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Hecate's Grandchildren
A repository of Gothic Stuff
Vampire Folklore 
26th-Aug-2005 01:31 pm
Vampires feature heavily in the Gothic Subculture, much to the fascination or disdain of its members. There seems to be no middle ground -- either you can't get enough of vampire imagery, or you can't stand it at all.

The following is a condensed collection of European folklore about vampires, and some observations as well. Vampires feature in folklore around the world, but the image that most are familiar with via the media is the western variety.

Becoming a Vampire

Methods by which a person can become an undead. These varied quite considerably, and are more extensive than the most well known method -- being killed by a vampire.


  • Born at certain times of the year; with a red caul, with teeth, or with an extra nipple; with extra hair or with two hearts.
  • Conceived on a holy day.
  • Weaned too early.
  • Born the seventh son of a seventh son.
  • Death without baptism.
  • Received a curse.
  • Mother stared at by a Vampire while pregnant.

Actions in Life

  • Committing suicide.
  • Practising sorcery/witchcraft.
  • Eating sheep killed by a wolf.
  • Leading an immoral life.
  • Say mass while in a state of mortal sin (if a priest).
  • Being a werewolf.

Death/After-death Causes

  • Death at the hands of a Vampire.
  • Wind from the Russian steppe blowing on the corpse.
  • Having a cat/animal jump or fly over the corpse; or a shadow fall on the corpse.
  • No burial or improper burial rites.
  • Death by violence, murder or drowning.
  • Murder that is un-revenged.
  • Stealing the ropes used to bury a corpse.

Detecting a Vampire

Traditional vampires often did not leave their coffins physically, but preyed on their victims via dreams and visions, wasting them away. When the coffins of suspected vampires were checked, the bodies were sometimes found to be un-decayed and often gorged with blood.

At the graveyard

  • Disturbed earth or coffins, or groaning noises heard from under the earth.
  • Moved or fallen tombstones or broken/fallen crosses.
  • Dogs barking or refusing to enter cemetery; horses shying from the grave; or geese screaming near the grave.
  • Constant mists and/or no birds singing.

Signs on a corpse or in a Coffin/Tomb

  • Open eyes or an open mouth.
  • Ruddy complexion and/or bloated body.
  • Fangs or clawed nails.
  • No decomposition.
  • New nails/long hair.
  • Blood around the mouth or in the coffin/tomb.
  • An overly protective caretaker.
  • Other similar corpses nearby.

Possible Victims

  • Sleeplessness, sleepwalking or nightmares.
  • No appetite, exhaustion, nervousness and irritability.
  • Anaemia, bite marks.
  • Weight loss, strange dental growths.
  • Photo sensitivity.

Powers and Abilities

The abilities of a vampire vary greatly depending upon the local types experienced. For example, it is commonly thought that all vampires are (unless destroyed) immortal, but this is not the case. Some only "live" for 40 days after death!
Causing impotence
A power of the nosferatu of Romania.
Control of Animals
Power extends over many creatures such as insects, rats, fleas and bats. Obviously dogs, horses and geese are not always included.
Control the elements
Power extends over wind, rain, and other natural forces.
Creating other Vampires
One cause of vampires is being killed by one. Other version have that it is the vampire's choice to create new ones, or that it takes a certain number of bites before this happens.
Draining the life force/psychic energy
An attribute of the psychic vampire.
Eternal life
varies in length. Not all vampires are immortal, and some have to renew their immortality by certain rituals or slayings.
Only some vampire can fly without shape changing first.
The ability to put victims into a deep trance. This depends on the beliefs and willpower of the victim.
Misting and Vaporising
Not all vampires can do this, but very handy for gate crashing.
Scale walls
Vampires can be as nimble as spiders. The most well known case comes from a scene in Dracula.
Siring children
The offspring may be called dhampirs.
Equal to that of many men, may increase with age.
may turn into bats, cats, dogs, wolves, butterflies, insects, rats, birds, fleas, mice or locusts.

Protection from a Vampire

If there are vampires, and they threaten, then it's only natural that deterrents would be developed to protect against them.
Constant ringing will drive away the undead.
An abundance of light deters vampires, especially if the candles have been blessed.
Crosses/Crucifixes or Icons
These can hold vampires at bay, and render a grave site useless to them.
Placed on windows or doors or in graves to distract vampires who are obsessive about untangling objects. One wonders about fishnet stockings?!
Either worn or dangled around the house. Can also be mixed with water and spread through an area.
Grain & Seeds
Oats and millets can be sprinkled on yards and walkways, as can mustard or poppy seeds.
Placed around the house.
Holy Water
Can be thrown at the undead, poured in graves and sprinkled around other areas.
Use only a licenced practitioner.
Placed on doors because vampires cannot see their own reflection in them.
Only works if you are a believer, or have faith.
Used to paint crosses on windows and doors.

Destroying a Vampire

There's more than one way to skin a cat, or kill a vampire. This is presumerably, given the expected contagious nature of vampire activity, why mortals haven't been overrun by them.
  • Staking through the heart. Traditionally done to pin the vampire to the ground so that it cannot move while being beheaded.
  • Beheading (may be preceded by breaking the spine of the vampire).
  • Sunlight -- some vampires are immune and not all vampires are restricted by sunlight in any case. Some have an activity range of between Noon to Midnight.
  • Cremation and scattering of the ashes.
  • Piercing with a (blessed) sword.
  • Immersing in water.
  • Drenching in garlic and holy water, or injecting holy water into the vampire's body.
  • Touching with a crucifix -- works only on young vampires, but acts as a repellent on others.
  • Extracting the heart -- may be boiled later in either vinegar, wine or oil.

One person's rational explanation

The following is reprinted from Fortean Times # 119 and was quoting New Scientist, 26 Sept 1998:

Neurologist Juan Gomez-Alonso of the Xeral Hospital in Vigo, Spain, has suggested a link between vampires and rabies. His thesis appeared in the 21 September edition of the journal Neurology. Watching an old vampire film, he was struck by the "obvious similarities between vampires and what happened in rabies, such as aggressiveness and hypersexuality".

Dr Gomez-Alonso found that 25 per cent of rabid men have a tendency to bite others, often passing on the rabies in saliva, just as vampires allegedly increase the population of the un-dead by biting the living. He maintained that early tales of vampirism frequently coincided with reports of rabies outbreaks in eastern Europe, such as the widespread epidemic of rabies in dogs, wolves and other animals in Hungary in 1721-28, approximately the place and time when vampire legends first became common. Stories of blood-drinking undead occur round the world and probably date back many centuries, but in eastern Europe the frightening symptoms of rabies could well have been incorporated into existing folklore.

The first symptoms of rabies, which include loss of appetite, fever and fatigue, can be confused with those of flu; but the virus soon begins to attack the central nervous system and in the final stages before death it can cause agitation and dementia. In severe cases, called furious rabies, the victim can become violent and animal-like. Vampires generally are male, and rabies is seven times more frequent in men than in women. Rabid men develop insomnia, tend to wander at night and become hypersexual, sometimes getting painful erections that last for days. "The literature reports cases of rabid patients who practised intercourse up to 30 times in a day," says Gomez-Alonso.

The legend of vampires transforming themselves into animals may come from the way rabies affects bats, dogs and wolves in a fashion similar to man. In particular, muscle spasms in the face and neck can give human victims the look of an angry dog. Vampires' aversion to garlic and mirrors could be ascribed to rabid hypersensitivity. "Men with rabies," he said, "react to stimuli such as water, light, odours or mirrors with spasms of the facial and vocal muscles that can cause hoarse sounds, bared teeth and frothing at the mouth of bloody fluid." In the past, he contended, "a man was not considered rabid if he was able to stand the sight of his own image in a mirror."

Vampirism as a form of rabies. Such an explanation, though perhaps likely, lacks the romance of the established mythos. It'll never catch on!


Vampire: The Encyclopedia by Matthew Bunson, Thames & Hudson, 1993.
Fortean Times # 119, John Brown Publishing (see link).
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