway? There has to be something more than cloaked gentlemen from Creature Double Feature. Time to play my favorite game (isn’t it everyone’s?)—etymology!
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary gives a tidy summary. The word “vampire” is of French origin and came from the German Vampir, which in turn came from the Serbo-Croatian vampir. As for the vampir, it can be a reanimated corpse that rises from the grave by night to suck the blood of the sleeping, or simply a creature that exists by preying on others.
This would be a neat definition if it were complete. Historians, linguists, and many other scholars trace “vampire” to Slavic origins. One example is the Lithuanian wempti, meaning to drink. Another possible root is the Turkishuber or witch, the Russian upyr, or the Polish upior. In the end, the term came into English from the French in the Eighteenth Century, which is why we have “vampire” instead of “wempti” or “upior”.
Where does this leave the modern real vampire? They’re not walking corpses and they don’t necessarily prey on others. One connection I see is longing. The vampire of lore is drawn to commit certain acts because of an inner need. Real vampires also have a need, whether it is for emotional soothing, power, awareness, or energy. We could say that real vampires have needs, know they have needs, and do something to satisfy those needs, as opposed to the usual human who may aspire but never attempt. What is a real vampire? Ultimately you may come to your own understanding.
We go from the real to the folkloric entity that binds human societies together. There are hundreds of vampiric creatures in worldwide legend and folklore. It’s my conclusion that there is something in the human psyche wired to explain certain occurrences through vampire-like creatures. In turn, this is a clue as to how the vampire in some form can be found in virtually every world culture. To me, each creature is more colorful than the next. Here’s a brief sampling.
In the Philippines, the aswang is an extraordinarily beautiful woman by day. At night, she turns into a flying monster. Her preferred prey are local children, but sometimes her blood thirst is so strong that she will feed on anyone convenient.
The civatateo of the Aztec Empire were servants of the central god Tezcatlipoca. This status was their afterlife reward for having died in childbirth, which to the Aztecs was as noble as dying in battle. Hideous to look upon, the civatateo were especially fond of feeding on children, perhaps in a kind of revenge for the infants that claimed their own lives. To a mortal, a child would appear to be dying of a wasting illness.
Appearing in many Japanese folktales, the kitsune is a shape-shifter. Most often she takes the form of a wild fox or a beautiful maiden. Sex is her device for feeding from a victim. The kitsune is also a great prankster.
Lamia was once the queen of Libya. As punishment for some affront, the goddess Hera slew Lamia’s children. As revenge, Lamia abandoned her mortal form to drift through the countryside draining the blood of infants. Later, lamia was any child-killing demon.
The rakshasa is an especially powerful vampire in India. Its shape-shifting abilities are unparalleled. At the very least a human can be struck with nausea and vomiting just by passing through the area where a rakshasa has been. A young boy who, for whatever reason, eats human brains will become a rakshasa.
Greece has an especially rich vampire tradition, and the common name for these creatures is vrykolakas. They can be created through improper burial, immorality in life, or dying unbaptized. Everyone who is killed by the vrykolakas will then become vrykolakas.
I can’t leave this subject without mentioning my personal favorite, the Balkan vampire watermelon. Any object left outside on the night of a full moon was believed to become vampiric, so why not watermelons? Of course, vampire watermelons aren’t to be feared. They don’t have teeth, and if they did, they wouldn’t create much horror by biting ankles. More than anything, they are a nuisance, rolling around and growling at people. I bet you’ll never look at a watermelon the same way.
I learned something. Thank you. I was familiar with quite a few types of vampires in lore, but you have some I’d never heard of.
Love the Balkan lore. Thats just awesome! 😀
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