Vampires are mythological or folkloric beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures, regardless of whether they are undead or a living person.
Although vampiric entities have been recorded in many cultures and in spite of speculation by literary historian Brian Frost that the "belief in vampires andbloodsucking demons is as old as man himself", and may go back to "prehistoric times", the term vampire was not popularized until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe, although local variants were also known by different names, such as strigoi in Romania.
It is BramStoker's 1897 novel Dracula that is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and which provided the basis of modern vampire fiction. Dracula drew on earlier mythologies of werewolves and similar legendary demons and "was to voice the anxieties of an age", and the "fears of late Victorian patriarchy".
Description and common attributes
It is difficult to make a single, definitive descriptionof the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in color; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood. Indeed, blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin and its left eye was oftenopen.
It would be clad in the linen shroud it was buried in, and its teeth, hair, and nails may have grown somewhat, though in general fangs were not a feature.
The causes of vampiric generation were many and varied in original folklore. In Slavic and Chinese traditions, any corpse which was jumped over by an animal, particularly a dog or a cat, was feared to become one ofthe undead. A body with a wound which had not been treated with boiling water was also at risk.
Cultural practices often arose that were intended to prevent a recently deceased loved one from turning into an undead revenant. Burying a corpse upside-down was widespread, as was placing earthly objects, such as scythes or sickles, near the grave to satisfy any demons entering the body or to appeasethe dead so that it would not wish to arise from its coffin.
Apotropaics, items able to ward off revenants, are common in vampire folklore. Garlic is a common example, a branch of wild rose and hawthorn plant are said to harm vampires, and in Europe, sprinkling mustard seeds on the roof of a house was said to keep them away. Other apotropaics include sacred items, for example acrucifix, rosary, or holy water. Vampires are said to be unable to walk on consecrated ground, such as those of churches or temples, or cross running water.
Although not traditionally regarded as an apotropaic, mirrors have been used to ward off vampires when placed facing outwards on a door (in some cultures, vampires do not have a reflection and sometimes do not cast a shadow, perhaps as amanifestation of the vampire's lack of a soul).
This attribute, although not universal was capable of both reflection and shadow), was used by Bram Stoker in Dracula and has remained popular with subsequent authors and filmmakers. Some traditions also hold that a vampire cannot enter a house unless invited by the owner, although after the first invitation they can come and go as they please. Thoughfolkloric vampires were believed to be more active at night, they were not generally considered vulnerable to sunlight.
Methods of destroying suspected vampires varied, with staking the most commonly cited method, particularly in southern Slavic cultures. Further measures included pouring boiling water over the grave or complete incineration of the body. In the Balkans a vampire could also be killed...