You know, it’s complicated being a vampire.
So many cultures have myths of blood-sucking demons embedded in their folklore. They appear in some form or fashion throughout the world. Supernatural shapeshifters. The undead who prey on living humans. Spreading disease. Slurping another’s life force. Or maybe, just scaring us to death.
In many myths, the creatures are chained to a clock, much like we are today. But in their case, they must return to their place of safety before the rising sun’s cruel rays kill them. Some are not phased by the sun at all, hunting from the magic hours of midnight until noon. Some are trapped by obsessive behaviors – counting rice grains, grains of sand, or piles of seeds – which allow their prey to escape or the vampires to be caught and destroyed.
Some are men. Some are women. Some are grotesque. Some pass for human. Some are said to rise from their grave and impregnate their wives. Some became vampires because they were born on Christmas or bore their parents’ curse.
Once they found their way into literary fiction, vampires became synonymous with sexy seduction. The first English prose version of the vampire story was the 1816 story, The Vampyre, by John Polidori.
Lord Ruthven and a young man named Aubrey travel to Greece. There Aubrey learns of vampires from Ianthe, a beautiful Greek girl who is later killed by one. Ruthven dies, making Aubrey swear to keep his death a secret. Aubrey returns home and discovers Ruthven is alive and well. Ruthven begins courting Aubrey sister. Aubrey dies knowing his sister’s fate will be the same as Ianthe’s.
Ruthven elevates the vampire to the upper-class gentry. Ruthven is handsome and an aristocrat. He moves about in broad daylight. His flesh is pale and is never rosy from embarrassment or anger. He is rich and gifts others with money to fund their vices. Ruthven likes to ruin others’ lives. Ruthven is pure evil. He has no redeeming qualities.
This work would later influence Bram Stoker as he penned ‘Dracula.’
Gilles de Rais
Fiction is one thing. But when it comes to real life that is a whole lot scarier because it really happened. Imagine a time when knights roamed on horseback setting the world’s wrongs right. When castles dotted the countryside. When a nobleman was also a serial killer.
Gilles de Rais was a French general who fought with Joan of Arc. 1 When Joan was burned at the stake, he felt that God had betrayed him. It is said that de Rais murdered more than 400 children. After ordering his servants to slice the child’s throat so the blood would flow on him, he would sit on the dying child’s bowels and drink the corpse’s blood. 2
At his castle at Tiffauges, de Rais used his family’s riches to transform a wing of the castle into alchemists’ labs. Men flocked to the place. He held orgies and great feasts and the alchemists’ experiments continued, but the experiments failed. Then the sorcerer, Prelati, instructed de Rais he could never hope to transform base metals into gold without Satan’s help. 3
And that’s when it turned ugly.
De Rais delves into magical books. He attempts to call a demon named Barron. No demon shows up after three attempt, but the sorcerer, Prelati, tells de Rais that Barron is angry and requires a child’s parts as an offering. 4
De Rais complies, providing these parts in a vessel. Still, nothing happened. The experiments in the occult left de Rais embittered. His fortune was depleted. 5
De Rais killed a young peasant boy, taking the child’s blood and writing formulas with it. He has found his true calling – torturing and killing children. 6
It was reported that he dressed the boys he killed in fine clothes, fed them, and took them to an upper room where he hung them on a hook and raped them. 7
Often he cut off the child’s head, cut off limbs, or break their necks. 8 In 1440, along with charges of murder, charges of sacrificing the children to demons were cited against de Rais. 9 He confessed to the crimes, testifying that when the victim was dead, he’d kiss the body. Attractive corpses were opened up so that he could admire the organs. He stated he took pleasure in watching the children die. 10
He was strangled and burned. His family was allowed to bury the body in a Catholic ceremony in a graveyard. 11
A figment of the imagination, such as John Polidori’s Ruthven pales in comparison to Giles de Rais. Perhaps, there is reason to be afraid when walking down a deserted street on a black night, hearing the echoes of footsteps behind you edging closer. A cat screeches. A trash can lid bangs against the side walk. Tall buildings close in. Every window is dark. No one can hear your screams. Even if they did, no one would answer your cries for help. And the echoes of those footsteps grow louder each second.
Be very afraid.