Vampires are probably the most well known, feared and hated supernatural creature in the world. Nearly every ancient culture has their own account of this dreaded being that can return from the dead and feed upon the living. Vampires exist in the folklore of every region of the world, though the Eastern European Nosferatu tales of terror including beings like Count Dracula and Elizabeth of Bathory seem to be the most widely known thanks to modern media.
Blood drinking supernatural creatures have been known to man’s mythology since iniquity. The earliest written accounts of demons and other supernatural creatures which correlate to vampires in the modern world are from ancient Samaria. Ancient Persians had tales of blood sucking demons and Babylonia had tales of Lilitu, later identified with the Hebrew demon Lilith which sucked the blood of babies. The Egyptians, descendents of the Sumerians and Babylonians of Mesopotamia had the goddess Sekhmet, a blood thirsty goddess of war and conquest, a warrior goddess who drank the blood of the pharaoh’s enemies and pulled double duty as a goddess of women’s menstruation. Cult members and priests were associated with blood drinking and human sacrifice.
From Greek and Roman mythology, the Mediterranean region gives us the tradition of several vampire prototype creatures. Empusa, at first a Greco-Roman demigod depicted with flaming hair and bronze shoes with one unnatural leg as that of a donkey or a prosthetic leg made of bronze. She is said to have seduced men in their sleep and suck their blood and is similar to the succubus. In later mythology this becomes a complete breed of monsters commanded by the goddess Hecate.
The Greeks and Romans also had the Lamia, depicted as the beautiful ghosts of young women who came back from the dead to seduce young men and drink their blood and eat their flesh. The Lamia was originally one demon, the queen of Libya with whom the god Zeus had an affair. Zeus’s wife in retaliation for the affair stole Lamia’s children and drove her into a child murdering frenzy. She became a demon and continued to haunt the dark damp places of the wilderness close to towns in order to deprive mothers of their children and eat them. Later the Lamia became represented as beautiful young women from the waist up and snakes below. They were often believed to be shape shifters and could shed their horrible snake skins to attract young men for their prey.
In Western Africa, tribe members of the Ashanti people of Ghana tell of a vampiric creature similar to the vampire of European tradition. These creatures were humanoid in appearance with chalky white skin, iron hooks for feet and iron teeth. They would sit in the treetops and attack the unsuspecting passers by. They had a tendency to bite the victim on their thumb and suck the blood completely out of them.
The Obayifo, another traditionally African vampiric creature was a living vampire. It was believed that these were witches who traveled outside of their bodies at night and attack sleeping victims, especially children and suck the blood from them. Victims could succumb in one night or be repeatedly attacked for months on end according to the will of the Obayifo. They also sucked the juices out of fresh fruit and withered fruits on the vein or tree were considered to be a sign that an Obayifo was among the villagers.
There are many other vampiric traditions from Africa. The Adze of the Ewe People of Ghana is a creature which turns into a human when captured but transforms into a firefly to hunt children and lives off of cocoanut, palm oil and blood. The Impundulu is traditionally a vampire like creature associated with the folklore of southern African tribes of the cape region such as the Pondo and the Zulu. The Impundulu is a creature that takes the form of a black and white bird of about human size. It can summon lightning and thunder with its wings and is often a servant or familiar of a witch. It has an insatiable appetite for blood and can transform into a young man to seduce young women.
In Madagascar the Betsileo people had at one time a traditional custom of servants called Ramanga which were required to eat the blood and nail clippings of aristocrats to keep them from being used to enslave the nobles by witches. The tradition has long been defunct but the people still tell a chilling tail of living vampires that depend on human blood and nails for survival living as outlaws on the outskirts of wilderness areas waiting to attack passers by in their hunger for blood.
In the Americas, there are several native variations of the vampire as well as versions that have sprung up from the mixing of European and Native American cultures. The Loogaroo is one example of a mixture of folklore. Most likely from French and African traditional lore, the Loogaroo is a woman who is in league with the devil. In order to keep her demonic powers she must offer the devil blood every night. In order to keep from dying from loss of blood herself, she seeks out the blood of others and of animals to steal and give to the devil to keep her contract. She can also shed her skin and travel as a bright blue light collecting her required allotment of blood. One known way to stop her was to remove her skin before she returned. Another way was to spill grains of sand or rice across the threshold of the door as the Loogaroo is compulsive and must stop to count the grains. Tales of the Loogaroo are common among the Caribbean Islands and Louisiana’s population.
In Trinidad the common folklore belief of a creature called a Soucouyant abounds. Probably an off take of the European succubus, the Soucouyant is a living person. usually an old woman who lives near the edge of the village, she sheds her skin at night and transforms into a fireball, flying through the air in search of victims to suck their blood from. If the Soucouyant draws too much blood from their sleeping victim, the person will die and become a Soucouyant themselves.
The Tunda and Patasola of Columbia both resembled the succubus as shape shifting demons that could become women and lure their victims off the beaten path to a bloody death. Another shape shifter, the Deer woman of North American Indian Lore had the upper half body of a woman and a lower half body of a deer, sometimes just the hooves and would lure young warriors to their death to devour their bodies afterwards.
In Chili there is a blood sucking giant snake like creature called the Peuchen and the ancient Aztecs are remembered in oral folklore for their terror raising tale of skeletal faced women who died in child birth, arisen to steal children and have sexual liaisons with men and drive them mad called Cihuateteo.
Asia is no exception to the fear and dread of the blood sucking vampire by the common folk. In India there are tales of the Bhuta, the soul of a man who died an untimely death which wonders around animating dead bodies and attacking the living. The ancient Indian goddess Kali has long been associated with vampirism and cannibalism, her followers known for strange blood letting rituals and drinking human blood.
In Japan the Nukekubi is a supernatural being whose head and neck detach at night to search for prey. The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia all report beings of a similar nature to the Nukekubi.
The Chinese vampire or Jiang Shi is the animation of a corpse by a person’s soul who for some reason or another does not depart to the afterlife. These creatures attack living creatures, suck their blood and eat their body parts and are distinguished by their greenish white fur which grows on the outside of the dead body once it turns into a Jiang Shi.
Despite its origin, vampires and vampire beliefs have fascinated human kind for thousands of years. Just as the thoughts of the hopes that our spirits will move on to another world, so comes the fear that they will remain here, trapped between living and dead.