Friday, November 13, 2015

Vampire Lore by L.J. Vance 1893

Vampire Lore by L.J. Vance 1893

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There are vampires in these days. We know that European peasants still claim to have seen them. And so, there should be no doubt whatever that there are such monsters. Else, why are Hungarians, Poles, Wallachians, and other Slavonic peoples so afraid of the blood-sucking and blood-thirsty dead? For, as every peasant in Transylvania knows, wicked men come back after death as vampires. According to Dr. Friedrich Krauss, the belief in vampires is universal among the Kroats and Slavonians.

Now, what do you think the village people do in order to keep vampires away? Why, as soon as the suspected person is dead, they burn the straw upon which the body lay. Then, they lock up all the cats and dogs, for, if these animals stepped over the corpse, the person would come back as a vampire (Bukodlak) and would suck the blood of the village folk. There is no doubt about it.

Another simple but barbarous plan is to drive a white-thorn stake through the dead body. That will render the vampire harmless [macht man den Vampyr unschadlich). To this day the peasants in Bukowina drive an ash stake through the breast of the corpses of suicides and vampires. This brutal treatment of suicides was once common in England and Scotland. The Wallachians drive a long nail through the skull, and lay the thorny stem of a wild rosebush on the corpse. In very bad or obstinate cases, the Roumanian peasant cuts off the head and puts it back into the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic. Sometimes they take out the heart, burn it, and strew the ashes over the grave.

All these and many other precautions are still taken by village folk in Europe to keep vampires away. And yet, no vampire has ever been caught in the act. No specimens are to be found in the Museum of Natural History. There are, of course, some people who will doubt their existence.

Not so, however, with the Roumanian peasant. He believes in the vampire, or Nosferatu, "as firmly as he does in heaven or hell." What do you think of that? The Roumanians have two kinds of vampires —living and dead. You will be interested in knowing what a "living vampire" is. Well, the living vampire is the illegitimate offspring of two illegitimate persons. But, as the writer on "Transylvanian Superstitions" in the Nineteenth Century remarks, "even a flawless pedigree will not ensure any one against the intrusion of a vampire into his family vault, since every person killed by a Nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death, and will continue to suck the blood of other innocent people." As to precautions taken for the purpose of exorcising or laying the vampire, we are told that "there are few Roumanian villages where such has not taken place within the memory of the inhabitants."

The question is often asked, What is a vampire? I am sure I don't know. An old eighteenth century authority, Horst, says that it is a "dead body which continues to live in the grave, which it leaves, however, by night for the purpose of sucking the blood of the living, whereby it is nourished and preserved in good condition, instead of becoming decomposed like other dead bodies."

What does a vampire look like? Does it take the form of a ghost or spirit, or does it assume the same appearance as a person in the material state? Yes and no. It comes at night by your bedside as a horrid Shape. It has a human figure and face; its eyes are glassy; its mouth is bloody; its flesh is livid.

Early in the eighteenth century (from 1727 to 1735) a sort of vampire fever or epidemic broke out in the Southeast of Europe, especially among the people of Hungary and Servia. These dreadful beings called vampires sucked the blood of the whole village; they not only nourished themselves, but they infected others, and so propagated vampirism. It was a terrible thing, for no one knew how or when he might be bitten by the awful monster. The probable state of mind and situation has been described by a modern writer in the following manner:

"You are lying in your bed at night, when you see, by the faint light, a Shape entering at the door and gliding toward you with a long sigh. The thing moves along the air as if by the mere act of volition. You lie still—like one under the influence of a nightmare—and the thing floats slowly over you. Presently you fall into a dead sleep or swoon, returning, up to the last moment of consciousness, the fixed and glassy stare of the phantom. When you awake in the morning you think it is all a dream, until you perceive a small, blue, deadly-looking spot on your chest near the heart; and the truth flashes on you. You say nothing to your friends; but you know you are a doomed man—and you know rightly. Every night comes the terrible Shape to your bedside, and sucks your life-blood in your sleep.

"Day after day you grow paler and more languid; your face becomes livid, your eyes leaden, your cheeks hollow. Your friends advise you to seek medical aid, to take a change of air, but you are aware that it is all in vain. You therefore keep your fearful secret to yourself and pine, and droop, and languish, till you die. When you are dead, (if you will be so kind as to suppose yourself in that predicament,) the most horrible part of the business commences. You are then yourself forced to become a Vampire and to create fresh victims, who, as they die, add to the phantom stock."

Such was the terrible hallucination that seized people in the last century. The result was a genuine panic. Every one became badly scared, nervous, and afraid of being made a vampire against his will. Hundreds of people died under the belief that they had been bitten by these blood-sucking monsters. The emperor issued military commissions, and the graves of the alleged vampires were opened in the presence of medical men. Some of the bodies were found well preserved, with life-like complexions, and with fresh skin and nails growing.

There is little doubt (in my mind) that many persons were actually buried alive. The prominent fact, testified to by medical and military men, is that the bodies often presented a most natural and life-like appearance. The only explanation is that such persons were buried alive. Dr. Mayo quotes from an old German writer the following gruesome account of a vampire execution: "When they opened his grave, after he had been long buried, his face was found with a color, and his features made natural sorts of movements, as if the dead man smiled. He even opened his mouth as if he would inhale the fresh air. They held the crucifix before him, and called in a loud voice: 'See, this is Jesus Christ who redeemed your soul from hell and died for you.' After the sound had acted on his organs of hearing, and he had connected some ideas with it, tears began to flow from the dead man's eyes. Finally, when, after a short prayer for his poor soul, they proceeded to hack off his head, the corpse uttered a screech and turned and rolled as if it had been alive—and the grave was full of blood." Of course, the wretched man was alive, just as surely as he was murdered.

The authority for the eighteenth century history of vampires is a work by M. Calmet, the celebrated author of the "History of the Bible." He has given an account of the epidemic in his "Dissertations on the Ghosts and Vampires of Hungary." The subject was treated by Voltaire in his "Philosophical Dictionary" in his usual bantering, semi-sneering style. He traces the idea of vampires back to the modern Greeks, who believed in dreadful beings called "Brucolacs." The connection is indisputable. The Slavonic vampire is the Greek vampire with some changes. "The ideas about vampires," says Mr. Ralston, "are identical among the Greeks and Slavonians, the name for a vampire being one of the very few words of Slavonic origin in Modern Greek."

Now, when a superstition is widely spread in Europe, as the belief in vampires certainly was in the eighteenth century, we naturally expect to find traces of it in ancient times and among uncivilised peoples. That is just what we do find in the classical authors and in the accounts of travellers. Indeed, we might show that the vampire superstition originated in certain ancient beliefs and observances touching the dead — seen in the various precautions taken to guard against the return of the ghosts of people, good and bad.

There are vampires in these days. But they are very different beings from those that worried the Greeks and scared the people of the last century.

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