The True Origin of Vampires
They may have in fact have been dark and brooding. They may have been sparkling and super strong and fast. But the true origin of the tales of the vampire may be unsettling.
You may have heard of the infamous Vlad Dracula, loosely based off of Vlad the Impaler, Prince of the Wallachia. He was hailed as a hero in Romania for his protection of the country between the years of 1456 and 1462. He got his name from impaling his enemies and eating dinner along side their bodies. However, drinking their blood is not widely attributed to his history.
Elizabeth Bathory, on the other hand, is one of the most grotesque tales of human blood consumption for the purposes of health and beauty. Bathory killed upwards of about 650 girls and was immured upon arrest and died four years later. She isn't typically considered a vampire, but the brutality and horrific nature of her crimes adds to the fear and hysteria of the irreverent vampire.
The Moravian vampire had a terrible impulse. It would toss away it's clothes and attack it's victims in the buff. The Albanian vampires were often seen wearing high heeled shoes and Chinese vampire grew stronger under the light of the moon. The Mexican vampire might be believed to have a bare skull while the Rocky Mountain vampires apparently suck their victims blood from their ears- from their nose.
Arnold Paole, according to "Strange Stories Amazing Facts" by Reader's Digest, was a Serbian peasant in 1727. He died after breaking his neck from a fall from a cart. After that, his neighbors insisted that they had seen him up walking around and entering houses at night. Furthermore, they claimed that all of the households he visited suffered a death. According to reports, his body was dug up and his clothes were found to be covered with blood. His body was burned and his ashes were scattered.
More recently, contemporary renditions of vampires have been authored in books like the Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer and the Anne Rice franchise. Although the modern "Creature of the Night" is usually romanticized and overtly sexual in most media, people suffering from certain conditions could be seen as true vampires in a more medically evident way. These are real people and real lives that are plagued by their inability to stand in the sun and maintain their own blood supply.
The Real Condition
Erythropoietic protoporphyria is a real medical condition that some individuals have that is characterized by very painful photosensitivity. They are unable to be in direct sunlight for very long due to the lesions the light causes on their skin, causing it to crack and bleed. Erythropoietic protoporphyria, or EEP, usually manifests in childhood. For some, it appears during puberty when levels of social and sexual development are at their highest. This disorder is extremely rare and heartbreaking, but it may shed some light on the stories and legends from all over the world of supposed vampires in the past.
In 1985, a biochemist named David Dolphin suggested that vampires from the folklore may have been suffering from Erythropoietic protoporphyria noting the various symptoms matching very closely with the description of the classic vampire. People with this condition could not go out at night and it might have been thought, in very early times, that garlic worsened these symptoms which is why these individuals would avoid it at all costs.
If you’ve seen the 2001 movie, “The Others” starring Nicole Kidman from start to finish you may find it easier to understand this infliction in modern day society. Nicole’s character in the film, Grace, is a mother of two young children in the aftermath of WWII. The children, Anne and Nicholas, have xeroderma pigmentosa- a recessive genetic disorder in which their bodies are literally unable to properly repair damage from the sun. Any direct sunlight on their skin could mutate their cells which leave them at a high risk for cancer and carcinoma. This condition also afflicts individuals at a very young age and they are often referred to as “Children of the Night.” Anne and Nicholas were not even allowed into a room without the shades being drawn first. They were never allowed in direct sunlight for their whole lives.
Xeroderma Pigmentosa is genetic, therefore, it is passed down through generations. Some myths in Old Europe say that if a vampire were to look at a woman who was pregnant her child would then be born a vampire. This could in theory be based off of the pigmentosa gene passed on between two lovers to an affected child. Red heads were often thought to be vampires. Since XP also develops from a recessive gene and red heads get their gorgeous red hair from recessive genes, it's not too far fetched to think these fair fellows may have been accused of being a vampire.
Pale skin would obviously be a main characteristic of EEP since they're devoid of the opportunity to go into the light. It has also been found that ice or very cold objects is the only thing that can subside the itch and burn on their skin. This may attribute to their icy cold extremities.
It is also believed that doctors would suggest sufferers of EEP to drink blood to supplement what they may have lost throughout the day. Most fans of the folklore might agree that the thirst for blood to a vampire goes beyond lust and is more of a necessity and obsession to regain their strength and health through it's life-giving powers.
Physical deformities have also been noted in individuals with EEP. Some may have a hair lip, recessed gums making the teeth appear longer, and malformed dental structures making the teeth appear rigid, sharp and fanged.
Mass Hysteria and Fear
If you add a dash of strict religious believes, a pinch of superstition and imagination, along with a heaping spoonful of mass ignorance and hysteria, you've got yourself a bonified legend that will most likely never die. However, what we should all consider is the truth that may lie behind the vampire myth. Real human people with no control over their appearance and genetics simply being taken advantage of and feared because of their condition.
Through modern medicine and scientific advances we now know that drinking blood will not replenish your own blood supply and will most likely harm you. We’ve also learned that garlic does not generally have any bearing on photosensitivity. Plunging an iron nail into the body of a deceased person and desecrating their body has just as much an affect as flashing a crucifix at them and damning them to Hell. None.
Camp Sundown is a night camp in New York ran by the Xeroderma Pigmentosum Society, Inc. There, families and children from all over the world who have been diagnosed with Xerdoerma Pigmentosum (XP) are able to come and experience social camp life and share information from scientists and doctors from all over the world. All under the protective shade of night.
"Camp Sundown is the single most important project of the XP Society which directly benefits and involves the XP family and patients. This unique to the world night camp program gathers families and scientists from around the globe to share support, recreation, information and friendship under the safety of the stars. An XP family retreat and medical conference combined helps the XP family feel less isolated in their situation, providing useful support and education to live our daily lives with XP." -http://www.xps.org/campsundown.htm
According to their site, for $350, any individual or organization can "sponsor a camper."
That amount helps offset the cost of food, utilities, activities, insurance, and transportation for one camper's unique experience at a full session.
These children and adults are incredibly brave and I admire their courage and resilience. Their families have a tremendous strength and this is something I can't say I would be able to overcome myself.
I believe these individuals were used as scape goats to mask their own fear and fornication in early times. They were, in most cases, children and young adults dealing with very serious and dangerous medical conditions and have my up-most respect and compassion for what they lived through on a daily basis. They were human just like anyone else.
My intention is to exhibit what the basis of the vampire folklore may have stemmed from and I hope that modern medicine achieves a cure or at least a permanent treatment for these disorders and others like it that still occur today. Even after all these years after writing my high school thesis on the subject, it's still a matter very close to my heart. I have never been able to think of "vampires" the same way.
So while you get all googly-eyed about fictional Edward or all day-dreamy about the seductive story of ancient lovers Lestat and Akasha, realize that the true inspiration behind the pain, cold, stigma, and eternity they might feel is very real and still continues today.