Remember the handy post on ways to become a werewolf in folklore vs pop culture? Here’s one of those but for vampires!
Please note, as usual, that this is not going to cover the full range of possibilities, but it will cover the most common/most popular ones. This applies to both folklore and pop culture. And of course, again, I’ll save a full list for when I write my book on vampires, you know?
Please bear in mind that a lot of these come from Romania and other regions of Eastern Europe, which are rich with vampire folklore that is some of the best-preserved that scholars currently have for study. It is essentially the baseline of what we consider “vampires” today.
Something to think about before we enter into this list, of course, is that I want to re-emphasize – and I will do this several times in this post – that vampirism was not a “disease” like it sometimes is considered today. Although vampires were often associated with disease in folklore, vampirism itself is not a disease. It is either a demonic being that is a vampire, or else it is a curse. Vampires have this in common with werewolves of pop culture today that being a vampire is some kind of infectious disease they can pass on to others (here is how lycanthropy isn’t a disease at all in folklore, ever), but that isn’t really a thing in folklore.
Appeared in folklore
- Being a demon – A lot of vampires in folklore were not humans at all. They were demons taking the shape of humans (sometimes; they didn’t always maintain that shape, sometimes appearing as mist). It’s important to mention this one because I cannot emphasize enough that vampirism in folklore is generally a demon, demonic possession, or a curse, not a disease like it so often is today.
- Demonic possession – Plenty of times, a vampire in folklore is the result of a demon possessing a corpse, and again, they aren’t really humans at all, per se.
- Being born cursed, becoming vampire after death – There are all sorts of reasons for this (see the last entry in this “appeared in folklore” list, though even that doesn’t cover all of them). One could be born with the curse of vampirism – but that would only manifest after the person died.
- Being cursed – Sometimes somebody just straight-up doesn’t like someone else and then they curse them. After that person dies, they’ll return as a vampire because of the curse. This often didn’t require some complex ritual, because in the olden days, even saying “damn you” was literally considered a curse – this is why it’s called a “curse word.” If you say that to someone, you are literally cursing that person, wishing them to be damned.
- Violent life/violent death – Someone who lived a violent life – if they were a killer, if they mutilated others, whatever – and then also died a violent death, such as if they were murdered, would rise again as a vampire.
- Incest/born out of wedlock – What it says on the tin. The child would be cursed and then become a vampire after death.
- Incorrect burial rites – Gotta get those burial rites correct. Mess them up, and the person will rise again as a vampire. You don’t just stick a person in the ground. Extra measures might be taken to prevent the person becoming a vampire, too, like burying the corpse face-down or sticking needles or a stake in it, as mentioned in this post on weaknesses.
- Ignoring traditions – You may have heard of strigoi or the similar word striga from a certain popular fantasy game – or maybe you never played the first one; you should – but it isn’t what you think. A strigoi is a spirit, and if one does not properly undertake the right funerary feasts in the right time period after a person’s death, then that person might rise again as a strigoi – in other words, a vampire of sorts. This basically falls into the same category as incorrect burial rites, but it’s slightly different because these traditions may need to be held more than once, such as once a year, in order to keep the spirit pleased.
- Animals jumping over corpses/graves – Cats, dogs, horses, you name it. Animals jumping over graves was not a good thing, especially for the recently interred or those in the process of being buried. They’d probably return from the dead as a vampire.
- Suicide – There are some stories in which committing suicide can result in a vampire, such as one tale of a man who hangs himself, becomes a vampire, and then still pursues his girlfriend, who spurns his advances because he’s an evil spirit now. He does not, however, want to drink her blood, because not all vampires actually wanted/needed to do that (more on that later).
- Many strange and specific happenstances – These include but are not limited to: not eating garlic during life, a pregnant woman not eating salt during her pregnancy, if the mother of a child is a witch and/or uses spells and incantations, if someone lives an amoral life (such as obtaining money falsely, for instance, as well as being violent etc. as mentioned before), if a pregnant woman is seen by a vampire (and given the evil eye; a big deal in folklore)… all of these would result in the person and/or the child in question becoming a vampire after death, but they would not be born this way. All of these emphasize that being a vampire is a curse, often put upon those who do not live moral lives. Or, I guess, those who don’t eat their proper anti-vampire diet.
Did NOT appear in folklore
- Almost any case of a vampire “creating” another vampire – This wasn’t really a thing in folklore. Much like how lycanthropy wasn’t considered a “contagious disease” in any fashion in folklore, being a vampire was a curse, and it wasn’t something they could pass on. Events in a person’s life, whether in or out of their control, determined whether they would become a vampire; this is especially true of Romanian folklore.
- Blood transfusion – They didn’t really do blood transfusions back when – though drinking blood was a thing, actually, and not just for vampires; more on that later, though – so obviously there’s no vampire folklore where you put a vampire’s blood into someone else and then that person becomes a vampire, for so many reasons.
- Drinking vampire blood – Nope. In fact, a vampire’s heart was sometimes eaten or the ashes of the heart drank by someone in order to destroy a vampire.
- Biting a human – Nope. First of all, vampires in folklore didn’t really have the signature fangs to leave those fang marks that means someone will turn into a vampire. Vampires drank blood from their victims all the time and no one ended up becoming a vampire from it, really.