Every legend has a small kernel of truth embedded somewhere down deep inside the tale. In my research for different books I often come across small scraps of information that make me wonder… exactly what that kernel originally looked like.
Vampires caught my attention recently… no, not the ones with perfect hair and moody expressions that currently stalk our movie screens, but the original creatures.
The history of the vampire begins thousands of years ago in ancient Persia – possibly even before. A shard of vase was discovered depicting a man struggling with a huge man-like creature that was trying to drink the blood straight from his body. Later, deciphering a Babylonian myth, paleo-linguists found reference to a deity known for drinking the blood of babies, Lilitu or "Lilith".
In the mid-1400s Vampires really found their feet (or wings?). In the trial of Frenchman Gilles de Rais, a former guard of Joan of Arc, it was revealed that after he retired to his lands in Southwest France, he devoted his time to torturing and killing about 200 to 300 children, in order to obtain their blood.
Vlad's Tepes Dracula – the very name became one of the foundations for the vampire legend, as four centuries later, Bram Stoker would write the great horror novel Dracula, which would forever give us the basis for our now classic vampires.
Later the legend, or fear of the legend, continued. The discovery of a 700-year-old skeleton in Bulgaria shows us that fear of the rising dead is far older than Bram Stoker's Dracula.
A "vampire" was found entombed among church ruins in the Black Sea town of Cozonon just recently. The skeleton had been impaled by an iron rod in the chest (upper right), which was in the tomb next to the body. In addition, the skeleton's teeth had been withdrawn and smashed. Scholars believe the rod and tooth pulling or teeth smashing, were techniques villagers used to prevent the dead from rising from the grave to drink blood.
But the kernel of truth, where did it come from and were they real? Maybe there was a real medical reason – sensitivity to sunlight, lengthening teeth, and unusual hair growth; not to mention blood drinking and an aversion to religious symbols. Unbelievable? Perhaps, but read on and see what you think. (This section below was created and made available by Mr. Lawrence Koppy, a gentleman writer. Full details of this, and other articles, can be found on: http://www.suite101.com/). It was included in my book, This Green Hell.
Porphyria, sometimes called ‘the vampire disease’, is a collection of rare, genetic blood disorders. Extreme cases of the disease can manifest gruesome symptoms where victims accumulate pigments called porphyrins in the skin, bones and teeth. While harmless in the dark, porphyrins become caustic, flesh eating toxins that can cause gruesome facial disfigurement when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of sunshine. Noses and ears can be eaten away with lips exhibiting a red, burned effect until they peel back from the gums that in turn recede, exposing the teeth in an unnatural way with a frightening, fang-like appearance (compare these symptoms with the description of Stoker’s Dracula below).
"His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth . . . was fixed and rather cruel- looking, with peculiarly sharp teeth; and these protruded over the lips."
Like the vampires of legend who can be weakened or even destroyed by the rays of the sun, real life victims of porphyria do indeed need to exercise great caution when venturing out into ordinary sunlight. This is due to the way porphyria cause changes in heme, a component of blood that carries oxygen throughout the body and is used to remove carbon dioxide. Heme is turned into a toxic substance by porphyria, which the body then tries to break down. Lacking the ability to dispose of these toxic substances the body deposits them on the skin, gums and teeth. As the disease grows worse, the skin blackens, swells, and ruptures when exposed to the sun with hair growing from the sores.
This hair growth could have made the victim appear to be changing into some sort of wolf-like beast and become woven into the fabric of vampire/werewolf legend. One of the most well known myths associated with vampires, the drinking of human blood, can also be attributed to porphyria. It has been theorized that people afflicted with porphyria centuries ago may have used the folk remedy of drinking animal blood as a way to relieve their pain and the associated anemia. Add to this the fact that blood-drinking would have taken place during the night when porphyria victims did not have to worry about reactions to sunlight and it is easy to see how these unusual practices could well have been incorporated by people of that era into a crucial part of vampire lore.
Victims of porphyria, due to fear and superstition, subsequently became victims of the law during the 16th century, a time when the Inquisition was flourishing. Individuals suffering from revolting disfigurement faced doctors who wouldn’t or didn’t know how to treat the disease. This left them at the mercy of church officials who demanded they confess their sins or face death by fire. Approximately 600 people suffering from porphyria during this time were burned at the stake. This could explain folklore that has vampires repelled by crucifix-wearing priests. Porphyria victims of that era would likely have associated the church with danger and have had an aversion to religious symbols. So, vampires could be real?
A blood disorder, psychopathic tendency, or something far more ancient and evil? It seem they’ve been around longer than the Bible, and maybe even our recorded history. But are they real? Maybe I'll leave the last word to Homer Simpson:
“- Vampires are make believe, just like elves and gremlins and Eskimos!”
Vampires are real, by GREIG BECK – 22 Jan 2013