More Than Ordinary

  • Something I wrote a very very long time ago for fun, examining vampires in myth and popular culture. Yes, I was an odd little child. :) Found it while cleaning USB drives, figured I'd post for an interesting look at the research.

    It has been said that every myth or legend is based on some kind of fact. From crypto-zoology to things that go bump in the night, history has a way of proving our bogeymen and monsters could be very real. Everyone is familiar with Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, regarded as the foremost depiction of a new and improved creature of the night. It would surprise some to know however, that Stoker wasn’t the first to write about the bloodthirsty villain stalking the night. It was though, one of the first fiction accounts.

    Throughout recorded history, vampires all share similar traits. A vampire is said to rise from the dead, feed off the living, live forever, and have fanged incisors. There also is always power over something or someone else. But where did these well-known characteristics originate? What helped create the image of a vampire as portrayed today?

    Contrary to popular belief, vampire mythology was not born in Transylvania. Legends and myths can be found in virtually every part of the globe. The accounts date back to the earliest cultures and can be found in over 95% of the worlds regions in various different forms. The earliest attested cases of vampirism come from the Far East, places like China, India, and South Asia.

    The Chinese Jiang Shi dates back thousands of years. His rumored method of feeding was touching the victim to kill, and then draining the corpse of its blood. There is a Cult of the Ancestor in China, meaning that you must treat your ancestors with respect and dignity. If you do not bury them according to proper rituals and Feng Shui, then your relatives were doomed to arise again as the undead.

    Just as ancient is the Hindu goddess Kali. She has fangs, wears a necklace of human skulls, is dark, lives in graveyards, and reportedly enjoys sacrificial blood as an offering. She is typically used today as an image for Pagans using Dark Magic or to invoke a high level of protection for self-proclaimed children of the dark. The power and magic associated with blood reach back into the dark origins of human history. Many religions around the world recognize the power of spilling human or animal blood. Sacrifice to these old gods is still as popular today in certain places as it was nearly 1.000 years ago.

    Surprisingly, even Western religious mythology has its share of vampiric motifs. In obscure Hebrew folklore, the primordial woman Lilith was Adam’s first wife. After an argument on who should be on top during sex, she left Adam, becoming history’s first feminist and rebel. To denounce men, she has sex with animals and demons. She is said to take her anger out on human infants, stealing them and draining them of their blood. This was mysteriously missing when the New Testament was unveiled.

    One can still find mysticism in the New Testament though. Vampires are said to create another by the sharing of their bodies and their life force. It is said that God created a new wife for Adam using his rib. Also, even today, people symbolically eat and drink the blood and body of Christ during Mass. To really muddle the waters, consider that Jesus arose from the dead and was more powerful after his rebirth. Remember, rising from the dead as a more powerful entity is one of the oldest and most universal traits of vampire legends. One could still argue theoretically that these are religious accounts, not necessarily factual data. History however, has plenty of accounts to share.

    Take Elizabeth Bathory for instance. She became know as the Blood Countess, and for very good reason. A royal from Hungary in 1584, Elizabeth was known as a vicious woman, even just judging her temper by itself. After striking a chambermaid, she got blood from the girl on her hand. Later, she swore that her skin looked younger and more radiant. Her resulting obsession with youth caused her to murder over 600 virgins throughout a span of 20 years, whose blood she drank and bathed in.

    Bathory met with no resistance because she took peasant girls from neighboring villages and abused her position as royalty to protect her from backlash. She therefore had no legal or moral accountability, knowing that she could not be tried for her crimes even if she was ever caught. Her downfall came when she exhausted her supply of peasant females and started to go after noble children. Her deeds became known to King Rudolf II after decades of the bloody games. After a raid on her castle unearthing the remains of over 300 women and a diary with written accounts of over 600, she was taken into custody. Her accomplices were hanged for their part in the spree, and she was locked in a solitary room. She died in 1614, still shut up alone. Rumor and exaggerations claim that she still appeared to be 30 years old, even though she was over 50 at the time of her death. She is known as one of the earliest and most prolific serial killers in human history.

    “Dracula” was published in 1897 and eventually made its appearance in 44 languages and over 250 films. What most people don’t know is that “Dracula” never existed. The story was a mish-mash of various vampire stories from around the world. Elizabeth Bathory was only one part of the inspiration. Another was Vlad Tepes.

    Vlad Tepes Dracul was an ancient Romanian ruler. Born in 1341, he was a prince whose job was to protect his subjects from the invading Muslim Turks. He was cunning, sadistic, and came up with horrifying and tortuous deaths to those he murdered.

    To make his point to invaders, he used brutal and barbaric means to dispose of his enemies. To dishonor the soldiers, he would impale them on tall stakes and leave them to slowly die an antagonizing death high on a hill surrounding his castle, where all could see. He used to bring a dining room table and a chair out and dine while the men died. People also say that he dipped his bread in the running blood, to supposedly absorb their power and strength for himself.

    Rumors of Tepes abound, including that he arose from the dead to murder all the priests who refused him a proper burial because of his horrific deeds. His vicious bloodlust earned him the honor of being one of history’s first documented vampires, as he lived centuries before Bathory did.

    In 1632, James Spalding was convicted of murder in Scotland. He was sentenced to be hanged for his crimes. The next night, villagers and town officials alike saw him staggering drunkenly down the street. He was covered in dirt and mud, confused, and attempted to attack several people. The villagers were horrified; convinced they had unwittingly unleashed a vampire by not giving him proper last rites after his death.

    In the early 1700’s, most of Europe was taken over by a vampire epidemic. Whether real or imagined, people are frightened and stories abound during this period. Everything from the Black Plague, cholera, and cases of tuberculosis were blamed on vampires. When people don’t understand something, it frightens them and they have a need to find someone to blame. Times were bad, cities overcrowded, diseases running rampant- but instead of blaming themselves, vampires became the scapegoat. By 1714, all of Europe was in a state of massive abject hysteria.

    Haidamogue, Hungary- In 1715, reports and eyewitness accounts document a farmer and his family. They took a soldier in for the night as was common then, when dinner was interrupted by the farmer’s father, who then proceeded to kill his son. The only problem was that the murderer had been laid to rest 10 years before, in 1705. The soldier gathered some of his men the next morning and dug open the monster’s resting place. To their horror, they unearthed a non-decomposed corpse. It had fresh blood running down its mouth, a bloated/well-fed stomach, and evidence of hair and nail growth, along with a ruddy and rosy complexion.

    Kisilova, Russia in 1725- Several people claimed to see Peter Plogojowitz alive and attacking young girls in darkened corners even though he had died months prior. His body was exhumed, and found to be fresh. After he was staked, fresh blood poured from the wound.

    In 1746, a Roman Catholic scholar named Dom Augustiv Calmet published a text based on interviews and personal investigation into the legends. His book became the primary instructional text for a new generation of vampire hunters. Governments would actually publish pamphlets on how to tell you have a vampire in your midst, including signs and symptoms to be alert for, as well as ways to repel and kill the undead.

    In 1831, Nat Turner was a slave revolt leader who was claimed to be one of the undead. He succeeded in turning quite a few of his followers from Virginia. After killing nearly 50 people, the military force had to be eventually used to stop the insurrection. Poe, the legendary leader in macabre is also said to have perished by a vampire bite near the Baltimore waterfront, though there is nothing substantial to base this claim on.

    The first half of the Nineteenth Century saw a population explosion in European cities. In Paris, so many vampires haunted the neighborhood north of the Louvre that it became known as the Vampire Quarter. In 1850, Baron Georges Haussman, Paris' top city planner, offered a radical suggestion: instead of trying to kill the vampires, why not eliminate their habitat? Haussman envisioned a radical reconstruction of Paris, with broad boulevards, spacious squares and a modern sewer system (it was still common belief that poor sanitation contributed to vampirism). However, the canonization of Haussman proved to be premature. After dropping for a short time, vampire attacks in Paris rose to their highest levels ever. The great irony of Haussman's work was that, while he had driven vampires from their old haunts, in building Paris' extensive sewer system he had provided them with the perfect place to hide. For the next 50 years, these vampires, known in Paris as "Haussman's Children," made their home in the sewers, emerging at night for hunting. For a short time, the French stationed troops there, but had to pull out due to high rates of desertion.

    In the summer of 1891, young painter Lucien Steketee arrived in Paris from a small village in Brittany to find a city energized by bold artists breaking free of the confines of Impressionism. He painted prostitutes, dancing girls, beggars and vampires. While other artists had painted vampires from memory, Steketee was the first to have them sit for portraits. Despite the danger, Steketee painted over a dozen vampire portraits, and with each one his sense of ease grew. In July of 1892, a vampire suggested to him that Paris' underground catacombs, with their stacks of skulls and bones, would be a more atmospheric backdrop for the portrait; Steketee foolishly followed him there and was set upon by a hunting pack. Two days later, local police officers discovered Steketee about to sink his teeth into a young woman.

    In the late 1880s, several women were brutally murdered in the Whitechapel area of city. Officers conduced several raids in the Whitechapel area and destroyed a number of suspected vampires, including Wentworth Smith, a suspicious lodger given to "nocturnal wanderings." While most people believe to this day that the Whitechapel killings were the work of Jack the Ripper, some claim the evidence is overwhelming that the murders were in fact the work of a vampire. Consider the following:

    The murders all took place in the evening.

    Most of the victims were known prostitutes, a favorite vampire target.

    There was a surprising lack of blood around the bodies of several victims.

    Police found body parts in the areas of the murders, including a torso under a railway arch and another torso in the cellar of a new police building under construction. Vampires often will tear victims apart after feeding.

    The murderer sent police half of a human kidney in the mail, along with a note stating that he had eaten the other half. The body of another victim was missing a heart. Vampires have a fondness for gnawing on human internal organs, especially the kidneys, spleen and heart.

    Several eyewitnesses described the killer as "shabby genteel," suggesting a vampire who's been wearing the same clothes for some time.

    Lastly, and perhaps most tellingly, the murders stopped after the raids killing several questionable citizens. Some people believe that Jack the Ripper might have actually been Smith.

    Rasputin was a Russian mystic and advisor to the Tsar Nicholas II's wife, Alexandra. In 1916, Russian aristocrats, fearful of Rasputin's undue influence over the Tsar's wife, lured him to a vampire hideout in St. Petersburg. After transformation, the "Mad Monk" was shot, bludgeoned and thrown into the Neva River, but some say he still turned up at the palace the following night, whereupon he was beheaded by the Tsar's guards.

    In 1923, the 29th president of the United States was Warren Harding. He was on a boat trip when the captain made an emergency docking at San Francisco. After Harding expired in San Francisco on August 2, 1923, the cause of death was ascribed to food poisoning, a determination later changed to stroke. But several witnesses claim that he was seen with two puncture marks on his neck the previous day. No further investigation was ever conducted, as Florence Harding would not allow an autopsy on her husband. The body was returned to Washington for burial, and the report was suppressed. Unfortunately, we will never know the truth, and Harding's cause of death is still officially listed as a stroke

    While in New York City in 1926 to promote his new movie, the Italian sex symbol Rudolph Valentino was lured into a speakeasy, then set upon by a hunting pack. He managed to get back to his hotel, where he was eventually euthanized by a well respected doctor. The studio claimed his death was caused by a bleeding ulcer.

    After these many unsubstantiated reports, the Soviet Union began pouring enormous resources into vampire research. The Soviets based their research at a secret lab outside the small village of Lazo in Siberia. Unbeknownst to others, they made significant progress in the lab and in 1967, under a veil of utmost secrecy, they began animal trials, using chimpanzees as the test subjects. Sometime in mid-February, an infected chimpanzee bit a technician. The technician ran amok, biting everyone in the lab. The scientific team, transformed into vampires, left the lab and went to the village to hunt. Rumors say that the entire town of Lazo was infected.

    Faced with an uncontrollable vampire plague, it is said that Russian President Leonid Brezhnev was forced to take extreme measures. So, on a bright winter day, a transport rolled into Lazo and left a nuclear weapon in the middle of the town square, while the vampires slept. Once the team was safely out of range, they detonated the bomb. American officials detected the explosion via satellite and launched an inquiry. The Russians claimed accidental detonation, but the mystery ended in the Summer of '68, when one of the soldiers who had planted the bomb defected to West Germany and told the whole story. The 750 people of Lazo were among casualties of the war on vampires.

    In 1996, sixteen year old Rod Ferrell proved that some modern day vampires are by no means harmless. On November 25th, he and his self-proclaimed “vampire clan” killed innocent people in their quest to prove their vampirism. Ferrell viewed himself as his girlfriend’s vampire warrior, and decided that it was up to him to make things right in her home life. He and his friends bludgeoned her parents to death and consumed some of their blood. Ferrell was sentenced to death in 1998, but it was commuted to life in prison by 1999.

    November 24th, 2001- A teenager obsessed with vampires killed an elderly neighbor and drank her blood because he believed that would make him immortal. The 17-year-old youth was accused of killing 90-year-old widow Mabel Leyshon at her home in Llanfair in north Wales

    Edinburgh, Scotland (AP) - On Dec. 11th, 2002- A Scottish man was convicted of murdering his best friend, whose blood he said he drank in an effort to gain immortality. Menzies was convicted of bludgeoning to death Thomas McKendrick, 21, in a frenzied attack after they had an argument. An enraged Menzies killed McKendrick by repeatedly beating and stabbing his body, witnesses said. During his trial in 2003, Menzies told the court he had drunk the dead man's blood and eaten part of his head. Menzies testified that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack, and a psychiatric consultant agreed. But three other experts rejected that diagnosis and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

    Unfortunately for those who do believe these accounts, by the early 1990’s, vampires were almost a heroic figure. This was based in part by new novels such as Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”. The late 20th century saw vampires go from horrifying to darkly seductive. They became intriguing, seductive, attractive, and strangely erotic.

    The vampire image of today embodies what is forbidden. Vampires have undergone a metamorphosis from the horrifying bogeyman to almost a dark lover in today’s day and age. Writers such as Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Lyndsay Sands, Brenda Joyce, and Laurell K. Hamilton have embraced the fantasy of a wicked but enticing encounter with a seducer of the night.

    Why is the fascination such a draw for real life people today? The answer is quite simple- the vampire can change and evolve over centuries and eons, but at the heart he will always be what we yearn to be in secret….something more than our ordinary lives, and something more than an ordinary love.

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