Vampire — the origin of a myth

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

Myths and legends about blood suckers are known in many ancient civilizations such as Egyptian, Mesopotamian and South American, but one of the most famous such creatures – a vampire – originated in Slavic mythology. Its heritage has been preserved in the term itself: vampir is a Slavic word. It’s also called upir, which is a phonetic/geographic variation of vampir.  In both words the root is pir, one of the Slavic words for fire. The connotation of u (or un, although that n got lost) is a negation. In other words, in South Slavic mythology fire cannot destroy an upir/vampir.

The nature of the original vampires is closely related to the South Slavic conception of death and afterlife. Every human being has a body and a soul, and they are inseparable in life. After death, the soul goes to the “other world”, the afterlife, the world of the dead. This journey doesn’t happen right away. In many Slavic cultures and traditions, some of them observed even today, this transition lasts 40 days. (In the Orthodox Church tradition, for example, a parastos, a commemoration for the deceased, is held after 40 days). During this time, the soul of the deceased visits his/her home or the other places he liked when he was alive. It’s believed that those whose death was long and suffering were evil people, therefore the perfect candidates for vampires. Their soul couldn’t enter the afterworld and it would return to the body.

But, in Slavic mythology, a person could become a vampire during life as well if he/she sold his soul to some demonic power. Contrary to most popular fiction, they could procreate, but only with human partners. Their children are either little humans or little vampires, depending on the gender of the vampire parent and the child (same gender – vampires; different gender – humans. As simple as that.)

Photo by Sam Operchuck on Unsplash

Invisible, strong, almost indestructible, Slavic vampires nonetheless had their Achilles heel – their skin. If their skin was damaged, the vampire substance would leak out. To prevent a suspected vampire from rising from the grave, thorns would be placed around it. A hawthorn spike through the chest was considered the best way of killing a vampire. This doesn’t apply to “alive” vampires, though. They were really hard to destroy.

What inspired this post?

I’m reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and enjoying them immensely. Her vampires are the most conceivable in popular fiction and she’s an incredible writer. Her novels are dark and seductive, and I like both sensations.

What about you? Do you like vampire fiction? Who’s your favorite Dark Prince?

About jfkaufmann

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I'm a mother, a friend, a colleague, and the queen of my kitchen. When the moon rises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, I reign the magical world of my imagination.
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2 Responses to Vampire — the origin of a myth

  1. JP McLean says:

    I’ve read a variety of vampire renditions from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, and still, there’s something new to me in this Slavic version (even if it’s very old). I suppose this is what I like about the books – you never know what twist the author will put on the trope.


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