Chances are when you think of vampires you’ll think of Eric Northman, Drusilla, Barnabas Collins, or any of the other fanged creatures-of-the-night that populate modern culture, including Mara from Love Lies Bleeding. The vampires we’re familiar with are (generally) human looking, powerful, often charismatic and attractive, with a thirst for blood and a dislike of stakes. But that wasn’t always the case. History and folklore are full of vampires that are nothing like what we’ve come to expect. Here are five examples…
Also known as vetaal or baital, the vetala is a blood-drinking demon in Hindu mythology that haunts burial grounds and crematoria, hangs upside down (like a bat) from trees, and possesses dead (or occasionally living) humans or animals. Not unlike the vampires on Buffy, the demon sets up shop in the body it’s possessing, while the original soul that inhabited said body is “completely gone.” Unlike the vampires of Buffy, the vetala retains none of the memories of the person it’s possessing. As well, destroying the body doesn’t destroy the demon, which simply moves on to the next handy body. Vetala are chaotic, revelling in the damage they cause, including driving people insane and killing children. Interestingly, some vetala are not evil; there’s even a Disney Channel series in India where a harmless vetala is friends with a boy. It’s also possible that Bram Stoker was inspired by tales of vetala before he wrote Dracula.
There’s some debate about what revenants actually are. It has been argued that they are a type of vampire, zombies, or simply generic undead. Since the word itself means “one who returns,” it could refer to anything from a ghost to (technically) someone coming back from a long trip. Augustin Calmet wrote in the 18th century that revenants were created by sorcerers “who sucked the blood of victims.” Most historical accounts agreed that revenants are caused by the restless spirits of wicked people re-animating their corpses. Whatever a revenant is, stories show a number of similarities with classic vampires, from their bodies being swollen with blood (usually from gorging on it); to only being able to move about at night; to needing their heads and/or hearts removed and destroyed in order to finally stop them. Illness and death almost always follow in a revenant’s wake. While vampires are said to require blood as sustenance, a revenant doesn’t need the blood it consumes. Another difference is that revenants, unlike vampires, decompose.
Draugr (or draug, pl. draugur, AKA aptrganga) is essentially a Norse revenant. Unlike other revenants, draugur can increase their size at will, are motivated by treasure (as well as revenge and the general desire to do damage), and are not affected by sunlight (although they prefer the dark). Draugur have magical abilities and can shape shift (one form they were known to take was a cat that would sit on a sleeping person’s chest, getting steadily heavier until the victim suffocated). They can also rise from their graves as wisps of smoke or pass through solid rock. Draugur can enter the dreams of the living, leaving a “gift” as assurance that they were really there. Draugur kill their victims (both human and animal) by draining their blood, but can also kill by crushing, devouring, or driving their victims mad. They were also thought to run animals to death by chasing or riding them. They can be killed via burning, dismemberment, destruction of the body, or simply by eventual decay.
(AKA Aizhakos) A pagan shaman on trial during the Hungarian Inquisition described a demon called Izcacus (meaning blood drinker), which could be called forth to destroy the enemies of the pagans. The name has ancient Turkish roots, and may have been originally spread by migrating tribes who were themselves influenced by the Assyrians. Specific information on the Izcacus is hard to find, but if it does have roots in Assyrian vampire beliefs, it could (like other Assyrian vampires) be a violent, merciless spirit or demon that devours its victims’ blood and flesh.
Originating in Spain, the guaxa (AKA guaja or guajona) is an ancient vampire resembling an old hag (think stereotypical witch) with bright eyes and bird legs (any relation to Baba Yaga?) She sucks blood (preferably from children) with her single long tooth/fang. The guaxa sneaks into homes at night through keyholes and chimneys, and slowly drains victims over the course of weeks, causing them to waste away. Unlike most vampires, they are born, not turned. One source claims that the guaxa’s weaknesses include silver, antlers, running water, and magical amulets, but I couldn’t find any corroborating sources, so it may not be accurate.
Have you heard of these vampires? Which do you think is scariest? Tell me in the comments…
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I have melissophobia– the fear of bees. I’ve suffered this intense fear since I was 3 or 4 years old, when a bumblebee chased me and wouldn’t leave me alone (eventually my sister told me to stand still, which I did, and the bee flew away, but the damage was done). If I see a bee now I keep my distance. If it’s flying near me I instinctively freeze in terror. If I can get inside I’ll walk as fast as I can without “provoking” it, all the while too afraid to look back to see if it’s following. If one gets in the house, I’ll hide in the farthest room with a door and wait until someone can come take care of it. The first time I realized I was having a panic attack was when I heard buzzing in the living room curtains (it turned out to be a fly). Basically, I react to bees the way other people react to axe murderers. My logical mind loves bees: they pollinate flowers; make delicious honey; and are symbols of orderliness, productivity, and a peaceful garden. But phobias aren’t logical, and on a deeper, baser, level within me, bees are the incarnation of danger and chaos. Even looking at the photo at the top of my post makes my stomach twist with anxiety.
Last night I had a nightmare about bees that wasn’t about bees at all.
It started when one of my cousins pointed out a swarm of bees in a tree. I knew we had to get out of there, so I started running. But my SO said we should find somewhere quiet to hide and let them pass us by. When I saw bees overtaking me as I ran, I knew he was right. I tried hiding.
The next thing I knew, my scalp was crawling (in the dream I could actually feel the physical sensations) and I heard buzzing. I asked my SO if they were on me and he said he would go get help. While I waited for what seemed like ages I tried to think of a way to get them off me. I kept moving near flowers, hoping they’d prefer the blossoms to me. But nothing I did helped, and they started moving down. They clustered around my eyes, ears, and mouth. They crawled down my neck and settled on my chest.
Suddenly my mom was there, smiling. My mom died 9 years ago, but has been visiting my dreams lately. She saw I was in distress (and I really was, having been crawling with bees in the dream for what seemed like hours) and took charge. Suddenly people were there trying to help. I woke up before the bees were removed, but the dream ended on a hopeful note, and I was confident the situation would get resolved.
I was covered in bees, but this was a dream about my anxieties over coronavirus (COVID-19).
The swarm of bees represents the virus: a massive danger off to the side that I didn’t immediately notice and then couldn’t get away from. Trying to hide from the bees is my self isolation (I have an underlying condition, so I need to avoid people as much as possible right now). Every time I hear the word “coronavirus” I’m reminded that corona means crown, so of course the bees started in my hair. Then they moved to my face, which is the area we’re constantly warned not to touch. From there to my chest, the part of the body the virus attacks. I hope the appearance of my mom means I’m being watched over. The hopeful note at the end gives me a little hope in real life too.
These are scary times. Nightmares are coming to life and threatening us all. But there’s still hope. Sometimes you can’t avoid being stung, but staying calm will help you get through it. And if you’re lucky, there’s still flowers and honey in the end.
Because so many people are stuck at home right now I’ve decided to make the ebook of Love Lies Bleeding free for the next few weeks. Books can help us get through the worst situations, and hopefully my books can help you.
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I recently read an article about 11 weird habits that all writers can relate to, and I’ve got to say they weren’t wrong. Dramatically staring into space while thinking about what my characters will do next? Check. Ending up on security watch lists thanks to my online research? Check. Losing track of time, dates, and reality itself thanks to working from home immersed in a fantasy world of my own creation? Check check.
Reading the list got me thinking about my own odd habits, which I’ve decided to share. After all, as the article pointed out, writers spend a lot of time alone–why not take a moment to bond over our mutual strangeness?
My Weird Habits as a Writer:
Seeking Out Mindless Activities so I Can Think: When my hands are busy but my mind is free to wander, that’s when I come up with some of my best ideas, solve problems with my stories, or mentally write entire passages (my phone is handy–and more likely to be nearby than pen and paper–for getting it all down before I inevitably forget). Mindless activities I recommend: weeding the garden, easy crafts, cleaning the house, ironing…
Telling Myself Stories to Help Me Fall Asleep: I’ve had trouble sleeping my entire life–the one thing that’s almost guaranteed to get me to sleep is telling myself a story in bed. It’s been the same story for a while now, with minor variations. Strangely enough this repetitive storytime actually does help with my writing. Every so often I’ll get an idea for a new character, or notice themes I should explore.
Watching (a lot of) TV: Sometimes it’s background noise that works a lot like any other mindless activity (see above). Sometimes it’s inspiring, giving me ideas to consider. Sometimes it’s instructive, helping me with pacing, or seeing aspects to storytelling that do or don’t work. Sometimes it’s just entertaining, which is also important.
I’ll leave it there, although there are more (so many more). What weird habits do you have as a writer (or in general)? Share your weirdness…
(Note: This is a re-post from 19 February 2018. If you’re looking for something new to read, how about my free short story “Blood Magic”: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/816146 or my novel Love Lies Bleeding, available in paperback and e-book at most online booksellers.)