Vampirism - origins

Apologies if this has been dealt with before:

It’s fairly well-known vampire-lore that vampirism is contagious; that is, if you get yourself bit by one, you become one yourself.

Any stories about how the first vampire became so afflicted?

He bit his own tongue?

There are all sorts of different legends about how somebody becomes a vampire, and the “you become a vampire if another bites you” is just one of those legends. You could become a vampire if:

You’re descended from Cain from the bible
You’re a suicide
An animal jumps over your corpse
You’re buried in nonconsecrated ground
You’ve blasphemed against God
You die from an open wound
You’re a wizard
You’re not baptized
You eat from a sheep killed by a wolf
You’re a stillborn child
You’re the illegitimate son of an illegitimate son
The shadow of a living man falls over your corpse
You were cursed
You were born with a caul
You’re a perjurer

Various, depending on the author(s). In the old World of Darkness Cain the first murderer was the first vampire, I understand.

Fred Saberhagen’s vampires not only spread by bite, but normal humans can become one by effort of will; a transcendent refusal to die. Presumably the first vampire was some such person.

In Marvel comics, the first vampires were created by ancient Atlantean sorcerers using the Darkhold as magical super-soldiers.

As always, *Buffy *has the answer:

Giles: This world is older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons walked the Earth. They made it their home, their… their Hell. But in time they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for, for man. All that remains of the old ones are vestiges, certain magicks, certain creatures.

The books tell the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demon’s soul. He bit another, and another, and so they walk the Earth, feeding… Killing some, mixing their blood with others to make more of their kind. Waiting for the animals to die out, and the old ones to return.

Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat has a section about the first vampires.

And it involves a demon as well.

Captain Amazing gives most of the “traditional” ways to become a vampire, but I want to add just one more:
In Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula didn’t become a vampire by being bitten by another vampire, or by any of the methods CA gives. Nor does he becomes condemned for cursing God for the death of his wife, as in the Francis Ford Coppola movie.
in the book, he was one of a set of proto-wizards who attended the “Devil’s School” of black arts, it’s said. The price of admission was to take the chance of being condemned for it – one member of the class would become a vampire. Dracula drew the short straw, so to speak.

Captain Amazing’s list covers most of the folklore causes of vampirism that I’ve heard of. The only other one I remember ever reading about is that in one region (somewhere in Eastern Europe?) blue-eyed redheads were considered likely to become vampires. The Greek island of Santorini was also said to be home to many vampires, perhaps because IRL decomposition of buried corpses is somewhat slower than usual due to the local soil composition. I’m not sure if it was traditionally believed that people from Santorini were particularly susceptible to vampirism, though.

In folklore and early vampire literature vampirism is not commonly described as contagious, it’s usually due to the circumstances of a person’s birth, death, or burial, or because they did something wicked or sinful in life. The victims of vampires usually just died rather than becoming vampires themselves.

Folk stories about werewolves are pretty similar. Traditionally, werewolves were either born that way or became werewolves through the use of dark magic or a pact with the Devil. The idea that werewolfism is contagious is a recent one (I don’t think it predates the mid 20th century) and was apparently borrowed from vampire stories.

I didn’t remember Stoker being as specific as this about how Dracula became a vampire, but you’re correct. Here’s Van Helsing, as recorded in Mina Harker’s journal entry for September 30:

To add to the list; being born on Christmas is supposed to be another way to become a vampire, though in some regions a Christmas birth will result in a werewolf instead.

Humphrey Bogart was a vampire?

Or a werewolf. It could have been either one.

Just to contribute a little bit…

That excerpt from Dracula is fascinating to me. I’ve never read Stoker’s original novel and had no idea that he played with the idea of sorcery and damnation, (however perfunctorily). It looks like something that could have come from an Anne Rice novel or a WoD book.

My favorite vampire origin story is from an under-appreciated movie called Dracula 2000. In it, the very first vampire turned out to be…

Judas Iscariot, who became a vampire as a result of his betrayal of Christ.

I’d say more of a Small God, in the Pratchett sense.

I also have read of Longinus, the Wandering Jew and Lilith as the first vampire.

I hated that origin, but anyway, I think they retconned that in the direct to video sequels. That was just another guise he took on. He changes form every time he dies and comes back, guess he’s a timelord or something. His final regeneration? Rutger Hauer, who’s played a vampire enough times that people might start wondering if he isn’t one himself.

Isn’t there a legend linking vampirism with Lilith, who was supposedly Adam’s first wife? Or is that an invention of Marvel comics too?

Forget Bogart - Jesus was a vampire!

Though that would explain the resurrection, and how he got all those followers so quickly…

The surprising answer is, Yes, in fact.

Check out the old movie The Return of Dr. X, in which Bogey does, in fact, play a vampire. He hated the role, which he felt more appropriate for Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff, but the studio said to do it, and they owned him.

Not a legend linking her to vampires – lots of enthusiastic vampire-loving geeks, looking for the old roots of the vampire legend, seized upon her reputation for drinking blood and decided that she was an early vampire. In fact, there’s nothing exactly like the vampire in the ancient world, although there are plenty of blood-drinking monsters and Undead Things. Richard Burton titled one of his translations of Indian horror Vikram and the Vampyre, but the titular vampuire is a traditional Indian demon that’s not exactly like the modern conception. In fact, as I’ve frequently pointed out, out modern conception of the vampire is largely a 19th century literary creation. Vampires certainly existed earlier, but in East European folklore they were poor, dirty, shambling creatures who people knew were dead and werre generally peasants. Their activity was usually implied rather than seen, and they were often perceived in the body only when they were dug up and dispatched by fire, stake, or other means. It was in literature that we first had the Vampire who came from somewhere else and could pass for human (since no one knew they were dead), and it’s from literature* that we got the aristocratic, titled vampire

*Polidori’s The Vampyre and a few earlier cases.