Since the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897 the vampire has entered modern culture. But what exactly is a vampire? Is it an aristocratic count feeding on blood?

Contrary to popular belief the vampire didn’t suddenly appear with Stoker. Indeed, there is a tradition of vampirism going back thousands of years. They appear in ancient mythology, and in the 12th century, William of Newburgh recorded several cases of ‘revenants,’ as they were then called.
One famous case from 1732 Meduegya in Serbia concerned a spate of deaths followed by fears of vampirism. Soldiers and surgeons dug up the recently dead and found them undecayed.
One obvious answer to this is a form of sleeping sickness, the people not realizing the people they were burying really were undead. Indeed, many cases of vampire infestations can be put down to various forms of sickness.
Typical is Mercy Brown from 1892 Rhode Island. Many in her family had died, and she became a suspected vampire. The answer to the deaths was TB, but it did not stop her exhumation and her body defiled in typical anti-vampire style.
One possible answer to the vampire myth is the existence of the incubus and succubus, entities that come to you in sleep and have sex. Psychologist Stan Gooch experienced one in the 1980s. The most obvious answer is sexual frustration combining with sleep paralysis – a phenomenon on the border of sleep when you are partially awake but your body appears weighted down – thus providing a delusion.
The effects of such a phenomenon can be stark, and it can appear so real that orgasm is achievable. But if one person can be tricked so easily by the mind, could the vampire seem to exist in a community?
Washington DC suffered a spate of vampire stories in 1897. In one famous case a young woman’s body was found apparently drained of blood. After her incarceration her ghost was seen searching for souls, wearing a white dress. At one point her coffin was opened and she appeared to have a mouth full of blood.
Perhaps the date – 1897 – provided the key. It was the year Dracula was published, and the Washington tale so exactly follows the fate of its heroine Lucy. It seems that all that is needed for monsters to exist is a culture that says they may do.

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