There is no single known source of the vampire myth, although variations have been around for centuries. These myths manifested themselves in many different ways depending on their environment and culture, but they tended to be most prevalent in small, insular communities, where education was scarce and superstition plentiful.
Vampire myths close to those that survive today were especially prevalent in Romania, Serbia, and Hungary. The stories became severe enough to induce panic in the eighteenth century, spreading into Northern and Western Europe. The great amount of epidemics at the time increased the vampire myth’s power. The traditional myths often arose out of a need to explain the unexplainable, and they were often closely tied to diseases like consumption, which could kill a whole family, with everyone slowly wasting away.
It was common to believe that those who were killed by a vampire would become vampires themselves upon their death. This was not always the case, however—in some societies, simply being looked at by a vampire while pregnant would mean you would give birth to a vampire, or being born with a caul, that is, still in the amniotic sac, meant that you would become a vampire upon your death unless certain precautions were taken.
There were many different tests developed to decide if a vampire resided in a grave or not. The first clue was usually the death of several family members in close succession, and often if a horse would not walk over a certain grave, it was believed to be the home of a vampire. The grave would then be opened, and if the deceased was found to have a flushed face or skin, blood in their veins, or another of a variety of signs, then they were a vampire.
Different societies also had various ways of killing vampires, but most frequently it required burning the entire body, or just the heart, and scattering the ashes. Stakes—either wood or iron—and decapitation were other common cures. Certain myths held that if the vampire was not destroyed, it would wreak havoc and destruction for seven years before traveling to another land where it would become a human again, marry, and impregnate a woman with all vampire children.
The modern day vampire myths often incorporate different parts of many different historical myths, both of vampires and of other kinds of evil beings—demons, witches, wizards, werewolves, and so on. Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula also cemented much of the current lore, a large part of which he created himself.