In modern fiction and movies, vampire hunters have become almost as common as vampires themselves. The vampires have a clear origin in folklore, but what about the vampire hunters? Every now and then, you run into displays of vampire killing kits such as the one to the left from the Ripley’s Believe It or Not collection. The claim is that these kits were created for travelers to Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century and certainly lend some authenticity to the idea that at least someone was making a living off the idea of vampire hunting. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether these kits were authentic or not. I’ve come across some claims that the earliest ones were actually generated in the 1960s or 70s and made to appear antique.
Montague Summers makes an interesting reference to vampire hunters in his 1929 book The Vampire in Europe. In the section on “Modern Greece” he writes:
As we say “to carry coals to Newcastle” so in Greece at the present day they talk of “sending vampires to Santorini” and Professor N.P. Polites of Athens University [in a 1904 article] says that the inhabitants of this island enjoy so vast a reputation as experts in effectively dealing with vampires and putting an end to them that there are two instances of quite recent date one of which occurred in the island of Mycomos and the other at Sphakia in Crete both of which concluded with the dispatch of the local vampire to Santorini to be cremated and finally disposed of there.
Whether or not Summers is giving an accurate account, it certainly stands as one of the earliest references I’ve seen to vampire hunting as something of an occupation.
In fact, most historical vampire slayers tend to be people like Japan’s Minamoto no Raiko. He was a real-life samurai who lived from about 948-1021. A larger-than-life figure, he’s featured in many legends. In one of the legends, he’s said to have slayed a Nukekubi, a vampire-like entity whose head detaches and feeds from the living. In fact, the earliest vampire slayers from fiction are also competent amateurs. Dracula’s Dr. Van Helsing wasn’t in the business of slaying vampires. He was simply a Renaissance man who knew how to get the job done.
I mention the vampire hunters of Santorini in my story “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife” which appears in Cemetery Dance issue 66 and I retell the story of Minamoto no Raiko’s battle with the Nukekubi in my story “Experiment in Survival” which appears in the benefit anthology Healing Waves.