LYRIC O’ THE DAY:
I’ll have you, and own you
Be hard and cold to you
I’ll be your dark angel
I’ll be your worst nightmare
--Vampyre Erotica by Inkubus, Sukkubus
Welcome to what I hope becomes a regular installment on the blog--Sunday Myth Busting. I’ve always been a fan of folklore--there are so many fantastic tales that shaped many of my favorite novels. However, I admit that this mythic mission came up because I was watching a rerun of CSI, not because I was pouring over classic literature. But I do find inspiration in all things Grissom:
Vampires, whether you like them gnarled and ugly or muscled and sparkly, are one of those cultural icons that are immediately recognizable. It’s difficult to really pinpoint the origin of the vampire myth, as there is folklore about the undead in all cultures. Some believe that Cain was the first of all vampires, and his children then populated the world. Other vampire myth started as an explanation for paranormal activity. The upir of Russia and k’uei of China actually took root in tales of poltergeists and incubi. The notion of a reanimated corpse with a dark soul was popularized by Slavic lore, and by the 1700s, the word “vampyre” entered the English lexicon. For the Slavs, vampires were believed to be the result of not tending to the dead correctly, thereby tainting the soul or allowing a wicked soul to possess the body. Vampires could also be those who died violently or before their time. Their souls could not rest, and sought to continue with the life taken from them by feeding from the living. In fact, Romanian lore described vampires shape-shifting into butterflies (not bats), which represented the soul connection.
|Could Eric Northman really morph into........|
|Now I know where the sparkly comes from! Butterflies are pretty!|
Whatever the origin, the vampire has become a pop culture craze, with new myths taking root via fiction and movies. Even academics have gotten into the debate, and that--in combination with my CSI rerun--led me to my myth in need of busting. Back in the 80s, a biochemist by the name of David Dolphin proposed in a paper for the American Association for the Advancement of Science that vampires may have actually been people suffering from a disease called porphyria. Porphyrias are a group of rare hereditary blood diseases in which the individual lacks one of the enzymes necessary to produce heme, a component of hemoglobin and blood cells. Without these enzymes, the chemical precursors to heme build up and cause variety of symptoms. Patients suffer from abdominal pain and skin rashes, as well as neurologic and psychiatric manifestations, including seizures or frank psychosis.
The “scientific” basis for Dolphin’s assertion came from a few observations about these patients:
1. Porphyria victims are exceedingly sensitive to sunlight, and exposure can produce severe burns and even scar.
2. Facial skin is very friable and fragile, the lips and gums stretch and thin out, allowing the teeth to project. The gums can become quite red and the teeth themselves may have a red brown stain.
3. Traditionally, porphyria was treated with ingestions of animal blood and organ meat.
4. Garlic causes excessive heme production and would make porphyria worse--thus the garlic aversion.
Unfortunately, Dr. Dolphin might have been better suited for a career in fiction. Vampire scholars--and yes, they do exist--were quick to point out that the whole sunlight plus vampire equals fiery inferno was not in traditional vamp folklore nor in pre-20th century vampire literature (i.e. Dracula). It seems to have come on the scene as a creation of the movies in 1922’s Nosferatu.
Also, the porphyrias are a set of 8 different types of disease, and no one type has all of these symptoms. Drinking blood would do nothing for people with this disorder; the chemicals needed are destroyed by the digestive process. Hence my issue with CSI, in which the episode claimed that a serial murderess had porphyria and was cannibalizing her victims to self-medicate.
As of yet, no medical condition has been described to explain vampirism. And David Dolphin (as well as Grissom) inflicted a lot of unfair scrutiny on people with a rare and often devastating disease.
What are some of your favorite myths? Are any rooted in fact?