Saturday, October 24, 2015
VAMPIRES and GHOULS, article in Appleton's Journal 1871
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THESE gentry are not yet quite dead. At least, the belief in them still lingers in some country-districts; while in Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia the credence prevails among whole tribes, and even nations. There appears to be no essential difference between the European vampire and the Asiatic ghoul—a sort of demon, delighting to animate the bodies of dead persons, and feed upon their blood. It is believed that the superstition has existed in the Levant since the time of the ancient Greeks; but among that artistic people the vampire was a lamia—a beautiful woman, who allured youths to her, and then fed upon their young flesh and blood. Be that as it may, the Byzantine Christians, after the time of Constantine, entertained a belief that the bodies of those who died excommunicated were kept by an emissary of the Evil One, who endowed them with a sort of life, sufficient to enable them to go forth at night from their graves, and feast on other men. The only way to get rid of these passive agents of mischief was to dig the bodies up from the graves, disexcommunicate them, and bury them.
William of Newbury, who lived in the twelfth century, narrates that in Buckinghamshire a man appeared several times to his wife after he had been buried. The archdeacon and clergy, on being applied to, thought it right to ask the advice of the bishop of the diocese, as to the proper course to be pursued. He advised that the body should be burned—the only cure for vampires. On opening the grave, the corpse was found to be in the same state as when interred —a property, we are told, generally possessed by vampires.
The most detailed vampire-stories belong to the Danubian and Greek countries. Tournefort describes a scene that came under his personal notice in Greece. A peasant of Mycone was murdered in the fields in the year 1701. He had been a man of quarrelsome, ill-natured disposition—just the sort of man, according to the current belief of the peasantry, to be haunted by vampires after death. Two days after his burial, it was noised abroad that he had been seen to walk in the night with great haste, overturning people's goods, putting out their lights, pinching them, and playing them strange pranks. The rumor was so often repeated that at length the priests avowed their belief in its truth. Masses were said in the chapels, and ceremonies were performed, having for their object to drive out the vampire that inhabited the dead man. On the tenth day after the burial, a mass was said, the body was disinterred, and the heart taken out. Frankincense was burned to ward off infection; but the by-standers insisted on the smoke of the frankincense being a direct emanation from the dead body—a sure sign, according to popular belief, of vampirism. They burned the heart on the sea-shore—the conventional way of getting rid of vampires. Still this did not settle the matter. Positive statements went the round of the village that the dead man was still up to all kinds of mischief, beating people in the night, breaking down doors, unroofing houses, shaking windows. The matter became serious. Many of the inhabitants were so thoroughly frightened and panic-stricken as to flee; while those who remained nearly lost all self-control. They debated; they fasted; they made processions through the village; they sprinkled the doors of the houses with holy water; they speculated as to whether mass had been properly said, and the heart properly burned. At length, they resolved to burn the body itself; they collected plenty of wood, pitch, and tar, and carried out their plan. Tournefort (who had found it necessary to be cautious as to expressing his incredulity) states that no more was heard of the supposed vampire.
In the year 1725, on the borders of Hungary and Transylvania, a vampire-story arose, which was renewed afterward in a noteworthy way. A peasant of Madveiga, named Arnold Paul, was crushed to death by the fall of a wagon-load of hay. Thirty days afterward, four persons died, with all the symptoms (according to popular belief) of their blood having been sucked by vampires. Some of the neighbors remembered having heard Arnold say that he had often been tormented by a vampire; and they jumped to a conclusion that the passive vampire had now become active. This was in accordance with a kind of formula or theorem on the subject—that a man who, when alive, has had his blood sucked by a vampire, will, after his death, deal with other persons in like manner. The neighbors exhumed Arnold Paul, drove a stake through the heart, cut off the head, and burned the body. The bodies of the four persons who had recently died were treated in a similar way, to make surety doubly sure. Nevertheless, even this did not suffice. In 1732, seven years after these events, seventeen persons died in the village near about one time. The memory of the unlucky Arnold recurred to the villagers; the vampire-theory was again appealed to; he was believed to have dealt with the seventeen as he had previously dealt with the four; and they were therefore disinterred, and the heads cut off, the hearts staked, the bodies burned, and the ashes dispersed. One supposition was, that Arnold had vampirized some cattle, that the seventeen villagers had eaten of the beef, and had fallen victims in consequence. This affair attracted much attention at the time. Louis XV. directed his ambassador at Vienna to make inquiries in the matter. Many of the witnesses attested on oath that the disinterred bodies were full of blood, and exhibited few of the usual symptoms of death—indications which the believers in vampires stoutly maintained to be always present in such cases. This has induced many physicians to think that real cases of catalepsy or trance were mixed up with the popular belief, and were supplemented by a large allowance of epidemic fanaticism.
In Epirus and Thessaly there is a belief in living vampires—men who leave their shepherd dwellings by night, and roam about, biting and tearing men and animals. In Moldavia the traditional priccolitch, and in Wallachia the murony, must be somewhat remarkable beings. They are real living men, who become dogs at night, with the backbone prolonged to form a sort of tail; they roam through the villages, delighting to kill cattle.
Calmet, in his curious work relating to the marvels of the phantom-world, quotes a letter which was written in 1738, and which added one to the long list of vampire-stories belonging to the Danubian provinces: "We have just had in this part of Hungary a scene of vampirism, duly attested by two officials of the tribunal of Belgrade, who went down to the places specified, and by an officer of the emperor's troops at Graditz, who was an ocular witness of the proceedings. At the beginning of September, there died in the village of Kisilony, three leagues from Graditz, a man sixty-two years of age. Three days after his burial, he appeared in the night to his son, and asked for something to eat. The son having given him something, he ate and disappeared. The next day the son recounted to bis neighbors what had occurred. That night the father did not appear; but on the following night he showed himself, and asked again for food. They do not know whether the son gave him any on that occasion or not; but on the following day the son was found dead in his bed. On that same day five or six persons in the village fell suddenly ill, and died, one after another, in a few days. The villagers resolved to open the grave of the old man, and examine the body; they did so, and declared that the symptoms presented were such as usually pertain to vampirism—eyes open, fresh color, etc. The executioner drove a stake into the heart, and reduced the body to ashes. All the other persons recently dead were similarly exhumed; but, as they did not exhibit the suspicious symptoms, they were quietly reinterred.
One theory in that part of Europe is, that an illegitimate son of parents, both of whom are illegitimate, is peculiarly likely to become a vampire. If a dead body is supposed to be vampirized, it is taken up; should the usual symptoms of decay present themselves, the case is supposed to be a natural one, and the body is sprinkled with holy water by the priest; but, should the freshness above adverted to appear, the ordeal of destruction is at once decided on. In some parts of Wallachia, skilled persons are called in to prevent a corpse from becoming a vampire by various charms, as well as by the rougher and coarser plan of driving a nail through the head. One charm is, to rub the body in various places with the lard of a pig killed on St. Ignatius's Day; another is, to lay by the side of the body a stick made of the stem of a wild-rose. Some of the vampirized persons are believed, when they emerge from their graves at night, not to go about in human form, but as dogs, cats, frogs, toads, fleas, lice, bugs, spiders, etc., sucking the blood of living persons by biting them in the back or neck. This belief forcibly suggests one remark: that, as the peasantry in those parts of Europe are wofully deficient in cleanliness of person, clothing, and bedding, nothing is more likely than that they arc bitten at night by some of the smaller creatures above named, without the assistance of any vampire.
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Mr. Pashley, in his "Travels in Crete," states that when he was at the town of Askylo, he asked about the vampires or katakhanadhes, as the Cretans called them—of whose existence and doings he had heard many recitals, stoutly corroborated by the peasantry. Many of the stories converged toward one central fact, which Mr. Pashley believed had given origin to them all. On one occasion a man of some note was buried at St. George's Church at Kalikruti, in the island of Crete. An arch or canopy was built over his grave. But he soon afterward made his appearance as a vampire, haunting the village, and destroying men and children. A shepherd was one day tending his sheep and goats near the church, and, on being caught in a shower, went under the arch to seek shelter from the rain. He determined to pass the night there, laid aside his arms, and stretched himself on a stone to sleep. In placing his fire-arms down (gentle shepherds of pastoral poems do not want fire-arms; but the Cretans are not gentle shepherds), he happened to cross them. Now, this crossing was always believed to have the effect of preventing a vampire from emerging from the spot where the emblem was found. Thereupon occurred a singular debate. The vampire rose in the night, and requested the shepherd to remove the fire-arms in order that he might pass, as he had some important business to transact. The shepherd, inferring from this request that the corpse was the identical vampire which had been doing so much mischief, at first refused his assent; but, on obtaining from the vampire a promise on oath that he would not hurt him, the shepherd moved the crossed arms. The vampire, thus enabled to rise, went to a distance of two miles, and killed two persons, a man and a woman. On his return, the shepherd saw some indication of what had occurred, which caused the vampire to threaten him with a similar fate if he divulged what he had seen. He courageously told all, however. The priest and other persons came to the spot next morning, took up the corpse (which in daytime was as lifeless as any other) and burned it. While burning, a little spot of blood spurted on the shepherd's foot, which instantly withered away; but otherwise no evil resulted, and the vampire was effectually destroyed. This was certainly a very peculiar vampire-story; for the coolness with which the corpse and the shepherd carried on their conversation under the arch was unique enough. Nevertheless, the persons who narrated the affair to Mr. Pashley firmly believed in its truth, although slightly differing in their versions of it.
This superstition appears to be closely connected with that of the were-wolf, which sometimes presents very terrible features. Medical men give the name of lycanthropy to a kind of monomania which lies at the bottom of all the were-wolf stories. In popular interpretation, a were-wolf is a man or woman who has been changed into the form of a wolf, either to gratify a taste for human flesh and blood, or as a divine punishment. The Reverend Baring-Gould narrates the history of Marshal de Retz, a noble, brave, and wealthy man of the time of Charles VII. in France. He was sane and reasonable in all matters save one; but in that one he was a terrible being. He delighted in putting young and delicate children to death, and then destroying them, without (so far as appears) wishing to put the flesh or the blood to his lips. In the course of a lengthened trial which brought his career to an end, the truth came to light that he had destroyed eight hundred children in seven years. There was neither accusation nor confession about a wolf here; it was a man afflicted with a morbid propensity of a dreadful kind. Somewhat different was the case of Jean Grenier, in 1603. He was a herd-boy, aged fourteen, who was brought before a tribunal at Bordeaux on a most extraordinary charge. Several witnesses, chiefly young girls, accused him of having attacked them under the guise of a wolf. The charge was strange, but the confession was still stranger; for the boy declared that he had killed and eaten several children, and the fathers of those children asserted the same thing. Grenier was said to be half an idiot; if so, his idiocy on the one hand, and the superstitious ignorance of the peasantry on the other, may perchance supply a solution to the enigma. One of the most extraordinary cases on record occurred in France in 1849, the facts being brought to light before a court-martial, presided over by Colonel Manselon. Many of the cemeteries near Paris were found to have been entered in the night, graves opened, coffins disturbed, and dead bodies strewed around the place in a torn and mangled condition. This was so often repeated, and in so many cemeteries, that great anguish and terror were spread among the people. A strict watch was kept. Some of the patrols or police of the cemeteries thought they saw a figure several times flitting about among the graves, but could never quite satisfy themselves on the matter. Surgeons were examined, to ascertain whether it was the work of the class of men who used in England to be called resurrectionists, or body-snatchers; but they all declared that the wild, reckless mutilation was of another character. Again was a strict watch kept; a kind of man-trap was contrived at a part of the wall of Pere-laChaise cemetery, which appeared as if it had been frequently scaled. A sort of grenade connected with the man-trap was heard to explode; the watch fired their guns; some one was seen to flee quickly; and then they found traces of blood, and a few fragments of military clothing at one particular spot. Next day, it became publicly known that a non-commissioned officer of the Seventy-fourth Regiment had returned wounded to the barracks in the middle of the night, and had been conveyed to a military hospital. Further inquiry led to the revelation of the fact that Sergeant Bertrand, of the regiment here named, was the unhappy cause of all the turmoil. He was in general demeanor kind and gentle, frank and gay; and nothing but a malady of a special kind could have driven him to the commission of such crimes as those with which he was charged, and which his own confession helped to confirm. He described the impulse under which he acted as being irresistible, altogether beyond his own control; it came upon him about once a fortnight. He had a terrible consciousness while under its influence, and yet he could not resist. The minute details which he gave to the tribunal of his mode of proceeding at the cemeteries might suit those who like to sup on horrors, but may be dispensed with here. Suffice it to say that he aided by his confession to corroborate the charge; that he was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment; and that eminent physicians of Paris endeavored to restore the balance of his mind during his quiet incarceration.
Fifty years ago, vampire literature had a temporary run of public favor. "The Vampire, or the Bride of the Isles," a drama, and "The Vampire," a melodrama in two acts, were presented at the London theatres: the hero being enacted by some performer who had the art of making himself gaunt and ghastly on occasions. There was also a story under the same title, purporting to be by Lord Byron, which attracted considerable notice. The form of the superstition chiefly prevalent in modern Greece is, that vampires, notwithstanding all the means used to destroy their bodies, will resume their shape, and recommence their mischievous wanderings, as soon as the rays of moonlight fall on their graves. This serves as the foundation of the tale in question. But Lord Byron repudiated it. In a characteristic letter to Galignani, he said: "If the book is clever, it would be base to deprive the real writer, whoever he may be, of his honors; if stupid, I desire the responsibility of nobody's dulness but my own." The authorship was afterward claimed by another writer, who stated that the idea of the tale had been suggested to his mind by something he had met with in Byron.
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