It is uncommon to see vampires in direct sunlight or exposed to broad daylight. Most folklore suggests that they don’t have the ability to walk in the sun without suffering consequences. However, studies suggest that it might be possible for these supernatural creatures to day walk without feeling sunlight damage.
Vlad The Impaler
There are many things to consider when trying to determine where this day-walking theory began. Looking back to an Elder Vampire – Vlad The Impaler, the man who is said to have inspired Dracula, you will find that he was someone who never liked being out in the sun and spent most of his time performing his cruel acts in the darkness.
So, when rumors began to spread of this “creature”, they carried with “he only comes out at night.” Remember, Vlad used to kill his victims and then dip his bread in their blood and eat it. Can you see where the links are starting to form?
Let’s take it a step further and look a bit into Porphyria – better known as the vampire syndrome. This is a blood disorder that actually causes the body to produce less heme – a component within hemoglobin that is needed to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. By missing this component, the human body naturally develops a sensitivity to the sun. In fact, here’s a full list of symptoms from the Mayo Clinic:
- Sensitivity to the sun and sometimes artificial light, causing burning pain
- Sudden painful skin redness (erythema) and swelling (edema
- Blisters on exposed skin, usually the hands, arms and face
- Fragile thin skin with changes in skin color (pigment)
- Excessive hair growth in affected areas
- Red or brown urine
Red urine could have looked like human blood to the uneducated. Sensitivity to the sun could have translated to vampirism. You have to remember that a very long time ago, people just made things up when they didn’t understand what they were seeing.
The illness porphyria is known in folklore for being an ailment that caused a human to glow brightly, frightening people around them. In most cases, it was also said that they would feel extreme pain when exposed to sunlight. With this disease, both hemoglobin and skin are affected. This can lead to extreme sensitivity towards light.
Most current vampire folklore is linked to porphyria which causes the vampire to feel extreme pain when exposed to sunlight. In South American lore, the illness was known as Saint Anthony’s Fire or Granada Disease. Due to its genetic link, many European countries used straw hats and parasols in order to protect against sunlight. Some of these people were thought to be cursed because they could not tolerate the heat, and it was said that they would glow if exposed to sunlight.
Because of its interesting history with skin conditions, porphyria is still linked with vampires in some countries today. In the 19th century, many European folklorists who worked to record tales of vampires collected stories from countries where porphyria was prevalent in order to find clues about the origins of vampirism.
People with porphyria are able to handle sunlight once their bodies have adjusted and developed protection, so this aspect of the disease was not thought to be prevalent in vampire folklore. Porphyria is also linked to many other medical conditions such as epilepsy and schizophrenia because it affects both mental and physical health.
So, if the uneducated came across someone who had Porphyria and registered that they only came out at night with their blistered skin and redness all around their eyes and face, it would have probably scared them. If there were already rumors of vampires swirling around, this would only have added to them.
Vampire Folklore And Burning In The Sun
By dissecting the literature based on these very real moments in our history, it makes sense that the vampire was created with a sun weakness. When authors created the original vampire stories pulling from these two REAL moments of our history, it now makes sense that vampires had some aversion to the sun. However, in the beginning, most vampires healed by moonlight as well. Ying and yang.
When referencing the original vampire films and books, you will find that none of the powerful vampires were immediately destroyed by the sun. VERY different from today’s work. Most times we see the true death in cinema – the BURST of the vampire as soon as their body was exposed to UV light during daylight hours. The big bang!
That wasn’t the case when we were originally introduced to normal vampires through books. Usually, these creatures were just severely damaged by sunlight and were able to heal by sleeping a few nights in their graves. More times than not, the sun would just weaken them.
Because of this, and upon a deeper dive, you will find records of 19th Century Vampires like Lord Ruthven, Varney, Carmilla, Alex the Vampire, and Dracula each being active in the sun within their own literature. Regular vampires were actually able to spend some time in the sun without any real issues. It was painful for them, and they would suffer some consequences because of it, but it wasn’t deadly.
Nosferatu And The True Death
Nosferatu is best known for the 1922 film Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. The actor who played him in this was Max Schreck. He is one of the main reasons that vampires are typically depicted as being pale and gaunt with sunken eyes and long pointy teeth. In fact, Nosferatu was said to be so scary, some audience members reportedly passed out during the movie or ordered their underpants with extra room in case they peed themselves. Schreck was also rumored to have been a very peculiar man who wore his costume beneath his clothes so that it smelt horrible and even slept with it on at night.
Thanks to the cinema and its need to showboat, the concept of the regular vampire’s true death scene changed with this movie. The horror genre wanted to really show the audience a good time while in the cinema and this story wanted to introduce a FINAL way for the vampire to end. This silent film kicked off a style that simply stuck.
Nosferatu’s death is typical of almost all vampire lore. He ultimately dies when the sun comes up, and he begins to shrivel up like a piece of burnt toast. This does not come without some difficulty though because he must first run into his coffin where Marcus hides him away. In fact, if you watch the movie, the only part of Nosferatu that we ever see in the sunlight is his hand and a small part of his face. This never came to pass though, because when he opens the lid on his coffin which it was supposed to happen, one of the crew members places a vase over the top so that viewers could not see him disintegrate.
The Cullens From The Twilight Series
The Twilight Series broke the mold with their “glitter notion” – claiming that vampires glittered in the sun when directly under sunlight allowing them to live proper lives amongst humans. But other than Stephanie Meyers, almost every other vampire author created a world where vampires had a true allergy to sunlight ever since that original silent film.
The Cullens get their strength from the fact that they were all human once. The reason that they are able to walk in the sun is that they live off of animals instead of humans and have been doing so for over a century. The family does not need to drink blood anymore, making them extremely powerful. It doesn’t come easy, this ability, which means they are no longer considered lesser vampires. The adjustments took over a century to process through.
Essentially, the sun does not harm the Cullen family skin because they are “vegetarians” which is a term used to describe vampires that do not drink human blood.
How do vampires walk in the sun on True Blood?
The vampires on the show True Blood have a very different power than most. They are able to stay out in the sun because of a chemical called TruBlood which is made from synthetic blood and contains nutrients that keep vampires alive, but it doesn’t taste nearly as good as human blood does. When they drink TruBlood, it helps their eyes to look a normal color.
They are also able to run fast which is called “vamping out”. It is very hard for vampires to resist the temptation that TruBlood causes; if they drink it, their vampire features disappear and all of their wounds heal immediately. They must drink human blood in order to retain their super strength and speed though.
Special Amulets And Protections
Folklore suggests that vampires were able to walk in the sun without any adverse effects by carrying magical amulets. These amulets could be made from different items, typically a stone with some sort of power. The most common type was called a Vampiric Amulet or Vampire Mirror.
Some folklore also suggests that the use of these magical pendants could cause even devoutly religious vampires to stop following their faith, and living sinfully and had nothing to do with their weakness to sunlight. These vampires believe that the amulet is all they need to protect them from their sins and contact with God.
A very interesting example of this comes from a play called Le Vampire by Paul Jean Marie La Jeune (1858-1933). The main character in the play wears an amulet on his neck during his first appearance. The amulet is actually a stone that has an inscription of the cross on it. In the play, he claims that this makes him in contact with a deity and stops him from committing acts of sin or evil. Again, this particular piece is an anomaly among vampires.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples comes from a story surrounding Elizabeth Báthory. She was said to have kept the severed head of a wolf protecting her from sunlight and fires. This head was believed to have been made into a mirror by witches and could cause her to do things that she normally would not do.
In some cultures, the most common mythological method of protection consisted of drinking water out of the footprint of an animal or bird. There are also myths where people used to take baths in horse’s urine, which is meant to be a natural sunblock and helps with their aversion to sunlight.
In some tales, vampires were able to leave their homes during the day without having vulnerability to sunlight if they had an artifact containing sanctified materials and objects such as earth from a graveyard. It was also said that carrying small pieces of sharp glass or metal could protect them if they were sprinkled with holy water. Both are considered additional vampire powers. Low-powered vampires would pay incredible prices for these charms since bright sunlight is what they fear the most.
So, how do writers like Anne Rice and the makers of True Blood get around writing their main characters into day scenes? They make sure to use special amulets and protection spells to help boost their vampire powers. They have vampires befriend witches and other vampire peers capable of making such charms.
There are workarounds to vampirism if you have the right people in your circle and own the right book of spells. The effects of sunlight, vulnerability to sunlight, and sunlight damage are not always permanent – depending on the author.
In the Vampire Diaries, you need some lapis lazuli stones enchanted by a witch. You can wear them in rings or on a necklace. As long as they are on you at all times, you will have no problem with daylight. There are even storylines where faerie-vampire blood is needed to rectify the negative effects of sunlight.
Sometimes Elders get to walk in the sun. So, depending on how old you are determines on what you are able to do. Know a fairy? Drink her blood! That will buy you some time on the beach.
In other movies, traditional vampires simply need to stand behind glass that is UV protected. We are living in a high-tech world and are able to enjoy luxuries 15th-century vampires never had. Different authors take different approaches, but one thing is clear – the mass majority of people like regular vampires remaining in the night. The thought of a 24-hour threat would be too daunting for most. Everyone needs a weakness and the sun is as good as any. The vampire hunter cannot be the lesser vampire’s only downfall.
If you’d like to watch some vampire films depicting normal vampires walking in direct sunlight while drinking the blood of humans, here is a list to get you started:
- Blood Ties (2013)
- The Lost Boys (1987)
- Twilight (2008)
- Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
- The Queen of the Damned (2002)
- Blade (1998)
- Near Dark (1987)