Monday, August 4, 2014

Vampires - Legends, Folklore and Cases of True Vampirism

The Saint Louis Cemetery #1 in New Orleans, Louisiana is ripe with legends of the undead. 

Vampires are most recognized today in Hollywood films and some American folklore. Books, and movies about the undead have been a staple in horror cultures for generations. However, there are aspects of the legend that lend an element of credence to the stories that may make you second guess the existence of this legendary monster.

The earliest accounts of vampires stem from ancient Europe; stories that are still very prevalent in some parts of the world today. In ancient times, people had no concept of how death came to the living. When someone inexplicably died, followed by more deaths, supernatural forces were to blame. The dead were often buried but once others became ill or died, those corpses were disinterred and found to be preserved. Corpses had long finger nails and hair and blood leaked from the engorged body. This lead people to believe that the dead were leaving their graves and feeding off the living, subsequently causing the death of others.

Today we recognize these characteristics as part of the natural decomposition process. Without embalming (which was not a common burial practice in America until the days of the Civil War) corpses bloat due to gasses that build up in the abdomen, causing the body to appear larger or engorged. Those gases also push blood and body fluids through the digestive tract and esophagus, causing blood to pool around the mouth. Also, hair and fingernails appear to grow after death. This is caused by the loss of moisture in the skin. The drying and drawing up of skin can make the hair and nails appear longer. Some bodily functions will also continue after death and nerves that involuntarily fire can even transmit signals that cause a corpse to vocalize and move.

To the medieval villagers, this was an alarming and worrying indication that the dead were somehow being transformed into vampires. The typical remedy for vampirism was to uncovered the suspected grave and drive a wooden stake, made of ash or yew, through the heart, pinning the monster to the earth. Other superstitions about vampires were derived from these ancient times that include the use of silver, crucifixes, and garlic or other herbs. Medieval people believed that the pleasant odor of herbs would drive away or deter vampires. Crucifixes came later with the addition of Christianity and silver as well, since it is regarded as a sacred metal in many Christian faiths.

Bloated bodies and walking corpses may have been the stuff of medieval nightmares, but in the villages of Romania there existed a very real monster that lives on in legends and stories of modern vampires today. Bram Stokers novel, “Dracula” is recognized as one of the most legendary depictions regarding a Romanian prince named Vlad III. Prince Vlad was born into a noble family, in the Hungarian Kingdom that is now Sighisoara, Romania in 1431. The family also belonged to the Order of the Dragon (a sect of Eastern European nobility who fashioned themselves after the Crusaders in order to protect Christianity in Europe.) In 1447 prince Vlad’s father (Vlad II) was killed in an ambush and his older brother was blinded and buried alive by Hungarian rebels.

The home of Vlad III born in 1431 - Sighisoara, Romania
Vlad was moved throughout parts of Eastern Europe until he was able to regain his throne. During this time, he was known as Vlad the Impaler. He used large stakes to impale his enemies while they were alive, causing a most painful and agonizing death. Thirty thousand victims formed a literal forest of impaled bodies near the Chindia Tower that is located in Targoviste – the medieval capitol of Romania. When the opposing Turkish Monarch Mehmed II arrived at the field, he looked over the thousands of rotting corpses and agonizing dead and said, “What can you do against a man who does such things” and promptly retreated with his forces. Other evidence of Vlad’s unusual and sadistic behavior shows him dining among the impaled, catching fresh blood in a bowl, and drinking it. Other accounts suggest he even disemboweled a pregnant mistress and had a collection of noses, (24,000 to be exact), cut from the faces of his enemies. This kind of conduct obviously led to the legend Bram Stoker wrote about and gave rise to the rumors that Count Vlad Dracula was a vampire.

Vlad the Impaler  - Sighisoara, Romania 

Since the time of Dracula, there have been other historical figures who were known to participate in vampirism, or, were perhaps vampires. In 1560, within the war torn Hungarian kingdoms of Eastern Europe, Elizabeth Bathory was born into a powerful Hungarian family. She was a mother and wife who conducted the business of her husband when he was away in battle. She was known as the, “Blood Countess”. She allegedly tortured young servant girls and bathed in the blood of virgins, believing it would rejuvenate her youth. For almost thirty years, she tortured and murdered of her victims, claiming the lives of over six hundred young woman and girls.

In early American history, especially in New Orleans, the stories and legends of vampires and vampire-like creatures have been ongoing since the earliest European settlements arrived in Louisiana. The Ursuline Convent, located on Chartres Street, has been a location in New Orleans associated with vampires for decades. It was rumored that in colonial times, caskets of vampires lined the attic and that priests blessed every nail and screw that held the building together, in order to keep the creatures from escaping.

Saint Louis Cemetery #1 - New Orleans, LA. 
In 1903, a young man named, Jacque St. Germaine came to New Orleans from France. He was rumored to be a descendant of an 18th century alchemist. He mysteriously disappeared from his home on the corner of Royal and Ursulines, but reappeared one night when he attacked a young woman on the street, biting her several times on the neck and shoulder. She later died in a local hospital, sparking a panic in the city. An investigation of St. Germaine was launched by authorities who raided his home and found a lair of wine bottles filled with human blood. Each bottle had a label with the dates and ages of the kill and the blood.

Germaine was never found and in the late 1990’s, another rash of violent crimes, consistent with vampire behavior, gripped the city in fear and panic. Some believe that Germaine is still alive and living in the city today, still feeding on the blood of helpless victims, living as an immortal real-life vampire. Since the early 1930’s, children have also been alleged victims of vampires in New Orleans. In the spring of 1932 a young girl stumbled into the New Orleans police station and told authorities she had been kidnapped by two brothers who kept her in an apartment. She had been tied to a chair and the men cut her wrists to drain her blood. She told police the men drank her blood and she narrowly escaped her captures after several days. When the police investigated the claims, more victims were found (seventeen in all), few of them were found alive. They ranged in age from nine to fourteen.

Do the dead rise up from their graves in New Orleans? The tombs at the Saint Louis Cemetery hold more than dust and bones.
In America, the concept of the folklore vampire evolved into mainstream Hollywood, popular books, pop culture and different sects of people who still practice vampirism but in different ways. Hollywood, and some popular book series depict today’s vampires as sparkly, vegan blood suckers, who seem more like super heroes, than super human. The metaphoric connections to the vampire have taken a drastically different turn in the 20th century. In New Orleans alone, there are vast numbers of vampire covens, clans and groups who all claim different supernatural forms of true and psychic vampirism.

By definition, a vampire is:

1.       A corpse, animated by an undeparted soul or demonic force that periodically leaves the grave and disturbed the living, until it is exhumed and impaled or burned.
2.       A person, such as an extortionist, who preys on others.
3.       A sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by drawing blood.
4.       A blood sucking or energy draining ghost who preys upon the living.

The term used by today’s sub-cultures of vampires, regarding those who consume blood is known as “Sanguinarian” meaning – blood drinker. Most Sanguinarian vampires believe there is something in human or animal blood that they need in order to sustain their health. This has been associated with iron deficiencies, lack of fatty acids in diet and other essential minerals or fats that some people lack for one reason or another. However, there is a condition known as Renfield’s Syndrome that is a clinical diagnosis for vampirism. This is also known as “True Vampirism” . Renfield's is often associated with psychiatric disorders that advances throughout a person’s life, most often in young boys.

Renfield’s Syndrome came as a result of two documented cases in the 1960’s. It is typically associated with very violent crimes and has also been associated with other forms of supernatural disorders such as lycanthropy (a mental disorder in which a person takes on the characteristics of a werewolf), possession, and stigmata.

Other forms of vampiric behavior comes in the form of feeding off the energy or essence of a person. Psychic vampires feed off the ambient energy given off by all living things. These types of vampires take the energy of another being and use it for their own, essentially leaving the victim drained of their vital life force. Pranic vampires derive their energy from all prana energies given off by the body, specifically physical or sexual energy. Pranic vampires need physical contact with a person in order to drain the essential energy they need to thrive.

Within the paranormal communities, mixed theories about the potential for vampire existence comes with much debate. Obtaining the proper information for the clinical aspect and researching the history behind the vampire legends seem to lend some truth to the fact that vampires do, or did exist. In both the physical and spiritual realms, vampires appear as a dark force; a figure that has been romanticized by pop culture and urbanized in modern times. It’s likely the magic of the vampire, or perhaps the vampire itself, will never die. After centuries of stories and legends, reaching the furthest points of the known world, the legend of the vampire is perhaps as timeless as its own immortality. 

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