Understanding Legends: Vampires

Vampires are the ultimate night stalker, inspiring fear and terror. At least the ones that don’t sparkle anyway. Have you ever wondered where some of the most common beliefs about them originated? Vampires hold a place in the human imagination unmatched by almost any other monster. Many cultures around the world hold legends of monstrous beings who feed on the life force of men and women and who hold any number of powers.

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The classic ‘vampire’ has evolved over time from something much more like what we now call a zombie into something beautiful and terrible at the same time. So where do their odd weaknesses and supposed powers originate? Drinking blood aside, there are five very commonly believed abilities and weaknesses to the iconic vampire. Some of them may surprise you. Here are the top five aspects of vampires and where they originated.


1) Aversion to Sunlight
They didn’t originally die in sunlight, but instead vampires were simply nocturnal, much as many monsters often were. When everyone slept, these boogie men would rise from the grave and hunt down their living prey. Arguably this might have been tied to the concept that they were demons using the bodies of the dead depending on the culture in question.

2) Charm
Tuberculosis, also referred to as the wasting disease, was once believed to be tied to vampirism. Symptoms such as a weak pulse, sensitivity to light, pale skin and the coughing of blood were all considered to be part of the slow transformation. Beyond this, a victim of the disease would often be found staring listlessly out windows and it was believed that they were anxiously awaiting the vampire’s return. The idea that they were charmed in their sleep so that they would not resist and would contently wait for the job to be completed over a number of nights.

3) Lack of a Reflection
Mirrors were originally made to include silver, a metal considered to have magical powers. Often the mirror itself was considered to be reflecting the soul. Since a vampire was believed to be a soul-less being, they cast no reflection. This is also why they are often said to not be visible in photographs or videos. Many cultures also consider the work of cameras to be a reflection or capturing of the soul.

4) Warded by Garlic
Garlic seems an odd thing to have any sort of power, let alone the ability to ward away such powerful monsters. Originally however, it was a very logical step. The superstitious considered this a form of synergy. Because vampires were dead bodies and smelled strongly, one could use the magic of synergy to ward them off. This meant the use of a pungent herb, for which garlic was a natural choice. Thus the strong smell of the garlic was believed to be a ward against the strong smelling vampires.

5) Stake to the Heart
While modern versions of the vampire burst into flames, implode or otherwise make a very dramatic show when a wooden stake was driven through their heart, the original situation was far less impressive. In fact, it didn’t even kill them. The wooden stakes were driven into the bodies of suspected vampires (evidenced by the supposed growth of nails after death, etc) not to kill them, but to make sure they were pinned into the grave so they could no longer rise at night to attack the living. Instead, removal of the head and other drastic methods were how to kill the monsters.

There are many interesting aspects to the vampire icon we all are familiar with. Less popular ideas such as needing to be invited into a home or the inability to cross running water also have a basis in what was once a common sense understanding of the world. Hopefully this article has whet your appetite for learning more. The things that go bump in the night are quite interesting when their information is exposed to the light of day. Happy vampire hunting, or rather vampire information hunting.

What are your thoughts?