Comparative vampire mythology

A comparison of various popular sources for vampire lore against the myths of history. Do all vampire have fangs? Can all vampires reproduce? How do the popular vampires of the 20th century live and die and hunt and feed? S. A. Rudy takes a look at five modern vampire themes.

Comparitive Vampire MythologyThis is a list I've compiled of common vampire myths and how they appear in contemporary fiction. I'm only using five vfictional universes here because any more columns would be much too wide to be readable.

If a myth appears here, it means that somewhere, in some legend, movie, piece of fiction, etc. I've seen it (no matter how obscure), even if it doesn't apply to any of my examples. A question mark (?) in place of an entry means that I don't know how or whether the myth applies. An entry with a question mark (?) next to the entry means that I gave it my best guess and an entry with an asterisk (*) indicates that the answer is too complex to put in that tiny little box and I used my best approximation. The list is grouped into subtopics, but is otherwise in no particular order. If anyone is interested in see an annotation of this list for the marked entries, let me know.

If you'd like to be helpful, please do email me with additions or corrections and I'll put them in. (Please mention vampires or myths in the subject header so I'll be sure to notice it.) I especially like to hear about myths I haven't included or answers to the question marked entries. Go ahead, argue with me, I'm nothing like infallible. If you'd like to see more, encourage me!

My examples are as follows:

  • WoD: The "World of Darkness" from the Storyteller(tm) line of products published by White Wolf
  • BtVS: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television show
  • FK: Forever Knight, a syndicated television show being shown in reruns by the Sci-Fi Channel.
  • AB: Anita Blake, a series of novels by Laurell K. Hamilton
  • AR: Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles.

Vampires are inherently evilMostlyYesNoMaybeNo
Vampires are a kind of undeadYesYesMaybeYesYes
Vampires are "normal" humans, just alteredNoNoMaybeNoNo
Vampires are a different species (subspecies) than humansYesYesMaybeYesNo
Vampirism can be curedRarelyNot ReallyRarelyNoNo
Identifying features
Vampire skin is unnaturally pale and cold to the touchUsuallyNo?YesYesYes
The pallor and coldness decreases after feedingYesno infono infoYesYes
Vampires are hideously deformedSomeNoNo*NoNo
Vampires have long and pointed fingernailsNoNoNoNoYes
Vampires change appearance when angered, stressed, using vampiric abilities, etc. (e.g. glowing eyes or deformed features)NoYesYesNoNo
Vampires don't need to breatheYesYes?YesYes
Vampires, in fact, don't breathe, unless they consciously intend toYesYes?No?some
You become a vampire by ...
... being killed by one (with no further action necessary)NoNoNo?NoNo
... drinking (or being injected by) a vampire's blood (without dying first)NoNoNoNo*sort
... suffering fatal blood loss and drinking (or being injected by) a vampire's bloodYesYesYesNoYes
... dying after being bitten by or drinking from a vampireNoNoNoNoNo
... dying after repeatedly being bitten by or drinking from a vampireNoNoNoYesNo
... participating in some sort of ritualNoNoNoNoNo
... being willing (i.e. an unwilling subject can't be brought over)NoNo?NoNo
... committing suicide, dying unbaptized/apostate, not being buried in consecrated ground, etcNoNoNoNoNo
... being the victim of an explicit curseNoNoNoNoNo
The new vampire appears dead for some time (often 3 days) before risingNoYesNo?YesNo
A newly made vampire will wake ravenous and will tend to attack anything within range*NoYes?YesYesYes
... being born that wayNoNoNoNoNo
... getting infected by some kind of "virus"NoNoYesNoNo
Killing/Hurting Vampires
A stake through the heart causes permanent deathNoYes*YesUsually*some
A stake through the heart causes paralysis onlyYesNoNoNoNo
Sunlight causes instant combustion and is nearly always fataln/aYesn/aYes*some
Sunlight causes severe burns and discomfort and is fatal after extended exposureYesn/aYesn/a*some
Sunlight inflicts no or mild (sunburn) damagen/an/an/aRarelyNo
Sunlight must be direct to be effectiveusuallyYesYesYes??
Any UV source (e.g. tanning lamps) will function the same as real sunlight?no infoYesNo?No
Sunblock provides some protection from sunlightNoNoNoNoYes
Sunblock provides total protection from sunlightNoNoNoNoNo
Vampires suffer more than usual damage from fireYesYesYesYesNo
Vampires suffer more than usual damage from silverNoNoNoYesNo
Vampires suffer more than usual damage from woodNoNo**YesNoNo
Beheading causes permanent deathYesYes*UsuallyYesYes
It takes special effort to make a vampire stay dead (e.g. cutting off the head, sewing the mouth shut around a clove of garlic and burying the body at a crossroads)NoNo*NoNoNo
Dead vampires disperse to dust regardless of ageNoYesNoNoNo
Dead vampires decompose/disintegrate as a function of ageYesn/an/aYesNo
Vampires can be sustained by animal blood*UsuallyYesYesYesYes
Vampires can be sustained indefinitely by animal blood (without suffering deleterious side effects)*Usually*YesYesNoYes
Animals can become vampires??YesNo??
Vampires have control over animalsSomeSomeNoneSomeSome
Vampires have control only over specific animalsn/an/an/aYes?
Vampires can summon certain animalsSomeno infoNoneSomeNo
Animals can sense vampires and feel threatened by themSomeno infosome
When you are bitten by a vampire (and live) ...
... they gain some power over youNoNo?YesNo
... you acquire some vampiric traitsNoNoYes*some
When you drink from a vampire (without being dead first) ...
... they gain some power over youYesno info?*YesYes
... you acquire some vampiric traitsYesno info?*some
Vampires have fangsSomeAllAllAllAll?
Fangs are retractableYesYesYesNoYes
Fangs are hollow (like a snake, but for sucking, not injecting)NoNoYesNoNo
Vampires require an invitation to enter a private dwellingNoYesNoYesNo
That invitation can be retractedn/aYesNoYesn/a
Crosses ...
... always repel vampiresNoYes*UsuallyNoNo
... require the belief of the wielder to repel vampires*some
... require the belief of the vampire to repel vampires*some
... if effective, burns vampiric flesh on contactYesYesYesYesn/a
... if effective, burns everything on contactNoYesNoNon/a
... may be replaced with other religious symbols according to the belief system of the wielder and/or vampireYesno infoYesYesn/a
... are ineffectiveNoNoNoNoYes
Holy Water
... is ineffective*UsuallyNoNo?NoYes
... if effective, burns (like acid) and can cause severe damage in quantityYesYesYes?Yesn/a
... can reverse or halt effects of vampiric attackNon/aYesYesn/a
Eucharistic wafers can be substituted for/function similarly to holy waterNono info?Yesn/a
Vampires do not reflect in mirrors or water*Rarely*YesNoNoNo
Vampires do not appear in photographs or on film*RarelyNoNoNoNo
Vampires are repulsed by mirrorsNoNoNoNoNo
Vampires cannot function at all during the dayNoNoNoYesNo
If awake at all, vampires are sluggish during the dayYesNoNosome
Only the oldest/most powerful vampires can function during the day*n/aNon/aYesNo
Vampires can function normally during the day, provided they avoid the sunNoYesYesNoYes
Vampires can function normally during the day (without exception)NoNoNoNoNo
Vampires can function normally during the day, but without their vampiric abilitiesNoNoNoNoNo
Supernatural Abilities
Damage resistance, superhuman strength and fast healingAllAllAllAllYes
Superhuman perception (e.g. sight, hearing, mystical)Someno infoAll?MostYes
Hypnotic mind controlSome*Some*AllAllSome
Shapeshifting (often a wolf or bat)SomeNot reallyNonevery
Superhuman speedSomedebatableAllMostYes
Inhuman stealth (Sometimes to the point of invisibility)some
Control over weatherRarelyNoneNoneSomeNo
Mist formSomeno infoNoneSome?No
Miscellaneous Supernatural Restrictions
Vampires are repelled by garlicRarely*YesYesNo?No
Vampires no longer need to eat or drink regular foodYesYesYesYesYes
Vampires can no longer eat solid foodUsuallyNo?YesYesYes
Vampires can no longer eat or drink at all (other than blood)UsuallyNo*NoYesYes
Vampires can eat or drink, but get nothing out of itNoNoNoNon/a
Vampires can become intoxicated by directly ingesting drugs or alcoholNo?YesNo?Non/a
Vampires can become intoxicated by drugs or alcohol secondhand (e.g. by drinking from an intoxicated victim)Yes?YesNo?YesYes
Vampires must sleep with a sample of their home soilRarelyno infoNoNoNo
Vampires cannot cross running waterRarelyNoNoNoNo
Vampires cannot cross a line of saltNoNoNoNoNo
Vampires are compelled to stop and count numerous objects (often grain) thrown into their pathNoNoNoNoNo
Vampires are societally compelled to obey their sire/creatorYesMaybeYesYesYes
Vampires are mystically compelled to obey their sire/creatorNoNoMaybeYes?No
Beyond the "generic", Vampires tend to have the same supernatural traits/abilities as their sire/creatorYesno infono infoYesSome
Relationship with Other Supernaturals (especially Shapeshifters)
Vampires and Werewolves (shapeshifters) are natural alliesNoNon/asort
Vampires and Werewolves (shapeshifters) are natural enemiesYesno infon/aNon/a
Vampires and Werewolves (shapeshifters) could care less about each otherNono infon/aNon/a
Werewolf (shapeshifter) blood is extra yummysome
no infon/aNon/a
Werewolf (shapeshifter) blood is indigestibleNono infon/aNon/a
Vampires can be infected with lycanthropy (become werewolves, etc.)Nono infon/aNon/a
Werewolves (shapeshifters) can become vampires*Yesno infon/a?n/a
Werewolves (shapeshifters) can become vampires (but lose all of their were abilities)Nono infon/a?n/a
Vampires feed on something other than blood (life essence, emotions, etc)NoNoNoNoNo
Vampires' hearts no longer beatMostno info*Yes?No
A vampire's heart only beats if the vampire wills it tomaybeno infoNo??n/a
Vampires can bear childrenNoNoNoNoNo
Vampires can father childrenNoNoNoNoNo
A child of a vampire and a mortal results in a "Dhampir", with some vampiric abilities and fewer of the weaknessesn/an/an/an/an/a


Source: compiled by by S. A. Rudy


Fanged Films

USA, 1957
It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn / Mark of the Vampire
Canada / Ireland, 2011
The Moth Diaries

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?

Vol. 1 No. 2
Dark Passion Chapter Two
Vol. 1 No. 30
The Vampires of Mason Manor!