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Vampire Legends With Chilling Real-Life Explanations

May 11, 2022

Image: Bram Stoker, Dracula author –
Vampires — fact or fiction? With countless urban legends about vampires out there, this question may not have a clear answer according to What is certain is that no matter the context, vampires are some of the scariest monsters around. Sure, most people don't walk around in fear of the blood-suckers, but the truth within these urban legends may convince people otherwise...
Vamp Variety
We often think of vampires through a pop culture lens, but different cultures around the world would say otherwise. The Dracula-esque, blood-sucking, garlic-hating monster is the most well-known vampire, but vampires actually come in all shapes and forms, depending on who you ask.
Definitely Not Zombies
If you occasionally get vampires and zombies confused, you're not alone. These creepy creatures actually have a lot in common: They’re both monsters, both technically dead, and both intent on haunting humans. Most of all, both creatures have been legends for centuries.
Freeing Their Souls
The only reason vampires even "exist" is because people have always feared death, and what dying may do to one's soul. Before they converted to Christianity in the 7th century, for example, Slavic people believed that cremating the dead was the only way to ensure that their souls were free.
The Importance of Headstones
If a body was buried instead of cremated, it was important to visit the gravesite frequently in order to appease any angry, restless souls. Otherwise, they'd rise from the dead and terrorize the village as vampires. It sounds a little far-fetched, but this fear may be the reason why we have headstones.
...And Stay Dead!
Much of Vampire folklore came from people thinking someone was alive when they were meant to be dead. Sometimes, a corpse would move slightly when their tomb was opened; It was a natural reaction caused by decomposition, but it didn’t stop people from screaming!
Vampire Insurance
Fear of the undead became widespread, especially in northwest Europe. There, mourners would place stones called "dolmens" on top of graves. It wasn’t about respect so much as making sure evil spirits stayed dead. These stones didn't stop other cultures from forming their own vampire myths...
German Legend
According to 16th-century German belief, vampires were known as “the Nachzehrer,” or “After-Devourers.” Unlike Dracula, who preyed on living humans, these vampires stayed put in their graves and fed on their own burial shrouds. Weird, right? Well, it's actually understandable why people jumped to conclusions.
Logical Explanation
Since the German Nachzehrer was a real-life person who passed away, that means that their body went through the normal decomposition process. Though people didn't know this at the time, the frayed, chewed-up look of their shrouds didn't come from otherworldly creatures, but from bodily fluids.
Plague Superstition
In fact, a lot of the gory details surrounding vampire lore are actually rooted in fact. Things like blood-sucking, pale skin, and an aversion to light came about during history's various plagues. Sick people would often bleed from their mouths, a symptom that disturbed people so much that they made up a monster.
As The Legend Goes
From the early European plagues onward, many diseases became associated with people being vampires. On top of the flu, the myth was only fueled when diseases like rabies or goiter became more common. Your husband is pale, feverish, and strangely violent? He must be a vampire!
Real Life Vampires?
There are even some modern-day conditions that make people exhibit vampire-like symptoms. Porphyria, for example, can make people sensitive to light, and stains their teeth a reddish-brown color. Of course, much of vampire mythology is rooted in desire, so it makes sense why another condition is defined by sex...
Clinical Vampirism
Yep, there are people who find themselves so allured by the vampire condition that they start to actually thirst for blood themselves. This gruesome desire is called haematodipsia, AKA a sexual thirst for blood, though some people call it "clinical vampirism."
Weird Beauty Treatment
There were bound to be people who, instead of fearing vampires, found themselves understanding a vampire's desires. There's haematodipsia, and then there's the Blood Countess, the Hungarian royal who developed a rather odd beauty treatment in the mid-1500s.
Blood Countess
Countess Elizabeth Báthory lived in Hungary from 1560 to 1614, and she took her fascination with vampires (or just blood in general) to new heights. Instead of investing in a natural skin care routine, she would bite the flesh of innocent victims and bathe in their blood, apparently in order to "preserve her beauty."
Ancient Egyptian Goddess
And this mindset wasn't unusual, surprisingly enough. Even the ancient Egyptians had their version of vampire lore in the form of Sekhmet, the goddess who had a thirst for blood. According to legend, if a part of the soul called the "ka" didn't receive offerings, it would rise from the dead in seek of retribution among the living.
Out For Blood
If all vampire legends have one thing in common (besides the whole "blood sucking" thing), it's how vampires would only rise from the dead if their burial was less than adequate. A Babylonian myth from 4,000 BC tells of an "ekimmu," or an improperly-buried spirit who returns to literally suck the life out of people.
Corpse Hopper
Then there's Chinese legend, which scared children for generations with horrid tales of the "Ch'iang-shih." Translated to mean "corpse hopper," these vampire-like creatures had hooked claws, glowing red eyes, and could rise from the dead whenever they saw fit. International legends aside, the U.S. is home to some equally-terrifying vampire stories.
Mercy Brown
One of the most famous American vampires was Mercy Brown. A young woman living in Rhode Island during the 1800s, she died of tuberculosis and was buried. But after her body was found containing decayed blood, an eerie legend was born.
Rumors flew that Mercy was either a vampire, a zombie, or both. Upon further inspection, however, it turned out that Mercy's body had simply been well-preserved enough to not dry up its blood. That's because after her death, she was kept in freezing conditions in an above-ground crypt.
Bram's Vamp
As famous as Mercy Brown is, no vampire has ever been as popular as Dracula. We have Bram Stoker to thank for much of the western culture around vampirism, though his path to creating the creepy creature wasn't exactly straight-forward. Believe it or not, Dracula is rooted in both fact and fiction.
A Wild Dream
Like most monsters, it’s believed that the idea for Dracula came from a less-than-reliable source: Bram Stoker’s subconscious. The idea may have come from a wild dream caused by a “helping of dressed crab at supper,” according to Stoker.
The Vampire King
In his dream, Stoker saw “a vampire king rising from the tomb," and he couldn’t get the image out of his mind. The fact that Stoker started to write Dracula during London’s most frightening time in history only made things creepier...
Creating Count Dracula
See, Stoker started to pen Dracula a mere two years after Jack the Ripper terrorized London. Everyone in the city was already afraid of the dark at this point, which Stoker used to his advantage — and in his creation of Count Dracula.
Based In Real Life
It’s speculated that Count Dracula, who was described by Stoker as being tall and alluring with “gracious manners,” was actually based on Stoker’s boss, Henry Irving. An actor, Irving was both egotistical and charming, two of the Count’s defining qualities.
A Hankering For Blood
But other historians believe that the Count and his bloodthirsty ways were actually based on a real-life historical figure. Not only do both figures have Transylvanian-sounding names, but they each shared a pesky hankering for blood…
Vlad III
Vlad III of Wallachia — also known as Vlad the Impaler — is obviously known for one thing: his tendency to impale people. His connection to Dracula goes much deeper than a sword, though. Surprisingly, it goes all the way back to his father.
Order of the Dragon
The elder Vlad was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, which made Vlad III the “son of Dracul," or “Dracula.” Interestingly, “drac” translates to "dragon" and "devil," so it shouldn't come as a shock that Vlad wasn't the nicest guy.
Vlad the Impaler
According to legend, Vlad III once invited hundreds of wealthy nobleman to a banquet and, knowing they would challenge his authority, had them — you guessed it — impaled on spikes. Multiple violent Vlad stories were printed, and one eventually landed on Stoker's lap.
Devilish Origin
When reading a book about Wallachia, Stoker was taken by the name “Dracula.” He was struck by the name’s devilish origin and by how much Vlad III had embodied its meaning. It seems Stoker got more than one idea from his research, however.
Being Held Captive
Stoker was especially interested in a painful time in Vlad's life: when he was held captive for years by the Ottomans. During this period, Vlad III and his brother were kept in an eerie castle complete with dungeons and secret passageways.
Cobwebs & Shadows
So, is that where Dracula’s iconic castle came from? No one pictures a vampire living in a condo, and that’s because of Stoker’s description of Dracula’s shadowy castle, complete with cobwebs and opulent furniture. But some think the castle has a different origin.
Among The Ruins
Some historians believe Dracula’s castle resembles Scotland’s Slains Castle. It’s “a vast ruined castle, from whose tall black windows came no ray of light,” Stoker wrote in Dracula. This description calls to mind Slains Castle, one of many eerily accurate details in Stoker’s book.
Real Life Inspiration...
To people in 1890s Europe, some scenes in Dracula sent a chill down their spines — and not for the reason you’d think. As is now clear, much of Stoker’s inspiration came from real life... including one of his novel's the goriest scenes.
Too Close To Home
In the book, a woman is slowly killed by Dracula. After she dies, the woman-turned-vampire is dug up from her coffin and re-killed via a stake to the heart, a scene that, for some people, hit a little too close to home.
For example, Stoker’s friend buried his deceased wife with a book of poetry and then, years later, exhumed her to retrieve it. This was frightening enough, but after Dracula was published, this exhuming habit only intensified.
Vampire Mania
Vampire mania had been growing for centuries, and works of literature that came before Dracula, such as Lenore, The Vampyre, and Carmilla, solidified vampires as the blood-sucking monsters they are today. But it was Stoker that pushed vampire-mania to its peak…
Protect Yourself
People took their fear of vampires very seriously by covering their home in crucifixes, having extra garlic on hand, and, in particularly gruesome circumstances, exhuming and stabbing corpses in the heart in order to prevent future “vampire attacks.”
Vampires Everywhere!
There’s a silver lining to all the hysteria, however: without it, we wouldn’t have today’s thriving vampire genre. Thanks to Stoker, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series exist to obsess over — and obviously, the mania didn’t stop at literature.
Campy & Creepy
The creepiness of Dracula ended up bleeding into the entertainment business. From Nosferatu and Dark Shadows to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries, people are just as enamored with vampires now as they were back then.
Centuries of Vampires
Though Vlad the Impaler and other “vampires” probably won’t rise from the dead, there’s no denying the sheer creepiness of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Oddly, though, there were other vampiric sources he could've drawn on for his book.
1. Petar Blagojevich: In 1725, a certain Serbian peasant named Petar Blagojevich died. Not really that remarkable of a story, right? Just wait until you hear what happened after he died, because that's when things got really strange...
According to the story, Petar reportedly crawled out of his grave and asked his son for food. When his son, terrified, denied him, Petar murdered him and drank his blood. In a panic, the villagers thrust a stake through Petar's heart once he had returned to his grave.
2. That same year, another Serbian man named Arnold Paole claimed to have been bitten by a Turkish vampire. To cure the ill effects, he ate handfuls of dirt from the vampire's grave. Unfortunately, that might not have been quite enough; three days later, Arnold died...
Then, four people came forward claiming he had emerged from his grave and bit them. They all died shortly thereafter. The townspeople agreed to dig up Arnold's body and when they did, they found his eyes open and blood pouring from every orifice.
3. Myslata of Blau was a humble and simple shepherd from the 14th century who lived in a small village in what is now the Czech Republic. Myslata died, but then began to reappear to villagers at night. Those who saw him were doomed to die within eight days of his appearance.
Eventually they dug up his remains and drove a stake through his heart—but it did nothing! So, they dug him up again and tried driving stakes all over his entire body, which made him roar in pain before finally dying for good.
4. In 1582, Johannes Cuntius, a civic official with an unfortunate surname from the Czech town of Pentsch, died tragically when a horse kicked him in the head. He was rushed to his death bed, but things only got worse when a black cat jumped up on his bed. This was considered to be a terrible omen.
After his death, villagers started seeing him wandering around at night giving off an unholy and disgusting aroma. To put a stop to it, they dug up his body, chopped off his head, set it on fire and ground it to ash, leaving his grave empty.
5. Countess Elizabeth Bathory: Born in Transylvania in 1560, Elizabeth had it all: She was a noblewoman with good looks and plenty of money to throw around. She was even engaged at the age of 12 to Ferenc Nádasdy, a well-to-do gentleman of the day.
Ferenc and Elizabeth married in 1575, though Ferenc eventually died in 1604. Left to her own devices, Elizabeth took to killing young virginal women so she could bathe in their blood and drink it, believing it would keep her looking young and beautiful forever.
6. The Alnwick Castle Vampire: Alnwick Castle has stood in Northumberland, England, since 1096. In the 12th century, it was recorded that the castle had its own vampire: a man from Yorkshire who had been buried in the local cemetery.
Apparently, the vampire was a hunchback who would perform fiendish deeds at night, upsetting the local villagers. They took matters into their own hands; they dug up his body and started hacking at him with their spades.
7. Sava Savanović: This malicious blood-sucking vampire was said to lurk by a water-powered mill on the banks of the River Rogačica, in the village of Zarožje in Serbia. When people came to use the mill, he would kill them and drink their blood.
Unlike other stories, the villagers never actually succeeded in ending Savanoić's reign of terror. In 2012, however, the town considered reopening the mill as a tourist attraction. Shockingly, the mill collapsed into a sinkhole shortly thereafter, giving Sava the last laugh after all.
8. Jure Grando Alilović: Jure Alilović was born in the town of Kringa, located in contemporary Croatia, in 1597. When he died in 1656, it wasn't the end of him, though. Instead, townsfolk claimed to have spotted him stalking the streets late at night.
For 16 years it was said that if Jure knocked on your door at night, you would be doomed to die not long after. Eventually, the villagers finally worked up the courage to dig up his body and drive stakes through it, but that didn't stop him!
9. New England vampire epidemic: In 1990, archaeologist Nick Bellantoni was excavating some colonial-era graves in the town of Griswold, Connecticut. All of the graves seemed pretty ordinary, until Nick noticed one strange plot. In this plot, the skeleton had no head and its thigh bones were deliberately crossed.
Bellantoni discovered other plots where the bones had been treated in the same way. In the process, he learned that there had been a vampire panic in New England in mid-19th century. The strange bones he found belonged to suspected vampires.
10. The Blandford Forum Vampire: In 1762, a manservant named William Doggett ran off with his master's fortune. Crushed by the shame, William took his own life later that year.
Death was not the end for William Doggett. Villagers reported seeing him driving the streets at night in a ghostly carriage. They also reported that he had developed a taste for human blood. They dug up his grave, and their fears were confirmed: William's remains weren't even touched by decay.

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