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The Science of Vampirism

Vampiric Mythology

By Hugo Pecos & Robert Lomax

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Most vampire myths come to us from the Dark Ages, when science was in its infancy and people looked to religion or superstition to explain the world around them. While many vampire myths have their basis in Christian Orthodoxy and Victorian romanticizing, others represent imaginative interpretations of actual vampiric characteristics and behavior.


Vampires sleep in coffins

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
Source: This myth likely arose from gravediggers and passersby who observed vampires emerging from coffins and crypts.

Fact: If a vampire did spend the night in a coffin, it probably had nothing to do with sleeping preference. In the old days, many bite victims were interred while still in a vampiric coma. The truth is, vampires will sleep wherever they feel safe.



Garlic repels vampires

Source: Most likely based on observation. To ward off vampires, garlic would be worn, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes.

Fact: Vampires have sensitive noses and can be momentarily driven off by pungent odors. However, this method of deterrence is unreliable and certainly won't work on an experienced vampire.


Crosses repel vampires & burn their flesh

A cross employed in Horror of Dracula
Source: Christian beliefs that vampires are demons and therefore enemies of God. During the Dark Ages, vampires were known to have been tortured by the church using superheated iron crosses to "burn the Holy Spirit into them" before execution.

Fact: Unless heated as a torture device, or used as some kind of melee or throwing weapon, crosses have absolutely no effect on vampires. They have no trouble entering churches either.


Vampires are killed by driving a stake through their heart

Staking in Horror of Dracula
Source: This myth actually started out as a misguided method of keeping suspected vampires in their coffins by driving a long iron stake through the torso and into the coffin floor, effectively pinning it in place. Eventually this evolved into simply stabbing the heart using special kinds of wood such as oak, ash and hawthorn, which were thought poisonous to vampires because of their "purity."

Fact: Because their blood clots quickly and is circulated by skeletal muscles, vampires can easily survive injuries to the heart and torso, and they have little trouble freeing themselves from impalement. They also have no apparent allergy to wood (or silver for that matter).


Vampires burst into flames upon exposure to sunlight

A vampiric patient is set ablaze by sunlight in
Let the Right One In.
Source: Most likely based on observation of a vampire's extreme reaction to sunlight.

Fact: Sunlight renders vampires, with their hyperdilated irises and reflective retinas, blind. It also causes neural pathways to fire randomly in the brain, creating an extreme epileptic reaction. Lastly, vampiric skin is highly sensitive to UV rays, becoming badly burned and blistered within minutes. However, as dramatic as these reactions may appear, not even a hint of smoke will occur.


Holy water burns vampiric flesh

Source: Christianity.

Fact: Holy water, or any water for that matter, has little effect on vampires. They can, however, still be drowned, and they generally hate getting wet as it can lower their body temperature, making them less energetic and able to hunt.


Vampires prey on virginal women

Lugosi whispers sweet
nothings to his next victim.
Source: A reflection of 19th-century fears over the sexual awakening of young women. In Balkan and Bulgarian folklore, male vampires were believed to deflower virgins and even impregnate them with half-human hybrids known as Dhampir.

Fact: While vampires have a stated preference for the taste of young blood, they are not particular as to which gender provides it. Being asexual, sterile and impotent, vampires cannot have intercourse, let alone produce any kind of offspring.




Vampires can fly & move at the speed of sound

Vampiric speed portrayed in True Blood
Source: Observation of vampires running, leaping and using their quick reflexes.

Fact: While they can sprint faster than most humans (25 to 30 miles per hour) and jump higher than any (at least ten feet), vampires cannot fly, levitate, teleport, or move any faster than a world-class athlete.




Vampires can turn into bats

Vampire bats share several characteristics with
vampires, which is why they were thought of as
different forms of the same creature.
Source: Association of vampires with vampire bats, since they're both nocturnal, have fangs, drink blood and are the main vectors of the human vampirism virus.

Fact: Vampires cannot turn into bats, or anything else for that matter. Although vampires can't shapeshift (or retract their fangs), their appearance does change over time, and they can be quite adept at disguising themselves using makeup and other methods.


Vampires do not cast shadows & are not visible in mirrors

Source: Christianity. It was thought that a vampire, or any creature lacking a soul, would not cast a shadow or produce a reflection in a mirror.

Fact: Vampires do cast shadows and are indeed visible in mirrors—although interestingly enough, they are often quite uncomfortable with their own reflections.



Vampires shed bloody tears

Vampiric tears in True Blood (©HBO)
Source: Vampires typically have red, bloodshot scleras—the so-called "whites of their eyes." Because of this, people throughout history have come to believe that vampires have bleeding eyes.

Fact: Because the blood is confined to the eyeball, vampiric tears are just as clear as ours.



Humans become vampires by drinking their blood

Source: 19th-century sexualization of vampires and their victims "exchanging" bodily fluids.

Fact: While it's true that the vampirism virus is carried in both vampire blood and their saliva, transmission almost always occurs through biting. Contrary-wise, ingestion of vampire blood tends to cause a person to throw it back up, while injection can be outright lethal.


Elizabeth Báthory & Vlad the Impaler were vampires

Vlad III, aka Prince Dracula
Source: Their alleged penchant for drinking the blood of the people they killed. This eventually inspired Victorian author Bram Stoker's famous vampire character Count Dracula.

Fact: There exists no verifiable evidence that Countess Báthory and Prince Dracula were biological vampires. Even the notion that they drank blood is dubious at best.




Vampires have psychic, hypnotic & telekinetic powers

Source: Observation of a vampire's ability to read subtle emotions, and their reputation for using their "silver tongue" to get what they want. Telekinesis was simply thrown in later as a baseless supplement, likely due to a common association of vampirism with witchcraft and the occult.

Fact: While vampires do have heightened senses due to their enlarged amygdalae, they cannot read minds or see the future, only physical expressions and mannerisms. This in-turn benefits their powers of persuasion, as they can more easily figure out what to say. However, these abilities depend largely on individual skill and experience.


Vampires look eternally youthful

Source: 19th-century romanticizing of vampiric longevity.

Fact: Older vampires look more like Nosferatu—or, more specifically, anorexic drowning victims with alopecia (and pinkeye).


Vampires can choose to live on only animals and blood bags

Source: Hollywood idealization of vampirism as something that can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

Fact: Although animals and blood bags can get them by for a while, vampires need to feed on live humans to get all the nutrients they require.



A vampire's wounds can heal within seconds

Source: Likely an exaggeration of vampiric dexterity.

Fact: While it's true that even major injuries can clot within a few minutes, vampiric healing rate is only double that of a human's, and they still form scars. Moreover, although they can regenerate their upper and lower fangs, they cannot regrow lost body parts such as limbs or eyes.


Vampires turn to ash when they are slain

Source: Most likely the practice of cremating slain vampires to prevent the possibility of infection, as well as the selling of vampire ashes in some parts of the world.

Fact: Dead vampires actually decompose at a slower rate than human corpses, thanks to natural antibiotics in their bodily fluids.


Vampires can be distracted by leaving seeds for them to count

Count von Count
Source: Due to chemical changes in the part of the brain that regulates habitual activity, vampires are more susceptible to mental disorders such as arithmomania, or the obsessive counting of objects. Some forms of porphyria, which has often been mistaken for vampirism throughout history, have also been linked with such conditions.

Fact: Regardless of how severe a vampire's OCD might be, counting objects is a low priority when faced with a potential meal or threat.


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