Vampires are said to be mythological or folkloric beings who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures. Although typically described as undead, a vampire could be a living person.
The most common variation of the myth portrays the vampire as a dead person who rises from the grave at night to seek his victim from the realm of the sleeping.
The vampire is a popular theme of film makers who have started with Bram Stokers's novel (Dracula) and added a number of variations to the theme The vampire is also a popular literary subject. Hence, there are numerous descriptions of the origin, nature, powers, etc. of vampires. What seems to be universal about vampire myths is their connection with the fear of death and the desire for immortality. The ritual drinking of blood to overcome death has been practiced by many peoples. The Aztecs and other Native Americans, for example, ate the hearts and drank the blood of captives in ritual ceremonies, most likely to satisfy the appetite of their gods and gain for themselves fertility and immortality. Also typical were the rites of Dionysus and Mithras, where the drinking of animal blood was required in the quest for immortality.
In folkloric tales, undead vampires often visited loved ones and caused mischief or deaths in the neighbourhoods they inhabited when they were alive. They wore shrouds and were often described as bloated and of ruddy or dark countenance, markedly different from today's gaunt, pale vampire which dates from the early Nineteenth Century. Although vampiric entities have been recorded in most cultures, the term vampire was not popularised until the early 18th century, after an influx of vampire superstition into Western Europe from areas where vampire legends were frequent, such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe, although local variants were also known by different names, such as vampir (вампир) in Serbia, vrykolakas in Greece and strigoi in Romania. This increased level of vampire superstition in Europe led to mass hysteria and in some cases resulted in corpses actually being staked and people being accused of vampirism.
According to some sources, living vampires could be sorcerers or witches (such as some types of strigoi), or the result of a demonic contract (such as the Penanggalen and Loogaroo).
In modern times, however, the vampire is generally held to be a fictitious entity, although belief in similar vampiric creatures such as the chupacabra still persists in some cultures. Early folkloric belief in vampires has been ascribed to the ignorance of the body's process of decomposition after death and how people in pre-industrial societies tried to rationalise this, creating the figure of the vampire to explain the mysteries of death. Porphyria was also linked with legends of vampirism in the 20th century and received much media exposure, but this link has since been largely discredited.
The charismatic and sophisticated vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori; the story was highly successful and arguably the most influential vampire work of the early 19th century. However, it is Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula that is remembered as the quintessential vampire novel and provided the basis of the modern vampire legend. The success of this book spawned a distinctive vampire genre, still popular in the 21st century, with books, films, and television shows. The vampire has since become a dominant figure in the horror genre.
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the first appearance of the word vampire in English from 1734, in a travelogue titled Travels of Three English Gentlemen published in the Harleian Miscellany in 1745. Vampires had already been discussed in German literature. After Austria gained control of northern Serbia and Oltenia in 1718, officials noted the local practice of exhuming bodies and "killing vampires". These reports, prepared between 1725 and 1732, received widespread publicity.
The English term was derived (possibly via French vampyre) from the German Vampir, in turn thought to be derived in the early 18th century from the Serbian вампир/vampir. The Serbian form has parallels in virtually all Slavic languages: Bulgarian вампир (vampir), Czech and Slovak upír, Polish wąpierz, and (perhaps East Slavic-influenced) upiór, Russian упырь (upyr'), Belarusian упыр (upyr), Ukrainian упирь (upir'), from Old Russian упирь (upir'). (Note that many of these languages have also borrowed forms such as "vampir/wampir" subsequently from the West; these are distinct from the original local words for the creature.) The exact etymology is unclear. Among the proposed proto-Slavic forms are ǫpyrь and ǫpirь. Like its possible cognate that means "bat" (Czech netopýr, Slovak netopier, Polish nietoperz, Russian нетопырь / netopyr' —a species of bat), the Slavic word might contain a Proto-Indo-European root for "to fly". An older theory is that the Slavic languages have borrowed the word from a Turkic term for "witch" (e.g., Tatar ubyr).
The first recorded use of the Old Russian form Упирь (Upir') is commonly believed to be in a document dated 6555 (1047 AD). It is a colophon in a manuscript of the Book of Psalms written by a priest who transcribed the book from Glagolitic into Cyrillic for the Novgorodian Prince Vladimir Yaroslavovich. The priest writes that his name is "Upir' Likhyi " (Упирь Лихый), which means something like "Wicked Vampire" or "Foul Vampire". This apparently strange name has been cited as an example both of surviving paganism and of the use of nicknames as personal names.
Another early use of the Old Russian word is in the anti-pagan treatise "Word of Saint Grigoriy," dated variously to the 11th–13th centuries, where pagan worship of upyri is reported.