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From the Original Vampires to Modern Representations in Movies

Vampire woman walking through the forest
Photography by Racheal Lomas

Have you ever wondered where the modern vampire first appeared within human history? Well, any documentation outside of ancient mythology came with historic value, from credible sources such as historian William of Newburgh. Due to his reputation as a noteworthy and careful historian, his History of English Affairs serves as one of the earliest records of vampire phenomena of the British Isles. Unfortunately, his reliance upon spoken folklore caused these chronicles to come under scrutiny and these chronicles are often considered to have vague and inaccurate content. The reliance on this folklore was due to commonplace belief in the dead returning to life as vampires, so it seemed that diminishing these beliefs would have been considered a disregard of viable information. The relish with which Willaim of Newburgh accounts for the living dead in several of his chronicles is present in his History of English Affairs, he speaks of visible ghosts or animated corpses that were believed to have returned from the grave to terrorize the living–his reports documented several stories of the undead, however, they do not attest to any blood consumption by such creatures. So were these true vampires he was documenting or were these revenants a different type of demon or spirit that was dedicated to terrorizing those who still lived? Well, they did have a few similarities with what we consider vampires.

The first report from William of Newburgh occurred in Buckinghamshire, in which a man returned from the grave and assaulted his wife for several nights; when she finally told her family about what was happening, her husband returned to terrorize her family and her neighbors as well. Only when a local clergyman wrote an absolution and placed it upon the corpse, was the body formally bound to the grave. Another report from History of English Affairs states that the body of a deceased clergyman escaped from his grave to haunt the abbey and in particular a woman from the town in which he had served in life. This woman sought out a monk who vowed to stand guard over the grave at night; when the corpse tried to escape from the grave again, the monk attacked it with an ax until it returned to its grave. When a group of monks dug up the corpse the next day, they found it sleeping in a pool of its own blood from ax wounds. They burned the corpse to ashes to prevent it from coming back again. This wasn’t the only account in which the returning corpse was burned to ashes in order to keep it from returning, as it is a common belief that vampires are exceptionally difficult to kill, but their vulnerability lies during the day while they are sleeping. As nocturnal creatures, they reportedly avoided the sunlight and then would come out at night as a means to hide their true nature. None of these reports indicated a bloodlust, but it’s still possible that these instances were missed.

Vampire lovers aren’t always aware of the vast amounts of lore that is connected to their favored creatures of the night, but the long history of the blood-sucking undead is as colorful as it is convoluted and complex. Within what can be considered the modern era, the lore attached to vampires has inspired hundreds of books, movies, and television references to these creatures and will continue to do so in times to come.

Ambrogio, the First Vampire

Swan with open wings on a lake
Photography by Kari

The very first recorded story that depicts the origin of vampires is from ancient Greek mythology, it is not as well-referenced as it should be in modern times. This story came from Delphi, a city that has existed and been inhabited since 1600 BC–the Scriptures of Delphi written by the infamous Oracle of Delphi were one of many archaeological discoveries that have emerged. These scriptures provided a solid foundation of ancient beliefs and evidence, but there are reportedly other archaeological finds that date back even further into ancient times that validate the existence of vampires. Within these scriptures is a section that has come to be known as the “Vampire Bible,” which tells the story of a man named Ambrogio, an Italian adventurer whose lifelong dream was to have his fortune told by the Oracle of Delphi.

Upon meeting this Oracle, she offered only a few cryptic phrases which translated to, “The curse. The moon. The blood will run.” Needless to say, our hero Ambrogio was disturbed by this message and spent the night pondering this message and its possible meanings. When the morning came, a sister of the Oracle, the beautiful young maiden Selene, came to care for her sister and the temple as she did every morning–upon meeting her, he decided to stay and met with her again every morning before he fell deeply in love with her. He asked for her hand in marriage and to return with him to Italy, but the god Apollo had watched this all unfold and took great disrespect that a mortal would try to take the maiden that was dedicated to him.

In a rage, Apollo cursed Ambrogio so that the sun would burn his flesh, which kept him from meeting Selene again the next morning and depart with her to his homeland. Ambrogio sought the protection of Hades, having fled to the caves, and the god of the underworld made a deal and Ambrogio had to leave his soul with Hades. Hades bestowed upon Ambrogio a magical wooden bow with eleven arrows, with which he was to hunt and kill a creature and offer it up to Artemis in order to gain her favor; once this had happened, he would have to steal her silver bow and deliver it back to Hades in order to retrieve his soul. Unfortunately for Ambrogio, he squandered the arrows killing swans and writing poetry to Selene in their blood. Realizing his plight, he stole the silver bow of Artemis anyway, but upon discovery of her missing bow, she too cursed Ambrogio, so that the touch of silver would also burn his flesh.

This new curse caused him to be unable to deliver the bow to Hades and in his grief, he fell to his knees and begged for mercy–Artemis felt pity for him and gave him one more chance. She bestowed upon Ambrogio the speed and strength of a god so that he would be as powerful a hunter as she was, as well as fangs so he may draw blood from his prey and continue to write his poetry. Newly immortal, Ambrogio was to abandon all other gods but the virgin goddess Artemis and with that pursuit of any physical love with Selene. Even though he agreed to the demands of Artemis, he wrote Selene a message that night, instructing her to meet with him on his ship. She found a coffin in the hull of the ship, with a note attached that told her to order the ship to sail and to not open the coffin until sunset–they ended up living inside of the caves of Ephesus together for many years, Ambrogio not having aged a day but Selene, still a mortal fell sick with age.

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Statue of the Greek Goddess Selene

Ambrogio knew that he would not be able to spend the afterlife with Selene because Hades still possessed his soul, so he sacrificed a swan to Artemis to gain the favor of her appearance. Artemis was pleased with his loyalty and service to her, so she made him one final deal, that he may touch Selene one time in order to drink her blood. Upon drinking her blood, her mortal body would die, but she would return an immortal like himself and they would be able to spend eternity together. Selene’s spirit rose to the heavens and at the behest of Artemis became the Goddess of moonlight, where her soft light would touch Ambrogio and the children of the night who were created by him.

The Truth Behind the Legend of Dracula

In the whole of vampire lore, there are no stories that have caused more fear than Dracula; this legendary creature was invented by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel, Dracula. His novel has inspired more horror movies, television shows, and books than any other vampire origin story–while Dracula as a character in the book is entirely fictional, Stoker actually gave him the likeness of a real historical figure who lusted after blood, who was rumored to have executed between 40,000 and 100,000 people in his famous fashion of impalement. According to legend, Vlad III allegedly feasted on the blood of the dying victims as they writhed in agony, but according to the historical references of Vlad Tepes he was regarded as a hero of his land.

Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia

Son of Vlad Dracul, Vlad Tepes the Prince of Wallachia is more famously known as Vlad the Impaler–this moniker served as testimony to the brutal way in which he dealt with his enemies. Born in 1431 in what is now known as Transylvania, a central region of Romania–but according to a professor of medieval history and archaeology at the University of Florida, there is no record of Vlad Tepes ever having owned property in Transylvania. This means that while Stoker’s Dracula may be centralized in Transylvania, the historic Dracula, Vlad Tepes, didn’t have much to do with Transylvania after his birth. The supposed Castle Dracula was never inhabited by Vlad III, but has been turned into a tourist attraction due to its location and physical appearance.

The Order of the Dragon

The year of Vlad the Impaler’s birth, his father was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, an order of knights, the designation of which earned Vlad II the surname of Dracul, the old Romanian word which translated to “dragon,” this was derived from a related word, drac which translated to “devil.” Eventually, this would lead Vlad III to inherit the surname and come to be known as Drăculea, son of Dracul.

Vlad the Impaler

According to the legends that were spoken after the death of Vlad III, he got the name of the Impaler, when he was the voivode, or ruler of Wallachia. He had invited hundreds of boyars–aristocratic Romanians, who had played a pivotal role in dethroning him–to a banquet where he had them all killed and impaled upon spikes while they were still warm. The terror he reigned and the blood he spilled didn’t stop there, as he is also credited with doing the same to dozens of Saxon merchants who had allied themselves with the boyars who had stolen his throne. Another alleged bloody tale is when a group of Ottoman messengers refused to take their turbans off due to religious necessity, at which point Vlad had their turbans nailed to their skulls so they would forever remain on their hands.

Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe Bourguereau (1850)
Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe Bourguereau (1850)

Films that are based on Dracula

Vampires as they are in the Movies

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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

Mirrors, the Ghostly Portals to the Other Side

Don't stare into the mirror, or your soul will be taken
Photography by Autoestima Cidada

Mirrors are thought to be portals to another world—some believe this is another dimension, but those who believe in ghosts believe it is a portal to the other side. Many cultures still hold on to their superstitions that exist concerning mirrors, ghosts, souls, and death. In cultures that are still considered primitive by some, there is the belief that mirrors reflect the soul and that they must be avoided in order to prevent the soul from being lost—not unlike the belief that taking photographs of a person will also capture their soul. Russian folklore dictates that mirrors are an invention of the Devil due to their ability to draw the soul out of the body. This also makes sense that there are superstitions that are still held within some places of the world that all shiny and reflective surfaces, mirror or otherwise, must be covered in a house after a death. Their belief requires covering mirrors after death to prevent souls from the living being taken by those who have recently departed the mortal plane. Depending on the lore of the culture, the mirrors may actually be covered for a variety of reasons—it could be a corpse looking back at you over your shoulder, at which time the soul of the dead will have no rest.

It is incredibly unlucky for those who are ill to see their reflections, it puts them at risk of dying, so cultures that believe the soul is vulnerable during times of illness often remove the mirror entirely from where the sick person is residing. More bad luck comes when looking into a mirror in a dark room by candlelight, during which event the observer will see ghosts, the Devil or other paranormal phenomena, such as Bloody Mary. Aside from the bad luck associated with staring into mirrors that seem to be widespread within many cultures, there is also the ancient cultural relevance that should be mentioned. In Greek myth, the tale of Narcissus warns against becoming so entranced with his own reflected image in a pond that he fell into the water and drowned—then again, the Greeks believed that even dreaming of your own reflection was an omen that foretold death. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of nasty lore when it comes to mirrors and this article can only explore a few of them.

The Myrtles Plantation: The Most Haunted House in the World

The folklore of mirrors isn’t just some abstract idea that appears in stories, there are actually ghost stories about places where it is reported that haunted mirrors are still on view to the public. In St. Francisville, Louisiana, the Myrtles Plantation plays host to several apparitions, most notably the spirits of Sara Woodruff and her two children, which were allegedly poisoned by a slave named Chloe—she apparently had an affair with Sara’s husband and committed this crime of passion against his family. These spirits appear in a mirror that hangs in the location of the original mirror, which over the years has had to be replaced several times, it’s said that Sara’s face, children’s fingerprints, and claw marks appear within the reflection of the mirror. The mirror was not covered during the wake that followed their deaths, a practice during the 19th century in the Southern United States, not following the tradition therefore trapped their souls within the home, where they can only appear as reflections.

The Truth Behind the Bloody Mary Legend

Bloody Mary, the haunting presence that inspired the movie Candyman (1992)–set to be remade and released in 2020–is based on the legend of a woman who appears in a mirror after being summoned. The origin of Bloody Mary varies widely, the most popular of versions is that of Mary Worth, a witch executed during the Salem Witch Trials. Other versions claim she was a hitchhiker who was badly mutilated and then died following a dreadful car crash, while still others suggest she was a child murderer—this particular version can’t be sure whether she just murdered children in general or if it was her own child. Finally, another famous variation suggests that Bloody Mary was actually royalty, but there tends to be another disagreement on which royal Mary she happened to be. Was she Mary Tudor, Queen of France, or Mary I, the first Queen Regnant of England? Regardless of the origin of the story, it remains a popular game among teens and preteens during slumber parties, which shows how ingrained paranormal superstition is within western societies.

These games also have variations, as is the case when the tradition is passed on orally, but whether her name is chanted three times or thirteen times, the room must be darkened, with backlighting by candles or flashlights. Will Bloody Mary tell you who your future spouse is, how many children you’ll have, or if you’ll die before marriage? If you’re brave enough to find out, you’ll face the possibility of being killed, driven insane, or being taken by the mirror.

The haunted mirror of Oculus and the victims it claims
Oculus (2013)

Films that are based on Bloody Mary

Haunted Mirrors in the Movies

The Lasser Glass and Oculus (2013)