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A vampire, by definition, is an entity that feeds on the life essence of other creatures. Vampires are typically described as "undead" — reanimated corpses possessed by evil spirits. The traditional vampire feeds on the blood of the living to prevent its body from decomposing. The image of the refined, gaunt, pale-skinned vampire is an early 19th century literary invention, beginning roughly with the publication of The Vampyre — a short story by John Polidori — in 1819. The original, folkloric vampire of Eastern Europe — where the legend began — was described as bloated with a dark or ruddy complexion from feeding on blood.

Many attribute belief in vampires to a combination of Slavic spiritualism and early ignorance of the body's decomposition cycle after death. In pre-industrial Slavic societies, it was believed that a person's spirit lingered for 40 days after death. Suicide victims, suspected witches, evil beings and even un-baptized children were thought to have "unclean" spirits. A vampire, according to this belief, was the manifestation of an unclean spirit possessing a decomposing body.

When the body of a suspected vampire was disinterred, it would sometimes look like it hadn't decomposed at all; like its hair, teeth and fingernails had been growing; and as if it had been gorging on blood due to its ruddy complexion, bloated body and blood seeping from the nose and mouth. We know now that a body's decomposition rate depends on factors like temperature and soil composition; that dead flesh loses fluids, causing it to pull back and expose the roots of hair, teeth and nails; and that gases from decomposition accumulate in the torso, making the body look bloated and forcing blood to ooze from the nose and mouth. Common beliefs about vampires include that they are most active at night, but not necessarily vulnerable to sunlight (which was mainly a literary invention). Garlic, crucifixes and holy water were common devices for warding off vampires. It was also commonly believed that driving a wooden stake into the body would release the evil spirit, with decapitation also being a way to hasten the evil soul's departure. 

Related:

EL chupacabra

Owl man

See Also:

Lost Tapes
Vampire

sketch

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