In modern times, the vampire is generally held to be a fictitious entity, although belief in similar vampiric creatures such as the chupacabra still persists in some cultures. English from 1734, in a travelogue titled Travels of Three English Gentlemen larousse Student Dictionary: French-English / English-French PDF in The Harleian Miscellany in 1745.
The notion of vampirism has existed for millennia. Cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans had tales of demons and spirits which are considered precursors to modern vampires. It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin and its left eye was often open. The causes of vampiric generation were many and varied in original folklore. In Slavic and Chinese traditions, any corpse that was jumped over by an animal, particularly a dog or a cat, was feared to become one of the undead.
Cultural practices often arose that were intended to prevent a recently deceased loved one from turning into an undead revenant. Many rituals were used to identify a vampire. One method of finding a vampire’s grave involved leading a virgin boy through a graveyard or church grounds on a virgin stallion—the horse would supposedly balk at the grave in question. Generally a black horse was required, though in Albania it should be white. Corpses thought to be vampires were generally described as having a healthier appearance than expected, plump and showing little or no signs of decomposition. In some cases, when suspected graves were opened, villagers even described the corpse as having fresh blood from a victim all over its face. Garlic, Bibles, crucifixes, rosaries, holy water, and mirrors have all been seen in various folkloric traditions as means of warding against or identifying vampires.
Apotropaics—items able to ward off revenants—are common in vampire folklore. Though folkloric vampires were believed to be more active at night, they were not generally considered vulnerable to sunlight. The ninth-century Nørre Nærå Runestone from the Danish island of Fyn is inscribed with a « grave binding inscription » used to keep the deceased in its grave. Methods of destroying suspected vampires varied, with staking the most commonly cited method, particularly in southern Slavic cultures. Piercing the skin of the chest was a way of « deflating » the bloated vampire. This is similar to a practice of « anti-vampire burial »: burying sharp objects, such as sickles, with the corpse, so that they may penetrate the skin if the body bloats sufficiently while transforming into a revenant.
Decapitation was the preferred method in German and western Slavic areas, with the head buried between the feet, behind the buttocks or away from the body. This act was seen as a way of hastening the departure of the soul, which in some cultures, was said to linger in the corpse. Romani people drove steel or iron needles into a corpse’s heart and placed bits of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears and between the fingers at the time of burial. They also placed hawthorn in the corpse’s sock or drove a hawthorn stake through the legs.
Further measures included pouring boiling water over the grave or complete incineration of the body. In the Balkans, a vampire could also be killed by being shot or drowned, by repeating the funeral service, by sprinkling holy water on the body, or by exorcism. 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. The term vampire did not exist in ancient times.
Almost every nation has associated blood drinking with some kind of revenant or demon, or in some cases a deity. The Persians were one of the first civilisations to have tales of blood-drinking demons: creatures attempting to drink blood from men were depicted on excavated pottery shards. Many myths surrounding vampires originated during the medieval period. Vampires proper originate in folklore widely reported from Eastern Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries. These tales formed the basis of the vampire legend that later entered Germany and England, where they were subsequently embellished and popularized. One of the earliest recordings of vampire activity came from the region of Istria in modern Croatia, in 1672.
During the 18th century, there was a frenzy of vampire sightings in Eastern Europe, with frequent stakings and grave diggings to identify and kill the potential revenants. Even government officials engaged in the hunting and staking of vampires. In the second case, Miloš, an ex-soldier turned farmer who allegedly was attacked by a vampire years before, died while haying. After his death, people began to die in the surrounding area and it was widely believed that Miloš had returned to prey on the neighbours. Government officials examined the bodies, wrote case reports, and published books throughout Europe. The hysteria, commonly referred to as the « 18th-Century Vampire Controversy », raged for a generation.
In 1597, King James wrote a dissertation on witchcraft titled Daemonologie in which he wrote the belief that demons could possess both the living and the dead. From 1679, Philippe Rohr devotes an essay to the dead who chew their shrouds in their graves, a subject resumed by Otto in 1732, and then by Michael Ranft in 1734. The subject was based on the observation that when digging up graves, it was discovered that some corpses had at some point either devoured the interior fabric of their coffin or their own limbs. The non-decay of vampires’ bodies could recall the incorruption of the bodies of the saints of the Catholic Church. Calmet had numerous readers, including both a critical Voltaire and numerous supportive demonologists who interpreted the treatise as claiming that vampires existed. These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The controversy in Austria only ceased when Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her personal physician, Gerard van Swieten, to investigate the claims of vampiric entities.
Beings having many of the attributes of European vampires appear in the folklore of Africa, Asia, North and South America, and India. Classified as vampires, all share the thirst for blood. The Loogaroo is an example of how a vampire belief can result from a combination of beliefs, here a mixture of French and African Vodu or voodoo. During the late 18th and 19th centuries the belief in vampires was widespread in parts of New England, particularly in Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut. The Nukekubi is a being whose head and neck detach from its body to fly about seeking human prey at night.
The Malaysian Penanggalan is a woman who obtained her beauty through the active use of black magic or other unnatural means, and is most commonly described in local folklore to be dark or demonic in nature. She is able to detach her fanged head which flies around in the night looking for blood, typically from pregnant women. In modern fiction, the vampire tends to be depicted as a suave, charismatic villain. Despite the general disbelief in vampiric entities, occasional sightings of vampires are reported. Vampire hunting societies still exist, but they are largely formed for social reasons. In early 1970 local press spread rumours that a vampire haunted Highgate Cemetery in London.