The common perception of vampires comes from the European archetype of the pale, fanged, aristocratic monster. Count Dracula is usually the first vampire that people think of, but he’s not the original.
Bram Stoker was influenced by John Polidori’s The Vampyre, a story developed at the same party of Lord Byron’s where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.
But the concept of the vampire has a place in nearly every culture in the world. The idea of a blood-drinking monster that mostly resembles a human is a fear that has plagued humanity throughout history. One theory is that not being at the top of the food chain is a deeply-rooted fear, and that the biggest threats to our existence could be hiding in plain sight.
While some of these vampire variants differ from the Stoker-esque version, they all inspire a similar sense of fear.
Starting off with Australian Aboriginal mythology, we have the Yara-ma-yha-who. This is a small, red, frog-like man with suction cups on the ends of its fingers. Used as a bogeyman figure for misbehaving children, the yara-ma-yha-who has a very unusual and gruesome method of feeding.
It hangs upside-down from fig trees, waiting for an unsuspecting traveller to pass underneath. Then, it drops down and drains its victim’s blood with its suckers before swallowing them whole. After this hearty meal, it takes a nap before regurgitating its victim back up. The victim is a little shorter, and their skin is a little more red. The yara-ma-yha-who repeats this process until the victim is turned into one of its own.
While this strange little creature is a far cry from any vampire we see TV, it’s still a freaky yet fascinating part of Australian mythology which we hear so little about in the mainstream.
Next up is the Rakshasa, a shapeshifter found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Known as “man-eaters”, these beasts can transform to any shape, size, or creature at will. It also has the ability to fly and vanish, traits that we also see in the modern vampire. The Rakshasa possess two massive fangs that protrude from their mouths, which they used alongside their sharp claws to track and kill humans.
In Hindu epics they fight on the sides of good and evil, but most of the time they are villains. Many religions portray them as embodiments of hunger and desperate, with a never-ending desire for human flesh.
Dungeons & Dragons features Rakshana as villainous monsters with the head of a tiger and backwards hands. They use their shapeshifting abilities to disguise themselves as other people in order to catch their prey.
This vampire comes from Phillipine mythology and is quite gruesome, so if you’re not a fan of gore feel free to skip this one.
The manananggal is a humanoid creature, most often female, who has the ability to separate its upper and lower torso. The lower torso is left standing, while the upper body sprouts wings and flies off in search of prey.
The manananggal favours pregnant women, and when they’re sleeping it will use its tongue to drink the blood or heart of the fetus. They also target newlyweds and grooms-to-be due to the belief that in life, the manananggal was left at the altar.
There is a way to destroy this vampire: find the vulnerable lower half of its body and sprinkle salt, garlic or ash on top. This prevents the upper body from reattaches, and by sunrise the manananggal will be destroyed.
In a similar vein, the Malaysian penanggalan is a female vampiric creature who severs her head with her internal organs still attached.
Coming from Slavic mythology, the Strzyga is a type of undead demon. The common belief is that Strzyga are born with two souls, and you can identify one by a variety of traits; having two hearts, no armpit hair, or a second set of teeth is a giveaway. When a Strzyga dies, only one of its souls ascends to the afterlife. The other would remain and bring the body back to life and fill it with a hunger for human flesh.
Stryzga transform into owls at night and attack wanderers, draining them of blood. Animal blood would tide them over for a while, but not forever.
This vampire is also an omen of death; like a banshee, their presence indicates that someone is going to die soon.
This is by no means an exclusive list of vampiric creatures; Wikipedia has a great list that has already sent me down a rabbit hole multiple times. Though the romantic vampire was established by European authors like Stoker and Polidori, it is clear that Dracula did not invent the concept of blood-sucking monsters.