Ever wonder when the first imaginary, blood-sucking, bat-shifting creature stepped into the light? Believe it or not, it wasn’t in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight… but it also didn’t start with Dracula. So, where did the vampire originate?
The cheesy modern day vampires
The vampire narrative is pretty worn out. Ever heard of a little heartthrob movie called Twilight? What about The (cuddly) Count on Sesame Street? Heck, even Hotel Transylvania turned a bruting vampire into a caring, overprotective dad with an agenda to ruin his daughter’s love life. Big whoop.
So, what happened to the terrifying vampire tales of the past?
Bram Stoker’s Dracula certainly jarred the world when it was first released, and inspired some fairly scary vampire stories throughout the 20th Century. While many credit the novel with being the earliest introduction of the vampire as a character, it was far from the first text to mention the horrors of a blood-sucking being. But if not with Dracula, where did the vampire narrative begin?
The creepy fairies who inspired them were drunk on blood
Long before Dracula ever hit the shelves, Scottish folklore painted the first image of a vampire-like creature, referred to as the baobhan sith – but also known as Baobhan Sidhe, Bavanshee, Baavan Shee, or The White Woman of the Scottish Highlands.
Rather than being screeching bats, however, these vampires were pale, blond fairies who seduced and then sucked the blood out of their victims. Yes, this is somehow more horrifying, and no, the terror doesn’t end there.
Baobhan siths were like sirens of the sea on steroids. These fairy women were all about the art of seduction, often appearing in a beautiful form – in a green dress hiding their hooved feet – before brutally killing their victims. They’d stab them with their sharp nails (presumably styled by a very sadistic manicurist) and drink their blood dry.
The most well known baobhan sith incident was what has become known as the Company of Four:
There are numerous stories about the baobhan sith with a general theme of hunters being attacked in the wilderness at night. In one tale recorded by Mackenzie, there were four men who went hunting and took shelter for the night in a lonely shieling or hut. One of the men supplied vocal music while the others began dancing. The men expressed a desire for partners to dance with, and soon after that four women entered the hut. Three of them danced while the fourth sat beside the vocalist. He then noticed drops of blood falling from his companions and fled from the hut, taking refuge among the horses. His vampiric partner chased him but was unable to catch him, and when daylight came she disappeared. The man went back inside and found all three of his friends dead and drained of blood. The folklorist Katharine Briggs suggested that the baobhan sith was unable to catch the fourth man among the horses because of the iron with which the horses were shod, iron being a traditional fairy vulnerability.
In a[n alternate version of the story] one of the men noticed that the women had deer hooves instead of feet and fled from them. He returned the next morning to find that the other hunters had their "throats cut and chests laid open."
Pretty spooky, right? Dracula doesn’t hold a torch to these sociopathic forest-dwellers.
According to Scottish tradition, baobhan sith usually appear after someone has their desire for female companionship (there is a traditional belief that if one makes a wish at night without also invoking God's protection, the wish will be granted in some terrible manner) which means these creatures are listening in on people's conversations at night.
While Dracula was able to transform into a measly bat, baobhan siths had some crazy shift-shifting abilities. They could become the whole circus: wolves, ravens, crows, and more.
Also, Dracula could be taken out pretty easily. A wooden stake through the heart? Easy peasy. To kill a baobhan sith, you better be prepared to lock them in their coffin…if they didn’t completely obliterate you first.
One thing that discounts their bloodthirst a little in comparison to Dracula is the fact that they only needed to satiate their hunger for human blood once a year.
But considering they did so by seducing strangers, stabbing them with their fingernails and drinking blood from their wounds while emitting unearthly shrieks – oh, and this is all happening while you're out in the forest, by the way – they hold the crown for "most disturbing murders" for sure.
If this has only started to sate your thirst for the murderous seductresses, you can check out Mark Chadbourn's Age of Misrule fantasy trilogy where the baobhan sith make numerous appearances. They also figure in Raymond E. Feist's supernatural thriller Faerie Tale.