The vampire has long been a source of morbid fascination, particularly for authors of gothic fiction. Although The Vampyre – Polidori’s uninspired pilfering of an unfinished tale by Lord Byron in 1819 – sparked a hugely popular revival in vampire literature that eventually led, in 1897, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and its subsequent exhaustive film adaptation), vampire fiction can be traced back as far as classical Greece.
Many attempts to explain the vampire myth have been cursed by the difficulty in separating the genuine folklore from the lurid fiction it inspired; Stoker, for example, seems to have added several qualities to the vampire which were subsequently adopted into the literature as genuine – such as the idea that a vampire has no reflection. Some researchers have plumped for psychological interpretations of the vampire, others have suggested rare blood diseases (such as Dr Dolphin’s porphyria hypothesis), but all are flawed and inspired more by the fictional vampire than his folkloric archetype.
The ‘vampires’ exhumed and dispatched throughout eastern and central Europe during the middle ages are not really the subject of this discussion. Paul Barber (1) studies these cases in some detail, and shows how corpses can be expected to appear in the ‘vampiric’ condition – bloated, with blood at the mouth. Such outbreaks are undoubtedly largely brought about by the plague, which was also a factor behind the witch hunts.
The rest of this article by Liam Rogers, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.