In 2012 at Dragon*Con, I went to a talk about movie monsters. It was a small group with three artists up front chatting about their favorite creature features. It was so much fun, all that trivia. There was one tidbit from that presentation that I found so adorable and interesting, I was amazed I never thought of it before. I had to write about it. Yes, it’s taken me a year to do it.


I don’t know how they got around to the topic but we were discussing the Count from Sesame Street. You may remember that he counts everything. Nifty, eh? What a great kids character – just a touch scary (like other Muppets) but not threatening.

When I was a kid, a bit after the Sesame Street days, I got into monster books and loved to learn “facts” about vampires. One way to stop or at least delay a vampire, I’d heard, was to throw a handful of rice or seeds behind you. He would (apparently) compulsively stop and have to count every grain before proceeding. Interesting…

Is that where the Count von Count got his counting habit from?

The person next to me in the monsters talk said “Yes”.

Really? How did I not make this connection!


The Eastern European vampire was characterized as obsessive-compulsive, especially enamored with counting. One way to keep a vampire preoccupied was to sprinkle seeds, millet, sand or salt on the grave of a suspected vampire. He would be so busy the entire night, he would not get around to wandering into town to attack the townsfolk. Even in Asia and South America, vampire myths contained an element of counting.

I don’t mean to make light of arithromania which is a real condition in people who have a debilitating disorder regarding numbers. The trait is not so well-known from the sparkly vampires we have now, but manifested itself in Sesame Street’s Count. It’s not very exciting to count things in the movies but it sure worked for kids television!

The Count’s wikipedia page mentions it:

The Count’s own arithromania may simply be a coincidence, however, inspired by the pun on his title of nobility and his educational purpose.


But the Muppet Wiki tells a bit about the development of the Count. He’s not a real vampire, they say:

He just has a jones for numbers. He’s obsessed with counting things.

But he was certainly modeled after the iconic fantasy vampire of the time.

His other vampiric and spooky traits were toned down over the years. He is far less sinister now, and the kids on Sesame Street are not afraid of him. He no longer hypnotizes people and is never seen attacking anyone. He did not cast a reflection in a mirror, but he could be out in the sun without discomfort. He just retains this unique counting trait, speaks in a Bela Lugosi accent, and has a villainous (sort of) laugh. Completely harmless.


Even if the arithromania is just a coincidental trait with actual vampire lore, it’s a fantastic one and it pleases me greatly. How clever!

Arithromania – your word for the day. Let’s go count monsters.

Ah Hah Haahhh!

5 thoughts on “Count von Count’s arithromania

  1. Check out the X-files episode ‘Bad Blood’ for some other nice oddities associated with vampire myths. At one point Mulder escapes death using a handful of sunflower seeds and his knowledge of vampiric arithromania…

    1. I had heard that Paolo. And I looked it up to try and find the exact reference but I couldn’t. I missed that episode. Thanks for confirming.

  2. There are other variations on this. I’ve read legends about them needing to finish woven products ( blankets, tapestries ), but also ones about them needing to unweave them if they find them incomplete ( or with a deliberate mistaken stitch far away in the weave ).

    The prey fleeing the vampire throws a series of jobs the vampire is compelled to complete, counting seeds or grains of sand being one, but all sorts of other time consuming, labor intensive tasks. Often it’s the typical folkloric “three tasks” but instead of the hero, the monster has to finish them. Basically they are compelled to finish household jobs or clean up messes.

    This is probably why they are associated with cross roads, suicides, and early death in almost every culture they appear in, they come back because they themselves didn’t finish something important.

    I recommend Jan L. Perkowski’s “The Darkling: A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism” to get at the folkloric roots of the subject of their compulsive behaviors. It’s short…. although it doesn’t cover how the traditions vary in Greece and so on, which is interesting too, as the behaviors are often very different. Still, it is concise. But there are plenty of other books on the subject, like Dundes’ “Casebook”.

    Oh, make sure you don’t try any of this with Godzilla. It won’t work.

Leave a Reply (Comments are reviewed. There may be a delay before they appear.)

Back To Top