Bats Before Bram

Andy Boylan recently made a discovery that challenged my views on pre-Stoker vampire-into-bat transformations.

My assertion—not just mine, but Dracula scholar, Elizabeth Miller’s, too (Miller 2006, 16)—is that Stoker invented one of the most popular “folkloric” characteristics associated with vampires: they could change into bats.

Christopher Rondina recorded a pre-Stoker mention from the Providence Journal‘s March 21, 1892 issue for his book, Vampire Legends of Rhode Island (1997)—but that turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by Rondina, himself (Hogg 2011a; 2011b).

I also came across what seemed to be a pre-Stoker reference, myself, in Richard F. Burton’s adaptation of the Baital Pachisi, a collection of Indian folktales dating back to the 11th century, which he titled Vikram and the Vampire (1870)—but that turned out to be a dead-end, too, as the text referred to corpse possession with nothing overtly vampiric about the “vampire’s” behaviour (Hogg 2011c).

However Boylan’s discovery is much more concrete. His article discusses a story in William H. G. Kingston’s Tales for All Ages called “The Vampire; or, Pedro Pacheco and the Bruxa.” Boylan (2014) summarises it thusly:

The story uses a basis of Portuguese lore, and the author sets out the lore before the main story begins. Bruxa are female, possessed by an evil spirit and the daughter of a Bruxa will become one in her turn.

However, a woman who is sinful may become Bruxa, a transformation that involves signing a contract (presumably of diabolic origin). The Bruxa are ordinary women during the day but become a supernatural entities at night and their main activity seems to be luring travellers off their path and into danger. However they may then return home and suck the life blood from their own children. The victims are described as being “marked with punctures”. (Kingston , 1863, p. 11)

Kingston, describing the attack on their own children, suggests they have “black wings”. (Kingston , 1863, p. 10) Whilst suggesting the wings mentioned in the earlier mentioned story and play were bat wings could be seen as a modern conceit, in this case I think it logical to suggest that they are bat wings as Kingston also explicitly tells us that Bruxa can transform into owls and “gigantic bats”. (Kingston , 1863, p. 10)

Boylan’s citations refer to the reprint of the story in Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Richard Dalby’s anthology, Vintage Vampire Stories (2011), but the original version is also available via Google Books (Kingston et. al. 1863, 72–80).¹

There’s no arguing around it: Boylan’s found a pre-Stoker reference to vampires changing into bats. Here are key quotes from the original text, establishing the link:

She [the Bruxa] is similiar in her propensities to the Eastern Ghoul or Vampire. Indeed there can be no doubt that she was introduced into Portugal by the Moors during the time that they held sway in the country. (72)

When darkness overspreads the world and the rest of the household are wrapped in slumber, they noiselessly rise from their couches, and after joining the orgies of their sisters in crime, are transformed into the shape of some noxious creatures of night—owls or gigantic bats. (73)

The passage is also accompanied by the following illustration:


There is even a connection between the Bruxa and the Slavic vampire’s tendency to hunt down their loved ones:

After their orgies and these long wanderings on the wing, they, with vampirish hunger, fly back to their peaceful homes, where, in calm repose, sleep their innocent offspring. Though feeling a human loathing for this terrific task, their horrible propensities overcome their material love, and seizing on their babes, their black wings fanning them to repose, they suck the life-blood from their veins—dreadful fate! conscious all the time that they are destroying the only ones they love on earth. (74)

And while I have discussed the methods by which vampires drained their victims, seemingly without fangs (Hogg 2013), the Bruxa appears to have that covered, too:

When they have thus murdered their own children, they enter the cottages of their neighbours and friends whose sleeping infants they in like manner deprive of life, and often when a child is found dead, livid and marked with punctures, the sage women whisper to each other with fear and trembling, “A Bruxa has done this,” casting eyes of suspicion on each other, for no one knows who the Bruxa may be. (74)

Blood-drinking. Bat transformation. Published before Dracula (1897)—this find ticks all the boxes. Now, we can remove the mantle from Stoker: he clearly didn’t invent the notion of vampires changing into bats.

But not so fast.

Firstly, the Bruxa in question certainly shares “propensities to the Eastern Ghoul or Vampire”—but not all of them. As the passages reveal, the Bruxa is not undead, but a living person. Its “orgies” and flight tendencies have more in common with Medieval witches (bruxa is Portuguese for “witch”) and the Greco-Roman strix, “a bird of ill omen that fed on human flesh and blood” (“Strix [Mythology]” 2014).

Indeed, bruxa‘s derivation, brujería (witchcraft), also plugs into the mythology of the strix:

There is no sound etymology for this word, which appears only in Portuguese, Catalan, Galician and Spanish (other romance languages use words derived from Latin strix, –igis, originally an owl or bird of evil omen). The word may be inherited from a Celtiberian substrate or it may derive from the Latin plusscius, –a, um (> plus + scius), a hapax attested in the Cena Trimalchionis, a central part in Petronius’ Satyricon. Pluscia could have arisen from rhotacization of the /l/ and voicing of the /p/, pluscia> pruscia> bruscia> bruxa (Portuguese)> bruja (Spanish). (“Brujería” 2014).

The bird element is also key here, as the story of Pedro Pacheco—which apparently took place in, or was at least set in during the Medieval era²—concerns his pursuit of a “strange bird” (not a bat); without a single mention of his blood being sucked.

The bird wasn’t even an undead transformed. The story concludes with a fisherman finding Pacheco many miles away from his home town, amended with the speculation that “some, indeed, going as far as to hint to each other that perhaps his wife was the Bruxa who so cruelly beguiled him” (Kingston et. al. 1863, 80).

That said—undead or not—the strix could have a place in the vampire’s development in some capacity:

The legend of the strix survived into the Middle Ages, as recorded in Isidore’s Etymologiae, and gave both name and attributes to the being referred to as striga in Latin throughout central and eastern Europe. In Romanian, strigăt means ‘scream’, strigoaică is the name of the Romanian feminine vampire, and strigoi is the Romanian male vampire. (“Strix [Mythology]” 2014).

For the record, the strigoi is actually the Romanian word for ghost (indeed, the Romanian word for vampire is vampir)—and there are certainly no mentions of it turning into a bat that I’m aware of; certainly not before Stoker wrote Dracula.

In that spirit, perhaps it’s now a matter of refining my assertion. As Boylan established, there definitely was a pre-Stoker precedent for living vampires changing into bats (specifically, the Portuguese bruxa). And by vampires, I’m referring to folkloric beings that supped on the blood of the living—just to make that clear.

With due fairness, though, Boylan (2014) did allude to another pre-Stoker source in his article, also connecting vampires with bat transformation—

The book was first printed in 1870 and is a portmanteau of stories, the wraparound concerning a creature called a baital, which Burton describes as a vampire but also describes as hanging from “a bough, like a flying fox, by the toe tips,” (Burton, 1870, p. 46). More explicit is the Preface to the 1893 edition by Burton’s wife (and editor) Isabel Burton who states, “The Baital-Pachisi, or Twenty-five Tales of a Baital is the history of a huge Bat, Vampire, or Evil Spirit which inhabited and animated dead bodies.” (Burton, 1893, p. xi)

—but the “Vampire” in question isn’t a bloodsucker. So I’ll refine my assertion: it seems Stoker was the first writer to represent a vampire—an undead, bloodsucking corpse—changing into a bat. In that respect, he retains his title to inventing an original trope.


While researching this blog post, I came across a listing for another William H. G. Kingston book in WorldCat—which seemingly published “The Vampire; or, Pedro Pacheco and the Bruxa” a year before Tales for All Ages‘s 1863 publication date.

Here is WorldCat’s contents listing for William H. G. Kingston’s Tales for Old and Young of All Classes, (London: William Kent, 1862):

The brothers, a tale of the Canadian border.–The crew of the Rose, by Martin Doyle.–The printing press; or, Use and abuse, by S.E. de Morgan.–The vampire; or, Pedro Pacheco and the bruxa, a legend of Portugal.–The bushrangers, a tale of Australia.–The force of conscience, a tale by a naval chaplain.–The spirit of the storm.–The bogies of Glen Bogie.–The miraculous tree of Guimaraens; a legend of Portugal, by Father Manoel.–A tale of a rat, by M.F.–A short yarn; Captain Trollope and the Glatton. (“Tales for Old and Young of All Classes [Microform, 1862]” n.d.)

William H. G. Kingston (1814–1880) was a prolific writer and “from 1850 his chief occupation was writing books for boys, or editing boys’ annuals and weekly periodicals” (“William Henry Giles Kingston” 2014).

If the WorldCat entry is correct (its contents are identical to Tales for All Ages‘s), I wouldn’t be surprised if the story was published even earlier, buried away in his voluminous output.


¹ Which Boylan kindly shared with me via Facebook on March 30, 2014.

² The story takes place when “the thunders of the Vatican were launched against the whole nation [Portugal] in consequence of the marriage of Princess Theresa with her cousin Alfonso, King of Leon. At that time there lived near the town of Aveiro, situated on the shores of the Atlantic, a sturdy farmer, Pedro Pacheco by name.” (Kingston et. al. 1863, 74). “Alfonso, King of Leon” was Alfonso IX of León (1171–1230)—who married his cousin, Theresa of Portugal, in 1191.


Boylan, Andy. 2014. “Stoker and the Bat.” Vamped, April 5. Accessed March 30, 2014.

“Brujería.” 2014. Wikipedia. Last modified December 15, 2013 at 23:09. Accessed April 5, 2014.

Hogg, Anthony. 2011a. “Bats Where They Don’t Belong.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, January 25.

———. 2011b. “Rondina Responds.” Diary of an Amateur Vampirologist, January 26.

———. 2011c. “Three Discoveries.” The Vampirologist, December 30.

———. 2013. “The Fischer Mystery.” The Vampirologist, August 26.

Kingston, William H. G., S. E. De Morgan, Martin Doyle, and others. 1863. Tales for All Ages. London: Bickers & Bush. Accessed April 5, 2014.

Miller, Elizabeth. 2006. “Getting to Know the Un-dead: Bram Stoker, Vampires, and Dracula.” In Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil, edited by Peter Day, 3–19. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

“Strix (Mythology).” 2014. Wikpedia. Last modified March 1, 2014 at 08:17. Accessed April 5, 2014.

“Tales for Old and Young of All Classes (Microform, 1862).” n.d. WorldCat. Accessed April 5, 2014.

“William Henry Giles Kingston.” 2014. Wikipedia. Last modified March 28, 2014 at 21:30. Accessed April 6, 2014.

7 thoughts on “Bats Before Bram

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  3. I’ve read Vikram and the Vampire, and I disagree. The baital is described in the book as sucking blood, as a vampire, and as a reanimated corpse. The vetalas and baitals of Indian lore (same thing, just regional name difference) are described as vampires. They are described as bloodsucking ghosts identical to the Slavic vampires, but who rather than dwelling in a grave in their own corpse, are usually the result of a sorcerer invoking them into a corpse of the sorcerer’s choosing. They are described as having the ability to possess any intact corpse for use as a vehicle. Despite this, they cannot feed while inhabiting the corpse; they only feed when leaving the corpse in ghost form, taking the form of a fox bat when doing so. This is almost identical to the Slavic portrayal of vampires, who in most accounts feed in ghost form. Many of the other haunts described in Indian lore as vampires are also associated with bats, usually by the fact that they always float above the ground, hang from their feet in trees, and have “backwards feet” (up-turned, like a bat).

    Then of course, there is the etymology of the pyr stem in most Slavic undead names, which some linguists claim is a derivation of a Proto-Slavic or Common Slavic apyr: “bat”, derived from Greek apyros: “not burned”, or more precisely, “not cremated”. This etymology is born out by the fact that the Slavic words for bats that utilize the pyr stem are words indicating that the bat is not something else: nietopir, njetopyr, netopyr, etc, could all be broken down into n(i,j)et-opyr: “not a vampire”, as one of the earliest word for vampire in most Slavic languages was opyr, which itself could be translated as, “of the bat”. (O- = of or from). The earliest Slavic word for vampire is actually apyr, indicating that Slavs made little distinctions between bats and vampires before converting to Christianity, and that the later bat names with the “not” prefix were to distinguish living bats from the undead in bat-form. The Slavs also had a lot of religious tabuism, which explains why they never mentioned bats and vampires in the same sentence, because in superstitious thought, to describe something in detail is to summon it. For example, all of their god names were actually adjectives, because they feared directly identifying their deities by name.

    Contrary to popular belief and understanding, all of the oldest depictions of undead bloodsuckers feature them taking the form of bats or flying about on bat wings. In such lore, they generally become such creatures by practicing sorcery, and are not distinguished much from the dead who rise in this form, as both types are regarded as equally undead. The southern coastal regions and island regions of Asia abound with such depictions, and the oldest depictions of all, those of the Aboriginees, likewise depict the undead taking bat-form to drain and plague the living. They even believed at one point that they were the descendants of a bat god, Tjinamin, and it was from this identity that the dead drew their power to rise in bat form. That lore is 60,000 years old.

    Then there are the bat-god cults of central and south america, which also depicted the undead in bat-form as minions of the bat-god. Evidence suggests such cults go back at least 12,000 years. It’s literally their original form of religion. They came from Asia originally, so it’s the remnants of whatever lore they brought with them.

    So basically, this notion that Stoker invented the werebat depiction of the vampire is false. So is the notion that it only entered the lore after conquistadors brought back tales of bloodsucking bats. The Greeks believed that the soul took the form of the bat, and their version of the vampire before the assimilation of the Slavic lore was the phasma. This probably influenced Slavic lore, hence the loan word for bat and all their vampire names implying bats. Then there’s the Finnish lore about the soul leaving the body in the form of a bat, the Celtic lore about the souls of the dead rising from lightning struck oaks in the form of bats, etc. In most of this lore, the dead rising in the form of bats are bloodsuckers; in Greek phasma lore, the phasmas feed on human blood, both in ghost form and when they materialize bodies.

    To get to the root of what a vampire is, you have to discard all the Christian era Slavic folklore with all its superstitions and contradictions, go back as far as you can into essential concepts of pre-Christian Slavic spirituality, and compare them to the same concepts expressed in the earliest undead lore worldwide. Languages and cultures always deteriorate, and clear-cut concepts end up blending together over hundreds or thousands of years. You have to dig down deep under all of that to find the answers.

    • Good afternoon Michael,

      Thank you for your intriguing reply. Let’s start with what you’re saying about the baital, specifically in regard to its appearance in Vikram and the Vampire. Could you cite the relevant passages that mention those characteristics? I am aware of the reanimated corpse angle, but the bloodsucking one in tandem with that?

      I will disagree with its etymological origins, though, as most sources suggest it is actually derived from the Slavic “pir” (feast), indeed, Slavic scholar Bruce A. McClelland recounts the following in Slayers and Their Vampires (2006):

      “Based on the foregoing discussion, we may more confidently assert that the word vampir was a pejorative name for a group or a member of a group whose rituals or behavior were offensive to early Orthodox Christians. It is unlikely that the earliest meaning of the word vampir denoted anything supernatural. Rather, I suspect that the term generally designated someone who engaged in pirštestvo, that is, in ritual feasting, where sacrifice was performed and wine was drunk to excess and ritually poured out (as libation), sometimes mixed with blood.” (p. 191)

      Consider also that bats are all but absent from vampire lore, I would venture that it’s an ingenious alternative etymology, but one likely inspired by pop culture via Stoker than actual Slavic usage. To suggest that they simply didn’t mention it as a way to explain why bats aren’t there (even though not only the term was used to describe them, but they were also described as shapeshifters), seems very much like clutching at straws.

      In terms of ancient lore, indeed lore stretching back 60,000 years, I’d love to see some referencing for that. As to the bat god you’re referring to, the Mayan Camazotz, no doubt, blood was conspicuously absent from his worship.

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