Halloween Special: Vampires Around the World

When most of us think of vampires, we think of Dracula, a 15th century Romanian who defended his country against the Turks. But true Freakin’ Paranormal fans should widen their horizons (and their timeline) to include locations all over the globe and tales of blood-sucking creatures that stretch as far back as the dawn of civilization.

Wait…what? Did somebody just say “dawn?” I gotta run…

Let’s sink our teeth into the fascinating subject of vampires…

Whitby Abbey, inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula via Wikipedia

Vampires Around the World

Adam protecting child from Lilith by Filippino Lippi via WikiMedia Commons.
  • Ancient Babylonia had tales of the mythical Lilitu, (also known as Lilith in Hebrew) and her daughters the Lilu. 
    • Lilith was considered a demon who lived on the blood of babies.
    • Medieval folklore paints Lilith as Adam’s first wife. There are two stories about the Garden of Eden marital issues: Lilith left Adam to become the queen of the demons OR she refused to be Adam’s subordinate and was banished from Eden.
    • Lilith would prey on young babies and their mothers at night, as well as males. Hebrew law forbids the eating of human flesh or the drinking of any type of blood, so Lilith’s lifestyle was considered exceptionally evil.
    • To ward off attacks from Lilith, parents draped amulets around their child’s cradle.
  • Ancient Greece mythology mentions several variations on a theme, but none were considered to be undead.
    • Empusa was a bronze-footed demon who seduced men. (I guess they never took off her shoes.)
    • Lamia preyed on children, (the usual).
    • The striges had the body of a crow and fed primarily on the flesh of children.
    • In The Odyssey, Homer mentions undead shades that required blood to tell Odysseus/Ulysses how to get home.
  • African vampires
    • The Ashanti tell tales of the iron-toothed, red-haired, tree-dwelling asanbosam that attacks hunters from above. Their feet apparently go both ways. (I suppose that means they are bi-pedal?)
    • Ewe people speak of the adze, which can take the form of a firefly that hunts children. (I’m not sure I would be that scared of a firefly, unless it’s a really, really big one…)
    • The Eastern Cape region of South Africa is tormented by the impundulu, which can take the form of a large taloned bird that can summon thunder and lightning.
  • Madagascar is the hangout of the ramanga, a gourmet vampire who drinks the blood and (drumroll…) eats the nail clippings of nobles.
  • The Americas 
    • Female vampire-like monsters are the Soucouyant of Trinidad, and the Tunda and Patasola of Colombia.
    • A bloodsucking snake known as the Peuchen slithers around southern Chile.
    • Aztec mythology describes the cihuateteo, skeletal-faced spirits of those who died in childbirth, who steal children and seduce the living, driving them mad.
  • Asia 
    • Legends of female vampire-like beings who can detach parts of their upper body are rife in the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia. 
    • In the Philippines, two vampire-like creatures are feared:
      • The mandurugo (“blood-sucker”) takes the form of a beautiful girl during the day but at night shape-shifts into a winged being with a long, thread-like tongue. It uses its proboscis to suck fetuses from pregnant women. The mandurugo also likes to dine on entrails, especially the heart and liver, and on occasion, enjoys a side of phlegm sucked from a sick person.
      • The manananggal (“self-segmenter”) is an older, attractive woman who separates her torso from the rest of her body so she can fly through the night on large, bat-like wings. She prefers to prey on pregnant women asleep in their homes. She uses her tongue to slurp up blood from her sleeping victim.

What IS a Vampire?

The Vampyre (1987) by Phillip Burnets-Jones via Wikipedia.

Opinions vary. A vampire is a creature that can turn into a wolf or bat. Or it can’t. It’s a monster that can be repelled by holy water, or not. It takes human form sometimes, or never. It can’t see its reflection in a mirror and sometimes can. But one fact remains constant in all vampire lore: vampires suck the living essence from a human being, either in the form of blood, unborn children or energy. Vampires were called shtriga in Albania, vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania.

Fascinating Vampiric Facts

  • In Europe in the Middle Ages, vampires were identified at birth.
    • A child born with teeth.
    • Cleft palate or lack of cartilage in the nose.
    • Extra nipple.
    • A red caul covering the head.
  • Vampirism was the result of superstition and misinterpretation about bodily decomposition.
    • A recent dead villager would be blamed for calamities (especially plagues), and that person would be exhumed.
    • Coffins were sealed. Lack of air would delay rot.
    • Cold weather would preserve a human body.
    • Decomposition of internal organs would cause the body to bloat and force blood up and out of the mouth.
  • How to find a vampire in a graveyard:
    In Romania, if you want to locate the undead, put a 7-year-old boy on a white horse at midday and let the animal wander around the graveyard in question. Where it stops marks the grave of a vampire. (Or maybe the horse just gets tired or sees a tasty flower?)
  • Ways to kill a vampire:
    • Wooden stake in the heart to secure body to the ground.
    • Iron rod through chest. (Magical creatures fear iron.)
    • Brick or rock in mouth to prevent creature from chewing through shroud to get out of grave.
    • Decapitation and stuffing mouth with garlic.
    • In Southern American folklore, people hung aloe vera backwards to ward off attacks.
  • Protection against vampires:
    • Throw salt behind you. A vampire must count every grain. (Who knew a monster could suffer from OCD?)
    • Birdseed or sand in a pinch.
    • Salt around doorways.
    • Never ask a vampire into your home. (Or any stranger wearing a moldy tuxedo.)
  • Recent vampiric activity:
    • New England in the 18th century. A young boy with TB was thought to have been made ill by his relatives who had recently died. Villagers dug up his mother and found her to have blood in her mouth and heart. A vampire! They made the boy drink her blood. Unfortunately, he died two months later. From TB? You have to wonder…
    • Highgate Cemetery Vampire:
      • (From Wikipedia) “In a letter to the Hampstead and Highgate Express on 6 February 1970, David Farrant wrote that when passing the cemetery on 24 December 1969 he had glimpsed ‘a grey figure,’ which he considered to be supernatural, and asked if others had seen anything similar. On the 13th, several people replied, describing a variety of ghosts said to haunt the cemetery or the adjoining Swains Lane. These ghosts were described as a tall man in a hat, a spectral cyclist, a woman in white, a face glaring through the bars of a gate, a figure wading into a pond, a pale gliding form, bells ringing, and voices calling.”
      • Sean Manchester, president of the British Occult Society, claimed the figure was a vampire. Manchester announced he was going to find and exorcise the vampire that slept in Highgate Cemetery. Such a mob stormed the cemetery that Manchester could not carry out his plan. Three years later, he tried again—this time without media coverage—but for some reason, his assistant dissuaded him from desecrating the body Manchester thought was the vampire.
      • As the 70s drew to a close, so did vampiric and Satanic mania.

Elizabeth Bathory: Vampire or Victim?

Copy of lost portrait of Elizabeth Bathory at age 25 via Wikipedia.

Elizabeth Bathory (1560 – 1614) was a Hungarian noblewoman who owned land in the Kingdom of Hungary (now Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.) The book of Guinness World Records lists her as the most prolific female murderer in history, with an official number of victims at 650. But what constitutes “official” during a witch trial? Most of the evidence against her was hearsay and rumor, not first-hand experience.

All her life, Elizabeth suffered epileptic seizures. In her time, “falling sickness” was often treated by rubbing the blood of a non-sufferer on the lips of an epileptic or giving the epileptic a mix of a non-sufferer’s blood and piece of skull as the episode ended. Perhaps as an adult, Elizabeth sought to ease her physical ailment in a similar fashion, and that gave rise to the rumor that she was a vampire. However, it does beg the question, where did she procure the skull fragments?

Bathory was married at fifteen. Over 4500 people attended her wedding. Her husband, Ferenc Nádasdy died in 1604 at the age of 48, after an illness that began with his legs and left him unable to walk. Before his death, Ferenc entrusted his wife and heirs to the same man who investigated Elizabeth’s supposed vampirism. Hmm.

During her lifetime, Elizabeth ran a finishing school for young ladies (a gynaeceum). Daughters of lesser gentry were sent to the school to learn courtly etiquette, and it sounds like Elizabeth might have been a severe schoolmarm. She was raised by her family to be strong, even cruel. Apparently, things started to go wrong at her school (over zealous corporal punishment?). But stories like this surfaced only after Elizabeth’s husband died, leaving her a wealthy property owner and a target for ambitious nobles. Hmm again.

Tales of Elizabeth’s atrocities were collected by her “guardian,” and she was put on trial. I’m not claiming she was innocent. I’m only wondering at the timing of the accusations and her suspiciously light sentence after the trial. Here are the details:

  • At the trial, more than 300 witnesses and survivors came forward. Physical evidence was presented regarding horribly mutilated, dead, dying and imprisoned girls supposedly found at her castle at the time of her arrest.
  • According to testimony, Bathory’s first victims were girls aged ten to fourteen years. Later, Bathory is said to have begun killing daughters of the lesser gentry at her finishing school. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. Atrocities described included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, and freezing or starving to death. Bathory was accused of burning girls with hot tongs and then placing them in freezing water, or covering a girl in honey and putting her among live ants, as well as cannibalism.
  • In 1610, Elizabeth was sentenced to house arrest and died three years after her trial at age 54. Such a light sentence is suspicious. That 650 murders could have occurred during her long lifetime and she was never caught is also suspicious. Perhaps she was not burned at the stake because she was a noblewoman. Perhaps someone wanted to make sure they got her property and didn’t care about punishing her. We will never know.

Stories that claim Elizabeth Bathory was a vampire who bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youthful beauty began long after her death and are unsubstantiated.

The whereabouts of Elizabeth Bathory’s grave is unknown.


Vlad Tepes: The Impaler

Vlad Tepes III via Wikipedia

Irish author Bram Stoker based his famous novel Dracula on 15th century warlord Vlad Tepes (c. 1428 – c. 1477), who successfully defended Romania against the Turks. In doing so, Tepes reportedly killed up to 100,000 people (His enemies, both military and civilian.), mostly by impaling. In his home country, he is considered a national hero.

A page from The Vampyre via Wikipedia.

Here are some facts about Dracula and Vlad III that you may not know:

  • The first literary work about vampires was the wildly popular The Vampyre by English writer John Polidori, who penned it in 1819 as part of a contest between writers. The same contest produced Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
  • Stoker didn’t make much money from his later novel, Dracula, written in 1897. Though critically-acclaimed for its format of letters, postcards and journal entries, the book was not an immediate success. In fact, Stoker was so poor late in life that he had to ask for financial assistance from a literary society. Ironically, Stoker’s story is the one that has become “immortal.”
  • Vlad’s reputation for cruelty and his historical nickname inspired Bram Stoker.
  • Stoker was going to call his monster “Count Wampyr.” Lucky for him, he didn’t. I can imagine critics mocking the character as “Count Wimpy.”
  • In 1475, a Hungarian clergyman, Bishop of Eger Gabriele Rangoni, recorded the rumor that while Vlad was imprisoned by one of his enemies, he caught rats so he could cut them into pieces or stick them on small pieces of wood, apparently because he was unable to “forget his wickedness.”
  • Vlad was killed in battle in January 1477.
  • Books describing Vlad’s horrific acts were among the first bestsellers in German-speaking territories.
  • In Russia, popular stories suggested that Vlad was able to strengthen central government only through applying brutal punishments, and a similar view was adopted by most Romanian historians in the 19th century.


Published by Patricia Simpson

Patricia Simpson is an award-winning author of paranormal and fantasy fiction.

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