There are actually folks who research and study vampires. Really. A British University even offers a Masters degree emphasizing vampire literature. Or you could take a summer course in … Transylvania, of course.
Stories about blood-craving demons have been around for eons. In Babylonia, there were stories of Lilitu. This mythical creature gave rise to Lilith, known by the Hebrews as living on the blood of babies. 1
Lilith was included in some ancient Jewish texts and was considered to be Adam’s first wife, (before Eve.) When she left Adam to become queen of the demons, she preyed on babies and mothers at night. Amulets were put about children’s cradles to ward off attacks by her. 2
In Ireland and Scotland, there were tales of female suicide victims who had been forced into marriage coming back from the dead to kill her husband & father. She’s known as the ‘red blood sucker.’3
There are tales of an evil man who rises from the grave to terrorize and can only be killed by a yew wood sword and buried upside down. 4
What we call a vampire was known as ‘the dangerous dead.’ 5
Alnwick Castle’s Vampire Legend
Many of you may be familiar with Alnwick Castle from the Harry Potter movies. But the castle is the site where William of Newburgh chronicled stories of the undead. To be sure, these were not the blood-sucking undead who transforms from a bat into a pale, caped figure whose aim is to steal your life force.
William of Newburgh (1136-1198) wrote about revenants 6 who did the devil’s work by spreading disease and terrorizing the local populations. According to William, a man died and was buried in a tomb. The next night, the man visited his wife, terrorizing the woman. Fearful that he would visit her the following night, she had the room filled with villagers. The ghost appeared but apparently couldn’t take all the shouting of the woman and her friends. He left and the next night went to his brothers’ homes down the street for a little mayhem and mischief.
The villagers went with the big guns, seeking the help of a church archdeacon. This clergyman sought help from his bishop. The bishop wrote a letter of absolution and instructed the man’s tomb be opened and the letter be laid on the man’s chest. The instructions were followed, and the tomb was closed.
According to William, calm was restored to the village, and the spirit was never seen again. 7
William relates another tale of a rich man in Northern England who died and was buried. The dead man rose from the grave at night and was chased by dogs. The village was terrorized, but at least the guy had the decency to return to his grave before sunrise. After several days of this behavior is it any wonder the sidewalks of the village rolled up at dusk?
Ten brave men were chosen to dig up the body. It was cut up and burned. Peace returned, but apparently, so did a plague. 8
The Plague and Vampires
In 1601, Martin Böhm wrote: “We have seen in times of the plague how dead people especially women – who have died of the plague make smacking noises in their graves, like a pig that is eating, and that while this smacking is going on the plague becomes much worse, usually in the same family, and people die one after the other.”
During the Middle Ages, there was a shroud covering how diseases were spread. Without scientific knowledge to prove how such terrors attacked villages, people looked for scapegoats or for weaker subjects. With the pneumonic plague, people died with a stream of blood flowing from their mouths, (hemoptysis), and this was considered proof that the corpse was a vampire.
Remains that have been dug up from this period have had a stone or a brick jammed between their teeth – to prevent the corpse from eating his/her neighbors. When so many of your villagers were dropping dead around you, pits were often dug to accommodate the great number of corpses. That brick in the mouth was a great way to keep a vampire from banqueting on fellow corpses in the pit. 9
I guess to prevent such a travesty to your teeth and gums – jaw bricks really are hard to digest – just don’t bloat if you’re a dead body. The people of the Middle Ages saw that as evidence that there had been a lot of feasting going on. 10
Desperate people go to great means to keep a vampire in its grave.
- Bury the corpse face down. If it is a vampire, it will simply dig itself deeper in the grave. 11
- Plant wooden stakes on the grave. If the vampire rises, he’ll stab himself on them. 12
- Tie up the legs and arms. Cover the grave with large rocks. 13
- Drive ash spikes through the chest of a corpse. 14
Often, a body would be disinterred days or months after burial and checked over to see if it looked like the corpse had been active or tried to get out of the coffin. 15 Digging up corpses or burning them, etc. was practiced in many Western countries until the early 20th century. 16
Staking the body to the earth with a wooden stake was often done. But even more effective would be an iron rod because it was believed magical creatures feared iron. 17
It wasn’t until the modern era that vampires became sexually attractive and often misunderstood creatures – as depicted in movies and books. I guess you could say their bite was eliminated as they faded more into myth and legend. Before this, they were demons and monsters of darkness capable of causing true panic and terror.
Our ancient ancestors had a heavy load. No sanitation – zero flush and how about that weekly trash pickup (forget about it). No refrigeration – not to mention microwave oven. No modern medicine – well, I guess chewing bark and leaves was about the best you could do. An average lifespan of thirty – but as hard as life was, you didn’t even make a great looking corpse.
All this and a vampire in the ‘pit-yard’ to boot. Burial in a pit – is that where pit stop originated?
Pit stop = the last place to hang out with all your friends, I guess.