In 2018, an article started popping up in newspapers around the world. The headline read “Young Blood Could Be the Secret to Long-lasting Health: Study”. Drinking young people’s blood could help you live longer and prevent age-related diseases, a study has found. Blood factors taken from younger animals have been found to improve the later-life health of older creatures.
The study, published in Nature, was conducted by researchers from University College London (UCL), who said it could reduce the chances of developing age-related disorders.
Had science finally caught up with what vampires had figured out centuries ago, that the secret to immortality lies in the blood of the living?
According to folklore, a vampire is a creature, classically a human, that exists by feeding on the vital essence of the living. This is typically done by drinking the blood of another creature or human.
The modern-day aristocratic, alluring, charming, and womanizing vampire was birthed by John Polidori. In 1816, Dr. Polidori, Lord Byron’s personal physician accompanied him on a trip throughout Europe. At a villa rented by Byron near Lake Geneva Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Godwin, her husband-to-be, Percy Shelley, and their companion (Mary’s stepsister) Claire Clairmont.
On a night in June, after the company had read aloud from Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German horror stories, Byron as a means of competition suggested they each write and present their own ghost story. The friendly competition that night spawned two infamous monsters. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, and Polidori’s “The Vampyre”, which went on to become the first published modern vampire story in the English language.
The story was a huge success and went on to influence Bram Stoker’s Dracula which is loosely inspired by Vlad Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler. While an interesting character Vlad is only a vampire in his thrust for blood. This of course made him the perfect inspiration for a blood-sucking monster.
John was not the originator or the vampire myth. In fact, to find the origin of the myth you would have to go all the way back to Greek myth and the story of Ambrogio and Selene.
Ambrogio was a young adventurer. He was born and raised in Italy, and he had always longed to travel to Greece to have his fortune told by the Oracle of Delphi.
Delphi was home to a great temple of Apollo the sun god. The Oracle would sit in a chamber within the temple and speak of prophecies, inspired by Apollo, to those who came to seek the Oracle’s wisdom.
When Ambrogio arrived at the temple, to speak to the Oracle. The Oracle, whose words were often cryptic, said only a few words: “The curse. The moon. The blood will run.”
Ambrogio couldn’t sleep that night. He stayed awake outside of the temple, pondering the meaning of the Oracle’s words. As the sun rose he walked back to town spying a beautiful woman dressed in white robes walking towards the temple. He introduced himself.
Her name was Selene, and she was a maiden of the temple. Her sister was the Oracle, so Selene tended to the temple and looked after her sister while in her entranced state.
For the next few days every morning, Ambrogio met Selene at dawn before she started her duties in the temple. Soon they fell in love.
On his last day in Greece, Ambrogio asked Selene to marry him and return with him to Italy and she agreed. He said he would make the preparations and meet her at dawn the next morning outside the temple.
Unfortunately, Apollo, the sun god, had been watching. He as well had taken a liking to the beautiful Selene and was enraged that Ambrogio would come to his temple and attempt to take one of his maidens away. At sunset that night, Apollo appeared to Ambrogio leaving a curse on him that from that day forth a mere touch of Apollo’s sunlight would burn Ambrogio’s skin.
Ambrogio was distraught. He was set to leave with Selene in the morning, but he would not be able to meet her at sunrise as he promised. Having nowhere else to turn, he ran to a cave and to Hades for protection. Hades, the god of the underworld, listened to his tale and made him a deal – if he could steal the silver bow of Artemis and bring it back, Hades would grant him and Selene protection in the underworld. Hades agreed to give Ambrogio a magical wooden bow and 11 arrows to hunt with. He was to hunt and offer his trophies to Artemis in order to gain her favor and steal her silver bow. As collateral, Ambrogio left his soul in hell with Hades until he could return with the bow. Should he return without the silver bow, he would have to live in hell forever, never to return to Selene. Having no other choice, Ambrogio agreed.
He wanted to contact Selene and tell her what had happened but he didn’t have any parchments or writing implements, so he took his bow and arrow and killed a swan. Using its feather as a pen, and its blood as the ink, he wrote her a note explaining that he could not meet with her but would find a way for them to be together. He left the note in their meeting place and ran off to find a place to hide from the sunlight.
Selene was devastated when she found the note but kept working at the temple as not to anger Apollo any further. The next morning, Selene went back to their meeting place, but again Ambrogio was not there. There was however another piece of parchment with writing in blood on it. It was a love poem from Ambrogio.
For 44 days Ambrogio slew a swan and used its blood to write Selene, a love poem. After draining its blood and using a single feather to write the poem he offered the swan as a tribute to Artemis, the goddess of hunting and the moon. He hoped that even if he could not steal her bow, she would be honored by the tribute and would convince her brother Apollo to remove the curse.
On the 45th night, Ambrogio had only one arrow left. He shot it at a swan and missed, the arrow sailing into the distance. He had neither the blood to write Selene’s poem nor the swan to sacrifice to Artemis. He fell to the ground and wept.
Seeing how good of a hunter and how dedicated a follower Ambrogio had been, Artemis came down to him. He begged Artemis to let him borrow her bow and an arrow so he could kill one last bird and leave one final note to Selene.
Artemis took pity on him and agreed to let him borrow her silver bow and an arrow. He took the bow, and in desperation, ran to Hades. Artemis realizing what was happening cast her own curse on Ambrogio that caused all silver to burn his skin. Ambrogio dropped the silver bow and fell to the ground in pain.
Artemis was furious at his deceit, and he begged her for forgiveness. He explained the deal he was forced to make with Hades, his curse by Apollo, and his love for Selene. He apologized profusely and swore that he had no other choice.
Artemis took pity on him again and decided to give him one last chance. She offered to make him a great hunter, almost as great as she was, with the speed and strength of a god and fangs with which he could drain the blood of the beasts and write his poems. In exchange for this immortality, he would have to agree to a deal. He and Selene would have to escape Apollo’s temple and worship only Artemis forever. The catch was that Artemis was a virgin goddess, and all of her followers had to remain chaste and unmarried, so Ambrogio would never be allowed to touch Selene again. They could never kiss, never touch, and never have children.
Ambrogio agreed. He killed another swan and left Selene a note telling her to meet him on a ship at the docks. The next morning, she found the note and was able to run away before Apollo took notice.
Arriving at the docks, Selene found Ambrogio’s ship and met him down in the hull. There she found a wooden coffin with a note on it, telling her to order the ship’s captain to set sail, and to open the coffin only after the sun had set. She did as the note said, and after sunset, she opened the coffin to find Ambrogio alive and well.
The couple sailed to Ephesus, where they lived in a cave during the day and worshiped Artemis at her grand temple every night. They lived happily together for many years, never touching, never kissing, and never having children.
After a number of years, Ambrogio’s immortality allowed him to stay young, but Selene continued to age as would a normal mortal. She finally fell ill and was on her deathbed. Ambrogio was distraught, knowing that he could not join Selene in the afterlife because his soul still resided in Hades. That night, he went into the woods and found a white swan swimming alone in a small lake. He killed the swan and offered it to Artemis, begging for her to make Selene immortal so they could stay together forever.
Artemis appeared to him. Thankful for his years of dedication and worship, she made him one last deal. Artemis told Ambrogio that he could touch Selene just once – to drink her blood. Doing so would kill her mortal body, but from then on, her blood mixed with his could create eternal life for any who drink of it. If he did this, Artemis would see to it that they stayed together forever.
Ambrogio wanted to refuse, but after telling Selene what happened, Selene begged him to do it. After much convincing, he bit her neck and took her blood into his body. As he set her limp body down, Selene began to radiate with light and raised up to the sky. Ambrogio watched as Selene’s glowing spirit lifted to meet Artemis. When she arrived, the moon lit up with a brilliant light.
Selene became the goddess of moonlight, and every night she would reach down with her rays of light to the earth and finally touch her beloved Ambrogio.
The First Vampire Clan
According to vampiric legend and history, Ambrogio went to Florence, Italy, where he created the first Vampire Clan. Recruiting all who were willing to exchange their souls for immortality.
The clan grew in size and strength until infighting created something of a “civil war” within the clan. Because of this many vampires left to form their own clans.
What happened to Ambrogio and those who stayed with him is largely unknown, though many believe that he still resides somewhere in Florence.
St. Germain – The Vampire of New Orleans
While Florence is the most prominent European city related to vampire history and legend. Another city in America, New Orleans, is a very close second.
On the corner of Ursuline and Royal Street in New Orleans sits a home with a bright red door and green shudders that close from the inside. In 1902, it would be home to one of the most infamous vampires in the world. In the dark streets of New Orleans, blood-thirsty Jacques St. Germain hid in plain sight as an opulent member of the city elite. Jacques had a mysterious and colored past which he conveniently left behind before settling in New Orleans where he would lure many young women into his home to their own peril.
While Germain moved into the New Orleans mansion in 1902, oddly enough he was rumored to have been born sometime late in the 17th century. Jacques Saint Germain claimed to be a descendant of Count Saint Germain. The Count was a prolific alchemist during the 1600s. Alchemy was the beginning of modern-day chemistry and specifically looked for ways to transform matter into various materials, more precisely, turning base metals such as lead into gold. Another goal of the alchemist was the search for the Philosopher’s Stone; a stone that was believed to grant the wielder immortality. Many believed the Count to be the holder of this stone. Thus, Jacques was not just a supposed ancestor of St. Germain but the Count himself.
Believing not only to have concurred death but time as well the Count has become somewhat of a time-traveling and immortality legend. While records say that he was born in the late 17th century, sightings of the Count can be traced all the way back to the wedding at Cana where Jesus Christ infamously turned water into wine. He may have even been present for the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D..
Despite records of his death, there are reports of him being seen by historical figures throughout Europe. A few of the notable historical figures who have claimed Count encounters included Voltaire, Casanova, King Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Franz Anton Mesmer, the father of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. To add to the mystery, New Orleans residents often commented on the uncanny resemblance between Jacques and the Count himself.
Whether the Count was a vampire of Amborgio’s creation or not is completely up to conjecture. One thing is certain, the Count seemed to have a taste for the ladies and for blood.
St. Germain arrived in New Orleans with a bang. Upon moving into the home at Ursulines and Royal street, he threw a lavish party to announce his arrival. He fit in immediately with the elite as he was one of the wealthiest and most cultured people in the city. He was charismatic, spoke numerous languages, and told engrossing tall tales of adventure. These parties were so engaging to the local’s no one ever thought to question why he was never seen eating any food and only drank red wine. The French Quarter loved him and never thought to question his idiosyncrasies. But Jacques’ big time in the Big Easy would be short-lived.
It wouldn’t be the rumors of his past history that would plague St. Germain in the end. Instead, it only took one jarring incident to truly immortalize him as the vampire of New Orleans.
During one of his extravagant parties, he coerced a young woman into a secluded area of the mansion. Finding herself all alone with St. Germaine, she was completely unaware of his true intentions. Soon he seized upon her pinning her against a wall. The woman said that St. Germain then began biting into her neck and drawing blood.
Jacques’s attack was paused when he was startled by guests who attempted to enter the room. This fleeting moment gave the woman a chance to getaway. In her panic, she climbed through a window and onto the second-story balcony, where she jumped to the street below, breaking both her feet and legs. As she cried out for help the Police arrived and the woman was taken to the hospital. Jacques excuse? She was just drunk.
The police, not taking this justification at face value, told St. Germain to be at the station first thing in the morning. When morning arrived and St. Germain was nowhere to be found. The police immediately went to his home finding it nearly empty. Jacques had skipped town.
Oddly, the police found only a few clues at the home. One was that there was no food, utensils, or any evidence that anyone in the home consumed any sort of tangible food. They also found century-old clothing as well as several bottles of red wine that was later found to have been mixed with blood. Further inspection of the home by police found several other rooms that appeared to be covered in bloodstains.
Was Jaques a vampire, an immortal, or just a crazed madman? The truth is unknown because no one has ever been able to track down the vampire of New Orleans.
According to Michael Murphy’s book Fear Dat New Orleans, there are ongoing sightings of “Vampire Jack” in New Orleans. For instance, In 1933, the NOLA police were called to Royal Street where for two consecutive nights women were found with their throats torn out and drained of blood. A witness claims to have seen a man scale a 12-foot tall wall effortlessly to make his escape.
Are Vampires Real?
Whiter real or not vampire superstition thrived in the Middle Ages, especially as the plague decimated entire towns. The disease often left its victims with bleeding mouth lesions, which was a sure sign of vampirism.
The signs and symptoms of illness can take years to master so it wasn’t uncommon for anyone with an unfamiliar physical or emotional illness to be labeled possessed or a vampire. Many researchers think porphyria, a blood disorder that can cause severe blisters on a person’s skin when exposed to sunlight, is a disease that may have been linked to the legends of vampires.
Other diseases blamed for promoting the vampire myth include rabies, goiter, or in the case of Mercy Brown, tuberculosis.
Mercy Brown may rival Count Dracula as the most notorious vampire. Unlike Count Dracula, however, Mercy was a real person. She lived in Exeter, Rhode Island, and was the daughter of George Brown, a local farmer.
Tuberculosis was a terrible illness and Edwin Brown was wasting away and for the better part of two years, he grew increasingly thin and weak. By March 1892, Edwin struggled to breathe as he continually coughed up blood. He had sought a cure in the healing air and mineral waters of Colorado Springs, Colorado, but the 18-month trip offered no healing powers and only left him homesick.
Edwin Brown returned home to Exeter, Rhode Island, where his father was a farmer. George Brown had watched helplessly as the disease, commonly known as “consumption,” took the lives of his wife, Mary Brown, in 1883 followed by his 20-year-old daughter, Mary Olive, six months later. While his only son grew weaker and weaker in the winter of 1892, tuberculosis also took his 19-year-old daughter, Mercy, after a year of sickness on January 19, 1892.
The disease that took three members of George Brown’s family was the top killer of its time in the 18th and 19th centuries. Tuberculosis passed easily between people in close quarters, which is why it tended to sweep through entire families such as the Browns.
While the disease was all too common for the townspeople of Exeter, what happened next certainly wasn’t. In 1892, tuberculosis was still poorly understood. It wasn’t widely known what caused the disease or how it spread. Doctors were unable to explain the wave of sickness washing over George Brown’s family, but relatives and friends thought they knew where they could find the cause. The group believed that Edwin’s mother or one of his sisters may be undead—caught between heaven and hell—and sucking the life out of him from beyond the grave. Vampire hysteria gripped the town and the group insisted that the bodies of the Brown women needed to be dug up to find the cure.
With the extremely reluctant blessing of George Brown, who at first discounted the vampire theory, his relatives and neighbors visited the Brown family plot in the town’s Chestnut Hill Cemetery on March 17, 1892. In the small graveyard behind the town’s Baptist church, they exhumed the bodies of Mary Brown and Mary Olive Brown. They opened the caskets and, as would be expected, found only their bones inside.
The townspeople then turned their attention to the casket of Mercy Brown, who had died eight weeks earlier. Accounts differ as to whether Mercy’s body had already been buried or if it rested in a crypt until the ground could thaw and undertakers could dig a grave. However, when the lid was lifted off of Mercy’s coffin, her body was found on her side. Her face appeared flush, and there was blood in her heart and in her veins.
Dr. Harold Metcalf, who had raised his objection to the entire affair, assured everyone that the lack of decomposition of Mercy’s body was perfectly consistent with the fact that she had been dead for less than two months. Knowing that medicine had done nothing to save the Browns, the people of Exeter ignored the doctor’s proclamations and took the presence of fresh blood in Mercy’s heart as a sign that she was undead.
They gathered firewood and built a bonfire on a pile of nearby rocks. Then they cut out Mercy’s heart and lungs and cremated them on the pyre. They returned to Edwin Brown’s house with the ashes of his dead sister’s heart and mixed them with water. Edwin then consumed the concoction in an effort to cure his disease. Tuberculosis, however, continued to ravage him and he died two months later on May 2, 1892.
This was not the first time the folk remedy of burning the organs of the dead and mixing the ashes into an elixir for the sick had been tried in Rhode Island, even in Exeter. In 1799, the townspeople exhumed the body of Sarah Tillinghast, suspecting her of being a vampire. Author Diana Ross McCain reports there were 18 documented instances of the exhumation of family members in suspected vampire cases throughout New England in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the case of Mercy Brown would be the last.
After digging up Mercy Brown, the townspeople buried her heartless body into the ground of Chestnut Hill Cemetery where she now rests in peace.
Fear is a real thing and in this case, it possessed a rather large group of otherwise sensible folks to exhume, mutilate, immolate, and cannibalize a young girl’s corpse to kill a suspected vampire.
Protection and Destruction
Imagine with me for a moment that vampires are real and that you are Buffy The Vampire Slayer, or Van Helsing. What would you need at your disposal to protect yourself from and destroy them? Fortunately, there is no lack of folklore on either of these two subjects. Some of the most common apotropaics, or items that ward of evil, include.
Garlic is a common example but not the only plant or herb said to be effective. A branch of wild rose or hawthorn is also said to ward off vampires.
Sacred Items or Ground
Sacred items such as a crucifix, rosary, or holy water is said to be able to ward off vampires. Vampires are also believed to not be able to walk on consecrated ground, such as that of churches or temples, or cross running water.
Although not traditionally regarded as an apotropaic, mirrors are said to be able to ward off vampires. This is because vampires, in some cultures, do not have reflections or the ability to cast a shadow. This is perhaps just a manifestation of the overall belief that vampires lack a soul, but nonetheless, mirrors, popularized in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and have remained a popular staple of vampire folklore especially with authors and filmmakers.
Must Be Invited
Some traditions hold that vampires cannot enter a house unless invited.
Sunlight and Silver
As with Ambrosio, sunlight and silver is said to burn the skin of vampires.
Methods of destroying suspected vampires varied by region but staking is by far the most commonly cited method. Potential vampires were most often staked through the heart, through the mouth, or in the stomach.
Piercing the skin of the chest was also a common way of “deflating” the bloated vampire. This is part of “anti-vampire burial” which includes 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 vampire.
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. The vampire’s head, body, or clothes could also be spiked and pinned to the earth to prevent rising.
Other methods, dependent on region, include pouring boiling water over a grave, complete incineration of the body, shooting or drowning a body, repeating the funeral, sprinkling holy water on the body, and exorcism. In Romania, garlic could be placed in the mouth of the body.
Although modern science has silenced the vampire fears of the past, people who call themselves vampires do exist. They’re normal-seeming people who drink small amounts of blood in feeding rituals conducted with willing donors. For obvious reasons, most of these feeding rituals are conducted in private. Communities of self-identified vampires can be found on the Internet and in cities and towns around the world.
Some vampires don’t ingest human blood but claim to feed off the energy of others. Many of these psychic vampires state that if they don’t feed regularly, they become agitated, or depressed.
Today vampires have become mainstream and have become the topic of many popular films, books, and television shows. All in all, given the fascination people have with all things horror, vampires—real or imagined—are likely to continue to inhabit the earth for years to come.