Everyone knows vampires feed by sinking their fangs into the necks of their victims. It’s one of the vampire’s distinctive traits. What may surprise the modern reader, however, is that this trope is a relatively recent addition to vampire lore.
There’s no question vampires were known to suck their victim’s blood. The most famous examples are Peter Plogojowitz and Arnod Paole, two cases from 18th century Serbia. Reports of their exhumations were recounted by Paul Barber in Vampires, Burial, and Death (1988, 5–9, 15–20). Both reports attest to the belief that vampires returned from the grave to drink the blood of the living—and in the latter case, the victims returned as vampires in kind.
However, what’s noticeably absent from these reports are descriptions on how the vampires drank their victims’ blood. The Paole case mentions that the victims were throttled, not bitten. Indeed, it was noted of one exhumed victim—Stanoicka, 20—that “there was also to be seen, on the right side under the ear, a bloodshot blue mark, the length of a finger” (Barber 1988, 18).
Though the corpses were thoroughly examined, nothing unusual was recorded about their teeth: these vampires were fangless—despite subsequent embellishments, like the following example from Lynn Myring’s Vampires, Werewolves & Demons (1979, 16–17):
That’s pretty significant, considering the Paole case not only introduced the word, “vampire” into the English language (Hogg 2009; Hogg 2010b; Hogg 2013), but cemented the vampire’s tendency to drink blood, too.
So how did the vampire extract blood? One possibility has been offered by French vampire scholar, Jean Marigny (1994, 55):
The overdeveloped teeth so dear to filmmakers are reminiscent of the werewolf’s fangs but are an attribute that seems to have been invented by the literature of fantasy. In general, the vampire does not bite its victims; it prefers to get blood by sucking the skin’s pores.
It’s an intriguing possibility, however, the method described—most recognisable as the “love bite”—would surely cause significant bruising to the victims’ neck: yet no such bruising was recorded, either. The sucking element is mentioned, though, as Paole was said to have “sucked” the blood from people and cattle (Barber 1988, 16).
But all is not lost. There may well be a folkloric precedent for the vampire biting and sucking from its victims’ necks after all. Herbert Mayo (1796–1852) penned a series of “Letters on the Truths Contained in Popular Superstitions” for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine under the pseudonym, “Mac Davus”. His letter on “Vampyrism” mentions the vampire’s “face, fresh with the smell of the grave, bent over your throat, while his keen teeth make a fine incision in your jugular,” adding:
You would look a little paler the next morning, but that would be all for the moment ; for Fischer informs us, that the bite of a vampyr [sic] leaves in general no mark upon the person. But he fearfully adds, “it (the bite) is nevertheless speedily fatal, unless the bitten person protect himself by eating some of the earth from the grave of the vampyr, and smearing himself with his blood.” Unfortunately, indeed, these measures are only of temporary use. Fischer adds, “if through these precautions the life of the victim be prolonged for a period, sooner or later he ends with becoming a vampyr himself ; that is to say, he dies, and is buried, but continues to lead a vampyr life in the grave, nourishing himself by infecting others, and promiscuously propagating vampyrism.” (Mayo 1847, 433)
At last! A source! Or is it? Unfortunately, Mayo omitted the title of Fischer’s work and Fischer’s first name. Without such basic citations, we’re left with a needle in a haystack.
The situation wasn’t improved when Mayo’s letters were collected, revised and published in 1849 under their series title, Letters on the Truths Contained in Popular Superstitions: the book doesn’t have a bibliography. Another brick wall.
Some time ago, I tried to find out who this “Fischer” bloke was (Hogg 2008). Unfortunately, I didn’t have much to work with. That is, until I started researching this blog entry. I sought a copy of Mayo’s book on the Internet Archive and typed “Fischer” into the search function of the “Read online” option. The search provided only two hits: one for the “Vampyrism” chapter; the second appears in the chapter on “Religious Delusions.” Concerning a section on demonic possession, it mentions “The explanations of these features is happily given by Dr. Fischer of Basle, author of an excellent work on somnambulism” (Mayo 1849, 120).
Thanks to prior Googlings for the mysterious Fisher’s association with vampirism (Hogg 2010a), I’d already come across a Fischer matching Mayo’s description. Friedrich Fischer (1801–1853) wrote a three volume work on somnambulism (sleepwalking) titled, Der Somnambulismus (1839). It was published in Basel. The same book even mentions vampires; I’d just never delved into it properly because I can’t read German.
The only thing left to do is isolate the relevant section and have a go at translating it. However, I’m knackered and this post has taken long enough to write. I’ll save it for another time.
Barber, Paul. 1988. Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Hogg, Anthony. September 26, 2008 (19:44). Comment on Niels K. Petersen, “Visum et repertum.” Magia Posthuma (blog), September 20, 2008, http://magiaposthuma.blogspot.com.au/2008/09/visum-et-repertum.html
———. 2009. “When Did Vampires Enter the English Language?” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist (blog), June 3, http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2009/06/when-did-vampires-enter-english.html.
———. 2010a. “Rare Vampire Book Cover.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist (blog), October 18, http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2010/10/rare-vampire-book-cover.html
———. 2010b. “Vampire or Vampyre?” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist (blog), August 4, http://doaav.blogspot.com.au/2010/08/vampire-or-vampyre.html.
———. 2013. “Bite This!” The Vampirologist (blog), June 25, http://thevampirologist.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/bite-this.html.
Marigny, Jean. 1994. Vampires: The World of the Undead. Translated by Lory Frankel. New Horizons. London: Thames and Hudson.
Mayo, Herbert [Mac Davus, pseud.]. 1847. “Vampyrism.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, April, 432–40.
———. 1849. Letters on the Truths Contained in Popular Superstitions. Frankfort: John David Sauerlænder; Edinburgh: Messrs. Blackwood. http://archive.org/details/lettersontruths01mayogoog.
Myring, Lynn. 1979. Vampires, Werewolves & Demons. Supernatural Guides. London: Usborne.