Vampires And Werewolves: A Brief Pre-“Twilight” History

There once was a time when, upon hearing of vampires or werewolves, people did not automatically jump to express devotion to Team Whatever. (I can’t even.) In fact, people actually whipped out their wooden crosses and silver bullets and ran. Of course, nowadays we don’t run for any damn thing, but it’s always fun to recall a time when these monsters struck genuine fear in the hearts of humans… especially around Halloween. VAMPIRES: Folklore involving vampires has been recorded in numerous cultures and regions, and is thought to extend back to the prehistoric era. The history of the entity is rumored to have began in ancient Persia, where a centuries-old vase was found depicting a man struggling with a creature who is attempting to suck his blood. Lilith, the Babylonian deity and first wife of Adam, was known to drink the blood of babies. There were numerous blood-drinking goddesses in both Roman and Greek mythologies, but they did not become known as the “living dead” of modern lore before Christianity experienced in a surge in popularity. It was believed that people who died without receiving their last rites, those who had committed suicide, or those who had been excommunicated from the Catholic church were bound to earth.

The vampire we know today originates mainly from 18th-century southeastern Europe. An 1819 British novella titled The Vampyre has been credited with first establishing the now-archetypical notion of vampires as “charismatic and sophisticated.” The 20th century introduced film, and soon vampires got their big break on the silver screen. 1922’s Nosferatu, a German film, saw the titular vampire in its monster semblance; Bela Lugosi as Dracula reincarnated the seductive, suave vampire of the 18th century. In 2005, the “Twilight” series hit bookstands. Only time will tell whether Stephenie Meyer’s sparkly take on the tale lives forever. (We hope not.)

WEREWOLVES: The supposed transformation from a human into a wolf or wolf-like creature generally occurs after becoming afflicted by a bite or scratch from a werewolf, and is often associated with a full moon. References to men changing into wolves can be found in literature and mythology dating back to both Ancient Greece and Rome. The superstition’s earliest roots are in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which told of King Lycaeon, who served human flesh to passing gods who turned the cannibalistic king into a being more suitable to consume flesh — a werewolf. A long-held Armenian belief runs that some women, in consequence of deadly sins, are cursed to pass seven years in a wolf’s form, which sustains the myth of the werewolf’s involuntary metamorphosis.

In European tradition, many werewolves were benevolent and God-fearing; they suffered at the hand of others who afflicted them. Some lore has been based on rumored events — in the 1760s, in what is today the Lozere region in south-central France, a giant wolf was said to have terrorized livestocks and humans alike. A string of man-eating wolf attacks were reported in India during the late 1990s, and many frightened people claimed that the animals were werewolves.

Clinical lycanthropy, though rare, is an acknowledged mental illness in which a patient believes he or she has been transformed into an animal, and behaves as much.

[Vampires Among Us]