Atypical Nourishment – Hematophagy, Cannibalism and Necrophagy
The character Renfield from Bram Stoker's “Dracula" admitted the importance of blood, saying that “The blood is the life." This idea is not new, for example, Maya kings attempted to obtain the good will of the gods by giving blood offerings. Throughout history, there have existed enough tribes which practiced ritual hematophagy (blood consumption as a food source) and cannibalism (eating other humans), traditions which have given shape to the images of certain mythological entities such as the werewolf, the wendigo or the vampire.
Cannibalism implies the consumption of blood whereas necrophagy is the consumption of the flesh of the dead. ( Tech-Labs)
Beyond Cannibalism and Blood Consumption Rituals: Necrophagy
Beyond cannibalism it is known that numerous rituals implied the consumption of blood, but, in history, there have also been rituals which involved the practice of necrophagy. In certain tribes, when a relative died, the descendants had to consume its lifeless body in its entirety. This ritual could go on for days, and sometimes the corpse began to putrefy. Despite this aspect the descendants consumed everything to take into themselves the knowledge and the power of the deceased relative, such that the spiritual energies of the ancestors were not lost.
A strange ritual continues to be practiced in certain areas of India. On a certain day of the year, the ones who have deceased relatives buried in the cemetery go, in the morning, to the temple where they inhale a smoke resulted from the burning of a special mixture of plants and substances. After the state of ecstasy is achieved, the priest leads those who have come to the temple to the cemetery. There, the people will unearth their deceased relatives with their hands, and they will bite and chew pieces of the corpses. The explanation of this ritual consists in the idea that each bite will get the soul of the deceased closer to eternal peace faster.
And it is not only rituals that have a link with hematophagy, cannibalism and necrophagy. On the globe there is a multitude of legends which talk about supernatural beings which feed on human blood and flesh. Greek and Roman mythology mention beings named lamia, strixes and empusae who consumed blood to survive. Aside from the fact that the strix and the lamia preferred the fresh blood of children and newborns, the strix could also feed on the blood of young men. In addition, Greeks also mentioned in their legends some feminine entities who came during the individual's sleep to suck his blood.
The Eucharist is a unique type of ritual hematophagy where the wine used actually becomes the blood of Christ, which is then consumed by Christian believers. ( Kadmy / Adobe Stock)
Blood in Religious Ritual
There are also religions which forbid any form of blood consumption . Islamic law talks about the term “najis," which defines that which is impure in the context of religious ritual, “najasat" being the ritual impurity which can be removed by cleansing through fasting and prayer. The Koran mentions, in its turn, impurity, prohibiting, in any form, the consumption of blood. To consume blood or food prepared with it is “haram,", a sinful act. In the Judaic tradition, blood is washed completely away with great care from meat before cooking it. The argument which upholds this custom is encountered in the Leviticus, where it is mentioned that it is not allowed to consume blood because “the life of the animal is in the blood."
With regards to the Christian religion, in this context a type of ritual hematophagy appears. The Eucharist implies the idea that the wine used actually becomes the blood of Christ , which is then consumed by believers. The consumption of human blood is rejected as a taboo activity and related to cannibalism. In the fifth book of the New Testament, it is stated: “that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well."
As for ritual hematophagy from the context of the Eucharist, this is justified as being a spiritual nourishment. Christian mythology also includes references to the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper known under the name of the Holy Grail . In this receptacle the blood of Christ had been collected during the crucifixion and the legends say that all those who drink from this chalice became immortal.
The terrifying wendigo is a cannibal spirit that eats living hearts and more . . . (DracoLumina17 / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Cannibalism that Transforms
Professor Basil Johnston offered a presentation of a wendigo describing it as follows: “The Wendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash-gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the wendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody… Unclean and suffering from suppuration of the flesh, the wendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption". In this way, the wendigo symbolizes the idea of greed and excess especially through the fact that it can never be satisfied, regardless of how much it has killed and eaten.
The wendigo is counted among the most terrifying beings. It is a cannibal spirit which can induce the state of possession. After this possession, the individual takes the physical form of a monster, him going to satisfy the cannibal tendencies of the entity. It is believed that the ones who practice cannibalism can be possessed much easier by a wendigo, and the ones who kill a human and consume his heart can become, in their turn, a wendigo.
Some Russian nomads had the habit of drinking the blood of the first enemy fallen in battle, and Mongols sometimes fed on horse blood to survive. Even the locals from the Caribbean were adepts of cannibalism, feeding on human organs and flesh. Today, cannibalism is still encountered in the Korowai population from New Guinea and in Melanesia.
Not even the stories for children are exempt of references to cannibalism, the most well-known example being “ Hansel and Gretel ." Even the old Russian myths told about the entity known as Baba Yaga . She made her appearance in the form of a crone who stole children to feed on their flesh.
The image of a vampire and the horror they create to survive. ( Stockis / Adobe Stock)
The Image of the Vampire
The vampire appears in many of the cultures of the world. As a mythological entity, it is a living dead human who feeds on fresh blood and who is defined as “the dead one who – after a punishment or a curse – leaves his grave at night and visits those who sleep to suck their blood – his only food" or as “a deceased who comes out of his grave at night to torture the living, to drink their blood and to kill them so that they too, in their turn, will become vampires."
- Exquisite Maps Reveal a Worldwide Mythical Creatures List
- The Wendigo: A Terrifying Beast With an Insatiable Hunger for Human Flesh
The mythologies of the world talk about more kinds of vampires, including in Europe various descriptions for differing kinds of vampires. In this sense, the French revenant and the Romanian strigoi are different from the krusnik and the kudlak from Istrian beliefs. As living dead, the strigoi and the revenant leave their grave and go to torment the living and in this way, the strigoi differ from the Western vampire.
The vampire is the result of the transformation induced by a sire. The strigoi rises from the grave as a living dead after a great discontent. This can consist either in an action which has been undertaken against him while he was still alive such as a great offense, a great sorrow, or the fact that he has been killed by someone, or it can be about a posthumous discontent such as the fact that his funerary rituals have not been correctly performed. On one side, the strigoi has a mytho-folklorical justification related to the fear of death and to the necessity of fulfilling the funeral in a correct manner. Even more different from Western vampires are the krusnik and the kudlak, opposed entities found in an eternal battle, out of the two, the kudlak being the entity of a vampiric type.
The image of the vampire is not limited to the European space, the Akkadian goddess of war and fertility named Ishtar pronounced the following threat: “I shall raise up the dead, and they will eat the living, I shall make the dead outnumber the living." The most well-known type of Asian vampire is the Chinese Jiang Shi which does not feed on blood, but on the qi of its victims which represents the life essence of each individual. Thus, exotic or Western, the vampire is present in many of the cultures across the globe.
The vampire also appears in relation to the human's desire to obtain immortality. The legends of the world talk about immortals who present themselves in diverse forms. In the Hebrew Bible, Methuselah lived for over 900 years, and he descended from a people who lived for very long. Utnapishtim, the ancestor of Gilgamesh, became immortal after he had used a certain type of plant. Chinese myths have many references to immortals, dwarves who led very long lives and the elixir of immortality. Chinese immortals lived in the heavens, in a world hidden in the clouds, and they have fascinated the Chinese rulers who were also interested, in their turn, to find out the secret of immortality. In this regard, Ioan Petru Culianu mentioned: “immortality could have a price and this price could be too high."
The fascination which the myth of the vampire exerts upon the imagination of the individual has resulted in countless novels and movies offering new visions of centuries-old myths and enriching them. The Western vampire is a living dead who drinks the blood of the living to survive, him being transformed into his vampiric form after the bite of another vampire, after a curse or after the fact that he had turned his back on faith. In his form of a being of the night, the vampire cannot stand silver, holy things, garlic, and other items which are mentioned in the numerous legends on this topic. However, that which fascinates consists in the seduction which the vampire exerts despite the fact that he is a type of living dead.
The Chupacabra of Mexico and elsewhere consumes animal blood, goat blood especially. ( Daniel / Adobe Stock)
A Cryptid which Drinks Blood
Out of the mysterious beings which feed on blood, one cannot forget the Chupacabra which consumes animal blood, goat blood especially. The study of this falls into the knowledge base known as cryptozoology, the science which deals with animals and beings whose existence could not yet be proven with certainty. In this way, the Chupacabra represents a cryptid. In the same situation there are also Tokoloshe, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, Lusca, the Mongolian death worm, Yeti, Iguanodon, Mokele-Mbembe, Yowie and others.
The earliest accounts related to the Chupacabra appeared in Mexico, from where they have spread to Central America, North America, and Chile. The locals went to ask for the help of the authorities because they found their animals killed in a barbaric manner, ripped apart and emptied of blood. Most of the dead animals were goats that had been bitten through the neck and the blood had been sucked out entirely. Some people declared that they had seen the culprit and, even though throughout time, the descriptions have begun to differ, initially, the Chupacabra was described as a creature with big eyes, sharp claws, and a row of spikes on the middle of the back, and as having the dimensions of a bear cub.
New accounts about the Chupacabra have appeared in the Philippines and in Russia and the press has begun to become interested in the subject. This thing has started many discussions on this theme, some supporting the idea of the extraterrestrial origins of the creature, and others trying to explain that it only had to do with coyotes infected with scabies.
Unlike other predatory species, the Chupacabra drinks in its entirety the blood of its prey, and eye-witnesses have reported that the being has reptile-like skin, a snout with big panther-like teeth, and a forked tongue. Also from the descriptions, this creature can cover great distances like kangaroos through jumps and there have been situations when the witnesses have said that they had seen the being making jumps over six meters (20 feet). Despite the lack of scientific evidence, for the locals from Central America the fear of Chupacabra has not decreased at all!
After mating it is not unusual for the larger female praying mantis to eat the male depicted on top here. (Ugrashak / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
In the insect world, there exist certain species which practice the behavior of sexual cannibalism. Spiders from the Latrodectus species practice this type of behavior. In fact, they have given us the deadly spider name the “Black Widow." The same behavior also appears in praying mantises, an insect which, during or at the end of the sexual act, bites off the head of the mate. Pliny talks in “ Naturalis Historiae " about a species of cannibalistic birds. These birds similar to ostriches led their lives on an isolated and less known island. They did not feed on anything from that island, instead they only ate one another. Through this cannibal behavior, the birds performed natural selection which allowed the survival of the most resistant and the best adapted.
Similar to the insect named the praying mantis, in European mythology, the demonic entity known as a succubus acts as a sexual predator. The demon has both the feminine variant named succubus and the masculine variant named incubus. While the incubus mates with women whom he kills by absorbing their vital energy during the sexual act, the succubus mates with men whom she kills at the end of the sexual act to consume their flesh as food.
Stories about cannibal tendencies also exist in Japan where the cannibal crone Yama-uba fed, especially, on the flesh of newborns, but also on that of adults. In exchange, when such a crone saw the small orphan Kintarou, she did not kill him, but raised him with love and care, him growing up to become Sakata no Kintoki, the famous hero of Japanese legends.
In this way, it can be said that hematophagy, cannibalism and necrophagy have been included in the myths of the world ever since ancient times, giving birth to legends and fantastic beings which remain known and near potent in the modern worlds we live in . . .
Top image: Wendigos fall into the larger definition of cannibalism as they consume parts of living people. Source: Daniel / Adobe Stock
By Phoenix Vald
John Abbott. 2000. Indian Ritual and Belief: The Keys of Power . Manohar Publishers and Distributors
Anil Kumar Dwivedi. 2006. Encyclopaedia of Indian Customs and Rituals. Anmol Publications
Sibelan Forrester. 2013. Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales. University Press of Mississippi
Basil Johnston. 1990. Ojibway Heritage. University of Nebraska Press
Claude Lecouteux. 2010. The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes . Inner Traditions Bear and Company
Scott Lewis. 2018. Mesopotamian Mythology: Classic Stories from the Sumerian Mythology, Akkadian Mythology, Babylonian Mythology and Assyrian Mythology . Independently Published
Giles Morgan. 2005. The Holy Grail . Oldcastle Books
Pliny the Elder. 199. Natural History . Penguin Books
Benjamin Radford. 2011. Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction and Folklore . University of New Mexico Press
Noriko Tsunoda Reider. 2021. Mountain Witches: Yamauba . University Press of Colorado
Patricia Rusche. 2016. The Blood Eaters: Mythological Hematophagy . Lulu
Shawn Smallman. 2015. Dangerous Spirits: The Windigo in Myth and History . Greystone Books
Bram Stoker. 1997. Dracula. Wordsworth Editions
Lihui Yang. 2005. Handbook of Chinese Mythology . ABC-CLIO
The problem with being imortal is this, As we humans age time seems to go by at a faster rate. How many times have you heard someone note how time flies when they get older. So if say you were imortal and were living forever, don’t you think that time would be going so fast you wouldn’t even notice it? The Sun would seem like a strobe light.(maybe that is why the Vampires are said not to like daytime?)