Origin of Vampire Invitation Myth

Some of the classic qualities of the vampire can be easily explained. Even though sunlight wasn’t considered deadly to them until the film Nosferatu, it makes sense since vampires were always considered to be nocturnal. But where does the idea come from that vampires need to be invited into a private dwelling? When did this originate in the folklore?

A lot of the seminal British vampire literature emphasized vampires as aliens - vampires weren’t just undead who threatened people’s lives, they were also foreigners who threatened their way of life. The aspect of vampiric mythology that said you had to invite a vampire into your home reflected this - it said that you were safe as long as you kept the foreigner/vampire outside but you were in danger if you let one in.

The myth predates Dracula and the British vampire stories. I think it’s not so much that vampires are foreigners who threaten people’s way of life…vampires are demons, and creatures of Satan, and as such, you’re only subject to them if you give into their temptations…if you invite them in, if you speak to them.

For one example from literature (though not a vampire), in Goethe’s Faust it’s taken as understood that the devil needs to be invited in. Mephistopheles, initially in the form of a black dog, won’t come over the threshold until Faust welcomes him, and later (in human form) requires that Faust tell him to come in three times.
Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus conjures the devil up, and I don’t think there’s any problems with him being invited in to places.

I feel there is a theme of alienness. Dracula was a prime example. But it was predated with vampires like Ruthven or Varney or Carmilla. You can also see it in more recent works like Interview With The Vampire or Salem’s Lot or Fevre Dream or The Vampire Tapestry - there’s a common element that the vampire is different from other people above and beyond just being a vampire. The vampirism is just a outward expression of their different nature - it’s used to make the point that their different nature is dangerous. Vampires are outsiders.

Compare that to other fictional monsters like werewolves or zombies - far more often you’ll see them portrayed as an enemy arising from within. Sure they’re different now and a danger to us because of it - but they started out like us. The start of a stereotypical vampire story will have a mysterious stranger moving into town. The start of a stereotypical werewolf story will have a close friend or loved one who will then turn into the monster.

I believe that in the UK at least there is a rule governing bailiffs, that only after being let in to your property can they return and enter the premises by force. Maybe vampire myth is partly based on these blood-suckers?

A huge amount of our “ancient” vampire lore originated with Bram Stoker – even things that seem ancient, like the part about not being visible in mirrors. That seems like it ought to be ancient, because mirrors could arguably be capturing or showing the soul, and vampires don’t have souls (perhaps). But you won’t find that tidbit before Dracula.

I don’t think the bit about having to be invited in occurs before Stoker, either. Neither wolf, in the original Annotated Dracula and Essential Dracula, nor Klinger in the updated one seem to know of previous vampiric examples. Wolf wonders where Dracula himself got that greeting that Dracula uses to Harker.

On the other hand, Stoker isn’t completely consistent in his vampire lore.

I tried to run this to ground a while ago, and I think this aspect does predate Stoker. I don’t remember if it’s in Vuk Karadzic or Agnes Murgoci or one of the articles in the Dundes compilation. I’m pretty sure it’s NOT in Calmet. My memory is faulty and my books are still packed. If I find it, I’ll post.

One other thing to remember is that, in some imaginations of the vampire, the creature is subject to several odd limitations that you find in folk culture. In some accounts, a vampire cannot repeat himself, so if you hear your name called, wait until you hear it again before responding. Also, a vampire cannot resist picking up a scattered handful of mustard seed. Needing to be invited falls right in, I reckon.

And kudos to the folks making the points about mirrors and sunlight. The former originates with Stoker; the latter with Murnau.

My copies of Wold and Klinger are at home, and I’m at work, but I’ll check them this evening.

You can come in, too, if you want. Leave something of the joy you bring.

The wonderful Swedish film, “Let the Right One In” depicts what happens if the vampire violates the invitation rule. Does anyone know if this was ever described prior to this film?

IANAfolklorist, but I always figured that this was related to the sexual aspect of the vampire (kind of like the Big Bad Wolf devouring the young maiden in bed). “Inviting the vampire inside” has obvious sexual connotations, and could be viewed in the larger sense of “allowing lust into your mind.”

I see this as a parallel to more modern sexual myths (hairy palms and such) that attempt to dissuade youngsters from a life of hedonism.

Leo Allatius says, in the 17th century:

I haven’t seen the film, so i don’t know. My guess is that no, they don’t, because AFAIK there is no agreed-upon fate of a vampire violating the taboo. It’s usually just treated as an inviolable rule.

You should be aware that artists are constantly re-inventing and re-interpreting myths and folklore in books, movies, video games, artwork, and other media. And, because vampires are “hot”, they get more thamn their share of this. Sometimes the idea catches on (like the “Vampire bursts into flames in sunlight” meme that got a false start in Nosferatu, then got a second chance in Son of Dracula) and sometimes it doesn’t (The vampire floating in blood in its coffin in “Carmilla”. The vampire having to bite its victim three times to cause him to become a vampire in the Jim Carrey movie Once Bitten).

Is this quote from Calmet’s compilation, Summers’, or elsewhere?

That’s interesting, but not quite the same as the idea that the vampire can only come into a house if invited.

Lost Boys addressed this in a way. Inviting the vampire in causes you to lose any power over him and grants the vampire an advantage (crosses, garlic, etc. no longer work), rather than assessing a penalty for not being invited in.

Similar, though, and congruent with what I wrote above. Allatius got some play way back when, but his vampire stuff almost always encountered in anthologized form these days, not unlike Henry More’s.

Some vampire works use the idea that there are different lines of vampires who have different powers and vulnerabilities. One well-known example is the Masquerade role-playing system. Some lines of vampires can’t be seen in mirrors and some can. Some lines of vampires can turn into bats and some can’t. Some lines of vampires needed contact with their native earth and some didn’t. So the idea was that most ideas from vampire folklore were sometimes true but often false - a YVMV system.

“Our Vampires are Different”

I checked my copies of Leonard Wolf’s [B\Annotated Dracula** and Leslie Klinger’s New Annotated Dracula (which, of course, cites Wolf and often corrects or elaborates upon him). Here’s what they have to say –

In Chapter 2, where Dracula is inviting the non-vampire Jonathan Harker into his castle: “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!” They note that “the Devil[in fiction] can transact only with willing ‘customers’”, and cite examples, most notably the 17th century anonymous work The Mysterious Stranger (Not to be confused with Twain’s story of the same name), where the female victim Franziska invites the vampire Azzo along. She is not inviting him into a house, however, but it seems to be the closest thing you’ll find to the idea that a vampuire has to be asked into a house before “Dracula”. (pp. 42-43 in Klinger)

The other place is in Chapter 18, in the part called “Mina Harker’s Journal” , where Van Helsing is giving his list of traits and properties of the vampire, and here directly addresses the issue. “He may not enter anywhere at the first,” says Van Helsing in his Dutch-tainted English,“Unless there be some of the household who bid him to come; though afterwards he can come as he please.” Wolf has no footnote here, but Klinger does, and flatly states “There is no folkloric support for Van Helsing’s assertion.” He also adds that this sentence was added to the [typed] manuscript by hand, in Stoker’s handwriting. It seems to have been something of an afterthought, or perhaps he didn’t think he had made it sufficiently clear.
I haven’t found anything resembling this “tradition” in my own researches on vampires. You can claim that vampires required some sort of “agreement”, as Wolf and Klinger state about the earlier incident with Harker, or point out that vampires called to family members from outside, but these aren’t the same as the requirement that someone must ask the vampire into a house in order for him to enter. That’s not even a logical extrapolation from those earlier bits. Stoker pretty clearly invented it out of whole cloth, and it certainly has the feel of an “ancient tradition”, as many of his creations do
Stoker, as I pointed out, codified the behavior of vampires, rather than using pieces of it uncommented as part of a story. In doing so he created many of the traits of the vampire we take as a matter of course – the not being seen in a mirror, the avoidance of garlic, the sensitivity to a crucifix, the ability to change into a bat. He also made up several that we’ve pretty much ignored – sensitivity to the communion Host, not casting a shadow. And, interestingly, Stoker was codifying traditional elements and making up new ones precisely to have his characters going beyond these. Dracula, says the Stoker-created myth, must return to their native earth every night. Okay, says Dracula, But I can Take my Earth With Me, and sends boxes of Transylvanian dirt to England. Vampires can’t cross water, but Dracula has himself sent by parcel service across the water, so someone else takes him. Vampires are torpid in sunlight . Okay, so Dracula wears a straw hat and dark glasses. It’s the Ancient Monster getting around his limitations using Modern Science and Commercial Services. And his opponents do the same – they use the newly developed and new-fangled telephones and phonographs, mails and telegraphs to communicate over distance to seek him out and destroy him.
but it’s only in writing a story about a techno-monster using Modern Things that Stoker created and codified the “ancient” traditions. It’s a bit like what Stephen Nissenbaum said in The Battle for Christmas – the “tradition” of the quaint, handmade toyshop of Santa Claus (and his elves) at the North Pole only really got started after the Industrial Revolution made possible factories producing mass-produced toys. The “old tradition” is really created as an answer to modern technology and science making those “old traditions” obsolete.
So I have to wonder – is this whole “Vampire can’t come in unless invited, despite all his power” thing some sort of reaction to encroachments on the privacy and sanctity of the home?