Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Hope Spot #5: The Bare Bones of the Vampire Myth, Part Two

This post originally appeared in the October issue of Sanitarium Magazine

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Last month we began discussing some of the common patterns in folkloric vampires and how we could use them to make a vampire that felt new, but still fit within this preexisting framework. We started with the "life cycle" of the vampire and their methods of feeding, and will now conclude with Appearance and Fighting Vampires.

Again, just so we're clear: No fangs. That's a relatively recent invention. Vampires generally look like people, often but not always like the people they were before they turned, and this is one of their great strengths. Some vampires can't even be identified except by catching them in the act of feeding.

They can be pale or dark, but most especially can be ruddy, and this because of blood. They can swell after feeding, like ticks, or even be covered with or be leaking blood. Unusual, but not inhuman, attributes are also possible: missing fingers or limbs, widow's peaks, or red hair and blue eyes, are all relatively common traits.

Vampires may also be invisible or otherwise unidentifiable except to dhampirs (and sometimes others, like twins). That is to say, if there is a test that can be performed to identify a vampire (making it hold a cross, to pull something out of the top of my head), then it may only work if a certain kind of person is administering the test.

In Practice: Jellypires continued

In the last article we gave our vampires a multi-stage life cycle. In the first stage... well, let's just make them look like shadows. Indistinct, amorphous, more like canvasses of darkness than figures. Lethifolds, not shadow people, yeah?

The second stage of the vampire is "gelatinous, boneless," as developing vampires are in some regions. They don't need to be the Blob, though. We'll cheat with definitions and give them some cartilage but rely more on a muscular system like we see in octopi and squids, something dense and extensive enough that they have (admittedly substandard) mobility.

Given that, they probably prefer to move through water, which gives us a whole host of interesting (and terrifying) scenarios. It also gives us a clue as to where they store their prey as they wait for the corpses to age.

Finally, the true vampire looks as it did in life (or as the original vampire of the lineage did). A vampire at any stage of development casts no reflection in a mirror, but only if the mirror is held by someone directly descended from one of the vampire's parents (or its progenitor's parents).

So we see why vampires usually feed on their family members first, I guess. And yet, they're hard to catch. A not-yet-undead vampire, still fully mortal, can be distinguished only by its behavior. A pre-vampire slowly becomes more sociopathic as it grows up, but the smarter ones will quickly learn how to put on an act for others and, hopefully, escape detection.

I smell a retelling of Polidori's The Vampyre here...

Fighting Vampires

You can't just let a vampire run amok, after all. So how do you deal with it?

Curative, purifying substances seem to come up a lot. Not just holy water but boiling water of any kind. Alcohol, too (usually whiskey or wine). It can be buried with the vampire, either so that the vampire will get too sloshed to make a proper attack (the most unorthodox tactic I've heard of yet) or so that the vampire's family members can dig it up if their loved one turns into a vampire, drink it, and gain some kind of protection from the vampire.

As we mentioned in the last article, vampires are obsessed with counting seeds and stuff: they feed on life. This appears to have developed into a general obsession with counting stuff, though, and in addition to poppy seeds and millet you eventually find vampires counting grains of sand on the ground.

Thresholds, whether these come in the form of bridges, running water, or doors, are usually barred to the vampire in some way. It may be unable to cross at all or simply require assistance of some kind. While the "vampires versus werewolves" thing certainly seems to be a modern invention, vampires actually didn't get along with wolves in folklore, and in some cases it was advised to, for example, let wolves eat the corpse.

Sunlight is usually bad for a vampire, but it was only deadly as of recent times. More traditionally the sunlight discomforts or depowers the vampire or inconveniences it in some other way.

Lastly, and more traditionally, we find bodily mutilation. Stakes, of course, but a corpse suspected of being a vampire can be pierced with needles so that the blood leaks out. The body may also be shot (sometimes after the coffin is closed so that the bullet passes through both coffin and corpse) or the tendons cut. A scythe may be positioned in the coffin so that if the corpse rises it will decapitate itself, or the head may be removed all at first and buried away from the neck (usually between the legs or far from the body entirely).

In Practice: Jellypires concluded

Sunlight is uncomfortable, even weakening, for vampires in the second and third stage but outright lethal for vampires in the shadow stage. Vampires that need to limit their reproduction for some reason can force their progeny into sunlight and dispose of them in this way. While older vampires are more resistant to blatantly self-destructive commands, the shadows are almost entirely under their progenitor's control (but not the progenitor of their progenitor, so there comes a point when a vampire simply cannot effectively control the spread of vampirism anymore if it let the situation alone previously and can't force its developed progeny to see its reasoning).

Oak, ash, and hawthorn are the woods most commonly said to be capable of destroying a vampire. We'll go with ash as being the necessary wood from which you make your stakes. Ash is associated with repelling serpents, which makes thus parallels vampires. Another point of comparison is in the water-loving second stage vampires, as snakes are mythematically Water Monsters (which are in turn associated with the destruction of life and the world tree).

A vampire in its first and second stages is still tied to its corpse, and destroying the corpse's heart with a weapon made from ash wood will destroy the vampire. After it reaches the third stage it has no need of the corpse and must be staked personally. Its progeny, however, are similarly dependent on its survival until they, too, reach the third stage.

Simply removing the heart of a vampire will do nothing if it is still developing, but fully-developed vampires will slip into a deep sleep until their heart is destroyed or returned, and the same fate will befall their progeny. One would only wish to do this if there was no way to procure ash wood. Burying a vampire with alcohol will imbue the alcohol with protective properties. Anyone who drinks even a small amount will be protected, but only for a night, so supplies are viciously guarded and rationed out (there may also be people who intentionally try to make vampires in order to get more anti-vampire alcohol).

Fire's no good past a certain stage, actually. A first or second stage vampire that was once mortal will die if its corpse is destroyed by fire, but a third stage vampire destroyed by fire will reform as a shadow to start all over again, and any progeny it may have made will be unaffected (which means that if any exist for it to leech sustenance from, the vampire may actually return more powerful than before).

Wolves, on the other hand? Let's throw in a Romulus-and-Remus kind of myth about the founders of the people. Whatever the truth of the nobility's supposed wolfish origins, there's definitely a connection between wolves and vampires. The storytellers say it's because the wolves hate the perversion of their mother's blood that vampires represent, but who can say for sure? At any rate, wolves will do what fire cannot, and can even ignore the insubstantiality of a vampire in its shadow stage.

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