Vampire mythology springs through the foggy pages of history, born and reborn through dozens of generations and different cultures. Though the bulk of vampire mythology owes its existence to imaginative fiction, rather than actual historical events, many cultures feature myths of vampire-like creatures, dating back more than two thousand years. Though each legend has distinct variations, there are several prominent aspects of vampire mythology that echo one another across different lands. Some of the most commonly found vampire characteristics include the drinking of human blood, an abhorrence of religious symbols, various causes of creation, and an ability to sexually arouse or attract victims.
Blood drinking is the core of nearly all vampire stories, but may in fact be rooted in a physiological phenomena. According to some experts, the myth of blood drinking may have arisen from the fact that dead bodies, particularly in mass graves, occasionally leak blood from their mouths after death. In an era before modern medicine, the bloodstains may have been mistaken for those left by drinking blood. Drinking blood also created an association between vampire myths and certain animals, particularly those perceived to be bloodthirsty, such as wolves and bats.
Another tenet of vampire stories is the ability to repel them with religious symbols, such as a crucifix. This myth may spring from the belief that vampires could be created through unconsecrated burials, since the body was not blessed by the church and buried on sacred ground. Vampires as an antithesis to religion may also be related to a belief that the creatures could be created through unsanctioned sexual acts, such as incest or adultery.
How vampires are created is another key component in different types of vampire mythology. In addition to improper burial or illicit sexual encounters, many cultures share a belief that vampires can create other vampires through a blood ritual. While vampires in these traditions can certainly kill a person just for his or her blood, they may also be able to create a companion or servant by leaving the victim barely alive, and allowing him or her to drink vampire blood in return. In a famous paper by physicists Costas Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi, this theory is dismissed as highly unlikely for mathematical reasons, as an initial population of one vampire could lead to a total destruction of all living humans within two years.
Roma and Malaysian vampire mythology both contain some references of the sexual prowess of vampires, but great credit must go to Bram Stoker's written interpretation of Dracula for popularizing the dark, romantic aspect of the monster. The sexually repressive culture of Victorian England plays a starring role in Stoker's Dracula, which focuses heavily on the sexual corruption of the vampire's victims, as well as their physical destruction. Through extremely popular modern fiction series such as Stephanie Meyer's Twilight and Robin McKinley's Sunshine the sexual aspects of vampire mythology may prove the most enduring in popular fiction.