The fact that vampire stories have resurfaced at the shores of the Puerto Rican psyche in recent times should not be a surprise. Modern technology has given new electromagnetic wings to ancient demons. It also has given vampires a new origin. The blood-monster no longer comes from the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. In this era of space exploration and mass communication, the strigoi comes to haunt us from the new unknown, outer space. Vampires have always been alien to the world of the living, that's why they are also referred to as the undead. But now their alien nature has embraced a new dimension, a more contemporary image. The folklore of the space age married medieval folklore and gave birth to the Chupacabras or Goatsucker.
At first one might think this a gunpoint wedding forced by the media. Out-of-space folk tales were rare before space exploration became a reality in the 1950's. On the other hand, vampire folklore dates back thousands of years. However a closer look at the forces behind this odd couple reveals that both parties came together voluntarily and willingly. They also share a common origin, as we will see.
- Deuteronomy 12:33
The link between life and blood dates back to the dawn of civilization. Ancient tribes worshiped their dead like gods, and shed their blood on the ground like semen, to fertilize the Earth and guarantee abundance. This symbiosis between life and blood soon evolved into deeper and more complex rituals. At some point in evolution, people decided that they were not going to adapt to nature anymore, but instead tried to submit the environment to their needs. If humans were able to control the physical environment to some extend, why not the supernatural one as well? This task was accomplished through religious rituals, where blood played a key role. African tribes such as the Ovambo in South West Africa, for example, still cut off the head and limbs of the dead to curtail the return of too many spirits into the world of the living. This allows them to keep a careful balance between the natural and the supernatural worlds.
The first step to control something, however, is to define it. The beliefs and dogmas that make up our modern religions share this purpose with science. In one way or another, they all try to define how the cosmos works. This make us feel in charge of nature and not at her mercy. The myths, superstitions and stories of folklore are remains of old beliefs and dogmas, early attempts to domesticate our environment. The need to exercise dominion over nature help us deal with more inner emotions and fears. When something strange happens, it needs to be explained somehow, otherwise the unknown takes over our lives.
The word vampire has its roots in the Mediterranean languages. The earliest reference to the word arises in the slavonic Magyar from vam, meaning blood, and pir or monster. The name itself defines the nature of an otherwise unexplained phenomena. The vampire is a creature that breaks the natural cycle of life by refusing to die completely and manages to survive by stealing life-giving blood from the living. This will take care of all those blood-drained corpses and strange deaths that otherwise would be left without explanation.
The Transylvanian idea of the blood-monster is very old and has itsorigins in the Far East. Tibetan Mongols, like other oriental cultures, believed in vampires and bat-gods. Records of the Chinese vampire, giang shi, date back to 600 B.C. Hungarian Magyars and the Szekelys of Transylvania claim to be descendants of Attila's armies, with roots in Asia. The diversity of ethnic groups in Eastern Europe contributed to an elaborate mix of folklore, from werewolves to batmans, but the cornerstone of the myths remained unchanged. Somewhere, somehow, the balance between the natural world and the supernatural cosmos has been broken. The vampire came to be the embodiment of such imbalance.
Dracula , Bram Stoker's evil character, is based on a real historic figure, a medieval prince who ruled Wallachia around the 1470's. His name was Vlad Tepes, also called the Impaler because of his favorite method of execution. He was also called Dracula, meaning the son of Dracul. His father took the name Dracul from a secret elite of knightscalled the Order of the Dragon. These noblemen were responsible for the security of the Holy Roman Emperor and for leading many crusades against the Turks.
Stories about Vlad Dracula can be found in Russian, Polish, Germanic, and Romanian oral traditions, revealing the widespread fame of the Prince's brutalities against both Turks and Christians. Among his victims were pregnant wives accused of adultery, children infested with decease, monks with foreign ideas, disloyal troops, even rival boyars. His reign was based on terror, and propaganda played a key role in many of his victories against the Turks. Despite the long record of atrocities committed by Vlad Dracula, he never got associated with vampirism until Bram Stoker used him as historical background for his famous novel in 1897. The book became an all-time bestseller, in part due to the legendary fame of the Prince.
It is important to observe that Stoker's own success did not started with Dracula, but with a British play based on his novel. From this play comes the polished and romantic image of the Count, dressed in a tuxedo and with a black cape. The wardrobe's design responded to very practical needs. The tuxedo eliminated the need to change clothes in times when plays were normally followed by a banquet. The black cape was key to create the illusion of disappearance required during the play. The transition from theater to movies just followed the natural course imposed by technology. Just like the press gave international life to Vlad Dracula in the 16th century, the movies gave Stoker's Dracula a new life in the 20th. From then on, vampire folklore has expanded around the globe, preserved and promoted by the entertainment industry.
While artifacts portraying vampire stories can be traced back 4,000 years, alien folklore is hardly a half-century old. Before space exploration was given serious consideration by the scientificcommunity, only a few bold men dared to dream about the unknown world beyond the clouds. Today, alien folklore is as popular and acceptable as vampire folklore was in the 16th century. As our civilization becomes more detached from old religious beliefs and relies more on science to explain the unknown, folk tales adapt to reflect these changes.
The apparent conflict between superstition and scientific fact was addressed by Bram Stoker in Dracula. He wrote, "it is the fault of our science that it wants of explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain." This vacuum left by science needed to be filled to keep our fears of the unknown at bay. New monsters had to replace old ones, but now they also had to be scientificly correct. Today's fiction is often labeled science fiction to make it marketable to a more skeptic consumer. No longer is the vampire symbol of conflict between life and death in the religious realm, but often the tension between our life on Earth and outer space. The imbalance between nature and the supernatural still remains.
The media has played a key role in the propagation of this new alien-vampire folklore. Just like Transylvania served as the melting pot where Asian and European beliefs clashed, merged and flourished, the new communication technologies have become the crossroads of the old and the new lore. The silver screen and television have given the "new blood" that was necessary to resuscitate the vampire folklore. And yet, one question remains, whatever happened to Moca's vampire?
McNally, Raymond T. and Florescu, Radu. In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires, Revised Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994.
Dunn-Mascetti, Manuela. Vampire: The Complete Guide to the World of the Undead, First American Edition. London: Viking Penguin, 1992.