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The Science of Vampirism

Vampiric Mythology

By Hugo Pecos & Robert Lomax

Return to Vampiric Sociology

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 some vampire myths have their basis in Christian Orthodoxy and Victorian romanticizing, others represent imaginative interpretations of actual vampiric characteristics and behavior. Seeing as how they thrive on deception, it's also highly likely that many of these myths were perpetuated by vampires themselves in order to gain an edge over their ill-prepared victims, to instill more fear in the populace, or to gain more followers.

Presented in no particular order:

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—which in-turn gave birth to the myth that vampires must sleep within the soil of their homeland. The truth is, vampires will sleep wherever they feel safe. That's not to say some don't choose to sleep in coffins, though it's more out of a sense of ritual or tradition than an actual need (although there is the added perk of keeping out light and sound).

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. Basically, you'd be better off using pepper spray.

Crosses repel vampires and 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 can be 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). When fighting vampires, your best bet is to aim for the head or spine.

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; and possibly mixed up with their vulnerability to fire.

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; and biting a pregnant woman will only result in miscarriage or stillbirth.

Vampires can fly & move at the speed of sound

Vampiric speed portrayed in True Blood
Source: Observation and exaggeration 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 professional human 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. As a result, they tend to avoid mirrors, which likely reinforced this particular myth.

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, being a likely fabrication created by their enemies to further demonize them. Still, "artificial vampirism" was not uncommon throughout history, as blood-feeding was commonly thought to be the sole reason behind vampiric longevity before modern science disproved that claim.

Vampires have psychic, hypnotic & telekinetic powers

Dracula's brainwashed thrall,
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. Their enhanced hearing also allows them to talk discreetly amongst each other, which further reinforced the psychic myth.

Vampires retain the same appearance as the day they were turned

Interview's Louis lamenting
his eternal sideburns
Source: 19th-century romanticizing of vampiric longevity, as well as their common use of makeup.

Fact: Older vampires look more like Nosferatu—or, more accurately, anorexic drowning victims with alopecia and pinkeye. On a related note, the myth that a vampire's hair never changes most likely came about from its slowed growth rate, as well as their tendency to wear wigs after it falls out.

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 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.

Vampires absorb ingested blood directly into their veins

A female mosquito digesting blood while
excreting excess fluid to make room
for the more solid nutrients
Source: Association of hematophagia with blood transfusions.

Fact: While many fictional vampires are depicted as being able to absorb intact/undigested blood into their own bloodstream through a variety of methods—hypodermic fangs, larger pores in the GI tract, reconnection of the esophagus into the heart—the truth is that vampires digest blood no differently than hematophages such as vampires bats, leeches and ticks; or even how we digest our own food.

Vampires have the strength of 20 bodybuilders

Source: Exaggeration of vampiric strength which was further embellished in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Fact: Drop the zero and you have a more accurate number. A vampire is usually quite a bit stronger than the average bodybuilder, though not as strong as those on the upper end of the scale—the ones squatting 1,000 pounds and bench pressing 600. Whatever the case, however, the leaner-bodied vampires still have speed and agility on their side when faced with heavier-muscled humans.

The vampiric race can be traced back to a single progenitor

Source: Association of vampires with demons, fallen angels, and biblical creation myths—such as the legend of Lilith, who was said to be Adam's first wife before leaving him to spend the rest of her existence feeding on the blood of men.

Fact: Contrary to much fiction, there is no all-powerful mother or father of all vampires, any more than there is a mother or father of all rabies or Ebola victims (or any organism, for that matter). One grain of truth to the Lilith legend, though, is that vampires have very likely been around for as long as humans have (if not longer), since Adam and Lilith were said to be created at the same time and from the same source.

Vampires can't enter homes without an invitation

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