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A Field Guide to Vampire Myths

June 30, 2010  |  1:52pm
A Field Guide to Vampire Myths

No matter how unbelievably sexy film and television vampires get, they can still be a dangerous breed.

Therefore, it’s important to know how to best defend yourself against these creatures of the night. But to understand the best methods of vampire slaying, one must understand where they came from. Check out our guide to where these auxiliary vamp myths came from, and if you think you’re ready, go peruse our exhaustive history of pop-culture vampires.

Garlic
Garlic as a protection against evil was a common folklore trope, though there are many theories about how the idea of vampires fearing garlic came about. Many ancient cultures thought garlic had supernatural healing powers, so the myth could have taken root in these traditions. Garlic-Central.com notes that garlic was used as a natural mosquito repellent and suggests that the idea of garlic blocking the bloodsuckers could have come from that.

Crosses/Holy Water
Objects associated with Christianity have been used to ward off evil spirits in stories for centuries, but the specific relationship between cross and vampire was cemented with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, according to Joe Laycock of Science and Religion Today. Laycock cites the passage in the novel where Dr. Van Helsing uses a crucifix against the monster and says, “There are things that so afflict him that he has no power…as for sacred things, as this symbol, my crucifix…to them he is nothing, but in their presence he take his place far off and silent with respect.” Although in late 19th and early 20th-century vampire stories, crosses and holy water were foolproof vamp-thwarting techniques, vamps in modern work (including Blade, the Twilight series and the works of Anne Rice) are no longer averse to religious iconography, a trait Laycock attributes to an increasingly secular and religiously diverse society (as an example, he brings up Roman Polanski’s 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers, in which a woman unsuccessfully attempts to subdue a Jewish vampire with a cross).

Lack of Reflection
One of the more common theories about the origin of this legend states that a vampire’s inability to show a reflection in a mirror represents the fact that the creature has no soul. Like the use of crosses as a defense mechanism, however, this is another myth that has been phased out of vampire-related creative works, perhaps due to the phasing out of religious overtones in said works. True Blood’s Bill Compton, the Cullens in Twilight and Mick St. John from the short-lived CBS drama Moonlight all are able to see their reflections and all struggle to defy their instincts and lead morally-sound lives, a departure, perhaps, from the idea of the vampire as a soulless monster.

Silver
Silver is traditionally associated with purity, and thus silver weapons or bullets were said to be able to destroy vampires and, perhaps more frequently in the canon, werewolves.

Bat Metamorphosis
According to Ecology.com, when Spanish conquistadors first came to South America in the 1500s, they saw the bats we know today as vampire bats feeding on the blood of other animals, it reminded them of the vampire legends in local lore. The connection between bat and vamp stuck and provided the groundwork for the shapeshifting theme, though that particular trait has fallen out of vogue in more modern works.

Aversion to Sunlight
In early folklore, vampires were nocturnal or just merely disliked sunlight, but daylight was hardly a defense mechanism. Stoker’s novel even features a scene in which the titular bloodsucker is out in daylight in London, without any problems. The 1922 film Nosferatu marks the first time exposure to sunlight was written as lethal for vampires, and it’s been part of the canon ever since. With the sudden insurgence of hunky high school vampires, writers have gotten a bit more, erm, creative with how to deal with the sunlight-aversion issue. The brothers from The Vampire Diaries wear protective rings to make them immune to the sun’s rays, while light just makes Edward Cullen, you know, sparkly.

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