My Favorite Vampire:
by Theresa Bane
© Buzzy Multimedia
Lots of people are interested in vampires, as can be proven by the wild success of books like Twilight, the Sookie Stackhouse series, and the classic Interview With A Vampire. But for me, reading vampire fiction or watching vampire movies is difficult because I know the history and the mythology of the vampire so intimately that I get hung-up in the details. I know that authors use artistic license to make the vampire their own creation so that it best fits into the fictional world that they have created. What bothers me is that so many authors who utilize vampires in their fiction do not bother to do any research into vampires to begin with and simply alter someone else’s fictional vampire into their own. Paraphrasing is not inventing, it’s the watering down and streamlining of something else. To “re-invent” something that has been paraphrased is not creating something new and original.
Every convention I attend, every panel I sit in on, every lecture I give, I say the same thing over and over: “there are over 900 different species of vampires.” Hopefully one day authors will begin to utilize these vampires into their fiction rather than continuing to paraphrase Bram Stoker’s original creation, Count Dracula. Virtually all fictional vampires that I have come across are basically a loose interpretation of him. Occasionally I happen to hear about a work of fiction that uses an Aswang from Philippine vampire lore, but this usually occurs in vampire erotica, which I myself have no interest in. The idea of having sex with a corpse doesn’t do it for me, no matter how suave his accent may be.
Of all the various species of vampires that are out there that have existed for thousands of years, my personal favorite species of vampire comes from the Andes Mountains in Peru and is called PISHTACO. It’s my favorite vampire for a couple of reasons. First of all the pishtaco is nothing like the worn out “Dracula-like” vampire that has flooded the market and main stream media for the last hundred years. Another reason I find this vampire intriguing is because every couple of years the police are called into a mountain town or community to look into a series of murderous attacks that perfectly fits the pishtaco modus operandi. It doesn’t make me happy that people are getting murdered, that is hardly the case. What is exciting is that whatever or whoever is doing the killing can be scientifically documented with modern forensic technology. If a person or group of people are responsible for the deaths, modern science will eventually be their undoing. If some sort of previously unknown mountain critter is responsible for the deaths, a new species of critter is discovered and methods can be implemented to prevent it from killing people again. But what I find to be the most fascinating aspect of this vampire is that since its original inception it has always been in a state of evolution. The pishtaco, according to lore and legend, is physically evolving rather than stories being modernized in its retelling.
The word “pishtaco” is also spelt “phistako,” in case there is anyone out there who is interested in writing about this vampire for their own fiction. Additionally, there are a few other vampires that are especially similar to the pishtaco, such as the kharisiri, the lik’ichiri, the liquichiri and the nakaq but each is just different enough from one another to maintain their status as a singular species.
Way back when, there was actually a time when the folks who lived in the Andes were the only people, culturally speaking, who did not have a vampire. Then one day they were invaded by Spanish conquistadors who were looking for gold, new lands to conquer and new folks to exploit. As it happens, just after the Spanish invasion the first reports of vampire attack were made by the Ande natives. The way they described their vampire sounded basically like a Spaniard upon a horse, but it didn’t make the threat any less real. The natives were finding the bodies of their friends and neighbors flayed or at best simply missing their body fat or liver.
As time wore on, the Spaniards decided it was not worth maintaining control of the little towns and villages way up high in the Andes and eventually left. When they did, the newly discovered species of vampire however, remained. Parents warned their children not to wander off or the pishtaco would get them. Like any good cautionary “boogeyman tale,” it worked well enough.
Over time different would-be conquering folks came and went from the region. Each time one of these invasionary forces showed up, bodies were found, obviously murdered, and the locals knew it was the work of the pishtaco. Parents would warn their children not to wander about for fear that the vampires would get them, and they would describe the vampire to them- not so surprisingly, the pishtaco always bore a striking resemblance to the ethnic features of whoever was their current would-be conquer.
Here is what I find to be really neat. Bogeymen myths are created to be a cautionary tale that parents tell their children to both protect and teach the child. Obviously telling children not to wander about at night alone is a good thing to do, and parents have been doing this no doubt since the dawn of civilization. What the really neat thing is what they were teaching them. Apparently the Indians of the Andes were not afraid so much of being a conquered people as they were of losing their cultural identity. They did not want their children to learn and practice the new ways and beliefs of the conquerors, no matter who they were. “Conquer our lands, fine. Call us whatever new national name you like, we’re OK with that. But we will not change our ways of doing things. You can change what we are, but not who we are.”
So what is the pishtaco of today like? After all, it has been evolving ever since its inception. These days the Indians of the mountain towns and villages will describe to you a very different looking being than the one their ancestors first encountered. The modern day pishtaco looks like a tall, white American man wearing a lab coat. He hunts by riding the local bus route, wearing headphones to his mp3 player in the hopes it will help it blend in. Beneath the long sleeves of his coat he hides a cruel and sharp blade that he uses to murder his victims with. Typically he hacks off the head, arms and legs keeping the torso and the body fat that can be removed from the extremities. He renders the fat into a useable substance that is then sold to wealthy businessmen so that they can make cosmetics, axl grease, and church bells. The profits from these endeavors are applied toward paying off the country’s huge international debt. Side ventures that the pishtaco undertakes are the removal of eyes and other organs which are sold to private hospitals for the purpose of being transplanted into their wealthy patients.
Like any monster the pishtaco has its weaknesses as well. It is said that it sleeps too much during the day and drinks too much milk. Additionally it is reported to be rather well endowed, an asset it uses to keep the most beautiful and ethnically pure women to itself, choking off the local men from maintaining their culture and bloodline. Prone to acts of extreme violence, you may also want to be advised that the pishtaco is quick to anger.
In truth, I do not believe that the pishtaco, or any species of vampire, exists. Honestly, the entire history of this particular vampire can be traced all the way back to its origins, to a very specific point of time when a very specific event occurred. I don’t know of any other species of vampire we can say that about. To me, a mythologist (code for ‘uber geek’) this is the good stuff.
So, someone out there, do me a favor: write a vampire story about the pishtaco and send it to me. I would love to be able to sit down and read an original story about a vampire that is “new” to the world of fiction.
QtR – Theresa Bane, vampirologist and uber geek.
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