April 25, 2022

V is for Vampirism

         (My A to Z Challenge theme this year is How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explore 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.)
        While we were introduced to vampires at U for Undead, not all vampiric creatures are undead.  Moreover, according to the definition I’m using, not all vampires drink blood, and not all blood-drinkers are vampires.  To count as a true vampire, I don’t think it’s enough simply to take nourishment from blood as, for example la chupacabra that drinks the blood of goats on Puerto Rico.  No, a true vampire must consume its victim’s life force in a sort of mystical way along with (or instead of) just the blood.  However, being a little picky about my definition does not leave me with any shortage of vampiric creatures for today’s post.  Cultures all around the world tell stories of life-sucking monsters, so clearly this is a pretty universal fear among humans.  The forms these vampires take, on the other hand, can vary pretty widely.  
        We can start with the classic vampire based on Eastern European folklore and popularized in the nineteenth century.  Other than the nifty ability to take the form of bats (flashback to T), I’m not much of a fan, and you can see how I really feel about vampires in this previous post.
        A far cry from some suave and seductive undead nobleman is the alp-luachra of Ireland that’s more like a cross between a newt and a tapeworm.  It crawls into the mouth of a person asleep outdoors, and takes up residence in their stomach, eating all the nourishment or life-giving essence out of their food until they waste away.
        Especially common in southeast Asia, there is a whole class of vampiric monsters that are flying heads, often with internal organs dangling down below.  They also glow (flashback to G).  Those whose blood they drink develop a fatal wasting disease.  You may encounter penanggals in Malay myth, and the similar krasue in Thailand, and ahp in Cambodia.  These monsters are almost always female, and are not undead; the head flies about at night but returns to its body during the day.  (And the leyaks of Bali are ruled by the demon Rangda, whom we met at D.)
        Another flying head is the chonchon, a very advanced form that can be taken by Mapuche sorcerers in South America.  This head has talons, and it uses its large ears as wings, which I can’t help thinking is kind of adorable, no matter how horrific these monsters are.  They fly about on moonless nights and are invisible except to other sorcerers (flashback to I), and drink blood, among other evils.
        In the Philippines the sigbin has the very special ability that it can suck its victims’ blood from their shadows.  It looks a bit like a goat, but can become invisible (another flashback to I), and it walks backwards.  It has long ears that it can clap together, and a long tail that it can flick like a whip.  Sometimes it takes children’s hearts and makes them into amulets, but I’m not sure what those amulets are supposed to do.
        In Hindu mythology can be found vetalas, evil spirits that can take possession of corpses and cause all manner of trouble, including vampirism.  They tend to hang out (literally - upside-down in a tree!) in charnel grounds, and because time and space mean nothing to them, they have extensive knowledge of past, present, and future (flashback to K).  One famous story is about a vetala who could only be captured if his opponent could not answer his question.  Every time he was caught, he would tell a story that ended with a question, and his captor would be unable to resist answering the question, thus freeing the vetala (and making it eligible for the letter Q, although with a twist from the usual pattern!)
        In southern Chile may be found the peuchen, a shapeshifter (flashback to T) that not only sucks blood but can remove the entire heart of its victim without leaving any external wound on the body.
        According to Ewe folklore of western Africa, the adze looks like a firefly, in which form it can get into people’s houses to suck their blood, thus giving them fatal diseases, which honestly just sounds pretty much like a straight-up malaria mosquito or tsetse fly.  However, an adze can also take human form if caught (yet another flashback to T).
        In Japan there is an evil spirit called Wanyūdō that looks like a burning wheel with a man’s face in the middle.  He rolls around, especially along the road to the underworld, and will steal the soul of anyone who gets within range.
        The jiutou niao of the northern wastes of China is a red-feathered bird with nine heads.  It used to have ten, but lost one, and the headless neck continually drips toxic blood.  This creature drains people (especially children) of qi, which is life force or spiritual energy.
        The talamaur of Vanuatu is a a sort of vampiric sorcerer who controls a ghost and uses it to drain the life force of the living, and in Albanian folklore a shtriga is a vampiric witch.
        The vampiric trope of the witch or wizard who steals the life of younger beings in order to keep themselves perpetually youthful shows up in a lot of tales, including Stardust by Neil Gaiman, 1993’s “Hocus Pocus,” 2012’s “Snow White and the Hunstman,” plus “X-Men” mutant Silene, and the skeksis of 1982’s “The Dark Crystal.”  (There’s also the fact that my cat gets kibbles that claim to be made “with LifeSource Bits®” which sounds extremely sinister to me.  I do hope the life force of innocent kittens is not being drained in unholy factories somewhere in order to keep my middle-aged cat youthful.)
         You can also revisit the Yara-ma-yha-who of Australia, who use their suction-cup fingers and toes to drain their victims.  Plus, vampiric monsters in previous posts include the lidérc (mentioned at D, G, and T), impundulu (mentioned at both D and N), succubus (at D), and jiangshi (at U).
        The moral of vampires is that it’s not okay to take another life - especially not when someone else is already using it.  A Pro Tip for maidens is never to get involved with vampires, no matter how sparkly they may appear.  Actually, that’s good advice not just for maidens, but for everyone.
        But why do you think vampires are so popular???

[Pictures: Vampire, photograph of Bela Lugosi as Dracula, from Universal Studios, 1931 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Krasue, illustration by Tawee Witsanukorn from comic Krasue Sao, 1968-1973 (Image from südostasien);
Vetala, cover of Baital Pachisi by Ravi Prakashan (Image from ebay shoryaa);
 Wanyūdō, detail of color wood block print by Ryūkansai from Kyōka Hyaku Monogatari, 1853 (Image from The Met); 
Jiutou niao, color wood block print, 1644-1911 (Image from Library of Congress);
Skeksis, still from “The Dark Crystal” directed by Jim Henson, 1982 (Image from fandom);
Detail of package from Blue Buffalo cat food.]


Lisa said...

What makes vampires popular? I have no idea! There is a romanticized idea of them, biting the neck, etc. Maybe that they're sexy? I certainly wouldn't think so based on the Twilight actor! I used to watch Dark Shadows with my friends, when we were in middle school. Barnabas Collins was not handsome or sexy, but had something magnetic, charisma perhaps? Suave.

Jayashree Srivatsan said...

I am amazed by the amount of information captured in these posts. Vetala was a suprise mention. Vampires remind me of garlic and sunlight. Both drive them away, right ?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Lisa, it's true that vampires are supposed to be able to cast a glamour, so maybe Barnabas Collins was doing that!

Jayashree, yes, the classic eastern European vampire is supposed to be warded off by garlic and sunlight. I imagine all those other sorts of vampiric creatures from other traditions would have different weaknesses.

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I just love your collection of vampires!

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge My Languishing TBR: V

Anstice Brown said...

I think vampires are so popular because they are usually depicted as being good-looking and mysterious. Their lust for blood is usually a metaphor for sexual desire since they prey on innocent maidens.

That cat food sounds extremely creepy! I assume it's just their way of saying "assorted organs and snouts".