Dracula; of course. Lestat—cool. Edward Cullen… maybe.
Everyone’s heard of these Pop Culture vampires. But how about Lamias, Upírs, or Striges?
There are vampires of all varieties all around the world, pervading every culture from Romania to India, from China to South America. And believe me, some of them are so horrifying that they make your typical Hollywood vampire look like a not-particularly-threatening school bully in comparison.
Legends of vampires date back to ancient Mesopotamia—the lands of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Assyrian legend speaks of a demon goddess known as the Lamastu (meaning: ‘she who erases’).
The Lamastu preyed on humans, creeping into a house at night to kill babies and drink their blood. Infant death was often attributed to the Lamastu. This legend gave rise to the Lamia and Striges in ancient Greece, which also preyed upon children.
Upír & Upiers (Balkans and Russia)
The vampires we know of today in books and films is a direct descendent of the Slavic vampire of the ninth century. Vampire lore from Eastern Europe saw vampirism as a result of birth mutations or evil dispositions; a deformed baby or person with murderous tendencies were said to become vampires. Vampires emerging from the Balkan region were referred to as the Upiers.
The Russian vampire—the Upír—has the power to mesmerize a victim with its evil eye, leading him to his death.
Truly horrifying to behold, the Penanggalan is a vampiric ghost of Malaysian folklore. A beautiful woman by day, the Penanggalan will detach its head at night—entrails and organs dangling beneath it—and seek out its victims (often children) to drain of blood.
A person who so much as comes into contact with the fluids dripping from its entrails will become violently ill. One can escape this loathsome creature by luring it into thorny patches, where its viscera will become entangled.
The Chinese hopping vampire known as the chiang-shih (or jiangshi) is said to come about if a corpse is exposed to sunlight or moonlight before burial. A person who led a dishonest life or committed suicide will also become a chiang-shih according to legend.
Wearing clothes dating back to the Quing Dynasty, it hops stiffly about with its arms out, sucking the life force from its victims. Some legends state that it has poisonous breath, cannot cross moving water, and cannot climb ladders. Cremating the corpse is the only way to destroy the chiang-shih.
There are scholars who believe that vampire mythology actually began in India and then spread to Eastern Europe through the spice and silk trade routes. India has several vampiric figures, including the Rakshasa, Churel, and Vetalas.
A Churel is the vampiric spirit of a woman who died in childbirth, making her last lover in life as her first victim, followed by her male relatives. The Churel charms men with her beauty, though her demonic nature is sometimes given away by her feet which are turned backwards.
The Vetalas was a part man and part bat, possibly giving rise to the vampire’s association with bats in modern mythology.