Is Egypt the Birthplace of Vampires?
Ancient Egypt views on death and the afterlife were complex, yet very positive. While most other cultures viewed death as horrifying and terrifying, the ancient Egyptians saw it as a new beginning, due to their concept of eternal life. Actually, most corpses were called “beloved Osirises.” According to author Matthew Benson, mortuary (or funerary) cults – groups of people that made offerings and recited the deceased’s name at the tomb of the dead – may have provided the first hint of vampirism to later scholars.
Another facet of ancient Egyptian belief that prompted vampiric consideration was the ka, an astral companion to each living person. The ka was a symbol of the life powers given to each man from the gods; it is the source of these powers. The ka was said to be a spiritual double that was born with every man and lived on after he died, but only if it had a place to live. The ka lived within the body of the individual and therefore needed that body after death. This is the reason why the Egyptians mummified their dead, because if the body decomposed, their spiritual double, their ka, would die and the deceased would lose their chance for eternal life. You see, the belief was that the ka guided a person while they were alive, but once they died the ka would lead the soul (the ba or khu) into eternity.
Also, the Egyptian fear that future generations would forget them was very strong. The reason the mortuary cults recited the names of the deceased at their tomb was because they believed that if a person’s name was forgotten, that individual perished forever.
With the fall of the New Kingdom in 1070 B.C. many foreign kings took over and occupied Egypt. The Babylonians, Libyans, Nubians, and later the armies of Alexander the Great marched across Egypt, bringing with them their own legends and beliefs. The Ptolemys (named after Ptolemy, general of Alexander the Great) ruled Egypt until Rome conquered Cleopatra and Marc Antony and therefore, Greek, Babylonian and other customs were adopted and combined with the older philosophical beliefs of Egypt.
All of this has led certain scholars to believe that the original idea of vampires came from ancient Egypt. While I can see where they are coming from, I can’t say I entirely agree. Ancient Egyptian tradition is so incredibly vast and complicated that one would have to spend years thoroughly investigating it in order to really decide whether or not this vampire theory has ground.
What are your thoughts?
Moonlight (aka Amanda) loves to write about, read about and learn about everything pertaining to vampires. You will most likely find her huddled over a book of vampire folklore with coffee in hand. Touch her coffee and she may bite you (and not in the fun way).