Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Vampire meets the Academic

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?


  1. I remember reading a vampire history book that covered a lot of the myths and truths. Some was interesting, some really disturbing.
    And I miss Grissom...

  2. Wow, you really know your stuff on this subject. I'd never heard the Cain thing before. Interesting.

    In fact, this entire post was very interesting! Thanks for giving us this info!

  3. Yowza. Will be quite interested to see what other myths you're prepared to debunk.

  4. Alex--I miss Grissom, too. That was the best CSI.

    Bryce--I love the fanged ones, ever since I read Dracula. Anne Rice really clenched the obsession for me. The story of Cain being turned to a vampire as his punishment (and eventually becoming a student of Lillith, so the story goes) is one of my favorites.

    Suze--I'm really excited about doing some myth busting--learning about urban legends and folklore is one of my hobbies.

  5. Great post. I'd never heard the butterfly thing. It would definitely make vampires less scary. Bats are creepy.

  6. Cool post! Interesting, and of course I love the picture of Eric Northman.
    And thanks for the fun contest! That is an awesome gift basket! THANK YOU! And I told my family what you wrote about never drinking my punch. You gave us a good giggle :)

  7. I like Stoker's Dracula, but am not a big fan of the modern version of them. Yes, I know. That makes me totally and completely in the minority. But there was something poetic about Stoker's vision of a war between those with a human soul and those without one.

  8. I've never heard of the vampire to butterfly but I like it! And I never considered the origin of the myth. How neat to read all of this!

  9. I love your idea of Sunday Myth Busting, and will look forward to these posts. Great info about vampires, I must say! (p.s. Sting has a lot to answer for. Remember "Every Breath You Take?")

  10. Vampyre Erotica=instant magnet.

    Porphyria? Never heard of it. Wow, that is all real interesting. You took all the "sexy" out of Dracula though. :) And Eric Northman can change into a butterfly anytime he wants to as far as I'm concerned. (wiggling eyebrow) I always thought vampires came from "Chupacabra."

  11. B.E. Sanderson--I agree, butterflies are way better than bats. And no rabies.

    Kelly--I love Eric. Even if he does like Sookie. And you are so welcome--appreciate you coming to my blog.

    Angela--it's sort of bittersweet, I like that there is so much new fiction about vamps, but I'm a fan of horror, so I miss the original not-so-pretty-or-noble vampire that was traumatized by more than just his desire for a girl.

    Aleta--glad you liked it, I always thought it was cool that pretty much every culture has its own version of the undead

    Linda--Love that song, I remember all the high school couples totally groping on the dance floor to it--despite the clearly stalkerish lyrics. Ah, teenage romance.

    Laila--Hah! Chupacabra does mean goat sucker, so anything's possible. Perhaps the undead had a thing for livestock back in the day?

  12. I love the idea of this series!

    I heard that they also tried to prove the undead thing by digging up corpses of so-called vampires, and saw that their fingernails had grown (of course, they didn't, it was just a corpse thing).


  13. Thanks for the education--I had not heard that before Julie.

    I wonder if Dr. Dolphin's colleagues suggested that he should have been a marine biologist instead of a biochemist. Just saying...

  14. Sunday Myth Busters = Totally Awesome Idea

    I actually did a paper on vampire lore in college, but forgot most of it (because it's, uh, been awhile). This was a great recap of all those interesting facts I forgot about! Fabulous post.

  15. I don't know many vampire myths but this one is so Busted! Interesting article. So does the disease actually exist? I thought I saw it on an episode of Castle, but as we know, not all of what we see on TV is true.

  16. I know way more about vampires than I did previously. Thanks!

    For a vampire anthology, I had to adhere to the rules in the original Dracula book. It wasn't easy!

  17. This is so interesting. I can't wait to share my new knowledge of all things vampire--and I'll give you full credit, of course. I hope you do post more myth-busting posts. : )

  18. Vampires seem to always be popular. They're always around, always reinvented.

    I've been studying yeti. Haven't seen one yet. :)

  19. Lydia--"just a corpse thing". That made me laugh really hard.

    Slamdunk--I agree! Perhaps he thought people would think he was obsessed with his work if he became Dr. Dolphin, dolphin expert.

    Jennifer--i'm really excited for this Sunday--I'm continuing with the theme of the living dead.

    Clarissa--it is a real disease, but I've only rarely seen it. House likes to bring it up occasionally.

    Theresa--I'm not sure who has dibs on what exactly the "real" vampire rules are, but I think Dracula at least has longevity on his side (I guess both literally, and well, literally).

    Cynthia--always happy to spread the love for the fanged ones

    M Pax--Have you been North yet? Heard a lead on one located close to the Island of Misfit Toys--has a hell of a toothache, so bring your pliers, though.

  20. Hi,

    If one thinks about it the vampire myth was a good excuse for scaring kids to death and keeping them from wandering at a time when wolves and bears were common in the woods, but the little ghoul diggers of today just love gruesome it seems.

    As for busting myths, take the Sword in the Sword (King Arthur/Merlin myth), of which I did a blog piece on a while back. Think logical and the solution is there for everyone to see: iron ore comes from the ground, steel is then made from molten iron ore. The myth probably lies around someone (blacksmith) who not only smelted the ore he forged the first quality steel sword: a sword that didn't have magical properties beyond that of superb quality. Blacksmiths were important people within tribal communities, and often as not could wield a sword with fury simply because they were pumping iron before the term ever invented re gyms. So. It's more than possible such a man headed/lead a fighting force!!! Hence Excalibur and Arthur myth! It's a known fact that some of the best iron ore resulted in top quality steel coming out of Britain. Even the Romans admired and coveted swords made from ore from Brittania. ;)


  21. Damn! Sword in Sword should read Sword in Stone!

  22. Very fun post! Who knew all that about vampires? Fascinating!

  23. Francine--Love the Arthur myth--tried to find your old post--which of your blogs is it under? You wet my appetite, now I have to read it!

    Nisa--folklore is just so fun--there's a hundred different ways stories come about

  24. Julie,

    The more I drop by your nexus of humor and intriguing journeys into places fun and different , the more fascinated I become. As a fellow blogger, I know it can be a challenge setting the right tone, and then being consistent with that tone. I'm so glad I found you on a random day when I was just clicking hither and yon, and stumbled across a joy to be shared. Seriously mean that, and best of luck.

  25. Hi there,
    Nice to meet you, found you via Suze at Girl Wizard. What a great thought provoking post. I think it's a case of sex sells. The dracula myth, whether there is a basis of truth or not, has permeated culture because of the sex aspect. That in itself might make for good research, when did vampire culture become a sexual image rathen than folklore.

    Being a Brit I've always been intrigued by the Loch Ness Monster, Plesiosaur myth. Things that lurk below (my favourite word lurk).

    Eric Northman - YUMMY!


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