“The Real Vampire” by Paul Barber brilliantly illustrates the fear that 18th century Europeans related to vampires. In every religion, we talk about the soul and passing onto another existence because death will always be a great mystery. While the modern-age vampire has become glorified through the works of Bram Stoker’s _Dracula_, Universal’s Bela Lugosi’s portrayal on the big screen, or Stephanie Meyer’s worldwide phenomenon _The Twilight Saga_, there is always a history as to where the tale came from. Barber goes onto describe what a typical Slavic vampire would look like and he’s not the graceful squire that we associate vampires with. Rather, he would look like a scruffy-looking vagrant. Accusing people of being vampires can be seen as both a way of releasing societal tension, or harmful in the way that they brought suspicion on those who were socially marginalized. This essay is going to delve into both point of views in order to get a more holistic one.
Europeans in the 18th century had to account for deaths due to contagion because there were no theories of communicable diseases. Plagues and other contagious diseases were not understood because people didn’t comprehend that illness and death were related to microbes and other bacteria. There was no way to comprehend that death can take people quickly so vampires gave them a rational explanation to cope with sudden deaths. Forensic pathology was not officially recognized until 1959 so there wasn’t a method to account for causes of flaky skin, bloated corpses with fresh blood, or nails falling off because this was a natural process that decomposing bodies go through.
It also helped to explain nightmares and dreams about dead people. The separation theory of the body leaving the soul while you sleep, gives some rationality that vampires attacked their victims while they were sleeping. Some cultures thought that because of this, it was ill-advised to awaken someone suddenly because while they may be dreaming, their soul may not have a chance to return before he wakes up, resulting in a possible death. People always want some comfort in gaining a further understanding of the unknown; but, there can also be harmful effects that can lead to the exploitation of the socially marginalized.
Alcoholics, prostitutes, barmaids, and those who had commit suicide, were all considered to be social outcasts. People were also looking for identifying marks such as babies being born with teeth, harelips, having a hair or tail-like extension on the spine, or an amniotic membrane. These birth defects were a red flag for a potential vampire and these people were falsely accused of being vampires. These people were often looked upon with suspicion and may have been: killed, chased out of the village, treated as inferiors, or had difficulties gaining employment. These outcasts were not only blamed when misfortunes occurred, but once they were deceased, their graves (and more often than not, bodies) were desecrated. This is quite ironic because the people that were bringing upon the suspicion of vampirism were partaking in acts that a mythical vampire also might have.
Barber ends the essay discussing the AIDS epidemic and how 30 years later, there is not much known on a cure. It has caused a great deal of fear, panic, and has an associated stigma attached to it; but, we are not going stake people through the heart for contracting this virus. We have made great strides in medicine and developed an extensive understanding of how the human body works. Today, we understand and can explain what 18th century Europeans were so incapable of. It is in this that we now have a better anthropological view of vampires.
Barber, Paul (2010). The real vampire. In Moro, Pamela A. & Myers, James E. (Ed.), _Magic,_
_witchcraft, and religion: A reader in the anthropology of religion_ (pp. 332-337). New
York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.