It is an undeniable fact to acknowledge the difficulty in the accounting for a proper definition of the vampire, due to its variety of nature and exemplifications throughout history. The vampire has shown a variety of faces, embodiments and represented a numerous beliefs which span from explanations of crop failures or natural disease or death, to the uttermost embodiment of fear and life in death.
Nevertheless, such a powerful myth has managed to endure the test of time, for its power has transcended the realms of civilization, no matter where and when the various peoples ever lived. From the East to the West, all civilizations had their vampiric icon and image, however different in form or meaning, with an essence which has remained unaltered up to our own times.
Interpretations have been given unceasingly along time, many of them lying on the realms of myths to interpret nature, crop failures, disease or any other threat any given society may undergo. Such visions are closely linked to the conception of the vampire as a threat to people's own survival, due to their being dependant on crops to assure their own food supplies. Usually, such conceptions of the vampire are accounts of ordinary people, often linked to an agricultural life, especially in African or Australian lands.
On the other hand, more recent academical studies rely on traditional visions of the vampire as the iconic image known to people as a way to interpret more profound social, sexual and psychological motivations. Such newer approach has its origins in the classical world and the later division of the Turkish Empire, which enabled European soldiers to bring along legends which gave account of many characteristics that our modern vampire shows and the general public recognizes as properly vampiric elements. Certain Medievalism was too necessary to shape up the vampire, as well as the role of Christianity in order to link the vampire with certain symbols like the holy water or the cross.
Ultimately, Bram Stoker, though not the only writer responsible for the vampire's iconic image, certainly did give birth to the definite embodiment of the vampire archetype. Its own bare name strikes fear into the hearts of past, present and future readers: Dracula. So powerful the name and the myth, that it is a very well known name, familiar even to those who have not yet read Stoker's novel. Therefore, a secret must lie under its shadow, an aura which looms out from the dark mist of the darkness of time.
The vampire is defined as the "spirit of a deceased person or his cadaver revived through the action of the spirit itself or a demon. Once revived, it would return to the world of the living to torment them through the consumption of their blood as a means to live on themselves". Such definition contributes to the belief according to which spirits, commanded by witches or sorcerers, may inflict pain, cause disease or even kill the living. As popular beliefs state, vampires are identified with the prematurely deceased, those who died in a violent death, witches, victims of heresy, werewolves, bastard sons of bastard parents, among others.
Blood, the embodiment of life and thought to be its haven, is sought after as a means to create and perpetuate life. Due to this fact, the vampire cadaver walks among the living yearning for such precious life substance necessary for their own unholy existence. Behind them a trail of pain and death is left, as their deathly shadow creates more vampire creatures, which themselves spread their evil unto others.
On the other hand, and closely related to what was previously stated, the vampire myth personifies the ancient fear of death and the uncertain return of the dead to the world of the living. Such fear was supported by the primitive belief of the dead enjoying a life of their own in their graves, once built for such purpose.
These two main issues, blood and death and their reciprocal relationship, are at the heart of the vampire myth. Portraits of vampires vary along the continents and cultures. Vampire characters can be found in the classical world, in the Eastern civilizations or remote places such as Australia, Africa or the American continent. However, a proper definition was not given until the first half of the 18th century. The word vampire appeared in Europe for the first time in 1725 and 1731, when some newspapers gave account of two cases of vampirism in Serbia. The word was not known before that time. In 1732 the word was used for the first time in England and Germany; and later in 1762, the word was used to designate the bat which sucked the blood of animals.
Though absent in a semantic level, vampire beliefs can be found in various earlier cultures, along rituals which prove inhabitants were fearful of revenants, spirits or demons which tormented the living and sucked their blood.