Darkom's profile picture

Published by


Category: Dreams and the Supernatural

The Folkloric Origins of Vampires

The birth of the vampire is drastically different from what we expect. It's important to establish that many characteristics, including but not limited to the magical abilities and debilities we know of, are complete literary fabrications from the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. Therefore, vampire folklore and its modern depiction could be rather contradictory. 

The following beasts weren't referred to as "vampires," as it still wasn’t a word, and were instead classified as demons or the undead; nevertheless, they all fit with our description of the creature. According to Britannica, a vampire is a monster that consumes  “human blood or other essence (such as bodily fluids or psychic energy), followed closely by the possession of sharp teeth or fangs with which to facilitate this task.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact location from which vampires originated, as their existence can be traced to multiple cultures around the world. However, some of the oldest appearances of vampires (according to the aforementioned description) are from Ancient Greece.

Empusa and Lamia are monstrous creatures who transformed into beautiful women to lure young men or children to devour their flesh and blood to keep themselves youthful. Both creatures were under the service of Hecate, the grim Greek goddess of magic and witchcraft, and depending on the source, her daughters. 

Empusa is commonly described as having a female human body from the waist up, but instead of hair, her scalp would be constantly up a blaze. And the creature would have a prosthetic leg made of brass and the other one of a donkey. The Empusa is extremely conscious about her deformed physique and will be easily discouraged from annihilating you by insulting her appearance repeatedly. "Whenever a traveler addressed the monster with insulting words, it used to flee and utter a shrill sound." ( Atsma, 2017)

The aforementioned creatures were a source of inspiration for the Mormo! a boogeyman of sorts that ancient Greek parents created to frighten their children to keep them from misbehaving. The folktale details how a woman, or a female specter, devoured her children.

In ancient India, other dangerous creatures haunted the cemeteries. Vetala are semi-demonic creatures from Indian folklore that reanimate corpses by taking possession of them. The transformation the corpse endures is beyond frightening. The limbs twist backward and the head mutates into that of a bat,  its fingernails grow long and carry poison on them to prey on unsuspecting victims, and gorge on their blood and intestines. This time, the similarities between this creature and the modern vampire are far more obvious. According to the Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology, Vetala are created every time a child dies and doesn’t receive a proper burial. The only way to ‘destroy’ the Vetala is by finding the corpse of the child and performing the proper funeral rite.

Vetala was popularized through a collection of stories called Vetala Panchvimshati, which literally translates to "Fifty-five to Waite", also known as Baital Pachisi or "Twenty-five Tales of Betal". The book was believed to be written in the 11th century, and the tale follows King Vikrama, who promises a sorceress that he will capture a Vetala amongst other mythical creatures. The King attempts to capture the Vetala 24 times, and each time the Vetala will question the King with a peculiar riddle. If the King knows the answer, the vetala will escape. If the king is unable to answer, the vetala will succumb and accompany the King to the sorceress. And if the king knows the answer but does not share it to deceive the Vetala, his head will explode into a million pieces.

For 24 tries the King manages to answer correctly, hence the Vetala escapes, but on the 25th one, the King is bewildered by the riddle and cannot give an answer, so the Vetala agrees to be his captive. Afterwards, the Vetala reveals that the sorceress is planning to murder the King, and offers his help to defeat her. In this tale, Vetala is depicted as a mischievous and playful creature. A striking decision knowing how Vetala is described in a more modern setting.

Finally, the Chonchón or TuéTué from the Mapuche mythology of Argentina. It is said that Calcú, a Mapuche who practices evil with spirits, would spread a magical ointment in the throat and declare “Without God or Saint Mary”. As a result, the head splits off from the body and grows wings and razor-sharp claws, and the Calcú’s ears expand until they are big enough for it to fly. Afterward, the head ventures through the houses of the ill and drains their blood with its massive fangs.  Whenever a Mapuche hears the creature’s squawk “tue tue” (similar to an owl’s hoot), it’s the morbid announcement of the imminent death of a loved one by the claws of the Chonchón. Beware! The calcú can transform themselves back into their human vessel with a different mixture and attack you when you least expect it!

It’s commonly speculated that the Chonchón was inspired by owls, according to the similarities of its call to that of an owl. Actually, when a Chonchón dies or kills itself (due to extreme distress), the corpse would be of an owl. 

The legends of vampires have always been present to terrorize people around the world, and some believers assure us that vampires still lurk in the shadows, preparing for the next attack. For example, there are communities in New Orleans and Atlanta that claim to be vampires, but they have different interpretations of vampirism.  Although they can consume blood in small amounts, most human vampires scorn the practice and instead feed on different types of energy according to their needs. And so, the influential legacy of vampires continues to intrigue the world with its interesting history. 



Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology: ”Vetala” on Academic
Meghna Mathew: ”The Vampires Of India: Indian Mythology’s & Folklores’ Links To The Classic Conjurer” on Homegrown
DISCORD: ”Striges Empusa and Mormo, O MY” on YouTube
Alison Eldridge: ”Vampire” on Britannica
The Histocrat: ”Vampires, Before Dracula - Mythillogical” on YouTube
Aaron J. Atsma: ”EMPOUSA & LAMIA” on Theoi
Javiera Romagnoli: ”Leyenda el Chonchón” on Prezi
Dioses y Diosas: ”CHONCHON Demonio Mapuche” on Dioses y Diosas
Encyclopedia of Vampire Mythology: ”Chonchonyi” on Academic
Scottie Andrew: ”Inside the world of real-life vampires in New Orleans and Atlanta” on CNN
Emma Starer Gross: ”One of Dracula’s Often Overlooked Inspirations Is the Indian Vetala” on Atlas Obscura

13 Kudos


Displaying 3 of 3 comments ( View all | Add Comment )


CloudyJester's profile picture

Thanks for the informative blog! I love the theme you've used for it, by the way.

Report Comment

☀ @rwen ☀

☀ @rwen ☀'s profile picture

very interesting ! ♡ thank you for listing your sources ❀

Report Comment


𝕃𝕠𝕝𝕠𝕣𝕪's profile picture

What cool facts about Vampires! I never knew all of this before.

Report Comment