Vampires have haunted our imaginations for centuries, from the gruesome, grotesque creatures of the original European folk tales to the dashing romantic heroes of today’s films and TV shows. Whether presented in folklore, movies, or books, vampires are portrayed with relatively similar traits. I’m sure you’re all somewhat familiar with the Transylvanian count Dracula. Characterized by pale skin, fangs, superhuman strength, and other supernatural abilities, a bite from Dracula has a mysterious fate: conversion to a vampire. Compare this to the Cullen family from Stephanie Meyer’s novels, The Twilight Series. They possess the same appearance and abilities, right? We have to ask: how did these traits come to be associated with these supernatural vampire creatures? Are these creatures of the undead real? No one seems ready to bury the idea yet, but it’s hard to argue that vampires have any basis in reality.
Vampires: just a myth?
The modern vampire concept traces back to the medieval period. This was a time period lacking medical knowledge and scientific literacy. The suspicious behavior of corpses, regarded as vampiric by early European communities, might have simply been misinterpretation of the natural consequences of death and decay. Old vampiric tales describe bodies as rosy-cheeked with blood surrounding the lips, but these phenomenon can be described by the bloating and skin recession that occurs post-mortem.
Even more, medical professionals can provide more theories and medical conditions for us to bite into that explain vampire-like appearances. Porphyria is a disorder characterized by a defective synthesis of the heme group found in red blood cells. People with this disorder have an increased accumulation of porphyrins, giving the flesh a pulpy purple shade. This abnormality, unexplained at the time, generated fear that became associated with vampirism. Victimsof this disorder are averted by garlic, as it increases the scope of this disorder, and sunlight, as chemical reactions between the UV light and oxygen species cause severe skin damage. Ta da, the myths that vampires fear garlic and the sun is born.
Rabies, also not understood in medieval times, can also be linked to vampirism. Rabies is transmitted though animal saliva. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Bat bites, wolf bites, dog bites…..vampires bites? Rabies is known to induce symptoms of muscle spasms, agitation, insomnia, and bizarre (beastly or hypersexual) behavior. This behavior is starting to sound a little familiar. While this behavior can be used to explain a vampire’s nightly escapades and ideal dinner meal, it can also be explained by the dysregulation of the limbic system caused by the rabies virus.
Vampires: more than a myth?
I don’t want to suck all of the fun out of it, though. While these disorders provide some sort of justification for the vampire myth, none of these diseases seems to present an explanation for the phenomena. There are many other characteristics of vampires that are unexplained by these diseases. Various creatures with similar appearance, abilities, and behavior have been described independently by different people all over the world. This can’t be a coincidence. Specifically, countries like Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania have vampires deeply buried into their culture and belief system.
There has been found to be over 100 burial sites deadicated to vampires in Bulgaria. There are numerous well-known historical people in these countries that are recounted to be vampires. Bodies that have been exhumed have been found undecomposed, and even more frightening, seemingly reactive to stimuli.
Sure, there may be rational explanations for all of it. But can’t we at least entertain the possibility of there being more to the concept of vampirism than hard science can admit?