We know all about the vampires from Anne Rice, Stephanie Meyer and Bram Stoker, who based his literary villain Dracula on the historical figure Vlad Dracul. But, did you know vampire stories have been told for thousands of years? The legend of vampires have captured the imagination and horror of countless since the dawn of civilization. Let me share a few…
The first vampire-like demons could be found in Ancient Mesopotamia, also known as the ‘cradle of civilization’. Mesopotamia during the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE) included the Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian empires. This area is part of the Tigris-Euphrates river system and encompasses present-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and southwestern Iran.
The goddess Lamashtu (daughter of the sky god Anu) was a wicked, blood-sucking being, who menaced women during childbirth and kidnapped babies. She drank their young, fresh blood and gnawed on their bones. She caused nightmares, infested rivers and lakes, and spread illness and death. Lamashtu is described as having the head of a lion and the feet of a bird. Parents often used amulets and statues to protect against Lamashtu’s malevolence.
If you died a violent death or were not buried properly, Sumerians believed you would come back as an edimmu which was a type of spirit or demon. They terrorized the living by walking through walls to suck the life from their sleeping victims. They also caused disease and criminal behavior.
Assyrian demons called Lilitu were described as beautiful women who used their beauty to beguile and trap their victims. They sexually victimized men. They roamed during the night, hunting and killing pregnant women and drinking the blood of babies. They are associated with lions, storms, desert and disease. They are depicted having wings and bird talons for feet. Some believe the Jewish demoness Lilith was a part of this group of Assyrian demons.
Moving on to Ancient Egypt (2690 BCE – 525 BCE), the vampire-like goddess Sekhmet was called the ‘scarlet lady’ because of her lust for blood. She had the body of a woman and the head of a lioness and dressed in blood-red clothing. She protected the pharaohs and led them into battle. She also protected women, particularly those during childbirth or the menstrual cycle. Legend has it that her breath was responsible for creating the desert.
In Ancient Greece (1100 BCE – 146 BCE) the Keres (or Ceres) were ruthless, bloodthirsty demons who attacked the dying or wounded. They grabbed their victims with huge claws and talons and drank their blood. Once the victim was dead, his soul traveled to Hades. The keres hovered over battlefields in search of wounded and dying men.
Empusa was the daughter of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft and sorcery, and Mormo, a spirit who bit bad children. She had the power to appear as a beautiful woman to seduce young men while they slept. She would then reveal her true monstrous form and feast on their blood and flesh.
|The Lamia: 1909 painting by Herbert James Draper|
Lamia was Queen of Libya and the granddaughter of Poseidon, the god of the oceans. She had a love affair with Zeus, the king of the gods, and bore him children. When Zeus’ wife, Hera, discovered the affair she grew angry. Hera took revenge on Lamia by killing her children. Driven mad with grief, Lamia turned into a vengeful monster. At night she preyed upon human children and drained their blood while they slept. She is often described with a distorted face and a serpentine body.
These are only a few of the vampire-like demons that terrorized and tormented our ancestors in ancient times. The myths and legends of these creatures were passed down through the centuries, taking on new forms and faces. The vampire legends continue on today with literature and movies re-inventing the blood-sucking monsters that haunt our nightmares and imagination.
By Tricia Schneider
~Tricia Schneider is an author of paranormal and gothic romance fiction. Before the supernatural took possession of her pen, she worked in a bookstore as Assistant Manager and bookseller. Now she writes full-time while raising her 3 children. She lives in the coal country of Pennsylvania with her WWII re-enactor husband.