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Picking up on things, as we do, we came across this little anecdote yesterday;
“One thing that gets on my nerves is anyone claiming to be a direct descendant of Dracula.”
“Elizabeth Bathory is a distant cousin of Vlad separated by almost a century. So for those of you that keep claiming this as a vampiric claim, please stop the fucking shit. You’re full of shit, don’t know your history and are nothing more than a role-player with severe mental disorders. Seek help and get the hell our of our community.”
In order that this “confusion” is dealt with as succinctly as possible we are going to invite you, the “seeker”, to accompany us on a little journey through a particular period of time in the development of history and which leads to the first “credible” account of vampiric activity. This is a story that has been detailed many times before but it seems that, once again, the “evidence”, such as it is, needs be revisited so that we might keep our feet firmly on the ground, and not sparkle in sunlight et al.
In search of the first Vampyre
As has been pointed out, over and over again, the image of the Vampire exists in the folklore and myths of pretty much every single country and race in the world. It’s a tangled and murky ocean that we plunge into if we try to make sense of the myriad creatures that comprise the “Vampire” archetype and it may seem as though it becomes the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’ when we begin to look for the “First” Vampyre – NOT SO.
In his book “The First Vampire” (pub. Sept. 30, 2014) author John Davies reportedly “provides an alarmingly plausible explanation of why and how the first human was transformed into a vampire, against a backdrop of factual Eastern European history.”
It needs be pointed out that the publication is a fiction novel in the Gothic fiction genre.
The cover bears the image of one Vlad III, a medieval ruler of a Romanian region known as Wallachia (a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Țepeș and Vlad Drăculea) He was a warlord, a voivode (prince) and he led many battles in a seemingly unending campaign against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire during his reigns.
There are a myriad tales that go with this person. Tales that reached as far as Germany and Italy in the day and spoke of brutal punishments exacted upon enemies. Punishments that included his reported favourite of impaling his enemies. There are scattered claims that he dined on the internal organs of his enemies, claims that he dipped his bread in their blood – not an uncommon practice in many parts of the world where livestock blood has been used in cooking for tens of thousands of years.
The one thing that he was never described as, even in his lifetime when suspicion of such things was never far from consciousness, a Vampyre.
The legends about Vlad found renewed life at the hands of a gentleman adventurer and sometime scholar from Budapest by the name of Arminius van Buren who was a known contemporary of, and known to be in communication with, Bram Stoker during the writing of the famous novel “Dracula”. Needless to say there are many whom believe that the lead character in Stoker’s novel was none other than Vlad the Impaler. While it is highly likely that the tales of Vlad formed much of the background for Stoker’s work there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that this was the case, or that Vlad ever engaged in Vampiric activity.
So, again, here we stand at a crossroads, clutching our carefully compiled notes and we’re no closer to an answer than we were before, nor can we be. The thing about folklore, legends, myths and the like is that it is pretty much impossible to separate what may have been a germ of fact that gave birth to the “legend” from the “retelling and embellishing” that occurred in order to keep audiences interested.
This, in a time when many histories were passed on orally, was the stock in trade of a small caste, as was the access to writing and the compilation of records of observation. Chinese Whispers you might say…
Where do we begin?
The first, confirmable and observable reference to a “Vampiric” being dates back to around 3200 BC in Cuneiform writings from Sumeria. Lilith appears as one of a group of Sumerian vampire/cannibal demons that included Lillu, Ardat Lili and Irdu Lili.
This then is, arguably, the first “Vampire”, the first four actually but there is a problem. In those days no one had the frames of reference to explain certain things that happened. There was rudimentary medicine of a natural form, rudimentary science that was confined to what could be seen with the naked eye – this left a lot of things totally inexplicable and so the people of the time, to give their world some semblance of order, created mythological beings that were held to be responsible for things, or blamed when things went wrong. We still do that today when you think about it, six thousand people die in an earthquake and you’ll hear that it was “God’s will”, of course, if you talk to a seismologist he/she will tell you exactly why six thousand people perished.
We must, unfortunately, dispense with “mythological” sources for the “First Vampire” since we have absolutely no proof of an actual physical existence.
In the year 1047AD we read of the first mention of a word derivative for Vampyre, that is “Upir”.
“Upir is the name given to vampires in Russian language/Slavic languages. Pronunciation of the name differs from country to country and it has variations such as Opir, Opur, Upyr and Upier.”
Unlike the normal vampires in the folktales, upirs could walk in the daylight and did not burn.
“The Book of Prophecy”, written in “proto-Russian” (derived from older Slavonic roots) in 1047 AD for Vladimir Jaroslav, Prince of Novgorod mentioned a priest and gave this priest the title of “Upir Lichy”, which literally translated means wicked vampire or extortionate vampire. Since there was no recorded mention of this individual engaging in what we might call, “Vampiric activity” we are left only to assume that the term “Upir”, or Vampire, was employed in the sense of the priest being an extortionist that preyed on those whom had wealth or the like. Still no sign of the “First Vampire” as we are considering the term to be used. Bear in mind, one of the common definitions of “Vampire” is, “A person who preys ruthlessly upon others; extortionist.” (Ref. Dictionary.com)
In 1136AD William of Newburgh was born in England. William was a chronicler throughout his life and his greatest work was his, Historia Rerum Anglicarum, also known as The Chronicles, and was completed near the end of his life. Chapters 32 to 34 relate to a number of stories of contemporary revenants, which William had collected during his adult years. Accounts such as that of Alnwick and Melrose Abbey have been repeatedly cited as evidence of a vampyre lore existing in the British Isles in ancient times. William passed away, at Newburgh somewhere between 1198 and 1208AD.
In 1190AD Walter Map’s De Nagis Curialium included accounts of vampire-like beings in England.
Bear in mind, if you will, this is some 241 years before Vlad the Impaler was born.
IF Vlad were the “First Vampire” where did the reports that William and Walter compiled originate?
Ecsedi Báthory Erzsébet (a.k.a. Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, The Blood Countess, Alžbeta Bátoriová, 7 August 1560 – 21 August 1614) was another historical figure that has long been associated with Vampirism. During her trial the testimony of more than 300 witnesses, and survivors, bore testament to her brutality as well as physical evidence, and the presence of horribly mutilated dead, dying and imprisoned girls, found at the time of her arrest. It is important to note that tales such as her bathing in the blood of virgins were created years after her death and are generally regarded as unreliable at best. A Franciscan scholar whom was despatched to observe her trial recorded that there was no direct evidence given in regards to her consuming the blood of her victims. Her story quickly became part of national folklore in her home country.
So, in considering what was recorded, reported and observed, that fairly well takes care of two of history’s front runners for the title of “Vampire”. Where to from here?
Clara Geisslerin was a 69-year-old widow in the town of Gelnhausen, Germany. In 1597AD she was accused of witchcraft amongst other charges which included grave-robbing, murder, and consorting with demons. Under torture (by thumbscrews and the rack), she confessed to sexual relations with demons in the form of animals and to drinking the blood of sixty children that she had killed. She also named twenty other women who she said were guilty.
However, Geisslerin recanted her confession when the torture was stopped. Local authorities, fearing for her soul, resumed the torture a second time. Geisslerin again confessed, adding that she had conceived many children with the demons and had killed them all. She recanted once more as soon as she was taken off the rack, and told her accusers that God would be their judge. The other twenty suspects had been questioned and implicated Geisslerin by then, so the old woman was tortured a third time. A confession was once again elicited but Geisslerin could not recant this time because she died under the pressure. The judges in the case attributed her death to the devil, who, they said, did not want Geisslerin to disclose any further details.
The first “reported” Vampire case
In the year 1656 an Istrian (modern day Croatia) peasant, by the name of Jure Grando Alilović (a.k.a. Giure Grando, Jure Grando b.1579 – d.1656) died and was buried in the village of Kringa. In 1672 his body was disinterred and decapitated as a vampire. It was recounted that the village priest, Giorgio, who had presided at Grando’s funeral some sixteen years earlier was told that at night somebody would knock on the doors around the village, and on whichever door the knock came, someone from that house would die within the next few days.
Also, reportedly, “Grando also appeared to his terrified widow in her bedroom, who described the corpse as looking as though he was smiling and gasping for breath, and would then sexually assault her.”
Eventually, after once chasing the revenant and trying to pierce its chest with a Hawthorn stick to no avail, a party of nine people went to the graveyard, carrying a cross, lamps and, again, a hawthorn stick. They dug up the coffin, and, allegedly, found a perfectly preserved corpse with a smile on its face. They tried to pierce its heart again, but the stick could not penetrate its flesh. After some exorcism prayers one of them, a villager by the name of Stipan Milašić, took a saw and sawed the corpse’s head off. As soon as the saw tore his skin, the vampire reportedly screamed and blood started to flow until soon the whole grave was full of blood.
Fanciful exaggeration? A folk tale embellished over time? For the first time we have access to details of not one but nine observers of an action against a Vampire… were the reporters of this incident clergymen? Was the tale purposely made disproportionate in order to hold people to the fear of the Christian Devil? What did the nine people at that grave actually see? Remember, in those days it was pretty much the province of the clergy to record, in writing, such incidents… were they clerics AND spin-doctors?
However you care to interpret this event it stands, irrevocably, as the first fully “reported” incident, with multiple witnesses, of Vampire activity and therefore it must hold some credence. It would not be such a stretch, I think, in light of the records of Grando’s life and times, to cite this as the first credible tale of the existence of the creature we know as the classical Vampyre.
Perhaps, knowing the location of Grando’s burial, some further investigation could be made but I would think that any physical evidence would have long ago returned to the dust of mother earth.
The next case of credible reporting of so called “Vampiric activity” would not come along until 1727.
A lot of folks will make a lot of claims about who was the first Vampire but here we are looking at historical, recorded facts and that’s the key. We can all dream up all the “what if’s” we like but making the colanders hold water is the big problem.
Doubtless a lot of people would prefer the mystery of a 15th century Transylvanian nobleman or the dark seductiveness of an errant Hungarian noblewoman over the image of an Istrian peasant but then again, who ever said Vampires were meant to be glamorous?
Copyright T & RVL 2018 (unless otherwise noted)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
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