What Is a Vampire?

Now that we’ve covered vampire etymology, it’s time for something very important. Just like we needed to define what is a werewolf for the werewolf facts, to make sure we’re all on the same page, it’s time to ask a super important question…

What is a vampire, anyway? What counts as a vampire? What doesn’t? How is this different in folklore than it is in popular culture today?

Please note that, in this post, we won’t get into how one “becomes” a vampire or if one has to become a vampire at all and different types of vampires and things – all of that will be covered in later vampire facts! Here, we’re just talking definition.

Simple version? A vampire is a parasitic being that requires something from humans in order to survive, usually harming or killing the human in the process of acquiring it. Generally, this is blood, but sometimes it can be something else, such as general life energy and/or their soul.

Vampires in folklore do not necessarily have to be undead and/or human and/or the product of a curse: many vampires are not human at all and never were. This is a product of modern pop culture that has been highly popularized today, but now that we’re studying vampire folklore itself, you’re going to have to realize that not all vampires are dead people!

Here’s something interesting: much like how some of our earliest concepts of what modern scholars consider werewolf myths came from legends like Lycaon, our concept of vampires, too, largely originates in Greece. In fact, a lot of what modern scholars consider “vampire legends” comes from extensive study of vampire stories in Greece dating back to the classical period.

Many of these stories actually come from the vrykolakas, which I covered in a werewolf fact here, as well.

From these scholarly studies, we have derived essentially two “types” of vampires and/or vampire legends: 1. those considered supernatural or not human, which typically include specters/ghosts and beings from other planes of existence like demons; 2. the undead human, also known as a revenant.

During earlier periods of history, the supernatural and inhuman type of vampires were prevalent. In Greece, in particular, we only see stories about undead vampires after AD 587 or so, when the Slavs presumably brought their own vampire legends to the area.

The undead form of vampires, in fact, is really only seen much in folklore from the Middle Ages and later.

So now we have two types off the top: inhuman vampires (demons, specters) and human vampires.

Even among those, we must divide the human vampires up into separate categories, too! I’m telling you, vampire legends are incredibly complicated.

There are what scholars refer to as “dead vampires” – these are the undead; corpses that rise and “live” again (or sometimes other situations like sending their ghosts out from their graves, but still, they are ultimately corpses/people who died). These are perhaps still the most commonly seen in pop culture today.

However, there are also “living vampires” – something we almost never see in pop culture today. These vampires are not actually dead yet, but they are indeed still vampires and can project their spirit outward to go off and do vampire things. Much more on that later.

So what are the vampires we most associate with the word “vampire” today, like the ones we generally see in pop culture? They are “dead vampires,” human revenants. The other types are incredibly rare in pop culture today, if you see them at all. Generally, any remnant of their influence is just carried over into undead human vampires and combined with other stuff.

As for all the details on these various things? We’ll get into those soon enough!