Where Do Vampires Come From? (hint: it isn't where you think)

November 8, 2016

I started writing “Feast of the Epiphany” with the intention of writing a vampire novel. Life happened, and I set the manuscript aside for almost a decade. By the time I returned to it, vampire novels had saturated the market. I had agents telling me that paranormal romance and urban fantasy were dying genres.

 

I refused to believe that human beings had turned their backs on creatures that have haunted us since the beginning of time or, at least, since the beginning of recorded history. I did what any other nerdy girl would do and researched the history of vampires. My goal to find common themes led me to some unusual tidbits that I used to make my characters unique.

 

The first English language use of the word vampire was in the poem, “The Vampyre of the Fens,” in 1734. However, nearly every culture since ancient Mesopotamia has included vampire-like creatures. Early forms of blood drinkers were generally believed to be spirits or demons, but not always.

 

Ancient Sumerian myths included creatures called ekimmu. Humans, who did heinous things or were improperly buried, would return as these vengeful spirits. The ekimmu sucked the life out of the living. They preferred to consume beautiful young people while they slept.

 

The Lilitu of ancient Babylonian, which later became Lillith and her daughters in Jewish traditions, were spirits (and later corporeal beings) who consumed babies and their mothers. The medieval version of Lillith was able to transform into an animal, compel her victims, and either drain their blood or sex them to death—a theme that gained popularity as Christianity grew and continues to modern day.

 

Arabia gave us ghouls; ancient Egyptians worshiped Sekhmet; Icelandic cultures believed in draugar, but the most disturbing form of ancient vampire are the Hindu Preta. These creatures are the starving ghosts of people, so horrible in life, they are destined to suffer incurable cravings as they wander eternity. What do they crave? Pretas have a taste for anything disgusting: such as corpses and feces. Side note: “If I were a Preta, my incurable craving would be lima beans.”

 

Ancient Greeks didn’t consider their “vampires” undead, though the Empusae, Lamia, and striges did feed on human flesh and blood—a step up from the Preta as far as I’m concerned. Like the Greek, Roman vampires or strix were half-bird half-human creatures who hunted at night. The term strix later became Strigoi in Romania, Shtriga in Albania, and Strzyga in Slavic regions, though in these incarnations the vampires took on a decidedly more human appearance.

 

The Inquisitions during the Middle Ages gave rise to the true precursor to the modern day vampire. Bloodthirsty creatures, both demons, and demon-possessed humans, are mentioned throughout Church records. It should be noted that the Catholic Church conducted many inquiries throughout history regarding the existence and extermination of supernatural creatures. A notable example of this research is “The Malleus Maleficarum,” published in 1486. This work became the witch- and vampire-hunters’ handbook of the 1600s.

 

After I’d filled a notebook with various incarnations of vampires, weird facts, and a bunch of crazy ideas, I had an outline of the mythos I wanted to use in the Order of the Sinistra Dei series. While the characters aren’t traditional vampires, they do share some similarities. They primarily feed from prana, or life force, but can also feed from sex and blood.

 

I’m fascinated with the psychological impacts of immortality on the human mind. My creatures both evolve and devolve depending on their mental health and other factors. They were considered horrible human beings before they were executed and imbued with eternal life. What started as a vampire book turned into a mash-up of ancient Babylonian mythology, vampire lore, and a hearty dose of Catholic mysticism.

 

How does that work? You’ll have to read the books to find out.

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