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History of Vampirism

The History of Vampirism

The first reference to vampirism can be found in the work of Lucius Apuleius, a roman writer and philosopher, who lived from 125-180. His novel "De asino aureo" tells the story of the two wicked sisters Meroe and Panthia who drink the blood of Socrates (not the philosopher). They close his wounds with a sponge so that he does not notice his loss, but when the next day he bends over to drink from a river, the sponge drops into the water, the last drop of life flows into the water and Socrates dies.

The name "Vampire" derives from the Slavic language and means something in between "flying being", "drinking/sucking" and "wolf". The version with "y" (Vampyre) came into circulation between 1725 and 1732 and is therefore NOT the original one. In the romantic movement in Europe which was opposed to the former Enlightenment era the vampire became a common theme and moved from country mythology into the elegant salons and castles.

In the middle ages the flea, also a blood-sucker, was called a vampiric being since it was held responsible for the spreading of the plague. The Celts often used to bury their dead with their face downwards. This may derive from their belief that the dead had to enter the "other world" with their face in the right direction. In Eastern Europe it was common to bury the dead with a clove of garlic in their mouth.

Michel Beheim (Deutscher Meistersinger) composes in 1463 a song with the title "Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei" in which he tells the story of Vlad IV Draculea. Benheim was a pheasant of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus, at who's court Draculea was a refugee when banned from Walachia.

Dracul (which means dragon, though the Rumanian term for devil is very similar) was the epithet of the Woiwode Vlad II., who was a knight of the order of the dragon. He was the father of Vlad III. "Tepes" (Impaler) (1431-1476), who was the model for Bram Stoker's famous figure Count Dracula. Draculea means son of Dracul, a name which was later shortened to Dracula. In spite of Stoker's novel in Rumanian history there has never been any connection between Draculea and vampirism. In fact because of his successful attempt to drive the Turkish invaders out of Walachia he still is regarded as a national hero. In his short reign he managed to extinct crime in his country. (For more information about the historic figure see "L' histoire du prince dracula" by Matei Cazacu which includes the works of M. Beheim). His home Walachia is part of Transilvania, which means "land beyond the forest". The other name for this area, "Siebenbürgen" is derived from the German language and means "seven castles" and shows how important an efficient defensive system was at the time of Draculea.

One of the few important authors who worked at the topic of vampirism was the French Benedictine monk Dom Augustin Calmet (1672-1757). The German version of his essay is titled "Verhandlung und Erläuterung der Materi, von Erscheinungen der Geisteren, und der so genannten Vampiren, oder zurückgekommene Verstorbenen in Ungarn, Moravia etc." Calmet was working on the differentiation between Vampires and common ghosts and demons. Calmet was a very openminded person who asked himself whether vampires really are dead, how they manage to escape grave and which kind of energy their body needs. He came to the conclusion that in spite of his rather evil nature a vampire is a god-created being. He also said that being a pagan cannot be the reason for becoming a vampire since otherwise all Romans and Greeks who worshipped diverse gods would have become vampires.

Another famous author was Montague Summers ("The Vampire in Europe", first published in 1929) who covers the topic of vampirism from the ancient Greeks through the Middle Ages until modern times through the various countries of Europe.

The English poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) also wrote an unfinished novel about vampires. When Byron in 1816, together with his friend and doctor John William Polidori stayed at the Lake Leman he hosted a party and among his guest were the poet Percy Shelley and his later wife Mary. When a thunderstorm forced the guests to stay inside they gave a competition in writing ghost-stories. At this occasion Mary Shelley started the famous novel "Frankenstein". Byron wrote the mentioned fragment which some years later Polidori used for his novel "The Vampyre, A Tale" who was published in 1819.

At the beginning of the 19th century the vampire also entered the opera-stage with "Der Vampyr" written by Heinrich Marschner, which had it's premiere in Leipzig in 1828.

The figure of Dracula embodies the fascination of the forbidden and is a classical symbolic figure for the repressed sexuality of the Victorian society. He casts no shadow, is as strong as twenty men, owns -because of his blood consumption- everlasting youth and is the master of bat, moth, wolf, rat, fox and owl. He is able to transform into a cloud of dust or vapour, climbs every wall like an insect and commands the elements. The story also says that he can only enter a building if he's invited and has to sleep in a coffin filled with the soil of his home.

Though the crucifix is said to be a successful weapon against the vampire it's effect is only based on the symbolism and on the belief of it's power. (No use in fighting Jewish, Islamic and Hindu vampires..)

The black/red cape which is a common vampiric motive was added by Hamilton Deane in 1924 to symbolize the bat. Bela Lugosi, probably the most famous actor who played the role of Dracula was even buried in his cape.

Dracula first appeared at the theater in 1897 in the play "Dracula, or the Undead" written by Bram Stoker himself. The premiere took place in the Royal Lyceum Theatre in London. A more popular version was the one of Hamilton Deane in 1923. The musical "Tanz der Vampire" is now being played in Vienna.

It's very interesting that the figure of the vampire can be found through so many centuries not only in Europe but also in Asia. Fear is one of the most powerful forces that drive people and the fear of the unknown or mysterious can be found everywhere around the world. The only way to fight the fear is to face it and to realise what people are so afraid of. Yes, we are different and mythology and superstition have created some rather unbelievable stories. Due to this the term "vampire" has so many negative associations. What I am trying here is to help people to overcome their old prejudices, which exist because the only source of information is still very often fantasy literature or film. Sanguinarians exist, not as the glamorous figure of literature or as the fascinating seducer but as normal "human" beings like yourself. Push away what you might have learned about vampires and get to know us. Most of us are better than our reputation.

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