Dhampyrs in Folklore & Fiction
This piece will be posted on both my Fiction Writing Blog and my Folklore & Magic Blog. I’m feeling somewhat smug today having just had a story accepted for The British Fantasy Society’s Horizons magazine. Naturally my tale A Taste Of Blood And Honey is a work of fiction but is does draw on genuine folklore and features a variety of supernatural beings in a grim social-surrealistic setting (essentially an experimental form of “Kitchen Sink Urban Fantasy”).
In my story I feature a form of Dhampyr (not quite the usual sort however). The name Dhampyr is generally taken to be a conjunction of two Albanian words, “dham” (teeth) and “pirë” (drink). As Dhampyrs are not especially well known outside Eastern Europe, I thought it might be an idea to explain a little bit about them. Traditionally, a Dhampyr is a creature found in Balkan folklore. It generally appears to be a normal human (at least much of the time) but in reality the creature is most commonly born as the result of a sexual encounter between a vampire and a human. Dhampyr is one of several possible ways of spelling the term in English, others include Dhampir, Dhampyre and Dhamphir.
In folklore, Dhampyrs generally possess powers similar to those of Vampires (inherited one presumes from their Vampiric parent). Dhampyrs however frequently have (at least some of) the strengths but not (all of) the weaknesses of Vampires.
In recent Vampire fiction, Dhampyrs have often appeared as hybrids of one human and one vampire parent – not vampires themselves, but a half-breed of both. I put a different spin on things in my own story, while hopefully remaining true to the spirit of the original folklore.
Originally “Dhampyrs” were specifically associated with Balkan folklore although other names were also used in the region, for example the Serbian “Vampirović”, “Vampijerović” and “Vampirić” or the Bosnian “Lampijerović” (literally meaning “Son of a Vampire).
Often a boy said to have a Vampire parent may be named “Dhampir” and a girl “Dhampirica”. Alternatively, depending on region and local tradition, a male child may be named “Vampir”, while a female child might be named “Vampirica”.
In the Balkan region it was believed that generally most male vampires continue to have a great desire for “female company”, even after death. It was widely believed that a vampire would return and do their best to have intercourse with his wife, girlfriend or with any woman he had been attracted to in life. In at least one well documented case, a Serbian widow blamed her pregnancy on her late husband, who had “allegedly” become a vampire. This belief also led to several cases of Serbian men masquerading as vampires in order to have their wicked way with women they desired.
The sexual nature of vampirism has been well established in classic fictional works on Vampires, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel through the Hammer Films of the ‘60s & ‘70s and on to the more recent works of authors such as Anne Rice, or even to an extent the Twilight franchise. But this is not simply a literary motif. In Bulgarian folklore for example, vampires were sometimes said to deflower virgins, just like in the later horror movies. Sexually active vampires appear in Southern Slavic vampire beliefs, and likewise in Belarusian legends.
Some Eastern European traditions tell of specific signs by which the children of a vampire can be recognised.
Albanian legends state Dhampyrs have untamed dark or black hair and lack a shadow.
In Bulgarian folklore, possible indications include being “very dirty,” having a soft body, no nails and no bones (the lack of bones is also ascribed to the vampire itself), and “a deep mark on the back, like a tail.” A long pronounced nose was often also sign, as were larger than normal ears, teeth or eyes.
In some areas, a true Dhampyr possessed a “slippery, jelly-like body and lived only a short life” which may have been a description of a hereditary genetic condition, or side-effects produced as the result of poor nutrition.
Or of course, perhaps it may indicate having a vampire as a parent…