What is a Vampire?

What is a Vampire?

November 17, 2019 39 By William Hollis


Welcome to Step Back History. Today, to celebrate Halloween, we’re going
to look at the folklore staple the vampire! Let’s look at the spooky story of how the
vampire went from medieval legend to sparkly heartthrob. I’m Count Tristan and this is Spooky Step
Back History. Quick content warning. This video has some discussion about death,
mutilation, and what happens to dead bodies when they get a little… ripe. Just a heads up! We suspect the origin of the vampire comes
from European folklore which believed the dead could harm the living even if buried. A lot of what we identify as vampiric comes
from how bodies decompose. When you die, your skin dries out and shrinks. This makes it look as if your nails or teeth
have grown longer. Your internal organs also liquify and come
out of the nose and mouth. Today we call this… ugh… purge fluid,
but if you didn’t know what it was, you’d interpret it to be blood. If you dug up a decomposing corpse, or as
I call it, cracking open a cold one. You might see a body with long teeth and blood
coming out of the mouth. You could imagine why they’d consider that
the basis for our image of the vampire. Vampire scares were linked to disease. Often they were triggered by plagues and in
this period, people didn’t know how disease spread. They’d often think vampires were an evil
force attacking their communities. The vampire goes back to the legend of the
revenant. Often we ascribe this to the Slavic legends
of corpses that rise from the dead to attack the living, but that’s only a few centuries
old. This legend goes back deeper, and often these
revenants have a demonic element to them. Some claim it comes from ancient Egypt, but
they seem to show up in far off places such as the Chinese jiangshi (chong-shee) or blood
drinking deities in the Tibetan book of the dead. So the vampire might be one of those monsters
that come from our primal fears and develop into similar creatures in different cultures. *hiss* JUMP SCARE! Not too long ago, a group of archaeologists
unearthed a skull from 16h century Venice. They found it alongside other plague victims,
but there was one thing a little strange about it. You see this skull had a brick in its mouth. The archaeologists guessed it might have fallen
on the skull over the centuries, but many more think this was a tactic to control Strega,
the Italian word for vampires, and keep them from eating people. This is a common tactic for stopping a vampire. Find a way to keep the corpse from getting
up again. This could mean putting heavy rocks on them
or staking them down. Yeah, that’s where the stake in the heart
comes from. We sometimes hear it has to be wood, but this
isn’t universal. In the middle-east for example, they thought
we needed iron to contain vampires. In the middle-east, they’re often conflated
with Jinn, or westernized into the genie. Containing a vampire with iron is the basis
behind the containing genies with iron lamps and such. In northern Germany, vampires go by the name
Nachzehrer, or after devourers. These vampires didn’t so much get up and
attack the living, but cause general supernatural badness with their presence. You could tell someone was a vampire because
they would chew on their burial shrouds. Again because of purge fluid, often burial
shrouds would sag or tear around the mouth, giving this illusion. Their solution feels familiar to our Italian
example. It was to stop the corpse from chewing. They accomplished this by stuffing its mouth
with soil and a stone or coin just to make sure. They thought the creature would die of starvation
with its mouth blocked and the curse on the town would fade. Not surprisingly, panics over these creatures
erupted during plague outbreaks. Vampire scares peppered western culture up
until the scientific knowledge of disease was widespread. One of the last scares occurred in New England
in the late 19th century. In the spooky town of Exeter Rhode Island,
Mercy Brown died of tuberculosis. Her mother and sister had already died, and
her brother Edwin was sick. Her neighbours began to worry that the dead
Brown girls were what made Edwin sick. They opened Mary’s grave to find she had
blood in her mouth, and thought vampires! They burned Mary’s heart and made the ashes
into a potion for her brother to drink. Oh yeah, that’s apparently another remedy
for this. Yech. It didn’t help because he died a few months
later. Throughout the 18th and 19th century you find
a few vampire scares in New England.There are two theories about where the idea came
from. The first is that they adopted superstitions
from the Hessians; German mercenaries who fought for King George during the American
Revolution. So in New England, they had the chewy vampire,
not the blood sucky one. So these were those Nachzehrers. Another theory claims these are the Romanian
vampires, evidenced by the blood in the mouth, the burning of the heart, and giving the ashes
to a sick person. These are the signs a Romanian vampire is
afoot. Either the melting pot of America applies
to the undead, or we see a mixing of folklore here. This was long past the heydey of the vampire. In the mid-18th century pope Benedict XIV
declared vampires were “fallacious fictions of human fantasy”. While these vampire panics occurred in New
England, we had books in Europe like The Vampyre, Carmilla, and Dracula on bookshelves. These vampires drew from folklore but were
the beginnings of the sexy aristocratic vampires we think of today. In the 20th century, vampire scares all but
vanished. One notable exception was in the 1960s when
the president of the British Occult Society Sean Manchester claimed a vampire was causing
mischief in a London cemetery. Journalists picked up the story with glee,
and it became a media phenomenon. In 1970, Manchester told the press he was
going to exercise a vampire on a Friday the 13th. Hundreds of people turned up at the Highgate
cemetery to see it. Surprise though, he wound up not doing it. This vampire scare was recent and has more
in common with say the scary clown scare than their old counterparts. Hype man, it’s a powerful drug. After the big novels I mentioned in the 19th
century, vampires began a new life in pop culture. The most famous one would be Bram Stoker’s
1897 book Dracula. He based this vampire on the old Romanian
prince Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler. Many of us in the west consider Vlad the Impaler
a model for vampire lore, but many Romanians see him as a national hero. He ruled during a time when Romania was under
threat from the Ottoman Turks, and he tried to defend Romania, then called Wallachia from
them. Often he’d impale Turks he captured and
put them on display. They did this in a way that kept the victims
alive for several hours. Grisly, but not supernatural. Eastern European history man, bloody stuff. Of course, real animals out there also drink
blood. We have everyone’s favourite blood sucking
worm, the leech, blood-sucking fish called lampreys, and who can forget the adorable
vampire bat. However, unlike vampire lore, these animals
need to keep their host alive to produce more blood. Killing them isn’t in their interest. And today there are people who call themselves
vampires and practice a sort-of blood sucking subculture. They dress in gothic styles and perform bloodletting
rituals after they show clean blood work. They also don’t bite the victim but cut
a fleshy part of the body with sterilized instruments by a trained medical practitioner. By the way, folks, don’t drink blood. It might seem fun, but blood has a lot of
iron in it, enough to cause problems with your liver and nervous system. Drinking blood can also spread bloodborne
diseases such as HIV. It’s just not the best idea. What makes the vampire a special creature
is they can take so many forms. From Blade to Twilight, there is just so much
lore to draw upon. No attribute of a vampire is universal to
all vampires, and so you can shape the monster to fit any number of stories. It’s a rich folklore that’s still growing
and evolving today, so have fun with it! This video is part of a collaboration with
the wecreateedu community. A bunch of educational youtubers have made
Halloween themed videos today, and you can watch them all in the playlist down in the
description. Now to give you the real ways to stop a vampire. First, vampires hate history, so if you click
on the subscription box, and click the bell notification, vampires will sense you are
on to them and avoid you. I can attest to this, not a single Step Back
subscriber has been killed by a vampire! The best way to avoid a vampire’s fangs,
however, is to support Step Back on Patreon, like all of these verified humans. I’d especially like to thank Don and Kerry
Johnson for their vampire protection. Just a heads up, next week Step Back will
come out on Friday rather than Thursday. Rest in peace for now, but reanimate next
week for more Step Back.