Tibet, Vampires in

Tibet, Vampires in

(pop culture)

Tibet, like India and China, possessed a rich pantheon of supernatural entities, and many had some vampiric characteristics. Many of these were shared with such neighboring nations as Nepal, Sikkim, and Mongolia. Among the most visible of the vampiric entities were the so-called Wrathful Deities who appeared in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This volume described what Tibetan Buddhists believed would be experienced by individuals in the days immediately following their death. During these days, the deceased generally wandered into an area dominated by karma (the law of consequences) where the higher impulses of the heart gave way to the reasonings of the brain centers. The heart impulses were personified by the Peaceful Deities. The brain reasonings were personified by the Wrathful Deities.

Contemporary writers on Tibetan Buddhism have generally emphasized that the deities were not objectively real, but were the products of the person picturing aspects of the self. However, in traditional Buddhist lore, they were pictured as part of a true supernatural realm. The Wrathful Deities, also called the 58 blood-drinking deities, were believed to begin their appearance on the eighth day after the deceased passed into the post-death realm. For example, the blood-drinking deities of the Vajra order appeared on the ninth day. Here the intellect was represented by Bhagavan Vajra-Heruka. In one hand he held a human scalp. He was embraced by his mother, Vajra-Krotishaurima, whose right hand held a red shell filled with blood that she placed at her son’s mouth. On the next day, one encountered Ratna-Heruka, who appeared like Vajra-Heruka, but was yellow rather than blue. The red Padma-Heruka appeared on the eleventh day. On the twelfth day, the blood-drinking deities of the Lotus Order were encountered. On the thirteenth day, the eight Kerimas were encountered.

These deities had the heads of various animals and engaged in different vampiric and ghoulish actions. One, the Dark-Green Ghasmari, for example, held a scalp filled with blood that she stirred with a dorje (a holy object) then drank from it. Other similar deities appeared daily throughout the fourteenth day. The dying person was given instructions on relating to the deities and prayers to acknowledge them. Individuals were also told to call upon the name of their own guru and their personal deity to sustain them in the loneliness of the after-death realms. It should be noted that these deities did not attack the individual who encountered them, rather they were pictured as general representations of vampiric actions previously committed by the deceased.

Devendra P. Varma, author of The Vampire in Legend, Lore, and Literature has called attention to Yama, the Tibetan Lord of Death, who, like the Nepalese Lord of Death and the Mongolian God of Time, subsisted by drinking the blood of sleeping people. The Tibetan god had a green face and a blue-green body. In his clawed hand he held the Wheel of Life. The Nepalese god had three blood-shot eyes with flames issuing from his eyebrows and thunder and lightning from his nostrils. In his hands, he carried a sword and a cup of blood. He was decorated with human skulls. The Mongolian god, with his prominent canine teeth, was seen amidst a storm over a bloody sea. There was also a belief in the pursuit of the living by the dead. The dead were cremated, in part, to prevent the soul from attempting to re-enter it. The soul after death, like person before death, became the object of ritual, in this case to keep it from interacting improperly with the realm of the living.

A Sikkim Vampire: Varma has also recorded one case of nonlegendary vampirism in Tibet’s neighbor Sikkim. In the early eighteenth century, Princess Pedi Wangmo, the monarch’s half-sister, plotted to kill her half-brother. With the assistance of a Tibetan doctor, she bled Chador Namgyal to death and drank his blood. She escaped the palace but was soon caught. Both she and her accomplice were killed. It was believed, by some, that after death she became a vampire. Her story was recounted in a fresco in a monastery in Sinon near Mt. Kanchenjunga.


Evans-Wentz, W. Y. The Tibetan Book of the Dead; or, The After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English Rendering. 1927. Rept. New York: Causeway Books, 1973.
Varma, Devendra P. “The Vampire in Legend, Lore, and Literature.” Introduction to Varney the Vampyre. New York: Arco Press, 1970.
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