Today’s Brew: Julie’s shunned favorite, French Toast coffee. But the real news is the waffles with the real maple syrup. Pancake goo is for people who hate life.
I’ve always found it fascinating that ancient vampire myths from all cultures share certain characteristics: nocturnal beasts that drink blood. It’s not like they could Google these things hundreds or thousands of years ago. The printing press wasn’t even invented until 1450, so books weren’t readily available. No libraries for research. Information could only be passed by handwritten letters, if you could read, write, or even afford paper, or by spoken word.
So what caused the link in the myths? It had to be routed in some sort of truth. Could it have been a genetic disorder that medicine had yet to explain?
One explanation of these myths could be porphyria. Now known as a group of disorders, people affected with this disorder are unable to make heme, a part of hemoglobin, properly. The disorder is hard to diagnose but symptoms include extreme sensitivity to sunlight, neuropathy, severe iron deficiency, hallucination, paranoia, and necrosis of the gums, causing the tissue to recede and giving teeth a fang like appearance. Many people affected by this disorder crave iron rich foods. Treatments now include heme infusion therapies. In the 1950’s porphyria was treated by shock therapy, as the condition was not yet fully understood.
In a 1985 scientific paper, David Dolphin, PhD, suggested that before the disease was understood, people with porphyria may have drank blood to instinctually treat themselves. At first Dolphin’s theories were celebrated, but then dismissed as many inconsistencies were discovered. People with the disorder considered Dolphin’s findings embarrassing and humiliating. But Dolphin felt that the vampire myth had to originally be routed in fact. Porphyria affects all races: Africans, Asians, Australian Aborigines, Caucasians, Mexicans, Native Americans, and the list goes on. It also may be the root of werewolf legends, as cutaneous porphyria can cause increased hair growth on areas of the body such as the forehead. All of these cultures have vampire legends rooted in blood drinking and sensitivity to the sun. Sixty years ago, “modern” medicine treated these disorders by shock therapy. Medicine and understanding had a lot of catching up to do!
Some believed famous historical sufferers of porphyria include King George III, Mary, Queen of Scots, and, ahem, Vlad III the Impaler. From Vlad, people believed that vampires were allergic to sunlight.
Whether it’s the true root of vampire legend or just a coincidence, I found this discovery fascinating. People affected by this disorder shouldn’t find this connection embarrassing at all. I think it’s pretty bad ass. After all, who’s going to mess with a vampire?
Thirsty for more vampire mythology? Julie has done quite a bit of regional research:
Bonjour! French Vampire Mythology and Sightings
Vampires, Eh? What’s That All Aboot?
The Reason NYC is the City That Never Sleeps
The Japanese Do It Right: Gashodokuro & Hagoromo Gitsune
The Rhode Island Vampire Girls
Mari Wells also does an excellent series on vampire mythology weekly on her blog.
Sources for this post include Bloodlust by Carol Page, Harper Collins 1991, and www.porphyriafoundation.com.