Often, these legends arose from a misunderstanding of how bodies decompose. As a corpse’s skin shrinks, its teeth and fingernails can appear to have grown longer. And as internal organs break down, a dark “purge fluid” can leak out of the nose and mouth. People unfamiliar with this process would interpret this fluid to be blood and suspect that the corpse had been drinking it from the living. (Read “Archaeologists Suspect Vampire Burial; An Undead Primer.”)
Bloody corpses weren’t the only cause for suspicion. Before people understood how certain diseases spread, they sometimes imagined vampires were behind the unseen forces slowly ravaging their communities. “The one constant in the evolution of vampire legend has been its close association with disease,” writes Mark Collins Jenkins in his book Vampire Forensics. Trying to kill vampires, or prevent them from feeding, was a way for people to feel as though they had some control over disease.
- What are some superstitions in your culture? Why do people still believe in them despite scientific explanations?
- Do you think that superstitions can be good forpeople? Should they be continued?