Vampires page 6
Origins of vampire beliefs
Many theories for the origins of vampire beliefs have been offered as an explanation for the superstition, and sometimes mass hysteria, caused by vampires. Everything ranging from premature burial to the early ignorance of the body's decomposition cycle after death has been cited as the cause for the belief in vampires.
Although many cultures possess revenant superstitions comparable to the Eastern European vampire, the Slavic vampire is the revenant superstition that pervades popular culture's concept of vampire. The roots of vampire belief in Slavic culture are based to a large extent in the spiritual beliefs and practices of pre-Christianized Slavic peoples and their understanding of life after death. Despite a lack of pre-Christian Slavic writings describing the details of the "Old Religion", many pagan spiritual beliefs and rituals have been sustained by Slavic peoples even after their lands were Christianized. Examples of such beliefs and practices include ancestor worship, household spirits, and beliefs about the soul after death. The origins of vampire beliefs can in Slavic regions can be traced to the complex structure of Slavic spiritualism.
Demons and spirits served important functions in pre-industrial Slavic societies and were considered to be very interactive in the lives and domains of humans. Some spirits were benevolent and could be helpful in human tasks, others were harmful and often destructive. Examples of such spirits are Domovoi, Rusalka, Vila, Kikimora, Poludnitsa, and Vodyanoy. These spirits were also considered to be derived from ancestors or certain deceased humans. Such spirits could appear at will in various forms including that of different animals or human form. Some of these spirits could also participate in malevolent activity to harm humans, such as drowning humans, obstructing the harvest, or sucking the blood of livestock and sometimes humans. Hence, the Slavs were obliged to appease these spirits to prevent the spirits from their potential for erratic and destructive behavior.
Common Slavic belief indicates a stark distinction between soul and body. The soul is not considered to be perishable. The Slavs believed that upon death the soul would go out of the body and wander about its neighborhood and workplace for 40 days before moving on to an eternal afterlife. Because of this, it was considered necessary to leave a window or door open in the house for the soul to pass through at its leisure. During this time the soul was believed to have the capability of reentering the corpse of the deceased. Much like the spirits mentioned earlier, the passing soul could either bless or wreck havoc on its family and neighbors during its 40 days of passing. Upon an individual's death, much stress was placed on proper burial rites to ensure the soul's purity and peace as it separated from the body. The death of an unbaptized child, a violent or an untimely death, or the death of a grievous sinner (such as a sorcerer or murderer) were all grounds for a soul to become unclean after death. A soul could also be made unclean if its body were not given a proper burial. Alternatively, a body not given a proper burial could be susceptible to possession by other unclean souls and spirits. An unclean soul was so fearful to the Slavs because of its potential for vengeance.
From these deeply implicated beliefs pertaining to death and the soul derives the invention of the Slavic concept of vampir. A vampire is the manifestation of an unclean spirit possessing a decomposing body. This undead creature is considered to be vengeful and jealous towards the living and needing the blood of the living to sustain its body's existence. Although this concept of vampire exists in slightly deviating forms throughout Slavic countries and some of their non-Slavic neighbors, it is possible to trace the development of vampire belief to Slavic spiritualism preexisting Christianity in Slavic regions.
Paul Barber in his book Vampires, Burial and Death has described that belief in vampires resulted from people of pre-industrial societies attempting to explain the natural, but to them inexplicable, process of death and decomposition.
People sometimes suspected vampirism when a cadaver did not look as they thought a normal corpse should when disinterred. However, rates of decomposition vary depending on temperature and soil composition, and many of the signs are little known. This has led vampire hunters to mistakenly conclude that a dead body had not decomposed at all, or, ironically, to interpret signs of decomposition as signs of continued life. Corpses swell as gases from decomposition accumulate in the torso and the increased pressure forces blood to ooze from the nose and mouth. This causes the body to look "plump," "well-fed," and "ruddy"—changes that are all the more striking if the person was pale or thin in life. In the Arnold Paole case, an old woman's exhumed corpse was judged by her neighbours to look more plump and healthy than she had ever looked in life. The exuding blood gave the impression that the corpse had recently been engaging in vampiric activity. Darkening of the skin is also caused by decomposition. The staking of a swollen, decomposing body could cause the body to bleed and force the accumulated gases to escape the body. This could produce a groan-like sound when the gases moved past the vocal cords, or a sound reminiscent of flatulence when they passed through the anus. The official reporting on the Peter Plogojowitz case speaks of "other wild signs which I pass by out of high respect".
After death, the skin and gums lose fluids and contract, exposing the roots of the hair, nails, and teeth, even teeth that were concealed in the jaw. This can produce the illusion that the hair, nails, and teeth have grown. At a certain stage, the nails fall off and the skin peels away, as reported in the Plogojowitz case—the dermis and nail beds emerging underneath were interpreted as "new skin" and "new nails".