His Kith and Kin
"The Philosophy of Vampirism"
1880 - 1948
CREATION OF THE VAMPIRE
It may now be asked how a human being becomes a vampire, and list the causes generally believed to predispose persons to this demoniacal condition.
The vampire is one who has led a life of more than ordinary immorality and wickedness; a man of foul, gross and selfish passions, of evil ambitions, delighting in cruelty and blood.
Arthur Machen has shrewdly pointed out that "Sorcery and sanctity are the only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life. The spiritual world cannot be confined to the supremely good, but the supremely wicked necessarily have their portion in it. The ordinary man can no more be a great sinner than he can be a great saint. Most of us are just indifferent, mixed-up creatures; we muddle through the world without realizing the meaning and inner sense of things, and consequently our wickedness and goodness are alike second rate.
"The saint endeavours to recover a gift which he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something which was never his. In brief, he repeats the Fall. It is not the mere liar who is excluded by those words; it is, above all, the 'sorcerers' who use the failings incidental to material life as instruments to obtain their infinitely wicked ends. And let me tell you this; our higher senses are so blunted, we are so drenched with materialism, that we should probably fail to recognize real wickedness if we encountered it."
It has been said that a saint is a person who always chooses the better of two courses open to him at every step. And so the man who is truly wicked is he who always chooses the worse. Even when he does things which would be considered right, he always does them for some bad reason. To identify oneself in this way with any given course requires intense concentration and an iron strength of will, and it is such persons who become vampires.
The vampire is believed to be one who has devoted himself during life to the practise of black magic. It is hardly to be supposed that such persons would rest undisturbed, while it is easy to believe that their malevolence had set in action forces which might prove powerful for terror and destruction even when they were in their graves. It was sometimes said, though the belief is rare, that the vampire was the offspring of a witch and the Devil.
With the exception of England, where witches were invariably hanged, the universal penalty for witchcraft was the stake. Cremation, the burning of the dead body, is considered to be one of the few ways in which vampirism can be stamped out. That witches were hanged in England has often been commented upon with some surprise, and persons who travelled in France and Italy were inclined to advise the same punishment should be inflicted at home as in all other countries. It was felt that unless the body were utterly consumed, it might well prove that they had not stamped out the noxious thing.
It is even recorded that in one case the witch herself considered that she should be sent to the stake. A rich farmer in Northamptonshire had made an enemy of a woman named Ann Foster. Thirty of his sheep were discovered dead with their "Leggs broke in pieces, and their Bones all shattered in their Skins." Shortly after, his house and several of his barns were found ablaze. It was suspected that Ann Foster had brought this about by sorcery. She was tried upon this charge at Northampton in 1674, and "After Sentence of Death was past upon her, she mightily desired to be Burned; but the Court would give no Ear to that, but that she should be hanged at the Common place of Execution."
The vampire is also believed to be one who for some reason is buried with mutilated rites. It will be remarked that this idea has a very distinct connection with the anxious care taken by the Greek and Roman of classical times that the dead should be consigned to the tomb with full and solemn ceremony.
To the modern man burial in the earth, or it may be cremation, is a necessary and decorous manner for the disposal of the dead. Yet in the Greek imagination these rites implied something far more. So long as the body remains, the soul might be in some way tied and painfully linked with it. The dissolution of the body meant that the soul was no longer detained in this world where it had no appointed place, but was able to pass without let or hindrance to its own mansion prepared for it, and for which it was prepared.
Of old, men dutifully assisted the dead in this manner as a pious obligation, and were prepared to go to any length to fulfil this obligation. It was in later years, especially under the influence of Slavonic tradition, that not only love but fear compelled them to perform this duty to the dead, since it was generally thought that those whose bodies were not dissolved might return, re-animated corpses, the vampire eager to satisfy his vengeance upon the living, his lust for sucking hot, reeking blood. The fulfilment of these funereal duties was a protection for themselves as well as a benefit to the departed.
Very closely linked with this idea is the belief that those who die under the ban of the Church become vampires. Excommunication is the principal and most serious penalty the Church can inflict. It deprives the guilty of all participation in the common spiritual benefits enjoyed by all members of the Christian society. The excommunicated person does not cease to be a Christian, for his baptism can never be effaced, but he is considered an exile and even, one may say, as non-existing in the sight of ecclesiastical authority.
Among the Jews exclusion from the synagogue was a real excommunication. The apostles were told: "They will put you out of the synagogues; yea, the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth a service to God." This penalty foreshadowed later censures, for Jesus said: "In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and Publican. Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth shall be loosed also in Heaven."
According to the Orthodox Church this power was transmitted to the successors of the apostles, that is to say the bishops, so they too had the faculty of binding and loosing. But something very definite was further implied. This faculty had actual physical consequences, and the Greeks held that excommunication arrested the decomposition of a body after death. In fact the incorruptibility of the body of any person bound by a curse was made a definite doctrine of the Orthodox Church.
Accordingly, forms of absolution had to be provided which might be read over bodies found in such a condition, for it was thought that this might be brought about by well-nigh any curse. One such absolution runs thus: "Yea, O Lord our God, let Thy great mercy and marvellous compassion prevail; and whether this Thy servant lieth under curse of father or mother, or under his own imprecation, or did provoke one of Thy holy ministers and sustained at his hands a bond that hath not been loosed, or did incur the most grievous ban of excommunication by a bishop, and through heedlessness and sloth obtained not pardon, pardon Thou him by the hand of Thy sinful and unworthy servant; resolve Thou his body into that from which it was made; and establish his soul in the tabernacle of saints."
Naturally, as is clearly expressed, the curse which the Orthodox Church regarded as most weighty was the ban of excommunication by a bishop, which doomed the offender to remain whole after death, and the body was not freed until absolution had been read over it and the excommunication formally revoked. However, a difficulty arose. It was discovered that excommunication sometimes failed to produce the expected physical result and the body crumbled to dust in the ordinary way. So extraordinary a circumstance was immediately submitted to a conclave of expert theologians who, after long debate, decided that any excommunicated person whose body did not remain whole had no more hope of salvation because he was no longer in a state to be "loosed", but that he was already damned in hell.
Leone Allacci considered this Orthodox dogma of the physical results of excommunication and subsequent absolution to be certain beyond any matter of dispute, and he mentions several cases, which he says were well known and proved, which demonstrate the truth of this belief. Athanasius, Metropolitan of Imbros, recorded that at the request of the citizens of Thasos he read a solemn absolution over several bodies, and before the holy words were even finished all had dissolved into dust.
An even more remarkable instance is that of a priest who pronounced a sentence of excommunication and afterwards turned Mohammedan. This did not affect the victim of his curse who, though he had died in the Christian faith, yet remained "bound." This circumstance was reported to the Metropolitan Raphael. At his earnest request the Mohammedan, after much delay and hesitation, consented to read the absolution over the body of the dead Christian. As he was pronouncing the final words the body fell completely to dust. The Mohammedan thereupon returned to his former faith, and was put to death for so doing.
Ricaut's The Present State of the Greek and Armenian Churches, 1679, says of the power of excommunication:"The effect of this dreadful Sentence is reported by the Greek Priests to have been in several instances so evident, that none doubts or disbelieves the consequences of all those maledictions repeated therein; and particularly, that the body of an excommunicated person is not capable of returning to its first Principles until the Sentence of Excommunication is taken off.
"It would be esteemed no Curse amongst us to have our bodies remain uncorrupted and entire in the Grave, who endeavour by Art, and Aromatic spices, and Gums, to preserve them from Corruption: And it is also accounted amongst the Greeks themselves, as a miracle and particular grace and favour of God to the Bodies of such whom they have Canonized for Saints to continue unconsumed, and in the moist damps of a Vault, to dry and desiccate like the Mummies in Egypt, or in the Hot sands of Arabia. But they believe that the Bodies of the Excommunicated are possessed in the Grave by some evil spirit, which actuates and preserves them from Corruption, in the same manner as the soul informes and animates the living body; and that they feed in the night, walk, digest, and are nourished, and have been found ruddy in Complexion, and their Veins, after forty days Burial, extended with Blood, which, being opened with a Lancet, have yielded a gore as plentiful, fresh, and quick, as that which issues from the Vessels of young and sanguine persons.
"This is so generally believed and discoursed of amongst the Greeks, that there is scarce one of their Country Villages but what can witness and recount several instances of this nature, both by the relation of their Parents, and Nurses, as well as of their own knowledge, which they tell with as much variety as we do the Tales of Witches and Enchantments, of which it is observed in Conversation, that scarce one story is ended before another begins of like wonder."
It is now necessary to enquire into certain extraordinary cases which are recorded, and which are true beyond all manner of doubt, of persons who died excommunicated and whose bodies were seen to rise from the tomb and leave the sacred precincts where they were buried. In the first place we have the very famous account given by St.Gregory the Great of the two dead nuns, generally called the "Suore Morte."
Two ladies of an illustrious family had been admitted to the sisterhood of St.Scholastica. Although in most respects exemplary and faithful to their vows, they could not refrain from scandal, gossip and vain talk. Now St.Benedict was the first to lay down the strictest and most definite laws concerning the observance of silence. In all monasteries and convents there are particular places and special times wherein speaking is unconditionally prohibited. Outside these places and times there are usually accorded "recreations" during which conversation is not only permitted but encouraged, though it must be governed by rules of charity and moderation. Useless and idle prattling is universally forbidden at all times and places. Accordingly, when it was reported to St.Benedict that the two nuns were greatly given to babble indiscreetly, the holy Abbot was sore displeased, and sent them a message to the effect that if they did not learn to refrain their tongues and give a better example to the community he must excommunicate them.
At first the sisters were alarmed and penitent, and promised to mend their idle ways; but the treacherous habit was too strong for their good resolves; they continued to give offense by their naughty chatter, and in the midst of their folly they suddenly died. Being of a great and ancient house they were buried in the church near the high altar; and afterwards on a certain day, whilst a solemn High Mass was being sung, before the Liturgy of the Faithful began, the Catechumens were dismissed by the Deacon crying: "Let those who are forbidden to partake, let those who are excommunicated, depart from hence and leave us!" Behold, in the sight of all the people the two nuns rose up from their graves, and with faces drooping and averted, they glided sadly out of the Church. And thus it happened every time the Holy Mysteries were celebrated, until their old nurse interceded with St.Benedict, and he had pity upon them and absolved them from all their sins so that they might rest in peace.
St.Gregory also relates that a young monk left his monastery without permission and without receiving any blessing or dismissal from the Abbot. Unhappily he died before he could be reconciled, and was duly buried in consecrated ground. On the next morning his corpse was discovered lying huddled up and thrown out of his grave. His relations in terror hastened to St.Benedict, who gave them a consecrated Host and told them to put It with all possible reverence upon the breast of the young religious. This was done, and the tomb was never again found to have cast forth the body.
This custom of putting a Eucharistic Particle in the grave with a dead person was by no means unknown in former centuries. It is said that even today in many places throughout Greece upon the lips of the dead is laid a crumb of consecrated bread from the Eucharist. Out of reverence this has often been replaced by a fragment of pottery on which is cut the sign of the Cross. Theodore Burt in The Cyclades informs us that locally in Naxos the object thus employed is a wax cross and this moreover still bears the name "fare", showing that the tradition is closely connected with the old custom of placing the "ferryman's coin" in the mouth of a dead man, the fee for Charon.
Now Charon, who has assumed the form Charos, is entirely familiar to the modern Greek peasant, but not merely as classical literature depicts him, the boatman of the Styx. He is Death itself, the lord of ghosts and shadows. Until recent years the practice prevailed in many parts of Greece of placing in the mouth of the deceased a small coin, and in the district of Smyrna this was actually known as "passage money." Yet strangely enough although both custom and name survived, the reason for the coin had been forgotten. Possibly the original meaning of the coin has vanished in the mists of dateless antiquity, and even in classical days the original significance was lost, so it came then to be explained that the coin was Charon's fee; whereas this is but a late and incorrect interpretation of a custom whose meaning went deeper than that, which had existed before mythology knew of a ferryman of hell.
The soul is supposed to escape by the mouth, which as it is an exit from the body is also the entrance to the body, and naturally it is by this path that the soul, if it were to return to the body, would re-enter; or by which an evil spirit or demon would make its way into the body. The coin or charm seems most likely to have been a safeguard against any happening of this kind. In Christian days the Holy Eucharist or a fragment inscribed with sacred names will be the best preventative. Moreover, not infrequently the piece of pottery placed in the mouth of the dead has scratched upon it the pentacle of magic lore. It is extremely significant that in Myconos this sign is often carved on house doors to preserve the inmates from the vampire. So in Greece at all events the custom of burying a consecrated Particle with a corpse, or of putting a crumb of the Host between the dead man's lips originated as a spell to counteract the possibility of vampirism.
It should be remarked that a consecrated Host placed in the tomb where a vampire is buried will assuredly prevent the vampire from issuing forth out of his grave, but for obvious reasons this is a remedy which is not to be essayed since it savours of rashness and profanation of God's body.
There are in history many other examples of excommunicated persons who have not been able to rest in consecrated ground. In the year 1030, St.Godard, Bishop of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, was obliged to excommunicate certain persons for their crimes and filthy sacrileges. Nevertheless, so powerful were the barons and overlords, their protectors, that they buried the bodies of their followers in the Cathedral itself, in the very sanctuary.
Upon this the bishop launched the ban of excommunication against them also; but none the less, utterly disregarding the censures, they forced their way into the various churches. Upon the next high festival the rebellious nobles were present with a throng of armed attendants in the Cathedral itself. The aisles were packed with worshippers and afar off, spanned by the vaulted roof, the High Altar blazed with a myriad tapers whose glow was reflected in the mirror of polished gold and the crystal heart of great reliquaries. The Bishop, his canons around him, pontificated the Mass. But after the Gospel, St.Godard turned from the altar and, in ringing tones of command, bade all those who were under any censure or ban to leave the sacred building.
The living smiled contemptuously, shrugged a little and did not stir. But down the aisles were seen to glide in awful silence dark shadowy figures, from whom the crowds shrank in speechless dread. They seemed to pass through the doors out of the sacred place. When the service was done the Bishop absolved the dead, and lo, the ghostly train appeared to re-enter their tombs. Thereupon the living were so struck with fear that they sought to be reconciled, and after due penance absolution was granted them.
An extraordinary circumstance is related by Wipert, Archdeacon of the celebrated see of Toul, who wrote the life of Pope St. Leo IX. The historian tells us that some years before the death of St. Leo in 1054, the citizens of Narni, a little burgh picturesquely situated on a lofty rock at the point where the river Nera forces its way through a narrow ravine to join the Tiber, were one day greatly surprised and alarmed to see a mysterious company of persons who appeared to be advancing towards the town. The magistrates, fearing some surprise, gave orders that the gates should be fast closed, whilst the inhabitants betook themselves to the walls. The procession, however, which was clothed in white and seemed from time to time to vanish among the morning mists, was obviously no inimical band. They passed on their way without turning to right or left, and it is said they seemed to be defiling with measured pace almost till eventide. All wondered who these persons could be, and at last one of the most prominent citizens resolved to address them.
To his amazement he saw among them a certain person who had been his host many years before, and of whose death he had lately been informed. Calling him loudly by name he asked: "Who are you, and whence cometh this throng?" "I am your old friend," was the reply, "and this multitude is phantom; we have not yet atoned for the sins we committed whilst on earth, and we are not yet deemed worthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; therefore are we sent forth as humble penitents, lowly palmers, whose lot it is with pains and much moil to visit the holy sanctuaries of the world, such as are appointed to us in order. At this hour we are come from the shrine of St.Martin, and we are on our way to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Farfa."
The good man was so terrified at these words that he fell as in a fit, and he remained ill for a twelvemonth. It was he who related this extraordinary event to Pope St. Leo IX. With regard to the company there could be no mistake; it was not seen by one person or even by a few, but by the whole town. Although naturally enough the appearance of so vast a number would give rise to no little alarm, since hostile designs would be suspected, so crowded a pilgrimage in the eleventh century would not by any means be a unique, even if it were an exceptional event. Whole armies of pious persons were traversing Europe from shrine to shrine, whilst enthusiasm for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was greatly on the increase and was, before many years had passed, to culminate in the Crusades.
It is not said that it was actually the bodies of those who were dead seen passing by the walls of Narni. On the contrary we are given to understand that it was a spectral host, but with regard to those persons who were excommunicated we are to believe that physically they are bound by the ban, and that in the cases of resuscitation it is the actual body which appears.
The Greeks, as we have seen, generally regarded the fact that a body was found intact as a sign that the person had died excommunicate or under some curse. It is now necessary to consider an aspect of the question which is diametrically opposed to this idea, namely those cases where incorruption is an evidence of extraordinary sanctity, when the mortal remains of some great saint having been exhumed after death are found to be miraculously preserved for the veneration of the faithful.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable instances is that of the Poor Clare, St.Catherine of Bologna, who died 9 March 1463, and whose body is venerated in a small yet exquisitely elegant sanctuary attached to the convent of Corpus Domini at Bologna. It is a remarkable circumstance that here it is not preserved under crystal or glass but is seated, dressed in sumptuous brocades, jewelled and crowned, in an embroidered chair in the centre of the room. The body is desiccated but in no sense decayed.
In Montefalco, high among the Umbrian uplands, lies the body of the Augustinian St.Clare, one of the glories of that ancient Order so rich in hallowed and venerable names, and one of the most marvellous ecstaticas of all time. Born about 1275, she became Abbess of the Convent of Montefalco and seemed to dwell more in Heaven than on Earth. Gifted with the spirit of prophecy and the grace of working miracles, she was the subject of extraordinary ecstasies and raptures, which were prolonged from days to weeks. She died 17 August 1308, and when her heart was extracted from her body , it was opened and therein impressed upon the very flesh were seen a figure of Christ crucified, the scourge, the Crown of Thorns, the column, the lance, three nails, the sponge and reed. This relic is venerated at Montefalco today.
Even now her body lies there perfect and intact. The hands and face are clearly visible, exquisitely pale and lovely, untouched by any fleck of corruption. It has not been embalmed, but Lorenzo Tardy says that throughout Italy of all the bodies of Saints which are venerated incorrupt, the body of St.Clare of Montefalco is the loveliest and most free from any spot or blemish through the passing years. Moreover when her heart was opened the blood flowed forth in great abundance and was carefully collected in a glass vial. Although normally coagulated it has preserved in colour a bright fresh red as though newly spilled. At rare intervals this blood liquifies and becomes humid, lucent, transparent and freely-flowing. On occasion it has been known actually to spume and bubble.
This list might be greatly prolonged without much research or difficulty. The phenomenon of the incorruptibility of the body is in itself not to be regarded as evidence of sanctity, but the preservation of the body of a person who has led a life of heroic virtue, when this has been officially and authoratively recognized, may be admitted as a miracle, that is to say as supernatural.
As incorruptibility is often attached to sanctity, so it is an essential of the very opposite of holiness, the demonism of the vampire. It has been said that the vampire, as a demon, reanimates the corpses of entirely innocent people, but this is very doubtful. It is probable that the only bodies thus to be infested and preserved by dark agency are those of persons who during their lives were distinguished by deeds of no ordinary atrocity. Very often too, the vampire is a corpse reanimated by his own spirit who seeks to continue his own life in death by preying upon others and feeding himself upon their vitality. That is to say, by absorbing their blood, since blood is the principle of life.
Dr .T. Claye Shaw in his study, A Prominent Motive in Murder (The Lancet, June 1909), has given us a most valuable and suggestive paper upon the natural fascination of blood which may be repelling or attractant; and since Dr. Havelock Ellis has acutely remarked that "there is scarcely any natural object with so profoundly emotional an effect as blood," it is easy to understand how nearly blood is connected with the sexual manifestations, and how distinctly erotic and provocative the sight or even the thought of blood almost inevitably proves.
It would appear to be Plumroder who, in 1830, was the first to draw definite attention to the connection between sexual passions and blood. The voluptuous sensations excited by blood give rise to that lust for blood which Dr. Shaw terms haemothymia. A vast number of cases have been recorded in which persons who are normal find intense pleasure in the thought of blood during their sexual relations, although perhaps if blood were actually flowing they might feel repulsion. Normally the fascination of blood, if present at all during sexual excitement, remains more or less latent, either because it is weak or because the checks that inhibit it are inevitably very powerful.
Blood is the vital essence, but even without any actual sucking of blood there is a vampire who can , consciously or perhaps unconsciously , support his life and re-energize his frame by drawing on the vitality of others. He may be called a spiritual vampire or, as he has been dubbed, a "psychic sponge." Such types are by no means uncommon. Sensitive people will often complain of weariness and loss of spirits when they have been for long in the company of certain others.
Laurence Oliphant in his Scientific Religion has said: "Many persons are so constituted that they have, unconsciously to themselves, an extraordinary faculty for sucking the life-principle from others, who are constitutionally incapable of retaining their vitality." Breeders tell us that young animals should not be herded with old ones. Doctors forbid young children being put to sleep with aged individuals. It will be remembered that when King David was old and ailing his forces were recruited by having a young maiden brought into closest contact with him, although he was no longer able to copulate.
In an article on vampires in Borderland, July 1896, Dr. Franz Hartmann mentions the "psychic sponge" or mental vampire. He says: "They unconsciously vampirize every sensitive person with whom they come in contact, and they instinctively seek out such persons and invite them to stay at their houses. I know of an old lady, a vampire, who thus ruined the health of a lot of robust servant girls, whom she took into her service and made them sleep in her room. They were all in good health when they entered, but they soon began to sicken, they became emaciated and consumptive and had to leave the service."
Vampirism in some sort and to some degree may be said to leave its trace throughout almost all nature. Just as we have parasitic men and women, so we have parasitic plants, and at this point there imposes itself upon us some mention of the animal which directly derives a name from habits which exactly resemble those of the Slavonic vampire - the Vampire Bat.
There has been much exaggeration in the accounts which travellers have given of these bats and many of the details would seem to have been very inaccurately observed by earlier inquirers. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that there are only two species of blood-sucking bats known - Desmodus Rufus and Dyphylla Ecaudata. These inhabit the tropical and part of the sub-tropical regions of the New World, and are restricted to South and Central America. Their attacks on men and other warm-blooded animals were noticed by very early writers. Thus Peter Martyr, who wrote soon after the conquest of South America, says that in the Isthmus of Darien there were bats which sucked the blood of men and cattle when asleep to such a degree as even to kill them. Condamine in the eighteenth century remarks that at Borja, Ecuador, and in other districts they had wholly destroyed the cattle introduced by missionaries. Sir Robert Schomburgh relates that at Wicki, on the river Berlice, no fowls could be kept on account of the ravages of these creatures, which attacked their combs, making them appear white from loss of blood.
Although long known to Europeans, the exact species to which these bats belonged were not determined for a long time, and in the past writers have claimed many frugivorous bats, especially Vampyrus spectrum, a large bat of most forbidding appearance, to be the true Vampire. Charles Darwin was able to fix at least one of the blood-sucking species. He says that the whole circumstance was much doubted in England, but "we were bivouacking late one night near Coquimbo in Chile, when my servant, noticing that one of the horses was very restive, went to see what was the matter, and fancying he could detect something, suddenly put his hand on the beast's withers, and secured the vampire."
Travellers say the wounds inflicted by these bats are similar to a cut from a sharp razor when shaving. A portion of the skin is taken off and, a large number of severed capillary vessels being thus exposed, a constant flow of blood is maintained. From this source the blood is drawn through the exceedingly small gullet of the bat into the intestine-like stomach, whence it is probably drawn off during the slow process of digestion while the animal, sated with food, is hanging in a state of torpidity from the roof of its cave, or from the inner side of a hollow tree.
This is exactly the vampire who with his sharp white teeth bites the neck of his victim and sucks the blood from the wounds he has made, gorging himself like some great human leech until he is replete, when he retires to his grave to repose, lethargic and inert until such time as he shall again sally forth to quench his lust at the veins of some sleek and sanguine juvenal.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE
AND DESTROY THE VAMPIRE
His Kith and Kin
"The Philosophy of Vampirism"
1880 - 1948