Abraham "Bram" Stoker (November 8, 1847 – April 20, 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.

G. David Keyworth: Was the Vampire of the Eighteenth Century a Unique Type of Undead-corpse?

Folklore Volume 117, Issue 3, 2006


In his Treatise on Vampires and Revenants (1746), Calmet argued that although Western Europe may have witnessed troublesome revenants in the past, the vampires of Eastern Europe were a unique type of undead-corpse. In this paper, I examine the characteristic features of the various types of undead-corpse that supposedly existed in Europe from the medieval period to the Enlightenment, so too the revenants of nineteenth-century New England. I argue that, unlike other types of undead-corpse, the distinguishing feature of eighteenth-century vampires was their apparent thirst for blood.


The Slavic notion of blood-sucking corpses arose in south-eastern Europe sometime in the early medieval period (Perkowski 1989, 18), and by the eighteenth century belief in their existence was so extensive that in Poland, for example, not to believe in vampires was tantamount to heresy (Calmet 2001, 333). Popular fascination with revenants was further fuelled by reports of vampire outbreaks erupting across Eastern Europe in the early decades of the eighteenth century. In their wake, the Austro-Hungarian authorities, under whose jurisdiction the occurrences took place, enacted legislation to quell the situation, conducted official investigations into the matter and documented their findings. The Visum et Repertum (1732), for example, is the official report into the activities of a reputed vampire, Arnod Paole, and his undead progeny, that supposedly haunted a Serbian village and killed many of the inhabitants. Furthermore, the Church hierarchy and educated elite embarked upon an ambitious programme to re-educate and “enlighten” the masses of eastern Europe and to discourage popular belief in the existence of revenants (Klaniczay 1987, 166–74).
Subsequently, the vampire outbreaks inspired many learned dissertations on the topic, the most influential and well known being that of Augustin Calmet, a respected Benedictine scholar and antiquarian from Lorraine, France (Bennett 2001, xiii–xiv). In 1746, Calmet published his best-selling compendium on vampires and revenants, Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des démons et des esprits: Et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Bohème, de Moravie et de Silésie. A revised edition appeared in 1751, which was subsequently re-edited and translated by Rev. Henry Christmas in 1850 and renamed The Phantom World. [1] According to Calmet, however, blood-sucking corpses were unknown in Western Europe until the late seventeenth century, some sixty years prior to the publication of his treatise. And, although there may have been troublesome undead-corpses in Western Europe during the past, the Slavic vampires of the eighteenth century were unique:
In this age, a new scene presents itself to our eyes and has done for about sixty years in Hungary, Moravia, Silesia and Poland; men, it is said, who have been dead for several months, come back to earth, talk, walk, infest villages, ill use both men and beasts, suck the blood of their near relations, destroy their health and finally cause their death; so that people can only save themselves from their dangerous visits and their hauntings, by exhuming them, impaling them, cutting off their heads, tearing out their hearts, or burning them. These are called by the name of oupires or vampires, that is to say, leeches … In the twelfth century also, in England and Denmark, some resuscitations similar to those of Hungary were seen. But in no history do we read anything similar, so common, or so decided, as what is related to us of the vampires of Poland, Hungary and Moravia (Calmet 2001, 207–8).

In order to test the validity of Calmet's notion that eighteenth-century vampires were a unique type of revenant, I shall compare and contrast some representative types of undead-corpse that supposedly existed in Europe from the medieval period to the Enlightenment, as well as the revenants of nineteenth-century New England, especially in regard to their bodily appearance. Indeed, I will argue that apart from their reported lack of putrefaction (Figure 1), the distinguishing feature of eighteenth-century vampires was their apparent thirst for blood.

Figure 1 Jean Mistler's “Le Vampire.” Editions du Rocher, Monaco (1944). Artist: Albert Decaris. Supplied by Rob Brautigan.

The Undead-corpse in England

According to William of Newburgh's twelfth-century chronicle, Historia Rerum Anglicarum, popular belief in undead-corpses apparently thrived in early medieval England. [2] A troublesome corpse that haunted the environs of Anantis Castle, for example, accosted his former neighbours and brought about a deadly contagion:
… he wandered through the courts and around the houses while all men made fast their doors, and did not dare to go abroad on any errand whatever from the beginning of the night until the sunrise, for fear of meeting and being beaten black and blue by this vagrant monster. But those precautions were of no avail; for the atmosphere, poisoned by the vagaries of this foul carcass, filled every house with disease and death by its pestiferous breath … (William of Newburgh Book 5, chapter 24).
Impatient with the apparent inaction of the town elders, two brothers who had lost their father to the contagion resolved to go to the cemetery and dispose of the undead-corpse:
… whilst they were thinking that they would have to dig to a greater depth, they suddenly, before much of the earth had been removed, laid bare the corpse, swollen to an enormous corpulence, with its countenance beyond measure turgid and suffused with blood; while the napkin in which it had been wrapped appeared nearly torn to pieces. The young men, however, spurred on by wrath, feared not, and inflicted a wound upon the senseless carcass, out of which incontinently flowed such a stream of blood, that it might have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons. Then, dragging it beyond the village, they speedily constructed a funeral pile; and upon one of them saying that the pestilential body would not burn unless its heart were torn out, the other laid open its side by repeated blows of the blunted spade, and thrusting in his hand, dragged out the accursed heart. This being torn piecemeal, and the body now consigned to the flames, it was announced to the guests what was going on …When that infernal hell-hound had thus been destroyed, the pestilence which was rife among the people ceased, as if the air, which had been corrupted by the contagious motions of the dreadful corpse, were already purified by the fire which had consumed it … (William of Newburgh Book 5, chapter 24).
It should be noted, however, that although this revenant is compared with a leech swollen with blood, and although the undead-corpse of a chaplain buried at Melrose Abbey bled profusely from the wounds he sustained, none of the undead-corpses depicted by William of Newburgh were thought to actually prey upon the blood of the living. Indeed, most deaths resulted from the inevitable contagion that resulted from being in proximity to a putrid corpse, rather than the actions of the revenant itself.
Undead-corpses that spread deadly contagion also rate a mention in Geoffrey of Burton's twelfth-century hagiography, the Life and Miracles of Virgin Saint Modwenna, an obscure Irish saint whose relics were deposited in the abbey at Burton (Geoffrey of Burton 2002, 191–9). Accordingly, two peasants who lived at Stapenhill, a village that came under the jurisdiction of the abbey, fled to Drakelow, a nearby hamlet that belonged to a certain knight. When the latter refused to return the peasants, enmity developed between the knight and the abbey. The monks then besought their patron saint for help and, shortly afterwards, the two peasants, while eating lunch one day, suddenly fell down dead. Subsequently buried in the churchyard at Stapenhill, the deceased peasants were seen that very evening walking along the road to Drakelow, carrying their coffins on their backs.
Thereafter, the revenants haunted the environs of Drakelow, often in the form of bears or dogs or some other animal, and would batter on the doors and walls of the houses and call out to the occupants to come and join them. Soon enough, a deadly plague broke out that killed all the inhabitants of Drakelow within a few days, except for three men who were determined to put an end to the devastation. Given permission to exhume the two undead peasants, their bodies were found to be fresh and intact, although the linen cloths on their faces were covered with blood. The head of each revenant was then hacked off and placed between their legs, their hearts cut out and burnt, and the remains then reburied with their coffins nailed shut. And although the contagion ceased from that moment, the village of Drakelow was abandoned for a long time afterwards. Notably, the bodies of the two peasants were said to be fresh and intact and there is no mention of their corpses being bloated with blood.
Indeed, English revenants were very similar to the reanimated corpses, or draugrs, of medieval Scandinavia. In the Eyrbyggja Saga, for example, we are told that after his death Thorolf Twist-Foot became a troublesome draugr and, when exhumed, his appearance ugly to behold:
Off they went to Twist-Foot's knoll where Thorolf was buried, broke open the grave, and saw Thorolf still lying there, uncorrupted with an ugly look about him. He was as black as death [i.e. bruised black and blue] and swollen to the size of an ox. They tried to move the dead man but were unable to shift him an inch. Then Thorodd put a lever under him and that was how they managed to lift him out of the grave. After that they rolled him down to the foreshore, built a great pyre there, set fire to it, pushed Thorolf in and burnt him to ashes (Palsson and Edwards 1989, 155–6).
Hence, draugrs were particularly noted for their malevolent nature and brutal attacks upon the living, and the bloated, blackened appearance of their corpse. And although in Denmark, draugrs liked to eat animal and/or human flesh (Chadwick 1946, 54–5), there is no mention of draugrs being swollen with the supposed blood of their victims.
In England, there are many instances in subsequent centuries of very corporeal revenants with the apparent power to maim and kill that can be interpreted as undead-corpses, rather than traditional ghosts, even though there is no mention of their bodily remains being exhumed and cremated. Written in the thirteenth century by an anonymous Scottish monk, the Chronicle of Lanercost, for example, portrays the activities of a deceased cleric that molested a local squire. And while we are not told what became of the revenant, the deceased had a very corporeal presence, even though it displayed some unusual features when stabbed by a weapon, for example, or shot by an arrow:
Having then assumed a body (whether natural or aerial is uncertain, but it was hideous, gross and tangible) he used to come at noonday in the habit of a black monk and settle on the highest parts of the homes or storehouses. And when men either shot at him with arrows or thrust him through with forks, straightway whatever was driven into that damned substance was burnt to ashes … he so savagely threw to the ground and battered those who attempted to struggle with him as nearly to shatter all their joints … one evening when the father was sitting with the household round the hearth, this malignant creature came in their midst, throwing them into confusion with missiles and blows. All the rest having taken to their heels, the esquire attacked him single-handed; but, most sad to say, he was found on the morrow slain by the creature (Maxwell 1913, 118–19).
A collection of ghost stories written down in the early fifteenth century by an anonymous monk at Byland Abbey (Yorkshire) also tells of revenants that are very reminiscent of undead-corpses, although there is no mention of the corpse itself being exhumed, nor any indication that there was something unusual in regard to its condition, such as a lack of decomposition or supple limbs. A deceased clergyman, for example, accosted a man ploughing his field, tore his clothes to shreds and refused to let the ploughman go until he had promised to restore some stolen silver spoons to their rightful owner, and thereby absolve the revenant of his sins (Chamberlaine 1979, 43). Afterwards, however, the ploughman became seriously ill, the supposed result of coming into close contact with the undead, and languished for many days before he recovered. In other examples, however, the revenants exhibited a more semi-corporeal nature, in keeping with traditional ghosts, including the ability to shape-shift. A woman seized a revenant, for example, and carried it home on her back, some witnesses noting that her hand sunk deeply into the ghost's body as if “the flesh of the said ghost was rotten, and not solid but an illusion” (Chamberlaine 1979, 43). Furthermore, a certain tailor at the time, who encountered a shape-shifting revenant was told that “your flesh will putrefy and your skin will weaken and fall away from you completely in a short time,” from encountering the undead (Chamberlaine 1979, 38). Nonetheless, after the tailor had done the revenant's bidding, he was told to go to a certain river and there find a particular rock, to rub the sand from underneath it all over his body, and within days he would be healed of the sickness.
Although Summers (1961, 99) claims that belief in wandering corpses ceased in England after the twelfth century, such notions evidently continued into the seventeenth century. In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, for example, the protagonist is confronted by what can only be described as the undead-corpse of his deceased father:
Let me not burst in ignorance; but tell
Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,
Have burst their cerements; why the sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn'd,
Hath opened his ponderous and marble jaws,
To cast thee up again! What may this mean,
That thou, dead cor[p]se, again, in complete steel,
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon …
(Act I scene 4; Shakespeare 1996, 677).
It can be argued that in seventeenth-century England, many encounters with revenants actually represent troublesome corpses rather than traditional ghosts. In the Certainty of the Worlds of Spirits (1691), for example, Richard Baxter tells us that in Glamorgan, in 1655, a woman awakened one night to find her deceased spouse standing by her bedside, wanting to climb into bed (Baxter 1691, 24). Steadfastly rebuffed, the revenant returned three nights later and mercilessly bashed everyone in the household, until they were covered in bruises, similar to the treatment meted out by Scandinavian draugrs, and was accompanied by “an insufferable stench”:
… the noise of [a] whirlwind began again, with more violence than formerly, and the apparition walked in the chamber, an insufferable stench like that of a putrefied carcass, filling the room with a thick smoke, smelling like sulphur, darkening the light of the fire and candle, but not quite extinguishing it: sometimes going down the stairs, and coming up again with a fearful noise, disturbing them in their prayers, one while with the sound of words which they could not discern, other while striking them so that the next morning their faces were black with smoke, and their bodies swollen with bruises (Baxter 1691, 25).
Subsequently, the house was frequented by “schreechings, yellings and roarings,” and the smell of “fire and brimstone” (Baxter 1691, 30–1). Furthermore, the “shadow of one walking” could often be seen upon the walls, shadows on the wall being a characteristic feature of the otherwise invisible Bulgarian vampire (obour), at least in its larval stage (Summers 1961, 317). And, while preparing for sleep one night, the wife discovered a putrid stink in her bed as if a “carcass some-while dead” had been sleeping there. Needless to say, she fled the house soon thereafter.
Richard Burton, in his Kingdom of Darkness (1688), describes a similar incident whereby the deceased wife of John Ritchy of Edinburgh supposedly returned from her grave to reclaim her adulterous husband who within days of her demise had asked his mistress to marry him. Accordingly, Ritchy was conversing with his mistress at home one night when he saw staring in the window at them the undead-corpse of his former wife:
… the body and face of the dead wife in her burying clothes … and saw the buried woman lifting up her hands as they imagined to pull off the dead dress from her head (Burton 1688, 23–4).
Nonetheless, he continued with his plans to remarry and was putting on his shoes one morning when his dead wife reappeared and walking up to him said, “John, will you not come to me,” and promptly vanished. Thereafter, he became increasingly sick, a common enough symptom from being in close proximity to the undead. And, within a month he had died, and was buried with his former wife in the same grave.
Furthermore, in Satan's Invisible World Discovered (1685), we are told that in 1680 Isobel Heriot, former servant to the local minister at Ormiston, Scotland, was seen walking from the chapel to the minister's house, three days after her burial (Sinclair 1969, 144–53). Notably, her face was said to be “extremely black,” akin to that of the Scandinavian draugr, a sure sign that the deceased had become a revenant. For the next nine weeks, stones and clods began to assail the household, objects went missing, the horses would be found in the morning in a “great sweat,” and numerous pranks were played upon the family, akin to the poltergeist-type machinations reported of the spectrums of sixteenth-century Silesia. A fellow servant came upon the revenant walking about the garden, collecting stones and hiding them under a bush, and demanded that the revenant tell her why she was haunting the household. The deceased then confessed that she had supposedly made a compact with the Devil and was being punished for her crimes. Given his Protestant convictions, however, the minister refused to believe that the revenant could really be that of the deceased. Instead, his opinion was that the revenant was “only the Devil taking upon him her shape and form, acting and imitating her,” in order to malign the deceased, especially since “fervent prayers” had apparently been enough to drive away the revenant.
Similarly, an anonymous seventeenth-century pamphlet, Sad & Wonderful Newes from the Faulcon at the Bank Side (1661), tells about the troubled revenant of a recently deceased baker that haunted his former household. Accordingly, the revenant appeared in the likeness of a goat, or a black cat, or in human form with his “eyes half sunk in his head,” wearing the same clothes when alive (Anonymous 1661, 3–4). Notably, his face was “extraordinarily black,” as with the other undead-corpses mentioned previously. Eventually, some “conjurers” arrived at the house to exorcise the revenant—and constructed a magical circle to protect them during their deliberations, akin to the aforementioned tailor in fifteenth-century England, who had to construct a magic circle about himself, to keep at bay the revenant with whom he had an assignation (Chamberlaine 1979, 36–42). Nonetheless, one of them was struck on the leg by the revenant and became permanently lame:
… some artists (by some called conjurers) remain there night and day, using all possible means they can to lay this troubled spirit, and are continually reading and making of circles, burning of wax candles and juniper wood … some nights ago, having made a great circle in the garden, the spirit of Master Powel [i.e. the deceased] appeared, to whom one of them said: “We conjure thee to depart to thy place in hell.” He answered, “Woe to those that were the cause of my coming hither.” The rest (being eight in number) kept close to their books and fain would have brought him into the circle but could not; whereupon one of them said, “The Son of Man appeared to destroy the works of the Devil,” which caused him to vanish away in a flash of fire, hitting one of them on the leg, who has been lame ever since, and left such a scent of brimstone in the garden, that all the juniper wood they could burn for many hours together, could not take away that sulphurous smell … (Anonymous 1661, 4–5).
Hence, it can be argued that, in England, folk belief in wandering corpses continued well into the pre-modern period. Similarly, in Iceland, reports of malevolent draugrs were still being recorded during the latter seventeenth century (Simpson 1975, 69–71).

Undead-corpses in Sixteenth-century Silesia

In his Antidote against Atheism (1655), Henry More tells us that in 1591 a certain shoemaker of Breslau, having cut his own throat, arose from the grave six weeks later to haunt the town:
Those that were asleep it terrified with horrible visions, those that were waking it would strike, pull or press, lying heavily upon them like an ephialtes so that there were perpetuall complaints every morning of their last nights rest, through the whole town … For this terrible apparition would sometimes cast itself upon the midst of their beds, would lie close to them, would miserably suffocate them and would so strike them and pinch them that not only blew [blue] marks but plain impressions of his fingers would be upon sundry parts of their bodies in the mornings (More 1655, 210–12).
After eight months of such disturbances, the authorities decided to exhume the undead shoemaker and, despite being buried for eight months, his intact corpse showed little evidence of putrefaction:
He had lain in the ground near eight months, viz. from Sept. 22, 1591 to April 18, 1591, when he was digged up which was in the presence of the magistracy of the town, his body was found entire, not at all putrid, no ill smell about him, save the mustiness of his grave clothes, his joints limber and flexible, as those that are alive, his skin only flaccid but a more fresh grown in the room of it, the wound of his throat gaping but no gear nor corruption in it … (More 1655, 212–13).
For the next six days, the corpse was put on public display. Nonetheless, the revenant persisted in its nightly wanderings. Reburied under the gallows, there the corpse lay for another month until the authorities decided to disinter the corpse again and finally put an end to its molestations. It was noted, for example, that the corpse appeared to have fed well and grown “more sensibly fleshy since his last internment”; that is, become bloated. Accordingly, they “cut off the head, arms and legs of the corpse and opening his back took out his heart which was as fresh and entire as in a calf newly killed,” and cremated the corpse, after which the shoemaker's spectrum was seen no more.
Similarly, the spectrum or undead-corpse of Johannes Cuntius began to haunt the town of Pentsch (More 1655, 217–18), indulged in malicious poltergeist-type pranks, molested the livestock, st>d old men in their sleep and bashed infants to death, and became such a nuisance that eventually the deceased was exhumed:
… they dig up Cuntius his body with several others buried both before and after him. But those both after and before were so putrefied and rotten, their skulls broken, and the sutures of them gaping, that they were not to be known by their shape at all, having become in a manner but a rude mass of earth and dirt; but it was quite otherwise in Cuntius. His skin was tender and florid, his joints not at all stiff but limber and moveable, and a staff being put in his hand, he grasped it with his fingers very fast. His eyes also of themselves would be one time open and another time shut; they opened a vein in his leg and the blood sprang out as fresh as in the living. His nose was entire and full, not sharp as in those that are ghastly sick or quite dead. And yet Cuntius his body had lain in the grave from Feb. 8 to July 20, which is almost half a year (More 1655, 225–6).
Given the evidence before them, a judicial committee decided that the town executioner should cremate the troublesome corpse and put an end to its molestations. But, although such revenants were noted for the life-like appearance of their corpse and general lack of decomposition, there is no mention of Cuntius being swollen with the supposed blood of their victims.

The Greek Vrykolakas of the Seventeenth Century

During the seventeenth century, numerous reports of undead-corpses (s.: vrykolakas, pl.: vrykolakes) emerged in the Greek world. In his De quorumdam Graecorum opinationibus (1645), Leo Allatius, a Catholic priest from Chios, for example, noted that:
Now such bodies unlike those of other dead men do not when they have been buried suffer decomposition and fall to dust, but having, as it seems, a skin of extreme toughness, they are puffed and swell out and are much inflated throughout every limb so that the joints and tendons can scarce be crooked or bent, but the skin is taut like the parchment of a drum, and when struck returns the same sound; wherefore the vrykolakas [i.e. “drum-like”] has been given the name (Summers 1961, 224).
In Relation de l'Isle de Sant-erini (1657), however, Fr. Francois Richard, a Jesuit priest from the Greek Island of Santorini, made a distinction between reanimated corpses that preyed upon the living and dead bodies that “are discovered blown up and inflated like balloons, and when they are thrown on the ground or rolled along, they sound like hollow drums,” even after many decades (Lawson 1910, 370). Indeed, the various incidents cited by Fr. Richard do not even mention the bloated, drum-like features normally associated with the vrykolakes described by Allatius. Nor did the vrykolakas go about “sucking blood” like the Slavic vampire (Lee 1942, 127), although on occasion a vrykolakas might “torture a man or kill him so as to eat his liver and other inner organs” (Lee 1936, 303).
In A Voyage into the Levant (1718), Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a French botanist, claimed to have been present at the exhumation of a so-called vrykolakas on the island of Mykonos (Tournefort 1718, vol. 1, 103–7). According to his informants, a certain peasant who had been found dead in the field began to wander about and so molested the local people that his corpse was exhumed and then butchered before the gathered crowd. The person conducting the autopsy, however, was ill-suited to the task. He began by cutting open the belly of the corpse instead of the chest, and rummaging about in the entrails, until someone urged him to cut upwards into the diaphragm, where he eventually found the heart and ripped it out, much to the exclamation of the crowd. The stench of the putrefying corpse became so overpowering, however, that large quantities of incense had to be burned to mask the foul miasma, but this only inflamed the spectators that much more, and many panicked and fled. Indeed, Tournefort attempted to persuade the assembled crowd, without success, that the seemingly unnatural condition of the corpse had a simple rational explanation, and that rummaging about the entrails was sure to create a stench (Tournefort 1718, vol. 1, 104). Subsequently, the heart was cremated and the deceased reburied. But the corpse underwent an apparent regeneration and made even more commotion than it had before, and had to be exhumed once again, conveyed to a remote island and cremated to ashes. Nonetheless, there is no mention of the deceased drinking blood or being bloated with the blood of the living.

The Oupire or Vampire of the Eighteenth Century

The Travels of Three English Gentlemen, a travelogue first published in the Harleian Miscellany of 1745, provides an apt description of the vampires said to be haunting Eastern Europe in the early decades of the eighteenth century:
The Vampyres, which come out of the graves in the night-time, rush upon people sleeping in their beds, suck out all their blood and destroy them. They attack men; women and children, sparing neither age nor sex. The people attacked by them complain of suffocation and a great interception of spirits; after which, they soon expire …Their countenances are fresh and ruddy; and their nails, as well as hair, very much grown and, though they have been much longer dead than many other bodies, which are perfectly putrefied, not the least mark of corruption upon them. Those who are destroyed by them, after their death, become Vampyres; so that, to prevent so spreading an evil, it is found requisite to drive a stake through the dead body, from whence, on this occasion, the blood flows as if the person was alive. Sometimes the body is dug up out of the grave and burnt to ashes; upon which, all disturbances cease (Harleian Miscellany 1810, 232).

Figure 2 Soldiers destroying a vampire. Source: private collection: Rob Brautigan.

Similarly, in 1693, a journal called the Mercure Galent gave a detailed account of the vampires (oupires) that supposedly existed in Poland and Russia at the time, noting that vampires were driven by an all-consuming thirst for blood:
They make their appearance from noon to midnight, and come and suck the blood of living men and animals in such abundance that sometimes it flows from them at the nose, and principally at the ears, and sometimes the corpse swims in its own blood oozed out in its coffin …This reviving being, or oupire, comes out of his grave, or a demon in his likeness, goes by night to embrace and hug violently his near relations or his friends, and sucks their blood so much as to weaken and attenuate them, and at last cause their death. This persecution does not stop at one single person; it extends to the last person of the family, if the course be not interrupted by cutting off the head or opening the heart of the ghost whose corpse is found in his coffin, yielding, flexible, swollen, and rubicund, although he may have been dead some time (Calmet 2001, 235).
Indeed, the typical vampire was so bloated with the blood of its victims that blood issued from every orifice of its body:
… vampires suck the blood of the living, insomuch, that these people appear like skeletons while the dead bodies of the suckers are so full of blood that it runs out of all the passages of their bodies and even at their pores (Argens 1739–40, vol. 4, 124).
Subsequently, those fed upon by the vampire would waste away and eventually die from severe anaemia, only to become vampires in turn (Argens 1739–40, vol. 4, 124):
A person finds himself attacked with languor, loses his appetite, grows visibly thinner and at the end of eight or ten days, sometimes a fortnight, dies, without fever, or any other symptom than thinness and drying of the blood (Calmet 2001, 239).
An official report written in 1725 by the Imperial Provisor of the Gradisk District, Serbia, for example, details the purported activities and subsequent exhumation of Peter Plogojowitz from the village of Kisilova, whose undead-corpse was accused of molesting his former acquaintances (Barber 1988, 6–7). Nine people, both old and young, reputedly died within days from a debilitating illness that they attributed to the deceased Plogojowitz, buried several months previously. And that he had “come to them in their sleep, lain himself on them and throttled them, so that they would have to give up the ghost.” Subsequently, the villagers decided to be rid of the troublesome corpse and invited the parish priest and the authorities to attend the exhumation, the latter being represented by the Imperial Provisor, who noted that:
I did not detect the slightest odour that is otherwise characteristic of the dead, and the body, except for the nose, which was somewhat fallen away, was completely fresh. The hair and beard—even the nails, of which the old ones had fallen away—had grown on him: the old skin, which was somewhat whitish, had peeled away, and a new fresh one had emerged under it. The face, hands, and feet, and the whole body were so constituted, that they could not have been more complete in his lifetime. Not without astonishment, I saw some fresh blood in his mouth, which, according to the common observation, he had sucked from the people killed by him … but still other wild signs [i.e. an erection], which I pass by out of high respect, took place … (Barber 1988, 6–9).
Satisfied that Plogojowitz was indeed a vampire, the villagers then sharpened a wooden stake and plunged it into the heart of the corpse. And thereupon a great quantity of blood spurted from the wound and flowed from its ears and mouth, a supposed indication that the corpse was gorged with the blood of those it had killed (Barber 1988, 7). Finally, the bodily remains were cremated, as per the usual practice.
The most oft-quoted example of eighteenth-century vampirism, however, is that of Arnod Paole—who became a revenant and spawned numerous undead progeny that infested the village of Medvegia, Serbia, from 1727 to 1732. Indeed, the occurrences became the subject of an official investigation by the civil authorities at the time whose findings were subsequently documented in a report entitled the Visum et Repertum (Seen and Discovered), compiled by Johannes Fluchinger, the regimental doctor who led the inquiry and participated in many of the subsequent exhumations (Figure 2). Accordingly, in 1727, Paole had fallen from the back of a wagon, broken his neck and died. But a month later, his undead-corpse began to molest his former neighbours and had soon killed four people. And when the villagers decided to exhume Paole's corpse, they found that:
… he was quite complete and undecayed and that fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears; and that the shirt, covering and the coffin were completely bloody; that the old nails on his hands and feet, along with the skin, had fallen off, and that new ones had grown, and since they saw from this that he was a true vampire, they drove a stake through his heart, according to the custom, whereby he gave an audible groan and bled copiously. Thereupon they burned the body the same day to ashes and threw these into the grave (Barber 1988, 16).
Eighteenth-century vampires like Peter Plogojowitz and Arnod Paole were noted for the life-like condition of their corpse, flexible limbs, and an apparent lack of putrefaction. This feature is also reminiscent of other types of undead-corpse, however. When exhumed, the undead shoemaker of sixteenth-century Silesia, for example, was found to be “entire, not at all putrid, no ill smell about him, save the mustiness of his grave clothes, his joints limber and flexible, as those that are alive.” More importantly, vampires were noted for being bloated with blood, supposedly that of their victims, evidence that vampires had an insatiable thirst for blood. By comparison, none of the medieval undead-corpses portrayed by William of Newburgh, for example, were thought to be bloodsuckers and, although Scandinavian draugrs were depicted as swollen corpses, such revenants did not suck the blood of the living nor did they bleed profusely when wounded, as did eighteenth-century vampires. Neither is there any evidence that the spectrums of sixteenth-century Silesia consumed the blood of the living. And even though the Greek vrykolakas was swollen up like drum, there was no gushing of blood with the dissection of the vrykolakas whose autopsy de Tournefort attended, nor was the vrykolakas ever thought to be a bloodsucker. Hence, the vampires of the eighteenth century were especially noted for their supposed thirst for blood.

Undead-corpses in the Nineteenth Century

Although occasional vampire outbreaks continued into the nineteenth century (Fine 1998), the Austro-Hungarian authorities and socio-religious elite had largely succeeded in quelling popular belief in vampires throughout Eastern Europe by the end of the eighteenth century (Klaniczay 1987, 165). But although belief in flesh-and-blood vampires might have declined, the emergence of theosophy and spiritualism in the latter nineteenth century encouraged a reinterpretation of the traditional vampire, and fuelled notions such as astral vampirism. According to this notion, it was the ghost or astral spirit of the deceased that supposedly wandered about the countryside and preyed upon the blood and vitality of the living, while their actual corpse remained buried in the grave in a state of suspended animation. In his Posthumous Humanity (1887), Adolphe D'Assier, for example, argued that the vampire is divisible into an “inert corpse” and the “projectible double, or astral body,” and that blood, or rather its quintessence, flows freely from the astral body (via an astral umbilical cord) to the moribund corpse, sustaining its continued existence:
… the fluidic being [i.e. astral body], instead of abandoning the body from which death has just separated it, persists in stopping with it and in living with it a new life … what becomes of the blood aspired by the spectre … [the] structure [of the astral body] is bound so intimately with that of the body [i.e. corpse] of which it is the image, that all absorption of liquid by the former passes at once into the organs of the latter. It must be the same in the phenomena of posthumous vampirism, since the post-sepulchral phantom is the continuation of the living phantom. All the blood swallowed by the specter passes instantly into the organs of the corpse which it has just left and to which it returns as soon as its poaching work is finished. The constant arrival of this vivifying fluid, which at once disseminates itself through the circulation, prevents putrefaction, preserves in the limbs their natural suppleness and in the flesh its fresh and reddish tint. Under this action is seen to continue a sort of vegetative life which causes the hair and nails to grow, forms a new skin as the old one dries up, and, in certain cases, favours the formation of adipose tissue … Powerless to attack the phantoms, the people disinterred and burned the body. The remedy was infallible, for from that moment the vampire ceased his dreadful depredations. [3]
Similarly, in an editorial for the Occult Review (November 1924), Ralph Shirley invoked the notion of ectoplasm, the semi-physical substance supposedly exuded by certain mediums during trance, which allows deceased spirits to partially materialise and interact with those present:
… we must assume that the body in question is built up by the methods adopted at a materialising séance, i.e. with the aid of a medium or mediums …We may assume that in the case of vampirism the etheric body of the vampire remains intact and that he withdraws ectoplasmic material from his own body in the tomb, which enables him to build up a physical form externally with further aid from the person or persons whom he vampirizes … (Shirley 1997, 19).
And, given the semi-corporeal nature and supposed malleability of the etheric body, revenants could easily shape-shift and perform supernatural feats such as walking through walls, akin to the spirits at a séance. Remembering, too, that in the popular imagination witches could also send forth their astral double, in a variety of shapes and forms, to afflict the living. [4] Nonetheless, in the case of eighteenth-century vampires like Arnod Paole, their corpse was supposedly swollen with the actual blood of their victims, whereas the astral vampire had to transform the blood of its victims into a more ethereal form in order to transport the blood back to its moribund corpse.
Johann von Görres, an early-nineteenth-century German theologian, however, argued for a more organic explanation; in his multi-volumed Die Christliche Mystik (1836–42), Görres noted that although the soul had long departed, on occasion, enough “vegetal life” remained in a particular corpse to prevent further bodily corruption (Introvigne 1997, 8–9). Corpses in this state, however, would act like a sponge and drain the vitality of anybody living within a certain radius of its location. And, unless the corpse was cremated, the latter would develop a debilitating sickness and eventually die, accompanied by hallucinations in which they imagined the deceased was accosting them. Furthermore, their own corpse would undergo a similar transformation and become a vampire in turn.
Similarly, in late-eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century New England, rampant consumption (that is, tuberculosis) was frequently blamed on a deceased relative, whose buried corpse was draining the vitality and life of other family members. In the Journal of American Folklore (January–March 1889), for example, Jeremiah Curtin describes an incident that occurred at Woodstock Green, Vermont, in about 1830, which involved the exhumation of a corpse said to be feeding upon its still living relatives. Accordingly, the heart of the deceased would be cut out and examined, and if the heart appeared to be fresh and contained liquid blood, it was a sure sign that the deceased was responsible for the contagion:
…[a man died of consumption] and his body [was] buried in the ground [about 1830]. A brother of the deceased fell ill soon after and in a short time it appeared that he too had consumption: when this became known the family decided at once to disinter the body of the dead man and examine his heart. They did so, and found the heart undecayed, and containing liquid blood. Then they reinterred the body, took the heart to the middle of Woodstock Green [Vermont], where they kindled a fire under an iron pot, in which they placed the heart and burned it to ashes … if a person died of consumption and one of the family, that is a brother or sister, or the father or mother, was attacked soon after, people thought the attack came from the deceased. They opened the grave at once and examined the heart; if bloodless and decaying, this disease was supposed to be from some other cause, and the heart was restored to its body; but if the heart was fresh and contained liquid blood, it was feeding on the life of the sick person (Curtin 1889, 58–9).
An earlier incident, however, comes from late-eighteenth-century Exeter, Rhode Island, and involved the Tillinghast family, the children of which began to die one after the other from consumption. Before they died, however, each complained that Sarah, the first to suffer that fate, had come to them “every night and sat upon some portion of the body, causing great pain and misery.” So, in order to save the rest of his family, the father decided to exhume the six children who had died, cut their hearts out and cremate them, as per the usual custom. And although the bodies were generally found to be in an advanced stage of decomposition, Sarah was found to be in a very remarkable condition:
The eyes were open and fixed. The hair and nails had grown, and the heart and arteries were filled with fresh red blood. It was clear at once to these astonished people that the cause of their trouble lay there before them. All the conditions of the vampire were present in the corpse of Sarah, the first that had died, and against whom all the others had so bitterly complained. So her heart was removed and carried to the designated rock, and there solemnly burned. This being done, the mutilated bodies were returned to their respective graves and covered. Peace then came to this afflicted family … (Bell 2002, 67)
In order to effect a cure, however, the heart and/or other bodily organs such as the liver or lungs of the deceased would be cremated and the ashes consumed, as in the case of Mercy Brown in late-nineteenth-century Exeter:
The body [of Mercy Brown] was in a fairly well preserved state. It had been buried two months. The heart and liver were removed, and in cutting open the heart, clotted and decomposed blood was found, which was what might be expected at that stage of decomposition. The liver showed no blood, though it was in a well-preserved state. These two organs were removed, and a fire kindled in the cemetery, they were reduced to ashes…the belief is that, so long as the heart contains blood, so long will any of the immediate family who are suffering from consumption continue to grow worse; but, if the heart is burned that the patient will get better. And to make the cure certain the ashes of the heart and liver should be eaten by the person afflicted … (Bell 2002, 66–7)
There are similarities between the American type of undead-corpse and the European vampires of the eighteenth century. For so long as the corpse of someone who had died of consumption remained undecomposed, either wholly or in part, the surviving members of the family would be drained of life. As with Mercy Brown, the hearts of such revenants contained “liquid blood” and appeared to be still fresh, akin to the undead shoemaker of sixteenth-century Silesia, for example, whose heart was found to be as “fresh and entire” as a newly killed calf (More 1655, 213). And when the corpse of Sarah Tillinghast was exhumed, the eyes were found “open and fixed,” the hair and nails had grown, and the heart and arteries were “filled with fresh red blood,” akin to the vampires of the eighteenth century. Unlike their American counterparts, however, European vampires were never associated with consumption per se—although cremating the bodily remains of a vampire and consuming the ashes to stem the vampire contagion was a common enough practice in Eastern Europe (Murgoci 1998, 16–17). Furthermore, none of the American revenants had ever been identified as, for example, a suicide or heretic, as was generally the case with European revenants (Bell 2002, 229). Neither was there any specific mention of the former actually leaving the grave and wandering about the countryside. Nonetheless, the siblings of Sarah Tillinghast did complain that their deceased sister came to them “every night and sat upon some portion of the body, causing great pain and misery,” akin to that reported of eighteenth-century vampires, [5] and the spectrums of sixteenth-century Silesia. [6] Finally, there is no mention of American-type revenants sucking blood, or being bloated with the blood of their victims, like that of traditional vampires.

Were the Vampires of the Eighteenth Century Unique?

In this paper I have so far examined various types of undead-corpse that supposedly existed in Europe and North America from the medieval period to the nineteenth century. Whereas medieval revenants were generally thought of as putrid corpses that spread contagion, later revenants such as the spectrums of sixteenth-century Silesia, and eighteenth-century vampires like Arnod Paole, were noted for their apparent lack of decomposition and flexible limbs, for example. Eighteenth-century vampires were unique, however, in that they fed upon the blood of their supposed victims. Nonetheless, Summers (1961) attaches the label “vampire” to the revenants of twelfth-century England, the spectrums of sixteenth-century Silesia and other types of undead-corpse, even though there is no evidence that such revenants preyed upon the blood of the living.
Cultural idiosyncrasies and regional differences, however, soon gave rise to numerous types of folkloric vampire that hungered for a variety of foodstuffs, not just blood. The Serbian gypsies, for example, would leave out bowls of animal blood and offerings of milk, cheese and bread in an effort to dissuade the vampire (mullo) from attacking their families and livestock (Trigg 1973, 180–1). Similarly, the Ukrainian vampire (upyr) was constantly hungry, and a ravenous upyr is depicted in a folktale as turning up at a wedding, killing the bridal party and devouring all the food, as well as the plates and cutlery (Afanas'ev 1976, 177). Furthermore, the Bulgarian vampire (obour) was said to be a voracious scavenger of carcasses, both animal and human, and only consumed blood when supplies of the former were exhausted (Summers 1961, 318-9).
Many of the features associated with the vampires of folklore, however, can be attributed to “daemonic contamination,” whereby the distinguishing characteristics of one type of folkloric being (that is, the vampire) merge with that of other folkloric kinds of beings so that it becomes difficult to differentiate between them, at least in the popular imagination (Perkowski 1989, 72). Until the nineteenth century, for example, Bulgaria was occupied by the Ottoman Empire and came under the influence of Islamic culture and folk belief (Hayes 1948, vol. 1, 802). So it is not surprising that the obour acquired the characteristics of the Arabian ghoul, a flesh-eating Jinn that haunted cemeteries (Summers 1991, 231–7). But if we broaden the term vampire to include any being that “derives sustenance from a victim, who is weakened by the experience” (Perkowski 1989, 54), then the American revenants of the nineteenth century, for example, which drained the vitality of their living relatives, could also be classed as vampires. Nonetheless, the Slavic vampire of the eighteenth century remains a unique type of revenant, given its supposed thirst for human blood.
In Vampires, Burial and Death (1988), Paul Barber argues that many of the characteristics that supposedly indicated the deceased was a vampire, such as a bloated, blood-filled corpse, can be attributed to normal bodily decomposition (Barber 1988, 102–19). Mistakenly identified as being undead, such corpses were subsequently blamed for outbreaks of pestilence by a populace that, at the time, lacked a proper grounding in physiology and pathology (Barber 1988, 3). It can also be said that the salient features of the various kinds of undead-corpse outlined in this paper are probably a reflection of cultural stereotyping, in that different cultures at different times appear to have focused on particular facets of the decomposing corpse. [7] In twelfth-century England, for example, undead-corpses were commonly associated with putrid smells and the spread of contagion (William of Newburgh Book 5, chapter 24); while in the Scandinavian countries, popular imagination focused upon the swollen, blackened appearance of the undead (Palsson and Edwards 1989, 155–6). Slavic culture, however, as we have seen, emphasised the apparent accumulation of blood within the organs and bodily cavities of such corpses, this being taken as supposed evidence that the deceased had been sucking the blood of the living.
Hence, anomalous corpses could be interpreted and explained a number of ways, according to the dictates of local custom and popular folklore. In Catholic Europe, for example, the apparent preservation of certain corpses was commonly attributed to the miraculous power of God, especially if the individual concerned had been known for their sanctity and exemplary life. [8] But if the deceased had an evil reputation, then their apparent lack of decomposition was evidence that they had joined the undead. By contrast, the medical fraternity of the eighteenth century was far more dismissive and proposed various natural explanations to account for such phenomena, ranging from premature burial, the preservative nature of certain native soils, to normal vegetative processes at work in the buried corpse (that is, vestigium vitae).
Indeed, muted belief in the existence of flesh-and-blood vampires has continued to survive. In 1993, for example, a curious incident occurred at Pisco, Peru, when over one thousand people turned up at the tomb of an English woman, Sarah Ellen Roberts, supposedly the third wife of “Dracula”—a real personage according to the local press, who had supposedly visited Peru on numerous occasions. [9] Reportedly buried alive for witchcraft and murder, Dracula's wife had vowed to rise again on the said day, but when the appointed hour came and passed without incident, the police moved in to disperse the disappointed crowd, many of whom were self-styled vampire-hunters, armed with stakes and crucifixes. In addition, local witchdoctors had turned up to exorcise the tomb, anti-vampire kits sold out, local houses were festooned with garlic, and pregnant women had moved away lest the vampire be reborn in their unborn child. Furthermore, fear of the undead remains commonplace in Romania. In 2004, for example, Gheorghe Marinescu and his accomplices from a small Romanian village crept into the local graveyard and exhumed the corpse of Petre Tomas who had supposedly been haunting the Marinescu family and making them sick. [10] Thereupon, the heart of the deceased was cut out and cremated, and the ashes consumed by the Marinescu family as a cure against their affliction, although the efficacy of the remedy is not recorded, and the family was later sentenced to six months imprisonment for desecrating the dead. Hence, no matter how hard we might try to belittle the notion of its existence, or ignore its many manifestations, the vampire belief would appear to be here to stay in the popular imagination, and to remain the stuff of nightmares.


Every effort has been made to contact owners of what may be copyright material. Where this has not been possible, omissions, where notified, will be rectified in any future reprint of this article.


[1] See Calmet (2001).
[2] The revenants of twelfth-century England, for example, demonstrate that there was dissension among the clergy and the laity at the time as to the nature of undead-corpses and how to deal with them (Simpson 2003, 391–3). The undead-corpse that haunted Buckinghamshire, for example, proved relatively harmless and simply wandered about in dire need of absolution. When informed that “tranquility could not be restored to the people until the body of this most wretched man were dug up and burnt” (William of Newburgh Book 5, chapter 22), the Bishop of Lincoln was appalled that such things were commonplace in England. He arranged to have a “letter of absolution” placed upon the breast of the undead-corpse, which evidently proved successful, given that the revenant thereafter quiet. But in the case of the malevolent undead-corpses that haunted Berwick and the environs of Anantis Castle, both of which killed many of the local inhabitants, the survivors did not wait for the clergy to decide what should be done (William of Newburgh Book 5, chapters 23, 24). They instead took matters into their own hands and cremated the offending corpse.
[3] Quoted in Olcott (1891).
[4] In The Kingdom of Darkness (1688), for example, Richard Burton tells us about a certain witch who boasted that she could send forth her double in the form of a wolf to slay livestock:
… a certain woman being in prison on suspicion of witchcraft, pretending to be able to turn herself into a wolf, the magistrate before whom she was brought promised her that she should not be put to death in case she would then in his presence thus transform herself, which she readily consented to, accordingly she anointed her head, neck and armpits, immediately upon which she fell into a most profound sleep for three hours, after which she suddenly rose up, declaring that she had been turned into a wolf, and had been at a place some miles distant, and there killed first a sheep and then a cow. The magistrates presently sent to the place and found that first a sheep and then a cow had then been killed (Burton 1688, 69–70).
[5] Arnod Paole, for example, came to his victims in their sleep, “laid upon them and throttled them, so that they would have to give up the ghost” (Barber 1988, 16).
[6] Similarly, the undead shoemaker of sixteenth-century Silesia would “lie heavily” upon his victims in their sleep and “miserably suffocate” them (More 1655, 210–1).
[7] Suggested to me by Dr Jessica Hemming (10 February 2006).
[8] Neither was seventeenth-century England immune to such beliefs, for when the corpse of Master Pountney was found to be incorrupt after being buried for many years, the anonymous author of a tract at the time (Anonymous 1647) proclaimed it to be a miracle from God, intended to inspire the Protestant faithful.
[9] See Anonymous ( 1993).
[10] See Petrescu ( 2005).


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