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The Evolution of the Female Vampire(10 Oct 2014)
By Miss Jamie Spears
Hello, everyone. My name is Jamie Spears (Miss) and I am a final-year PhD student at the University of Sunderland. Much of my research centres on women in mid- to late-Victorian Gothic: from the authors who (I would argue) revolutionised the genre, to the female characters—goodies and baddies—who haunt literary imagination.
In this, my first post, I would like to take a brief look at the history and mythology of the female vampire.
Lilith and Lamia
According to the medieval text, The Alphabet of Ben Sira (sometimes Sirach), God created Adam, then created Lilith, Adam's first wife, out of clay.
"He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while am to be in the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’ But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air"
The angels try to tempt Lilith back to Adam, but she is adamant that she will not yield to his will. She self-defines as a demonic creature:
"‘I was created only to cause sickness to infants. If the infant is male, I have dominion over him for eight days after his birth, and if female, for twenty days’… ‘Whenever I see you or your names or your forms in an amulet [angels], I will have no power over that infant.’ She also agreed to have one hundred of her children die every day. Accordingly, every day one hundred demons perish, and for the same reason, we write the angels' names on the amulets of young children. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers."
Until the point she began to possess infants, her only sin had been refusing to be subject to her husband
When the Bible was translated to Latin by the early Catholic Church, Lilith became Lamia.
"Et occurrent daemonia onocentauris et pilosus clamabit alter ad alterum ibi cubavit Lamia et invenit sibi requiem"
"And demons and monster shall meet, and the hairy ones shall cry out to one another, there hath Lamia laid down and found rest for herself" [Isaiah 34:14]
Lamia exists elsewhere in mythology. In the Greek tradition, she was a lover of Zeus, and when Hera found out, she became consumed with jealousy. Hera had Lamia's children killed, and then cursed Lamia to be a killer (and consumer of) children. In the Roman version (as told by Horace), Lamia is forced, by Hera, to consume her own children.
Lilith and Lamia are not entirely unsympathetic figures, despite killing children. Lilith was effectively turned into a demon because she refused to be in submission to her husband; Lamia was the victim of Hera's cruelty.
Unlike Lilith and Lamia, the succubus consumes only the soul, and not the flesh, of her victim. The succubus is well-known in popular culture-- notable enough to have a South Park episode dedicated to her (series 3 episode 3 if you are interested).
The succubus is able to take over her male victim by seducing-- or raping—him. Though it may seem not as vampiric as biting, the notion of penetration, of fleshly contact is what is important in overtaking the victim.
The succubus was a common figure in Celtic mythology. In Ireland, the leannán sídhe (sometimes spelt leanhaun shee) is a powerful muse for her men, but ultimately drives them to madness after draining them of their soul. The dearg-due was, like Lilith, a woman set to be forced into an unhappy marriage. She committed suicide, became a demon, and preys on men as revenge. In Scotland, the Highland Baobhan sith transforms herself into a beautiful woman and seduces young male travellers. They have been known to drain men of their life force via sex, or have been known to drink their blood-- the traditions vary.
The Hungarian countess, nicknamed the Tigress of Csejte, is one of the most famous 'real' Vampires in the canon. Bathory, as a means of retaining her youth and beauty, murdered servant girls so that she could bathe in their blood. It is impossible to say how many young girls were sacrificed at Bathory's hand-- estimates range from 50-200.
Following reports from the villagers nearby, the investigations into Bathory began in 1604. Hundreds of witnesses reported seeing her partake in various atrocities-- from torturing young women, to sexual perversion, to murder. There were also reports of Bathory and her trusted servants abducting young women. The reports of the witnesses are well-documented, but, naturally, we have no way of knowing how true they are. We do know that several young women died at the castle; bodies were found buried on the grounds, and a few were concealed within its walls.
Bathory's servants were burnt at the stake for their part in the crimes. Bathory was imprisoned in a windowless chamber, where she lived for about four years before dying. It has been suggested that Bathory starved herself to death, or that she died of natural causes. But for us Gothicists, it is tempting to think that she succumbed due to the lack of fresh, virgin blood.
When we consider the female vampires in Victorian Gothic, it is easy to see the influence of their mythological predecessors. Carmilla is a beautiful seductress not unlike the succubus (though Carmilla prefers young ladies for her victims); Lucy Westenra, like Lamia, a victim turned into a killer of children; Lady Ducayne, like Bathory, uses the blood of virgins to keep her alive long past her natural expiry date.