Mirrors in Vampire Folklore

It has become a common belief that vampires cast no reflection. Supposedly the vampire, since he is a damned creature, has no soul and thus does not appear in mirrors. Yet this aspect of vampire mythology didn't even exist until Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. Where did he get it from?


Happy VampThere are a number of Eastern European superstitions that link mirrors with souls. For example, in Bulgaria, when the body of a deceased family member is displayed in a home, all the mirrors are covered or turned to the wall. It is believed that if the corpses' face is captured in the reflection of the mirror, he will bring death to another member of the family in a short while. A similar custom is observed during the Jewish period of mourning.

Mirrors are believed to reflect more than the physical visage: they are thought to capture something of the soul as well. Because of this, they can become thresholds onto the spirit world. The spirits of the dead can appear to the living through a mirror, and sometimes the spirit may even enter the realm of the living through the gateway created by a mirror.

Yet none of this has anything specifically to do with vampires, and if things had turned out just a little differently, our modern perception of vampires would not have anything to do with mirrors at all but with a painting. In his original writing of Dracula, Bram Stoker had Dracula commission an artist to paint his portrait. Stoker wanted to convey the idea that much of Dracula's appearance was subjective. It was a kind of glamour which he projected upon those around him. Stoker wanted the painter to try and capture Dracula as he appeared only to have the painting wind up looking like a centuries' old corpse.

This idea came from a conversation that occurred between Stoker, Hommy-Beg (a close friend of Stoker's who the novel Dracula is dedicated to), and the playwright Oscar Wilde. The three of them were discussing the actor Sir Henry Irving, a star of the theater in that day who Stoker happened to serve as manager for.

Irving, it seems, was renown for his stage presence. He was often described as having a mesmeric effect on the people around him. Stoker, in fact, when he heard Irving perform for the first time at a private reading, fell down in a dead swoon! Yet, despite how attractive he was in person and in character, Irving refused to have his picture taken. There was some speculation among the theater community in London that this was because most of Irving's allure could not actually be captured on film.

Stoker, Hommy-Beg, and Wilde were debating this at a dinner party (a party which, it might be mentioned, also included various high-ranking members of the Order of the Golden Dawn). The main question was whether subtle effects like a person's natural presence or "glamour" can adequately be captured in film or even on a canvas. The discussion got deeper, and they wondered if one could ever capture a person's soul in such a medium -- the soul being the truest measure of the man and therefore his most accurate likeness.

For Wilde, the fruits of this discussion was his short novel The Picture of Dorian Grey in which an artist does indeed successfully capture the likeness of a young man's soul in his painting. Once the soul and the likeness of Dorian are switched, young Dorian ceases to age, and all the effects of his debaucheries and wicked acts pile up not upon his living visage but upon the Dorian in the painting. For Stoker, the painting analogy did not work out as well, and he settled on having the infamous Count cast no reflection at all.

Source: © 2001 - Michelle Belanger [setanankhu @ aol.com ~ http://www.kheperu.org]

Fanged Films

USA, 2003
Alucard
USA, 1972

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?