Popular literature has never become disenchanted with the enchanted, possessed or cursed. You can find vampires, zombies, ghouls, ghosts and the demonically possessed in several best selling novels. In the tradition of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, the more recent literary forays into the world of the undead, sort of dead, and soon to be dead, have attempted to give some scientific and psychological rationales for their characters.
In light of some of the breakthroughs in new forensic techniques, authors have taken advantage, and incorporated these themes into their novels. Two theories used to explain vampires deal with DNA technology, specifically sequencing the genomes of the creatures mentioned above, and virology.
In Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy, her main characters pursue a twofold quest. The vampire, Matthew Clairmont, is a microbiologist in his present regeneration. He is studying the DNA of witches, vampires and other creatures to see what their connection is to non-creature humans. He is looking for similarities, and those markers which identify them as a witch or vampire, etc.
At the same time, Dianna Bishop, an unwilling witch with very strong powers, is searching for an elusive medieval book that promises to give credence to the connections between all creatures, human and otherwise. There are many forces not willing to let her find this book, because of the power it holds. The fact that this trilogy brings in some of the most interesting aspects of DNA technology, like finding your ancestry through a study of your genetic markers, brings the study of vampire lore into another arena.
Vampire lore is world-wide, and is based on ignorance of the decomposition processes that occur after death, the inability to ascribe causes for disease or devastating weather phenomenon, and what a coma is. Locals would blame a plague like rabies, which ravaged Eastern Europe at the time vampire lore emerged, on the last person who died. The same was true of crop failure, or severe weather. These folks would dig up the person, looking for evidence of their evil-doing. In cooler climates decomposition was slower and two processes fed the vampire legends. One was that blood can pool in the chest cavity post-mortem. So, the stake in the heart produced the gushing of blood. Gas bubbles produced by bacterial activity forced blood from the lungs into and out of the mouth. Whoops, looks like Igor just had a blood meal! And last, but not least, image the evidence of the activities of the undead unearthed, (pardon the pun), when a person who had succumbed to a coma through neurological damage or disease was examined.
These folks were dispatched in the ways we have come to know, stake through the heart, beheading, dismembering, and burning of the remains. For those who are squeamish, just sprinkle the grave with vinegar and water. The mutilation of corpses was so rampant the Catholic Church disavowed and discouraged the practice.
The next theory delves into the catch-all of virology, the above mentioned rabies epidemic, for instance. Victims infected with the rabies virus exhibit all the symptoms attributed to vampires, insomnia, sensitivity to light, mirrors and reflective water surfaces, sensitivity to sulfurous foods like, you got it, garlic. Bats transmit rabies, giving credence to the ability of a vampire to turn into a bat.
Another theory based on virology was put forth as Vampiric Virology By Hugo Pecos & Robert Lomax. The source of vampirism is the human vampirism virus (HVV). Like rabies, HVV has a distinct bullet shape and belongs to the order Mononegavirales—viruses with a nonsegmented, negative-stranded RNA genome. The virus’ natural host is a flea commonly found on cave-dwelling bats—most notably the vampire bat. In the most common scenario, the flea bites a bat, which in-turn passes the virus on to humans and other mammals. Warning, this is a theory.
A neurological condition called porphyria can be used as an example of a disease exhibiting the symptoms of vampirism mentioned above. King George III of England, the one America declared independence from, had the condition.
Moving on to Zombies, we find another condition that some try to give a scientific explanation to. Zombies originate in Haitian folklore, with roots in Africa. A zombie is a reanimated corpse produced through the work of a Vodoo witch called a bokor. This is done by using potions and other mysterious rituals. The zombie does the bidding of the person who has reanimated them. Some bokors will capture the zombie spirit or “astral” in a small flask or vial, and sell it as a talisman the buyer can use to control others.
There are some examples in nature of one organism taking control of another, and using it for some benefit. An example of this is a species of fungus, Opmocordoyceps unlateralis, infects certain species of ants which in turn will carry their spores to new hosts. Jewel wasps inject roaches with venom, disabling them, dragging them into their nests where they serve as food. But, if you are looking for examples of human bodies reanimated to do your bidding, you may find this a challenge.
Zombies also exhibit the same characteristics as those suffering from neurological diseases. If legitimate science finds some legitimate zombies to carry out their research on, perhaps they will find a cure for these poor unattractive creatures. That is, if the zombies don’t eat them first.
In conclusion, when venturing into the world of vampires, zombies and others, separate your fact from fiction, or just enjoy the fiction. This article has been brought on by an overexposure to Halloween.