Dark fantasy and vampire fantasy have been shaped by the mythology of many cultures the world over and the evolution of the creature to that which we see in fiction today. Vampire lore began in ancient civilizations as a tale arising from improper burial which resulted in the deceased rising to attack their living relatives and suck blood in order to reanimate themselves. In later myths, the vampire was a demon or spirit that possessed the dead body and merely made it appear as though it were “living”.
None of this ancient mythology remotely resembles the modern vampire other than the consumption of the life force, whether the energy or the blood. Even this process has drastically changed from blood being taken, flesh being devoured, and even souls being stolen. In some cultures, the first vampires were female demons that feasted on children and kidnapped male lovers. In modern vampire lore, the creature took on fangs, sex appeal, and supernatural abilities that rival even the most powerful demons.
The modern myth of vampire began when a small village in southeastern Europe experienced some kind of mass vampire hysteria or else, supernatural occurrence, that made them believe that they were seeing their deceased relatives’ corpses walking around at night begging to be fed. During the vampire hysteria of the early 1700s, a man in Serbia claimed that his father rose from the grave to come visit him and ask for food during the night. After this, several people in the area died of mysterious causes and thus the vampire hysteria was born.
One of the men, Arnold Paole, was believed to have actually been bitten by a vampire years before his death and this attributed to the rumors and wives’ tales that led to the outbreak of paranoia which ensued. The hysteria resulted in the villagers digging up graves in order to detect suspected vampires. If the corpse’s fingernails were longer, the hair seemed to have grown after death, or red liquid was seen around the mouth, the deceased was determined to be a vampire and methods to keep them from rising again would be employed.
Bricks or rocks in the mouth indicate the entombed was thought to be a vampire, as does a stake through the chest. Some even went so far as to behead the dead in order to keep them from becoming a bloodsucker. Sometimes, the deceased would be buried facing down and have garlic placed around them or sometimes in their mouths.
Most of these instances can be explained away by a misunderstanding of the biological processes that occur after death, particularly if the body is inside a coffin. As for seeing dead relatives, having experienced supernatural phenomena first hand, I do lean toward the belief that we do not understand all there is to know either about ourselves or the world around us. I find the demonology that lies behind many of these widely held beliefs fascinating, as well. There are things older and stranger in this world than even our vast modern knowledge can explain.