Almost all cultures have some concept of a vampiric creature which feeds off the living. They may require blood but some versions can subsist on any form of life essence. They are either born as such, are created by an event during their mortal lives, or become such after death. Interestingly, even though they’ve been around for a while, the term ‘vampire’ wasn’t popular in the Western world until the 18th century. At this time there was an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, where vampire superstitions were widespread, and they brought their beliefs with them.
Apart from the whole blood drinking thing, one of the most common tales told about vampires is that they sleep in coffins. This belief may have arisen centuries ago when vampires where thought to be corpses, re-animated by demonic possession, who would return to their graves after feeding. Well that’s all well and good but where did the first vampire come from? Two of the more pervading modern myths are those of Lilith and Judas Iscariot.
As practically everyone knows by now, Judas was the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver. There is a school of thought that Judas was not in fact a betrayer but was actually acting on Christ’s instructions, but we won’t go into that here. After Christ was crucified, Judas was filled with remorse and attempted to return the money but was refused. Judas threw the coins to the ground and left, fully intending to hang himself, and that’s where things get murky.
Judas has been linked to vampirism because of the manner of his death, suicide. It was a popular belief that those who took their own lives were condemned to walk the earth after their deaths. However, there are some claims that a seventh century monk came upon the knowledge that God resurrected Judas after his death. He then condemned him to walk the earth until the end of time, never knowing sunlight or death, and existing only upon the blood of others.
Lilith, on the other hand, was supposedly the first wife of Adam. While she is not explicitly stated s such, there are many who view her possible existence as a remedy for the two seemingly contradictory accounts of humanity’s creation found in the Book of Genesis. According to the Alphabet of Ben Sira, she is said to have left the Garden of Eden after insisting that she and Adam were created as equals and refusing to submit to him, sexually or otherwise. She made her way to the Red Sea and there made a deal with the angels sent to fetch her. She agreed that she would not harm any child who wore an amulet decorated with the names of the three angels and she was allowed to live as the mother of all demons. At some point she met Cain after he had murdered his brother and been expelled from the Garden of Eden. They had children and these offspring somehow became the first vampires.
Another lesser known, and possibly romanticized, variant of vampire origins is the story of Ambrogio, an Italian adventurer who sailed to Greece because of a desire to visit the Oracle of Delphi. On doing so he was given this cryptic message: “The curse. The moon. The blood will run”. The next day he met Selene, the maiden of the temple, who took care of the Oracle. In time they fell in love and Ambrogio asked Selene to marry him and return to Italy. She agreed but the sun god, Apollo, had also taken a liking to her and he was enraged. He laid a curse on Ambrogio that even the slightest hint of sunlight would burn his skin. So began the birth of the first vampire. The whole story explains the vampire’s superhuman strength and their blood drinking, and is actually quite touching. You can read it here.