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"What meant the giving of the crucifix, of the garlic, of the wild rose, of the mountain ash?
Bless that good, good woman who hung the crucifix round my neck!"

Perhaps E.M. and you other experts out there can help me on this one. Why has the crucifix and garlic come to be such a big deal in literature for repelling vampires? I can understand the crucifix...but why garlic? And what about the other things mentioned here?

(It has been a long time since I read the book, maybe they play a bigger role later on.)

Elizabeth Miller

Re Garlic:
Stoker is the one who popularized garlic in literature as a repellant against vampires. He did not, however, invent it. He drew on a widespread feature of central and eastern European folklore in which garlic serves as a defense against evil (not just vampires). (Stoker's direct source for the use of garlic was an article, "Transylvanian Superstitions", written in 1885 by an amateur folklorist, a Scottish lass named Emily Gerard.)

Why garlic? One theory is that in many of these cultures, garlic was a staple part of the diet and considered good for the body (we now know the truth of this). It was just a simple step to claim spiritual benefits as well. As vampire attacks were threats against the community, such a familiar object represented communal stability. (Bryan - as a folklorist, what's your take?) Using that logic, I guess that if vampires were to attack a contemporary American town, the best repellant would be a Big Mac! :)

Stoker does not do much else with the wild rose and the mountain ash. But some folk cultures consider certain plants and trees to have both medicinal and spiritual benefits.

Baby Jinx

Re: Ash and wild rose

I've tried myself to find the roots of using ash and wild rose to kill vampires, but most explanations that I've come across have to do with Christian references, e.g., Christ's cross was supposed made out of ash. Plants with thorns, such as the wild rose, are likened to the crown of thorns worn by Christ during his crucifixion.

However, in his book _Fasti_ (which was written prior to the death of Christ), Ovid describes the value of the hawthorn in warding off vampire striges who like to feast on the blood of human infants, so the roots of some of these references probably predate Christianity.

Jessie Hurd

Re: Why garlic?

Pyroforia is a genetic/transmitted* blood disease that was most likely the seed that started superstition about vampiric beings. They have many symptoms that now symbolize the vampire, such as the disease leading to aversion towards sunlight, because the skin becomes very vulnerable. Only a few minutes of exposure leads to serious skin burns. The skin of the diseased becomes pale green. The mouth and teeth of the diseased becomes blood red because of dead red blood cells, and the gum shrinks, causing the teeth to appear longer and sharper. Garlic contains a substance(diakyl-disuphide) that causes great pain to the diseased, and thus could have been thought to be a sort of 'vampire repellant'.
*it could not be transmitted through the air, but the victims oftem became crazed, as in rabies, and bit others. Thereafter forming the blood-sucking to transform another.

Spoiler Alert

That theory (that porphyria led to the beliefs about vampirism) was first presented in an paper at the American Association for the Advancement of Science by a chemist named David Dolphin. It has subsequently been refuted due to the fact that the only form of porphyria which could have been likened to vampirism was the rarest form--congenital erythropoietic porphyria--occurring in very few people throughout history.

The hullabaloo over porphyria and vampirism was simply a media overreaction which negatively affected the lives of porphyrics by associating them with vampirism. Porphyriacs, vampirologists, the medical profession, and David Dolphin himself are asking people to stop spreading this rumor.

Baby Jinx

Elizabeth Miller

BJ is correct about porphyria/vampirism. It's a case of much ado about nothing. The chief "comparison" that has been noted is that victims of porphyria, like vampires, cannot tolerate sunlight. That is preposterous, considering that the sunlight motif has no basis in vampire folklore and was an invention of the 20th century.

Jessie Hurd

I see, my mistake. Sorry about that.


This reminds me of learning about rabies in my infectious disease courses and Dr Gomez-Alonso's 1998 paper about vampirism possibly stemming from rabies symptoms (Neurology. 1998 Sep;51(3):856-9). That explains some things like biting, hypersexuality, and photophobia, but I don't think that explains the garlic, though! :)


Baby Jinx

It also doesn't explain the fact that vampiric beings (beings that drink human blood and/or lifeforce) have been known in almost every culture and as long ago as we have written records (@3500 BCE). In fact, the vampire may be one of Jung's archetypes. However, the vampire as we know it (undead blood-sucker) as well as the word 'vampire', seems to stem from the Balkan Slavs.


Well, rabies has been around that long, too.


"Rabies is a very old disease, perhaps as old as humankind. The word rabies has its origin in Sanskrit, 3000 years BC: "rabhas" means "to do violence". The Greek word for rabies,"lyssa" derives from the root "lud" which means "violent". The first description of the disease dates from the 23rd. century BC in the Eshuma Code of Babylon. Antiquity, did know rabies as well as the link between human disease and animals, especially dogs."


Baby Jinx

It may be that an outbreak of rabies at some time and place sparked a local outcry of vampirism. Vampires have been blamed for everything from tuberculosis to the plague, from nocturnal emissions to pregnancies, from cancer to crib death. Why not rabies?

However, the concept of beings who live on human lifeforce is far more universal in the human mind than any one disease. I fear that the search for THE stem of vampirism among rabies, porphyria, xeroderma pigmentosum or any other disease is doomed to failure. I think vampirism is more an unconscious archetype than the result of any given medical condition.


No, no, the paper is saying that people probably misdiagnosed rabies as vampirism, not that vampires CAUSED rabies.

In any case, how is the thesis of this paper "doomed"? He's not saying rabies is vampirism - just that it's possible that there are historical ROOTS in real disease. The fact is that rabies (among other diseases) and vampirism have similar symptoms, and that's the truth. Obviously many diseases in history have picked up legends around them, and many of the legends have gained more celebrity and possibly more cultural significance than the diseases that may have caused them.

Baby Jinx

You misunderstand. I am agreeing with you (and with Gomez-Alonso whose paper I have read and have a copy of) that local outbreaks of rabies may have been misdiagnosed as vampirism. In fact, IIRC, G-A tied a 1700s outbreak of rabies in the Balkans to an upsurge in vampire reports...at least, they both occurred around the same time. Remember, however, that correlation does not mean causation. It's possible that the rabies outbreak had little or nothing to do with the upsurge in vampirism.

What I'm trying to say is that there have been many diseases that have been named as the possible, as you put it, "stem" of vampirism. But belief in vampirism was too widespread to have stemmed from any particular disease or outbreak of disease. It's a belief that has existed in some form for as long as we have historical records, and it's been used to explain a whole bunch of things that were inexplicable at the time.


Oh, see when I read "Vampires have been blamed for everything from tuberculosis to the plague, from nocturnal emissions to pregnancies, from cancer to crib death" I understood that you meant vampirism was being blamed for causing rabies (et al), while I was saying the opposite: rabies was causing the alleged vampirism.

We agree that one outbreak did not cause all the vampire legends from that time on. What I was saying was that I understood the point of the paper - "much evidence supports that rabies could have played a key role in the generation of the vampire legend" - to not be (one outbreak = legend), but rather (more people with disease = more legendary). Rabies, which has been transmittable to the human population from animal populations since before written history and before it has had a name (I guess that's obvious), and as long as the idea of vampires has been around, propelled rather than started the idea of vampirism. The outbreaks in the Balkans, for example, were neither the start of the legend, nor the start of rabies, nor the start of the association between the two - just a famous period that influenced later beliefs.

I hope that makes sense. I think we are agreeing on most points. I believe rabies was a significant factor in the spread of the belief in vampires, but certainly not the only one, and I think that's what most medical anthropologists would say is the case with many legends associated with historic diseases like syphilis, typhus, hookworm, etc. There are certainly cultural, political, philosophical, and sometimes epidemiological factors that play into the formation of any legend. But I think it's also important to not understate the role of physiological disease in a cultural phenomena, as an incomplete picture has frequently (maybe not as much with vampirism, but you get the idea) led to abuse of victims who should be treated as patients.

Elizabeth Miller

In pre-scientific cultures, unexplained occurrences (including epidemics) were often blamed on evil forces, including (if the folk belief was prevalent in the region) vampires. Some of the 18th-century vampire "sightings" (recorded by Calmet) can be explained by premature burial, other by lack of understanding about the process of death and decomposition (see Paul Barber's superb anthropological analysis).

Closer to "home" there are the vampire legends of Rhode Island - cases that apparently were tuberculosis. This has a direct connection with _Dracula_ as Stoker pasted into his Notes a copy of a newspaper article (Feb 1896) entitled "Vampires in New England". If anyone is interested in the article, I have placed it on the Dracula Research Centre website: http://www.blooferland.com/drc

Baby Jinx

Let me reiterate. What I'm saying is that a single disease such as rabies or porphyria or anemia or xeroderma just doesn't have the magnitude to have given rise to a worldwide belief such as vampirism. Although the word 'vampire' and the concept of the 'vampire' per se (as an undead bloodsucker) appears to have originated with the Balkan Slavs, there are simply too many different types of legendary vampiric beings in too many cultures to have all evolved from sporadic outbreaks of any one disease.

Consider the chiang shih of the Chinese, the lilu-demons of the Babylonians, the ciuateteo of ancient Mexico, the baital of India, the obayifo of the Africans, the Roman stryx, the Scandinavian mare--all of these were legendary 'vampires' in the sense that they fed on the blood and/or lifeforce of human beings.

What I'm saying is that the universal concept of the vampire grew out of the 'collective consciousness' of the primitive human mind as the need to explain such things as wasting away and death. Why do newborn babies suddenly die in the nighttime? A vampire (under any name) sucked out their life. Why did father grow weaker and weaker until he died? A vampire was stealing his blood. Why does a young man wake up with his semen on the sheets? A vampire was having her way with him while he slept. Why are villagers falling ill and dying? There must be a vampire in the midst.

While an outbreak of rabies in the Balkans may have added to the vampire fervor in that region at that time, I think the conclusion that rabies "generated the vampire legend" is simply too broad a leap.


What Baby Jinx said. Also, I find these kind of "just so" stories don't really add anything to my understanding of vampires -- it seems like a strategy designed to shut down discussion rather than to open it up.

I would suggest as an alternative that anyone who's interested in the relationship between rabies and vampirism watch the film "I Drink Your Blood," http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067229/

You won't actually learn anything, but it's a really fun 1970s drive-in horror movie.


I was agreeing with this - the legend of vampirism has gained much more meaning culturally than the understanding of rabies or diseases in general, so even if popularity of the legend was strongly influenced by one epidemic or another, it further evolved on it's own, and was used as an excuse for other things (such as other unrelated pandemic diseases) regardless of whether they were convincing arguments or not. Collective consciousness can just as easily be influenced disease, as it can be by persistent war, poverty, or anything else surrounding everyday life.

In the case of rabies, there are more similarities to vampirism than some other diseases such as porphyria, and even if the "evidence" is anecdotal, this is as good an argument as it's going to get for epidemiological factors in the legend. ONLY ONE of many potential factors, but still a factor. Again, the point I was trying to make is that it's also important to not understate the role of physiological disease in a cultural phenomena, as an incomplete picture has frequently (maybe not as much with vampirism, but you get the idea) led to abuse of victims who should be treated as patients.

I totally agree that the phrase "generated the vampire legend" probably gives way too much credit to this arguement, but hey, he was trying to get published. We've all done it. Nevertheless, rabies is ancient and widespread, and in many many many populations throughout history, pandemic. Causal relationship or not (and that is impossible to prove in this case), where there have been vampire legends, there have been rabies, and other suspect diseases. I'm not saying this is a quick and easy answer, but it's a factor and should not be ignored just as any religious, cultural, political, etc etc factor shouldn't be ignored either. I do not think people should assume that scientists are looking to shut down an arguement by presenting facts. The very nature of science is to argue and argue and argue about the "facts", and to challenge popular belief. They are simply trying to open up the argument to more ideas, not just cultural or philosophical ones.

Baby Jinx

Re: shutting down discussion

What shuts down discussion are statements such as "the stem of vampirism is porphyria" or "rabies generated the vampire legend." Such panacean explanations for the origin of the vampire legend are too narrow and fail to consider all the other factors, e.g., religious beliefs, burial customs, monetary recompense, social mores, anthropomorphisms, behavioral aberrations, etc., which also added to the universal idea that there are entities out there that drink human blood and feed on our lifeforce.


I agree that those are overly-sweeping conclusions, and are not at all useful in validating the arguments. In fact, as we've seen here, it can really turn readers off. However, it can also grab readers' attention, and for scientific papers most people make those kinds of big statements without actually expecting people to take it for fact. It is, after all, just a hypothesis seeking get popularity, and even peer review alone should put it to the test. I'm not justifying it - I'm just stating where he's coming from. Plus he did say "much evidence supports that rabies could have played a key role in the generation of the vampire legend", not just "rabies generated the vampire legend".

In the end, it's a flawed paper, but I think it is more helpful to our understanding of that time in history that he presents the facts about rabies than it hurts us to hear gimmicky summarizations that come with it, and it's our job as attentive readers to sort out the good in the bad in any theory as we are doing here.


Also, as someone who has to read alot of boring papers, while it would help us to consider the other factors (political, economic, religious, et al), he probably couldn't have gotten the paper accepted for publication if he strayed off the topic of rabies much - it was published, after all, in Neurology.

Baby Jinx

As a professor in academia, I understand your argument that so-and-so does it in order to get published.


Certainly. I think it's worth giving him the benefit of the doubt to think that if these results were going for a journal of much broader scope like Science that the paper would have been quite different than if it were a specialty journal. The paper is what it is, and I think it does a good job presenting neurological and epidemiological facts in a cultural context.

Elizabeth Miller

BJ: As a professor in academia, I too understand how it happens (publishing overstatement/speculation/misconception as fact, just to get published - or to get tenure, promotion, whatever). But I would not condone it. Surely a scholar should have a greater sense of responsibility to the academic community.

I think of all the garbage that has been presented as "scholarship" in the field of Dracula studies. As you know, I can quote dozens of examples of faulty scholarship which has then formed the foundation for additional, even faultier scholarship. I know of cases where "evidence" has been manufactured in order to "prove" a "fact". All one has to think of is the nonsense about Vlad the Impaler being the inspiration for the novel.

Baby Jinx

I agree with Elizabeth. If the value of Gomez-Alonso's paper was to present "the facts" about rabies, that information can be gotten out of any Merck Manual. If it was written to present "neurological and epidemiological facts in a cultural context," then perhaps it is a fine example of same. But to draw the conclusion that similarities in a cultural complex lead to the conclusion that rabies "generated" the vampire legend is, at best, a faulty conclusion unworthy of a scholar, and it makes suspect everything else about his paper.


I can see that. As a scientist reading it in Neurology, I accepted it as a decent example of neurological and epidemiological facts in a cultural context. It was concise, presented accepted facts about rabies and suggested associations to facts about vampirism, and refered to past medical theories on vampirism and their shortcomings. It was interesting and provokes discussion, but if we think about it know the theory can't be well-proven no matter what.

However, as you point out, the sweeping generalization and possibly irresponsible language undermines the facts once it hits the main stage (I noticed the AP reported on the paper, too). It may make the reader suspect the rest of the paper, and hurt the author, the reader, and the integrity of both our fields in the end.

Nevertheless, the paper may be irresponsible and we may thus approach it with disregard or disbelief, but that doesn't necessarily make it untrue (think the first epidemiological reports of AIDS). I know the facts about rabies are true. I believe the facts about vampire legend are true. There are many similarities, and more than with some other proposed diseases. Is there are relationship? Maybe, or maybe not. We have no statistics. Do we know the nature of that relationship? Definitely not.

Baby Jinx

The facts about rabies may be true, and the facts about vampirism may be true. But just because those facts are true doesn't mean that one caused the other or even that they're related. Harken back to Statistics 101, and remember that correlation does not mean causation. Much more evidence than similarity in symptoms must be forthcoming before we can accept Gomez-Alonso's theory.


I understand what you're saying, but I don't think you're hearing that I've not been refusing that. Statistics DOES say that beyond a given cutoff correlation DOES mean causation. We don't have any numbers to go on here, so there's correlation coefficient that I can hand you to say whether it is OR ISN'T a statistically significant enough to prove causality or random association.

What I did say was:

"It was interesting and provokes discussion, but if we think about it know the theory can't be well-proven no matter what,"


"that doesn't _necessarily_ make it untrue (think the first epidemiological reports of AIDS)"

and most to the point

"Is there are relationship? Maybe, or maybe not. We have no statistics. Do we know the nature of that relationship? Definitely not."

Am I saying he has drawn a statistically significant correlation? I never said that.
What I did say was:

"There are many similarities, and more than with some other proposed diseases."

Yes, we need more evidence. I didn't say we didn't! And just because this isn't evidence (and I really think it's not) doesn't mean it's worthless. Evidence starts with anecdotal association. How do you think other pathogens are linked to disease? They all start out with similarities and hunches, and if we do it right, or are even just lucky, end with data and lead to causal relationships and theories.

Please, hear what I'm saying: I do not assume Dr Gomez-Alonso's ideas are going to lead to solid theories. I honestly don't think they can. I'm just saying you don't know for sure that the association is random, either.

The point I was trying to make in my first post (god, that was so long ago now) was hey, here's something interesting. It may not mean anything, but it's something to think about. But medical science doesn't explain everything, and the legend has clearly evolved on its own (ergo the garlic comment).

Baby Jinx

Yes, A-G's theory is interesting, but that's as far as it goes. I file it with the other papers that have claimed a link between vampirism and a certain medical cause. I file these under the blanket assumption that belief in vampires is medical in origin.


Sorry, this is non sequitur but I had to correct myself because it was really bugging me: statistically significant correlation is one of several integral steps in proving causality. I didn't mean to imply that correlation alone can indicate causality; other steps include providing a biologically viable explanation for the risk factor playing a role in the disease outcome, as Dr Gomez-Alonso tried to do. In any case, he didn't provide all the steps, so no answers yet.

Anyways, do you not believe there is any role for medical explanations (not as a sole cause, but as an environmental factor) in the evolution of vampire legend?

Baby Jinx

Significant correlations are one of the steps in SUGGESTING causality. Causality can only be determined through cause-effect experimentation, something that is not possible in the rabies-vampirism link.

Personally, I do not rule out a medical explanation in the evolution of vampire legends. I think that the problem comes in looking for the well-spring or the one source of vampire legends, as they are too widespread.

I am more of the opinion that the idea of entities that feed on human blood/lifeforce is a seminal idea that arose independently in various cultures, perhaps at various times. I think of vampirism as a reflection of the collective thought processes of humans in a particular stage of their development and that those attributions were based on the religious beliefs and primitive medical knowledge of the times.


"Causality can only be determined through cause-effect experimentation, something that is not possible in the rabies-vampirism link." That's not quite true. I mean, clinical experiments are the gold standard, but many if not most epidemiological studies that show acceptable causality are done through cohort studies with retrospectively-collected data. But in any case I still don't think that's possible with vampirism + any disease as there's no reliable statistical data on vampires (is there??).

"I think of vampirism as a reflection of the collective thought processes of humans in a particular stage of their development and that those attributions were based on the religious beliefs and primitive medical knowledge of the times." I can definitely agree with this. There are many factors that emerge and remerge, intersect and diverge, in the history of mankind that would contribute in their own ways to the big picture of the vampire legend.

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