This is the second part in a series on the evolution of vampires, if you missed the introductory post, check that out here. Otherwise, let’s dive into the historical accounts of vampires…
Historical Accounts of Vampires
Fact often can be stranger, or more horrific, than fiction. What one creates in their imagination can be kept secret, but when actual blood is spilled, we are forever stained. A lot of this attributes to the people and families it impacted. It’s hard to make up a story when evidence of death and destruction is left in the wake of the monster. These are the blood sucking and soul shattering monsters who had faces, names, and more harrowing, were made of flesh and bone like yourself.
Upir Lichy – 1047 CE
Written in a Slavic document using proto-Russian language, “upir lichy” is referring to a priest of all people, meaning wicked vampire. This is during the time of Vladimir Jaroslav, Prince of Novgorod in Northwest Russia and a stickler for recording his encounters and things he faced. These were times of drastic change with Mongols, Christianity movements, the condemning of Paganistic and old Slavic religions, and even later the Romans and Turks. Turmoil and rage were pouring into Prince Jaroslav’s country from all corners of the world. Converting his land and people to Christianity, he declared war on Paganism.
What followed I cannot say, having no luck finding a translated direct copy of this Book of Prophets or Prophecies matching the dates to confirm. The assumption here, is the “wicked vampire priest” was a Pagan one, or possible one who straddled the two religions. He would be declared a heretic for holding onto his beliefs, practices, and perhaps seen “barbaric” in the eyes of the Roman religion being pressed upon his peers. Either way, this soul stealing vampire priest was labeled as such in the pages of history books.
In general, the upir was a sort of witch or sorcerer, which upon their death came back to life as a vampire. They were often said to be punished, unable to rest in peace for their heresy against the Orthodox Church. Selling their souls to the devil, they gained powers and would prey upon the living stealing souls and converting others. You can see, a lot of tie-in’s in opposing and converting religious beliefs. Fear was a factor for reorganizing and condemning those faithful to their former religion or deities.
Sir Gilles de Rais – The Vampire of Brittany – 1404-1440 CE
You may not recognize this name, but you should know who he was famous for fighting and being a companion with: Joan of Arc. In 1440, a large number of confessions hit a marshal in the accounts of kidnapped or missing children and the belief they were sacrificed to the devil. Unable to ignore this, Gilles was brought to trial. No one knows how many (mostly boys) fell victim to Gilles and his accomplices, but 140 victims were listed. From the poor to the sons of high ranking families were all no longer accounted for among the living. A war hero of prestige birth and rank had become a monster after losing Joan and the war ending.
“How many children do you estimate that the Sire de Retz and his servants have killed?”
“The reckoning is long. I, for my part, confess to having killed twelve with my own hand, by my master’s orders, and I have brought him about sixty. I knew that things of the kind went on before I was admitted to the secret”
The Book of Were-wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould
Some say it was his grief and desire to prove there was no God in which drove him to such drastic and terrible deeds. His confessions sound as if his devotion to God would forgive him for all and any sins he would desire to commit. Anything found in the Bible he would commit, drinking of blood as stated in Leviticus to sacrificing the youthful in the name of Satan and even raping and eating his victims. There are a few who think he was innocent and this was a conspiracy to wipe away one of Joan’s allies, but he had confessed to his accusations. Within forty-eight hours he was said to flow from belligerent to calm to crying out a sermon before hung at the gallows.
Vlad III of Wallachia – Dracula – 1439 CE
Vlad the Impaler is a story we all know. Vlad II sold his son as part of a peace treaty to the Turks. Upon earning a reputation, Vlad was granted leave to go home and that’s when hell broke loose. Prior to this, his father joined the Order of the Dragon and was dubbed the title drac meaning dragon. In Romanian, this word had another association and meaning, devil. Thus, Vlad earned titles as son of the dragon/devil. Whether he drank the blood of his enemies or was simply bloodthirsty is hard to really say at this point. The bloodshed was the result of his position as the Prince of Wallachia. He immediately stopped paying homage to the Sultan, and any against this, were invited over for a dinner, where stabbings and impaling made up the final course.
It is believed during his years imprisoned in the dungeon of Tokat Castle and time spent in battle made him no stranger to killing any who stood in his way. The lack of hesitation earned him taking credit for impaling merchants and villagers all over Romania, especially those who made the mistake of ever doing business with his enemies in the past. Indeed, he had taken on the rule of his namesake as the devil. As for where he was laid to rest, its still a mystery historians chase after. Regardless, he has been inspiration for a lot of vampire fiction including Dracula (novel), Vampire Hunter D (anime and short novel series), The Historian (novel), and countless Dracula titled movies, for better or worse.
Countess Elizabeth Bathory – The Blood Countess – 1560-1614 CE
Not only was she said to drink the blood of countless young girls but would bathed in the stuff. Though her family swept this “hobby of hers” under the rug for a long time, her thirst and ferocious desires eventually became too great. She preferred to be surrounded by youth, most of her servant girls of nine to fourteen. Many of the villagers had lost their daughters to her stern and cruel practices. During the dead of winter, she had one girl punishing another by tossing water on her in the courtyard until she froze to death. She was a cruel, she was a monster.
It was one faithful moment which would set Countess Bathory’s obsession with blood into motion. A girl had been brushing her hair, and unfortunately, snagged or tugged too hard. The Countess slapped her, landing on the girl’s ear, and hit with such force, she had burst the poor thing’s eardrum. Blood spurt across the Countess, but when she wiped it away, she noticed something. The skin was soft, youthful where the blood had been. Thus, gave birth to the bloodshed which inspired modern writers of vampire fiction. In January of 1611, she and her cohorts, or dealers, were put on trial for 80 counts of murder. Her punishment for her crimes? She was bricked into her room, fed through a slit in the wall for three years before she died in August 1614. She was only stopped when she turned her appetite to the daughters of nobles.
Frederick Ransom – Woodstock Vampire – 1817
Sometimes the title of vampire doesn’t come from what bloodthirsty actions they took, but something out of one’s control. Tuberculosis was spreading fast, even in Vermont, and with symptoms such as coughing up blood, the pale and walking dead appearance, and how it sucked the souls from those around them due to how contagious this disease could be in the right environment, panic ensued. Frederick died at the age of twenty. Immediately after, his brother fell horribly ill. Fearing Frederick was sucking the life from his brother and would soon come back from the grave for the remaining family, Frederick’s father did the only thing he knew of: dig up his son’s body.
Telltale signs of vampirism would be: blood around the mouth, a bloated corpse, a heart with blood still in it, and nails and hair appearing longer.
Gareth Henderson from The Vermont Standard
Daniel Ransom, the younger brother, wrote in his memoir of the event, despite being three at the time. They exhumed his brother’s body, cut out his heart, and burnt it in a blacksmith’s fire. What no one realized is how fast this vampire accusation would spread decades later. Many of the accused were nothing more than victims of the pandemic of tuberculosis where medical science wasn’t widespread enough to help in curing the ill or preventing the spread.
Lena Mercy Brown – New England Vampire Panic – 1892
Though early on our historical vampire inspirations came from ancient locales, America had taken the belief to a new level. One well-documented case happened in Exeter, Rhode Island when the family of George and Mary Brown was riddled with consumptions, or tuberculosis. As one after another fell ill and died, neighbors and friends were convinced the Brown family were being targeted by a vampire. At this point in history, it was believed one of the family members were the creature and would have to be dug up from the grave.
Desperate, George gave permission to do just that. On March 17th, 1892 a large gathering came to watch as they exhumed all the bodies of his family while his last surviving member, his son Edwin, lay ill-stricken. Among these corpses was the Mother who died first, followed by the eldest daughter Mary Olive who died in 1883, and lastly, the youngest, Mercy who died in 1891. One by one, villagers, a doctor and a newspaper reporter lay witness to this drastic measure. It was Mercy’s body which shocked them all. Ah, but unlike the others, she had been kept in a freezer-like above-ground vault and thus her liver and heart still held blood. She had only been dead for two months and kept there since the ground in winter is too frozen to bury anyone.
Regardless, her heart was burnt, a tonic made of its ashes, mixed with water and given to Edwin in hopes of freeing him from the vampire’s spell. He died two months later. The events in 1892 were so well reported in America that Bram Stoker, a stage manager from a theatre group from London, had saved a copy of poor little Mercy’s exhumation when he went home. Upon his death, a copy of the article was found tucked inside one of his journals.
“High Albania, Chapter IV” by Mary Edith Durham - 1909
It was there with the Seltze tribe when Mary first discovered tales of the Shtriga or striga. She discovered very quickly that all the tribes she would encounter shared this same belief. The villagers told how the striga could be in a village for years undetected. These fiendish creatures were believed to be a sort of female vampire, blending in, feeding on the blood of children, enchanting grown folk and making people shrivel up and die. Mary says the Kilmeni tribe had a sure way of catching one:
It is to keep the bones of the last pig you ate at carnival, and with these to make a cross on the door of the church upon Easter Sunday, when it is full of people. Then if the Shtriga be within, she cannot come out, save on the shoulders of the man that made the cross. She is seen, terrified, vainly trying to cross the threshold, and can be caught.
Mary Edith Durham
It was important to hunt the striga down, for she alone could heal her own victims. Mary was even told how one man’s father had saved a child. A child was dead, white and cold, and his father dragged an old woman into the home. Drawing a pistol, he demanded for her to spit in the child’s mouth to bring it back to life. When she relented, the child came back to life and she was soon after punished. There are many more accounts she records in High Albania and I encourage to dive in and indulge of her fascination with the wave of superstitions many held strongly to in these villages she visited. Even at the turn on the 20th Century, the belief in this vampire was very real to a large, mixed community in Albania.
Check back next week for the concluding part in the series…
Valerie Willis is the author of The Cedric Series, a high-rated Paranormal Fantasy Romance Series featuring an anti-hero dragged away from the revenge he seeks on his maker by love and the onset of a larger threat. Valerie’s work is inspired by a melting pot of mythology, folklores, history, topped off with a healthy dose of foreshadowing.