A few days ago I ended up doing a bunch of research on really old European vampire and werewolf folklore. Did you know that vampires were originally described as “dark, and ruddy,” not pasty white?
It was pretty fascinating. If you go far enough back in time, the vampire/werewolf/zombie myths actually become so similar they’re almost indiscernible. All came from the dead. All wanted blood, or flesh (aka, they wanted a live person’s life force). All carried the stench of death with them. Only as you move forward does the mythology start to take different paths, and generally according to region.
More vampire-like mythology clusters around the Slavic/Eastern Europe regions, such as Romania and the Balkans. Apparently, fangs were optional. And if you poked a vampire, blood would just come gushing out as they were often engorged with it after they ate people. They usually haunted their family members and weren’t out in the daytime – though the “dead-like” sleep doesn’t come up until later in mythology. Though some myths had them up wandering around the neighborhood annoying the crap out of people before someone took it upon themselves to re-kill it (this is where zombies seem a bit similar).
Zombie and vampire myth are almost exact – I feel like it’s only in the past few centuries that they’ve actually developed into different creatures. However, the modern day idea of the walking dead virus being passed through bites actually originates in the Carribean/West Africa. The mythology also talks about voodoo creating zombies as well, which is interesting.
More werewolf-like mythology develops in the France/German/Baltic region, and seem to develop in concert with areas associated with the witchcraft hysteria. Werewolves, interestingly, were closely tied with witches, sometimes could be the same thing. Lycanthropy, loup-garou, rougarou, and draugrs, are all alternate names for werewolves and have slightly different variations depending on which region.
Draugrs are interesting: appearing in Old Norse myth, they apparently had magical powers (such as shapeshifting, seeing the future, etc) and you’d go insane if you went near their den. Animals apparently went near their grave sites and would end up going insane all the time (it makes me wonder about the prevalence of mad cow disease and the like… )
But what ties all of these creatures together, at least in the beginning, is that they all rise from the dead. Now, these myths most likely originally rose from our obsession with death and explaining death. Yet why have they developed into the fantastical, even attractive, creatures of now? Are we attempting to make death less scary by taming it? Why do we find the idea of something draining our life force (vampires drinking blood) attractive, even provocative? The original tales can be explained by the love many have for horror, but I would argue that vampires and werewolves have moved on from that genre. Just look up “paranormal romance.”
Anyway. These are thoughts that have been wandering around in my head, and I wanted to share some tidbits I learned while wandering the internet. I think it’s fun to go back to the old myths and see the difference between then and now, particularly with my Jungian bent on interpreting literature (that we’re working out our societal problems through fiction). What do you think about the evolution of these myths?