A Moment of Science

Who Believes in Vampires?

The belief in vampires is one of the most wide-spread of superstitions; How can all those eye-witnesses to these creatures of the night be wrong?

Vampire

Photo: outcast104 (flickr)

There are tons of stories about vampires, but its up to you to decide if you believe or not.

The belief in vampires is one of the most wide-spread of superstitions; “real-life” instances of vampirism having been documented for hundreds of years.

How can all those eye-witnesses to these creatures of the night be wrong? One answer modern science gives us is that they weren’t all wrong: a lot of the written accounts of vampirism are accurate descriptions of events that actually took place. It’s just that the interpretation was flawed.

Some historians now suggest the real impetus driving belief in vampires was plague. Plague follows the same course originally ascribed to vampires: a single member of a community dies, after which the immediate family withers away one by one. The neighbors are the next to go, and so on. Victims of the original “vampire” exhibit a mounting fatigue, as if their very life were being drained from them.

Vampires may also have acted as a self-reinforcing myth. In the days before embalming, bodies were simply buried in porous wooden boxes. Under these conditions, natural decay causes a gradual bloating due to the release of gases. It may even cause blood to emerge from the corpse’s mouth as the lungs are squeezed — both sure signs of vampirism. To top things off, driving a stake through the chest of a body in this state will indeed cause it to emit an eerie cry — not because it is still alive, but by the sudden force exerted on the lungs.

So, people who tried to rid their towns of vampires could be said to have been acting rationally, given the limited medical knowledge of the time. The remedy never worked, of course –which is why vampires are still with us to this day.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science