Terrifying Vampire Facts From Folklore, Myths, and Legends

Way before Twilight made them soppy and Buffy made them sexy, vampires of folklore and ancient legend were nightmarish beings to be truly frightened of. So, it's time to dim the lights and revive the world's most terrifying trivia of vampiric mythologies. From the depths of history, think bizarre rituals to rid yourself of vampirism and the terrifying curse of the black cat: don't say we didn't warn you.

1. Jure Grando was the earliest real-life “vampire”

In 1689, Johann Weikhard von Valvasor released the initial writings on vampires, and they partly concerned Jure Grando. It seemed that in the 16 years after Croatian Grando died in 1656, he would often knock on villagers’ doors — something that was said to signal imminent death for the inhabitants inside.

2. In 1725 a “vampire” murdered nine people after he’d died

The case of Serbian Petar Blagojevich is among the first reported instances of vampire mania. Supposedly, in the week and a half following Blagojevich’s death in 1725, he had returned from beyond the grave to first choke nine people in their dreams and then murder them outright. Jeez! He must have been having one seriously bad day in the afterlife.

3. A stake through the heart

The residents of Blagojevich’s community were so freaked out by the very real deaths — and the possibility of vampirism — that they disinterred his body. They found that the deceased man’s hair and nails had grown and that, alarmingly, he hadn’t decomposed. As a preventative measure, they decided to drive an arrow through his chest. That ought to do the trick!

4. There are several ways to become a vampire

Romanian folklore states a few ways that an average joe can wind up a member of the bloodthirsty undead club. First on the list of ones to watch, we have people born to unmarried parents. In close second are those out there who've been blessed with a third nipple. Next up are people who are born with a caul — that's babies who arrive into the world with their amniotic sac intact. Oh, and let's not forget anyone who dies suddenly or witnesses a black cat walk in front of them. Take note — any of these could put you at risk of vampirism.

5. Arnold Paole's undead killing spree

According to an Austrian official who documented the case, in or around 1725 four individuals reported seeing Arnold Paole haunting his village, despite the Eastern European having been dead for a month already. Not long after these reports, all four of them died. The community feared vampirism, and so they exhumed, staked, and burned Paole’s body.

6. The curse lived on

Following the harrowing Arnold Paole hauntings, just a few years later in 1732, Austrian officials also reported that 17 people suddenly passed away within the space of 12 weeks right in Paole’s village. Naturally, given the suspicious circumstances, they unearthed the dead. And, you guessed it, they found them in what they thought of as “vampiric condition.” As a precaution, the villagers opted to behead and burn their remains. Seems reasonable...

7. Greek vampires cooked their victims’ hearts

In old Greek legend, vampires were known as broncolaia or bourkabakos. These creatures would take and cook the hearts of their prey. Seems a little barbaric, even for the undead, but apparently, the gruesome recipe had a rather appealing side effect. Munching on a heart was said to trigger endless passionate desires that outlived their victims.

8. The puzzling case of Mercy Brown

In late 1982 in Exeter, Rhode Island, a teenager named Mercy Brown succumbed to tuberculosis. She was the third family member in just a few years to die of the disease, and it was therefore concluded that a vampire was causing these casualties; a vampire, in fact, that was said to be Mercy herself.

9. A gruesome remedy for vampirism

Following the 'unusual' deaths of the Brown family in 1892, all three corpses were exhumed. On inspection, though, only Mercy’s body remained in what was considered a suspiciously fresh condition. As a solution, it was decided that her heart should be incinerated. But that's not all — after burning, the organ supposedly needed to be combined with water to create a drink. And there's more... Mercy’s brother Edwin, who was also suffering from tuberculosis, consumed it in a desperate attempt to lift the curse. As you can no doubt guess, the attempt was a failure.

10. Did it all start with Vlad the Impaler?

The 15th-century Romanian Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia is better known to most people as Vlad the Impaler. He earned that nickname after his death thanks to his bloodthirsty decree that his foes be staked into the ground and left to die on the battlefield. But where do the blood-drinking and eternal life come in?

11. Vlad’s other name apparently inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Vlad’s dad was part of the Order of the Dragon and was known as Vlad II Dracul. This started the House of Drăculești, of which Vlad the Impaler was a member. Vlad was therefore sometimes called Vlad Drăculea — and it’s easy to see the connection between this name and that of Bram Stoker’s classic villain.

12. Egyptian deity Sekhmet was a vampire

According to Egyptian folklore, the warrior deity Sekhmet was sent to Earth to prevent a war against the gods. And before long, she went on a vicious killing spree, massacring humans and drinking their blood. So naturally, it is this last unsavory habit that has seen her become classified as a vampire.

13. The Highgate Vampire made headlines in Britain in 1970

Highgate Cemetery in London became known as a haunting spot for a vampiric ghost after two people reported seeing an apparition on the grounds in the late 1960s. A pursuit of the modern-day vampire was arranged for March 1970, and the televised hunt drew a crowd from all areas of the English capital.

14. 16th-century Countess Elizabeth Báthory liked to bite and torment girls

To this day, Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory is noted by Guinness World Records as being the “most prolific female murderer” of all time. The record claims that she had upwards of 600 victims, though the real figure has never been officially verified. Nevertheless, her tale has since become part of vampiric folklore. Vampire or not, Báthory was clearly not one to be messed with.

15. Báthory is sometimes known as Countess Dracula

Báthory only murdered females, and numerous disfigured bodies were discovered at her home in Castle Csejte when she was arrested. Several hundred witnesses would go on to later provide evidence of her and her conspirators’ cruelty. Given the mythology surrounding her vampire-like tendencies, it makes sense that her grisly reputation continued to gain traction after her death in 1614.

16. Countess Dracula drank her victims’ blood and bathed in it

The most persistent story around Báthory is that she washed herself in the blood of virgins in the belief that it was a fountain of youth that would help keep her alive and beautiful. Whatever the truth of that, however, there is one more spooky fact about Báthory that can't be ignored: the Countess’ cousin was once the actual Prince of Transylvania. Coincidence? We think not!

17. Vampire legends may have originated in Ancient Egypt

The Egyptian Book of the Dead claims that mummification was necessary so that the ka — or part of the soul — could remain with the body. But ka also needed nourishment, and if not properly sustained he could, some have said, exit the tomb and find it among the living.

18. Vampires were originally thought of as just boneless shapes

According to J. Gordon Melton’s The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, vampires were once described as amorphous “bags of blood” with bright red eyes and sharp snouts perfect for sucking blood. According to one reviewer of the comprehensive volume, the book is a “picture-laden, scary, helpful reference monster. You'll never need to buy another book on this dead subject.”

19. In China, vampires were known as ch’iang shih

Ch’iang shih, or Chinese vampires, varied from traditional vamps in a whole load of ways. They featured crooked claws and white hair, for one thing, and could eventually learn to fly and transform into a wolf. It has also been said that they tore apart their prey prior to absorbing their souls.

20. A teacher called Liu became a ch’iang shih

In Montague Summers’ The Vampire: His Kith and Kin, the author relates the story of Liu. He was apparently discovered lifeless and missing a head at home. But when, months later, his body was exhumed, Liu had not yet decomposed, he was covered with white hair and he was disturbingly cradling his own head.

21. Vamp variety

We often think of vampires through a pop culture lens, but different cultures around the world would say otherwise. The Dracula-esque, blood-sucking, garlic-hating monster is the most well-known vampire, but vampires actually come in all shapes and forms, depending on who you ask.

21. Vampires vs. Zombies

If you occasionally get vampires and zombies confused, you're not alone. These creepy creatures actually have a lot in common: They’re both monsters, both technically dead, and both intent on haunting humans. Most of all, both creatures have been legends for centuries. If in doubt, just remember — zombies = brains, and vampires = blood. Simple!

22. Freeing their souls

The only reason vampires even "exist" is because people have always feared death, and what dying may do to one's soul. Before they converted to Christianity in the 7th century, for example, Slavic people believed that cremating the dead was the only way to ensure that their souls were free. And if you've ever wondered what a soul really is, then the definition states, "the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal." So we're all immortal then?

24. The importance of headstones

If a body was buried instead of cremated, it was important to visit the gravesite frequently in order to appease any angry, restless souls. Otherwise, they'd rise from the dead and terrorize the village as vampires. It sounds a little far-fetched, but this fear may be the reason why we have headstones in the first place.

25. ...And stay dead!

Much of Vampire folklore came from people thinking someone was alive when they were meant to be dead. Sometimes, a corpse would move slightly when its tomb was opened. In actual fact, this movement was very likely to be because of the natural reaction caused by decomposition. It didn’t stop people from the whole screaming and running for the hills thing, though!

26. Vampire insurance

Fear of the undead became more and more widespread, especially in northwest Europe. There, mourners would place stones called "dolmens" on top of graves. It wasn’t about respect so much as making sure evil spirits stayed dead. These stones didn't stop other cultures from forming their own vampire myths...

27. German legend

According to 16th-century German belief, vampires were known as “the Nachzehrer,” or “After-Devourers.” Unlike Dracula, who preyed on living humans, these vampires stayed put in their graves and fed on their own burial shrouds. Weird, right? Well, it's actually understandable why people jumped to conclusions. Since the German Nachzehrer was a real-life person who passed away, that means that their body went through the normal decomposition process. Though people didn't know this at the time, the frayed, chewed-up look of their shrouds didn't come from otherworldly creatures, but from bodily fluids.

28. Plague superstition

In fact, a lot of the gory details surrounding vampire lore are actually rooted in fact. Things like blood-sucking, pale skin, and an aversion to light came about during all of history's various plagues. Sick people would often bleed from their mouths, a symptom that disturbed people so much that they made up a monster. From the early European plagues onward, many diseases became associated with people being vampires. On top of the flu, the myth was only fueled when diseases like rabies or goiter became more common. Your husband is pale, feverish, and strangely violent? He must be a vampire!

29. Real life vampires?

There are even some modern-day conditions that make people exhibit vampire-like symptoms. Porphyria, for example, can make people sensitive to light and stains their teeth a reddish-brown color. Of course, much of vampire mythology is rooted in desire, so it makes sense why another condition is defined by something a little more raunchy...

30. Clinical vampirism

Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who find themselves so allured by the vampire condition that they start to actually thirst for blood themselves. And this gruesome desire even has its own name. Those who suffer the peculiar affliction are suffering from haematodipsia. AKA a sexual thirst for blood, though some people call it "clinical vampirism."

31. Out for blood

If all vampire legends have one thing in common (besides the whole "blood sucking" thing), it's how vampires would only rise from the dead if their burial was less than adequate. A Babylonian myth from 4,000 BC tells of an "ekimmu," or an improperly-buried spirit who returns to literally suck the life out of people.

32. A Wild Dream

Like most monsters, it’s believed that the idea for Dracula came from a less-than-reliable source: Bram Stoker’s subconscious. The idea may have come from a wild dream caused by a “helping of dressed crab at supper,” according to Stoker. In his dream, Stoker saw “a vampire king rising from the tomb," and he couldn’t get the image out of his mind. The fact that Stoker started to write Dracula during London’s most frightening time in history only made things creepier...

33. Creating Count Dracula

See, Stoker started to pen Dracula a mere two years after Jack the Ripper terrorized London. Everyone in the city was already afraid of the dark at this point, which Stoker used to his advantage — and in his creation of Count Dracula. It’s speculated that Count Dracula, who was described by Stoker as being tall and alluring with “gracious manners,” was actually based on Stoker’s boss, Henry Irving. An actor, Irving was both egotistical and charming, two of the Count’s defining qualities.

34. A hankering for blood

But other historians believe that the Count and his bloodthirsty ways were actually based on a real-life historical figure. Not only do both figures have Transylvanian-sounding names, but they each shared a pesky hankering for blood. We're talking about Vlad the Impaler, of course. And according to legend, it all started with a crafty plan.

35. Vlad the Impaler

Supposedly, Vlad III once invited hundreds of wealthy noblemen to a banquet and, knowing they would challenge his authority, had them — you guessed it — impaled on spikes. Multiple violent Vlad stories were printed, and one eventually landed on Stoker's lap. When reading a book about Wallachia, Stoker was taken by the name “Dracula.” He was struck by the name’s devilish origin and by how much Vlad III had embodied its meaning. It seems Stoker got more than one idea from his research, however. 

36. Vampires everywhere!

There’s a silver lining to all the hysteria, however: without it, we wouldn’t have today’s thriving vampire genre. Vampires are literally everywhere you look when it comes to TV and film. Thanks to Stoker, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight series exist to obsess over — and obviously, the mania didn’t stop at literature.

37. Campy and creepy

Because we're all so seemingly obsessed with the undead, the creepiness of Dracula ended up bleeding into the entertainment business. Excuse the pun! From Nosferatu and Dark Shadows to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries, people are just as enamored with vampires now as they were back then. Though Vlad the Impaler and other historically recorded “vampires” probably won’t rise from the dead, there’s no denying the sheer creepiness of Bram Stoker’s original Dracula.