Tales of supernatural beings consuming the blood or flesh of the living have been found in nearly every culture around the world for many centuries.
Today, we would associate these entities with vampires, but in ancient times, the term vampire did not exist; blood drinking and similar activities were attributed to demons or spirits who would eat flesh and drink blood; even the Devil was considered synonymous with the vampire.
Almost every nation has associated blood drinking with some kind of revenant or demon, or in some cases a deity.
In India, for example, tales of vetālas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses, have been compiled in the Baitāl Pacīsī; a prominent story in the Kathāsaritsāgara tells of King Vikramāditya and his nightly quests to capture an elusive one. Piśāca, the returned spirits of evil-doers or those who died insane, also bear vampiric attributes.
The Persians were one of the first civilizations to have tales of blood-drinking demons: creatures attempting to drink blood from men were depicted on excavated pottery shards.
Ancient Babylonia and Assyria had tales of the mythical Lilitu, synonymous with and giving rise to Lilith (Hebrew) and her daughters the Lilu from Hebrew demonology.
Lilitu was considered a demon and was often depicted as subsisting on the blood of babies. And Estries, female shape changing, blood drinking demons, were said to roam the night among the population, seeking victims. According to Sefer Hasidim, Estries were creatures created in the twilight hours before God rested. And injured Estrie could be healed by eating bread and salt given her by her attacker.
Ancient Greek and Roman mythology described the Empusae, the Lamia, and the striges.
Over time the first two terms became general words to describe witches and demons respectively. Empusa was the daughter of the goddess Hecate and was described as a demonic, bronze-footed creature. She feasted on blood by transforming into a young woman and seduced men as they slept before drinking their blood.
The Lamia preyed on young children in their beds at night, sucking their blood, as did the gelloudes or Gello. Like the Lamia, the striges feasted on children, but also preyed on young men.
They were described as having the bodies of crows or birds in general, and were later incorporated into Roman mythology as strix, a kind of nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood.
Today, the Vampire has become a romantic figure, which I'll talk about more next month.
Q4U: Do you prefer the scary or the romantic vampire?