Could the roots of all folk horror stories for werewolves and vampires come from the symptoms of a very rare disease?
In 1855, the Brooklyn newspaper Daily Eagle reported the horrific murder of a bride by her husband.
This is happening in a rural area in France. The bride’s parents were against this marriage from the beginning. Some features in the groom’s behavior seemed very strange to them.
Unfortunately, in the end, the marriage took place as the girl’s parents became convinced that all this was exaggerated, and that, overall, this young man was not “so bad”.
The wedding party was expected. In the evening, the newlyweds retired to their room for their first wedding night.
Soon, terrible screams of women were heard from the room, and when people broke the door and invaded the room, they saw a horrible sight: the unhappy bride lay on the bed in spasms, hardly breathing, and her breasts were torn as if she had been attacked by a wild animal.
It turns out that her own husband killed her. The man was covered with blood. He sat on the bed next to his still-living wife and chewed a piece of her flesh.
Although the girl’s relatives immediately called a doctor, the woman died of blood loss. When police arrested the killer, he shivered and behaved like a wild animal. He was taken to jail but died shortly after from an unknown cause.
This story is like a Gothic horror novel. In the 19th century, such stories were described more than once in newspapers. They are also present in folklore in earlier centuries.
There is nothing mystical in all of them, and specifically in the French case, the cause of the incident was investigated by journalists. Shortly after the murder, they realized that the groom’s unusual behavior began shortly after being strangled by a strange dog. One of the strange features of his behavior, noticed by the bride’s parents, was the fear of water and photophobia.
As you may have guessed, this terrible disease is rabies.
Rabies, which now belongs to the category of neglected diseases in developed countries, was known to humans several thousand years ago. By then, it was already known that the victim, was mostly affected by wolves and dogs, and the infected person became “crazy” like a “wild angry beast.”
According to many historians, the werewolf legends originated on the basis of rabies cases. The behavior of patients in the later stages of the disease may be similar to that of a wild animal. According to the same legend, one can become a werewolf when bitten by an unusual wolf or other werewolf. Rabies is transmitted through saliva.
In the past centuries, Slavs have considered such behavior to be possession by evil spirits – demons. This is where the term rabies comes from. In western countries, the disease was called the from the Latin word “rabies”, which translates to “madness.”
In Europe, one of the main regions of rabies and wolf rabies is in France. Even in the 19th century, local peasants feared canine or wolf “madness” as much as fires.
They were much more afraid of rabies than cholera, typhoid fever and diphtheria, which in those years killed more people than rabies. Nothing caused such horror as someone screaming: “Crazy dog! Watch out! “. There was no cure for the disease and the bitten person died after a short while.
The rabies vaccine was only invented in the late 19th century. Previously, doctors were closely monitoring patients and trying to find a cure. It has been shown that symptoms can occur from 4 to 12 weeks after being bitten by a sick animal, and that it all starts with a slight disorder and a feeling of anxiety.
Then, spasms, insomnia, irritability, fever, increased heart rate, salivation and shortness of breath begin to appear. Victims often have hallucinations and mental disorders.
Attempts to relieve the symptoms with narcotic drugs have failed. The doctors quickly realized that they couldn’t do much to alleviate the patient’s suffering. To this day, rabies is considered incurable when symptoms begin to manifest themselves.
Not surprisingly, centuries ago, rabies-infested humans could be considered true superpower monsters that transform from humans into animals as a result of evil sorcery.
When, in the 19th century, this series of “horror stories” about the victims of rabies got into the Western newspapers, many accompanying absurdities were written. For example, it has been repeatedly reported that the victims of a sick dog bite themselves began to bark and growl, as if they were truly becoming an animal.
People gave “reliable recipes” for rabies. It was believed that a person could be cured if he caught the dog that had bitten him and killed it in person. Or, immediately after a bite, remove a strand of hair from the dog and squeeze the wound with it. Or, cut off the dog’s tail… (!)
Sometimes fantastic stories with pretensions to realism came up. For example, in 1886, the New York Herald described the testimony of a man who saw a victim of a rabid dog bite die. The following was written:
“A few minutes after the man’s last breath, the bluish ring on his hand, the sign of a dog bite from the Newfoundland breed, has completely … disappeared.”
According to other historians, the roots of vampire stories can also come from rabies cases. Many symptoms of rabies patients are similar to vampire traits: distorted facial features, strange sounds, aggression, attacks trying to nail blood, etc.
Other signs of vampirism that are similar to rabies are fear of sunlight and reflection in the mirror.
In addition, in the folklore of various European countries, especially in Eastern Europe, vampires do not become bats, but wolves or dogs.