After death a great deal of blood generally collects in the lungs of a corpse. As the initial stages of the decomposition of the body proceed, internal gasses start to build up. Eventually, about four days after demise, there is a 'bloody purge' from the lungs of the corpse due to this build-up of pressure, and a double lungful of blood is expelled through the mouth and nose. After this occurs, the mouth and nose of the corpse will be full of blood, the face will probably be covered in it, and a large puddle of it will collect around the body.

It has been suggested that this is the origin of the belief that some corpses were not in fact 'properly dead', but had somehow continued to live and had begun to drink blood. Ancient methods of dealing with the 'undead' probably lent even more credence to the belief that they were still alive: the bodies of suspected vampires would be exhumed, and a wooden stake driven through the chest, at which point any pooled blood would spurt out forcibly due to the build-up of pressure, and the escaping gasses would generate a sound very similar to a sigh. This was taken to be the release of deceased's spirit from the curse of vampirism.

Update: 2/7/2003
This writeup originally included the URL of a photo of the 'bloody purge' phenomenon described here. Randofu since has kindly pointed out that the photo has gone, and so far I have been unable to find another. If I do, I'll post the URL here. If you come across a replacement yourself during your travels (well hell, you never know) please /msg me with the URL and I'll add it.

Vampires. Between the elegant or feral horror and the near perfect metaphor for sex and/or addiction (often heavy-handed), one would be surprised to find little so evocative or archetypal in the folklore. So:

everything you think you know is wrong

What we all "know" about vampires is largely a creation of the last few hundred years at the hands of writers, dramatists, poets, artists, and filmmakers. There is a myth of the vampire, but the myth as it is "known" and embraced by culture (especially popular culture and certain subcultural elements in society) is one that was created largely by our culture over the last couple centuries.

The idea of the coming back to life or continuing beyond death is common to cultures and societies all over the world and is evinced by their folklore and myths. Popularity of these themes in literature or other arts shows how it has a hold on our imagination and speaks to our philosophies and spirituality. That is held in common with the folkloric vampire as well as the one set forth as legend today.

One of the interesting things to be found is that the vampire of folklore is a very diverse character, details and explanations varying and even contradictory, depending on the cultural source. So what do we "know" about vampires (based on the present cultural myth)? Before examining these, one must understand that the primary basis (aside from superstition) of the folkloric vampire's characteristics can be explained by various characteristics and "events" in the way a body decomposes after death. These are well-known to contemporary forensic pathologists but would be unknown to people or even many doctors living in the middle ages or before.

(Much is being left out like needing to be asked to enter a house, can't cross running water, "the mirror effect," et cetera, due the length that would be involved)

1. A coffin, often stashed away that must be returned to each day and surrounded by earth from the vampire's homeland.

The coffin makes sense because the vampire was generally someone who was recently deceased. The idea of a hidden coffin or needing to remain in contact with his/her native soil is not found in folklore. Usually the coffin's "hiding place" in simply in the grave where the body was buried. Also, not all vampires even "physically" leave their coffins. Sometimes an "invisible self" does while the body remains.

2. Thin and pale, often aristocratic.

Vampires in the Balkans (among others) were hardly pale and thin. In fact, one of the "signs" that a corpse was a vampire (upon exhumation) was a non-dessicated "healthy" appearance with "ruddy" skin (from blood consumption). They are often described as being "swollen" with blood and having a complexion to match. The appearance of "new skin" (known as "skin slippage," where the epidermis "flakes" away from the dermis) or hair and nails continuing to grow after death were considered further "signs." (The continued growth of hair or nails on any corpse is a myth believed by many today; it is only an appearence of lengthening due to the "shrinking" and drying of the skin.)

Almost anything that appeared as "evidence" for a lack of decomposition could be seen as a "sign." The vampires of folklore are almost universally "of the people": peasants, townsfolk. Of course, when it comes time to put the idea into literature, one needs cast a more Romantic/Gothic figure to make the story exciting.

3. Bites the neck and sucks blood with exaggerated canines.

Not all vampires had hemotophagy as their raison d'etre. Some didn't feed on blood at all. The thing about the teeth works well in the literature and especially onscreen, but is conspicuously absent in most folkloric descriptions. Some don't even use teeth: one Russian vampire uses a sharp tongue for exsanguinary purposes. When teeth are mentioned in reference to the vampire, it is the belief that children born with teeth may become vampires. When biting is done (some strangle or smother), it's generally about the chest area (near the heart), not the neck.

4. Creates an army of the undead by draining the blood of victims, causing them to become vampires.

The vampire of folklore has no desire for minions and is a solitary creature. When one does bite a victim, they will usually become a vampire, though. Of course there are numerous other ways to become one (not a comprehensive list): being born with teeth or a caul, having an extra nipple, various other deformities, persons who had their "shadow stolen," suicides, murder or drowning victims, victims of stroke, first to die in an epidemic (usually becoming the "cause" of the epidemic), unbaptized children, being cursed, and in common with " ghosts," the idea of dying with "things left undone."

So what are some things that a vampire does? A list of things attributed to vampires (from South Russian folklore): "can kill people and even eat them alive; bring into being, or remove, various sicknesses and epidemics, storms, rain, hail and such; he casts spells on the cows and their milk, the crops and husbandry generally." Interesting to note that most of these sort of things were once attributed to "the gods." Many vampires' ability to become invisible seems to suggest a "vampire of the gaps" argument for existence.

5. Can turn into bat.

While there are numerous animals that vampires can "change into" in the folklore (examples: "wolf, horse, donkey, goat, dog, cat, pullet, frog, butterfly"), one animal that is almost never mentioned is the bat. There is a Romanian legend that a bat flying over a corpse can cause it to become a vampire (this is a common cause of vampirism: various animals leaping or flying over the corpse). That is about the only reference to bats in the folklore. Because a few species of the mammal were called by the common name "vampire bat" (due to blood-drinking), the connection was sealed and elaborated upon when Bram Stoker incorporated it into his novel (further, there was no known "vampire connection" to Vlad Tepes prior to the novel). The idea of wolves and dogs is probably due to the animals sometimes hanging around graveyards, often attempting to "disturb" (whether digging up or even consuming) the bodies.

6. Repulsed by Holy Objects and garlic.

There is little to suggest that the folkloric vampire is particularly averse to holy objects of any kind (though there are some legends of crosses over your door or crossing yourself in a graveyard to ward them off). They do seem to be afraid of sharp objects. Surprisingly, the garlic thing is found in folklore, but there is nothing special about garlic, itself. Any very pungent item in the general vicinity seems to work as a deterrent. This is interesting since one of the signs of a vampire is a terrible odor (as decaying corpses tend to have).

7. The main way to kill one is a wooden stake through the heart.

Most ways a normal human can be killed often work for the vampire. A stake is found in some of the stories. And not only in the heart but sometimes the stomach or the mouth. Other ways include throwing in water, cremation, decapitation, reburial (often in conjunction with other methods), or mutilation. It should be noted that most of these and other methods of destruction were also used as ways to prevent corpses from becoming the living dead. ( Other methods.)

8. The disorder porphyria is a scientific explanation for vampire legends.

(Straight factual information combined with some suggestions by the proponent of the theory, biochemist David Dolphin.) It's a (rare) group of disorders in which the body produces too much porphyrin (used to make heme, part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in blood). When the body makes too much, it gets excreted and not enough heme is made for the blood. Victims are extremely photosensitive, which can cause skin problems such as blisters and swelling (often resulting in the victim to prefer a more nocturnal existence). Facial skin can even scar and gums recede, giving the teeth the appearance of "fangs." Since it can be treated today through injections of blood products, it is thought that in the past victims may have self-medicated by ingesting blood. It is also found that garlic contains a substance that can make symptoms worse.

Sounds good, but it doesn't hold up. Problems include the rarity of porphyria. For a widespread belief, such as vampirism, one would need a condition far more common. Only the rarest form causes the skin disfigurement and only 200 or so cases have been diagnosed. Also, as noted above, the pale, thin vampire isn't the vampire of folklore, anyway. And daylight being dangerous to the vampire isn't really found in the legends. Victims of the disorder don't have cravings for blood and there is no historical evidence they were ever known to (one wonders how someone in the middle ages or earlier would come to realize that blood consumption would alleviate symptoms: trial and error?).

In fact, it is doubtful that any of the blood product would survive digestion. Since the cause is genetic, rather than infectious, the idea of "creating more" via bite is a tenuous supposition, at best. And even if garlic might worsen symptoms, it hasn't been clinically shown to do so. The person responsible for the theory never published any sort of formal paper. Another interesting note is that this has also been used to attempt to explain the "werewolf phenomena."

All that said, I'm not trying to denigrate the current Romanticized mythology of the vampire. I love a good vampire flick or story as much as the next person. But I do think it is important to acknowledge that the "grand and ancient history of the vampire" we often hear about is not a reflection of the actual folkloric sources for this creature of legend.

(Sources: Paul Barber's exceptional 1988 book Vampires, Burial, and Death, a nice intro to the topic by the author can be found in the March 1996 Skeptical Inquirer and can be seen online at www.csicop.org/si/9603/staking.html; some of the porphyria stuff was found in Cecil Adams' retraction of an earlier Straight Dope column at www.straightdope.com/columns/990507.html)

Playing along with its location's mythical ties, Vampire is a vineyard in Romania--most specifically Transylvania. They advertise with the slogan "Vampire Vinyards: The Taste of Immortality". Their website talks about the Transylvanian history of wine, saying that Transylvania has a long history (as in 400 B.C. long) of winemaking and grew famous for that long before vampire legends came into being. Apparently, in the first century, the order was given to destroy the vinyards to prevent invasions from enemy nations, but some survived, as well as those who still knew the old wine secrets. In modern times "the blood of the vine" has been rediscovered and is made with old lines of grapes from the old secret techniques.

Vampire has five wines, which get amazing reviews for their price. Online, no bottle is more than 8 dollars each. Store prices vary.
Cabernet Sauvignon: RED: berry flavors with a touch of oak.
Chardonnay: WHITE : tropical fruit and apple flavors, crisp with a creamy texture
Merlot: RED : plum and cherry overtones and a hint of spices.
Pinot Noir: RED : cherry flavored and gentle.
Pinot Grigio: WHITE : soft peach and melon tastes with clean herbal overtones.

They own both www.vampirewine.com and www.vampire.com

The site gives gives information about the vinyards, their wines and the wines of partner vinyards across the world. The site is a trendy red and black look targeted at a newer generation more concered with the "vampire" part of the name instead of the "vinyards" section. Aside from wine information, it touts some of their other products such as the Vamp energy drink, Dracola, and Dracula supernatural energy drink. They also sell other accessories such as wine glasses, corkscrews, tee-shirts and yes, even Vampire condoms.


The merlot is the only Vampire wine I've personally tasted, but it's one of my favorite wines of all times. It has a delicious flavor with no bitter aftertaste, and it's rich and warm without being overbearing and too heavy. A friend had bought a bottle for my 21st birthday, and out of all the wines I tried during celebrations, this was by far my favorite even though it was by far the least expensive bottle there. She bought the bottle the first time as a joke since it was "vampire" wine and that sort of thing is an ongoing joke among our friends, but has continued to buy it because she thinks it's one of the best wines she's ever tried as well. I haven't managed to find it in West Lafayette yet, but it turns up in odd places--she bought it in a family run grocery store in Houston--and is always available online with a 2 bottle order.

The concept of a vampire, while widely known, varies greatly in actual detail. Most of us know it as the sharp-fanged undead, rising from its coffin to drink the blood of the innocent by night and taking refuge from sunlight there by day. Vampires are said to be repulsed by a cross, vulnerable to sunlight, killed by a stake through a heart and unable to cross running water. However, like most myths, there are many variations on this basic theme.

Count Dracula
Bram Stoker's original vampire legend, written in 1897 and perhaps the best known before modern interpretations such as Buffy and Interview With the Vampire. Dracula defined the vampire as we know it. Like Grandpa in The Munsters, the vampire wears dramatic capes, looks perfectly human apart from a little pale skin and pointed teeth, lives in Transylvania and dislikes the regular vampire things. Dracula was originally inspired by Vlad Tepes, perhaps known better as Vlad the Impaler, who it's estimated had around 100,000 people killed during his lifetime by impaling them vertically on spikes and letting gravity do the rest.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The vampires in BTVS are somewhat different from many other interpretations of the creature. Staking a vampire through the heart conveniently turns it to dust, ensuring that the police never find any bodies - this is different to most other vampire myths, where removing the wooden stake from a vampire's heart allows it to return to life. This form of vampire can choose to look entirely human, but their facial features take on a monstrous, feral appearance when they move in for the kill. They are always supernaturally strong, and excel at unarmed combat. As usual, "Buffy" vampires cower in fear at the sight of a crucifix and are burned by holy water and sunlight which they avoid at all costs, and cannot enter any building uninvited. (One vampire in the series finds a clever loophole in this limitation, by entering a high school whose latin motto translates to "Enter here all ye who seek knowledge".) Decapitation is as effective against them as a stake, which makes for some fun swordfight scenes. To the best of my knowledge, they are not harmed in the slightest by normal water, and have no real aversion to garlic.

Interview With the Vampire
A rather excellent horror movie starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and a young Kirsten Dunst as vampires. The vampire society as portrayed in the film is the well-known old-style finery and decadence that comes from a society where the nostalgia goes back centuries. In this interpretation, vampires must feed on the blood of living humans to survive, and their victims rise again as a vampire. Along with their eternal youth and beauty, injuries taken begin heal immediately to restore the vampire to the form they had when they became a vampire - much to the dismay of Kirsten Dunst's character, who finds that she is stuck in the body of a child and even unable to chage her hairstyle. At one stage in the movie, a vampire is trapped in a coffin which is bricked into a wall for centuries as a punishment, his vampiric immortality leaving him trapped, alone and conscious for centuries without the ability to satisfy his craving for blood.

Legacy of Kain (Soul Reaver)
A rather excellent game, starring a revenant ex-vampire as the protagonist and an eerie array of regular vampires as the majority of enemies. In the game's opening FMV, the vampires (the protagonist included) are a society of slightly monstrous-looking humanoids (no mistaking them for humans), but at the start of the game proper they appear most definitely as nonhuman monsters with the boss characters as various massive abominations. The vampires can be injured in a fight, but their wounds immediately begin to heal (similar to Interview with the Vampire) and a creature temporarily incapacitated in this manner must be finished off in some other manner by exploiting one of their vampiric weaknesses. Standard methods include impaling through the heart (Raziel is an uncannily good shot with a pointy stick), destroying the body by fire, immersing the creature in water or exposure to hard-to-find sunlight. Some vampires have found themselves with an immunity to one or more of these elements. Exploding your foes with (Garlic and crosses don't feature in this game.)

Dungeons and Dragons
Way at the back of the Monster Manual, the Vampire is treated a template which can be applied to any humanoid creature. A vampire can be created in one of two ways, the first of which is when a creature is killed by an existing vampire's Blood Drain ability, the second is when an evil cleric of at least eighteenth level casts Create Greater Undead on a body. The base creature takes on the undead type, becomes tougher, stronger and more powerful, and gains a veritable host of special abilities. Natural armor increases by +6, the vampire gains a Domination (mind control) ability, his touch deals two negative levels to a living foe, he can bite and drain all of a creature's blood and summon a horde of bats, rats or wolves once per day, the vampire gains damage reduction 15/+1 and cold and electricity resistance 20, fast healing 5, can assume gaseous form or the form of a wolf or bat will, can walk normally on walls and ceilings and gains Str +6, Dex +2, Int +2, Wis +2 and Cha +4. They gain the feats Alertness, Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Improved Initiative and Lightning Reflexes, and gain a +8 racial bonus to a whole host of skills. However, they have all of the standard vampiric weaknesses, despite their power. They cannot cross running water and cannot survive immersion in it, note can they tolerate garlic and are repulsed by the sight of a mirror or holy symbol. They may not enter private property unless invited, and spending any more than a few seconds in direct sunlight destroys them instantly. Staking a D&D vampire's heart effectively kills it, but the vampire can simply get back up if the stake is removed, as long as its body remains intact. Vampires are always chaotic evil. Although becoming a vampire is a boon for most evil creatures and characters, a particularly mean DM may apply the vampire's estimated ECL +10, requiring a 5th level character to earn 16,000XP to increase one level instead of only 6,000XP.

Count Duckula
I'm not even going into this one.

(Sources: The Giant Book of the Supernatural by Colin Wilson, ISBN 1-86487-372-5
http://us.imdb.com/Title?0110148
http://www.solidsharkey.com/vampires.html)

Becoming a Vampire:

According to eastern European legend, there were many events in a person's life which could lead to Vampirism (although the transformation itself was though to occur after death). These events can be divided into three sections - those occuring at birth, those which occured during the individual's life and those which occured at death. They are as follows:

Birth:

  • Born with a tooth already erupted
  • Born with red hair
  • Born the seventh son of a seventh son
  • Born to a mother who had slept with demons (Zerotime informs me that this was often determined by the woman in question denying the fact...hmmm)
  • Born with the placenta still over your head

Life:

  • Being promiscuous
  • Drinking the blood of a Vampire (knowingly or otherwise)
  • Being bitten by a vampire

Death:

  • Dying excommunicate
  • Dying unbaptized
  • Dying apostate
  • Dying while recovering from being a werewolf
  • Dying while under a curse from your parents
  • Commiting suicide
  • Dying from a fall from the left hand side of your wagon (not really applicable today I suppose)

Of course there was also a multitude of suggested remedies for many of these (and indeed preventative medicine was practiced for almost 300 years in Europe to prevent Vampirism and lycanthropy). A compilation of "vampire medications" was created in A.D.909 by Brother Constantine of Barvaria. It contains over 1,100 items thought to aid the prevention of vampirism.

Variations on the myth:

Many cultures believe/have believed in the existence of Vampires. Here are some of the lesser known variants:

Asanbosam (Africa): Has hooked feet. This vampire goes for the victim's thumb rather than the neck.
Bajang (Malaysia): They often appear as polecats. The Bajang are believed to prey on a single family for generations.
Baobhan Sith (Scotland): Disguised as young women, these creatures would dance with young men until the victims were too weak to fight back.
Empusa (Europe - Mediterraniean region): Much like the Succubus these vampires appear as beautiful women when they hunt, and old hags when they have finished.
Jaracara (Brazil): Snakelike creatures which steal blood and breast milk from sleeping women.
Kropijac (Bulgaria): Only a magician can bottle the spirit of the Kropijac and burn it (killing it in the process). Also believed to have only one nostril.
Mulo (Serbia): They wander the roads day and night in search of blood. Mulo are said to consume the flesh of their victim as well.
Nosferatu (Europe): Elegant, charismatic and refined - this is the vampire on which the dracula legend was based.
Wampir (Russia): They appear as normal humans and can walk through the daylight undaunted. Instead of fangs the Wampiri have a stinger under their tongue.

The Disease:

Porphryia is a rare genetic condition which prevents the metabolism of iron in the bloodstream. It has been reffered to as Vampire's Disease since the 1980s when research provided this illness as an explanation of the vampire myth. Some Porphryia patients exhibit symptoms such as:

  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Red/brown discoloration of teeth and urine
  • Congenital defects of the face and fingers (including the pointed ears associated with devils, demons and vampires)
Despite these symptoms porphyrics have no cravings to drink blood. They don't exhibit aversion to holy symbols or garlic either, so this may not provide the complete picture...

Vam"pire (?), n. [F. vampire (cf. It. vampiro, G. & D. vampir), fr. Servian vampir.] [Written also vampyre.]

1.

A blood-sucking ghost; a soul of a dead person superstitiously believed to come from the grave and wander about by night sucking the blood of persons asleep, thus causing their death. This superstition is now prevalent in parts of Eastern Europe, and was especially current in Hungary about the year 1730.

The persons who turn vampires are generally wizards, witches, suicides, and persons who have come to a violent end, or have been cursed by their parents or by the church, Encyc. Brit.

2.

Fig.: One who lives by preying on others; an extortioner; a bloodsucker.

3. Zool.

Either one of two or more species of South American blood-sucking bats belonging to the genera Desmodus and Diphylla. These bats are destitute of molar teeth, but have strong, sharp cutting incisors with which they make punctured wounds from which they suck the blood of horses, cattle, and other animals, as well as man, chiefly during sleep. They have a caecal appendage to the stomach, in which the blood with which they gorge themselves is stored.

4. Zool.

Any one of several species of harmless tropical American bats of the genus Vampyrus, especially V. spectrum. These bats feed upon insects and fruit, but were formerly erroneously supposed to suck the blood of man and animals. Called also false vampire.

Vampire bat Zool., a vampire, 3.

<-- illustr. Head of False Vampire. (Vampyrus spectrum) -->

 

© Webster 1913.

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