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A guide to vampires

As October rolls on and the nights draw in, ghosts, ghouls and the otherwise undead lurk around every corner. What better way to prepare for the spooky month ahead than with a crash course in vampires…just in case.  Luckily, our Curator of Firearms Jonathan Ferguson has a particular interest in the mythology of arms and armour as well as popular culture and the supernatural and is on hand to help us spot one.

Vampires have been a staple of popular culture for two centuries, from the publication of Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ in 1819 to Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic ‘Dracula’, to the ‘Twilight‘ and ‘I Am Legend‘ of modern day.

The belief in real vampires is of course far older. One of the first accounts of vampires is found in a Babylonian myth dating from 4,000 B.C which tells of spirits or demons who, having not being buried properly in death, returned as the undead, wreaking havoc on mortals by sucking the life from them.

The belief in vampirism even persists to the present day. As recently as 2004, a Romanian family exhumed the body of a relative, cut out his heart with a scythe and pitchfork, and burned it. This was a continuation of folklore that existed elsewhere in Eastern Europe for centuries.

Spotting a vampire

According to vampire folklore, vampires display some tell-tale physical signs of their affliction: pale skin, an absence of a reflection in mirrors, fangs and red glowing eyes. These attributes are commonly assigned to the blood-sucking undead in popular culture.

Other historic descriptions of vampires state that they begin as a blurry shape and have no skeletal structure. They have red, bloody eyes and snouts rather than noses, through which they suck the blood of their victims. After 40 days, vampires take a more human form and become a lot harder to dispose of.

Despite their inhuman descriptions throughout history, doctors believe there may have been a medical explanation for the proliferation of vampire stories in Eastern Europe. Porphyria (also known as porphyric haemophilia or Dracula disease), a hereditary blood disease, was once widespread among the aristocracy. Patients were sensitive to light, developed brownish teeth, and had skin lesions. They were often told to drink blood from other people to replenish their own.

Dispatching your vampire.

Now you know how to spot a vampire, you need to know how to get rid of one should you need to. Prevention is key: certain regions in the Balkans believed that fruit, such as pumpkins or watermelons, would become vampires if they were left out longer than 10 days or not consumed by Christmas. A drop of blood on a fruit’s skin is a sign that it is about to turn into a vampire, so keep a close eye on your fruit bowl this October.

Historically, thresholds have also held significant symbolic value, especially where vampire aversion is concerned. In folklore and popular culture, a vampire is often unable to cross a threshold unless invited. The connection between thresholds and vampires seems to be the concept of allowance and entitlement. Once a commitment is made to allow evil, evil can re-enter at any time.

If however, you failed to heed these warnings, myth suggests a clove of garlic, a stake through the heart or a strong Christian belief and cross in hand would be the weapons of choice to fend off a vampire.

For good measure, one way you may not have heard of is to throw seeds (usually mustard) outside the door or place a fishing net outside a window. Vampires are compelled to count the seeds or the holes in the net, delaying them until the sun comes up.

Failing that, you may want to consider implementing some of the survival tactics suggested by Jonathan Ferguson in his Zombie Killing blog post. Better still, get your hands on a real-life vampire killing kit, like the one of display in our Self-Defence Gallery.  In any event, remember, you only have 40 days before your vampires begin to grow bones.

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