Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Vampires in Superstition, Tradition and Literature 1887

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Vampires—Among weird and unnatural horrors of romance and legend the vampire has always held the foremost place. The casual wraith, the family ghost, the spectre in clanking chains, and even the witch's "familiar," are nowhere in comparison with this graveyard ghoul, said to sustain its loathsome existence by sucking the blood of living persons. The victim, attacked in the dead of night, would sicken mysteriously and die of emaciation, and then would in its turn prey upon other unfortunates; for superstition says that he who dies by a vampire shall likewise become a vampire, and know no peace in the tomb. Tradition goes on to tell how a visit to the grave of a vampire would show the corpse warm, flexible, and apparently nourished, though it might have lain dead several years, and how, when pierced, it would emit streams of blood, utter groans, and exhibit other signs of vitality. It must then be dealt with after the official process—have a stake run through its heart, and be beheaded; after which the plague would cease so far as that particular vampire was concerned. English ghost annals are not rich in vampires. Our soil and climate, and perhaps the Anglo-Saxon temperament, are not favorable to the development of this uncanny monster, which appears to flourish best among Slavonian nations, and figures prominently in the morbid domestic records of Greeks, Wallachians, and Servians. According to popular superstition, and, in some cases, officially attested reports, the vampire was not so long ago a frequent visitor in certain districts of Poland, Hungary, and Bavaria.

If we are to accept a paragraph which recently appeared in various newspapers, relating the decapitation after death of a person suspected of vampirish tendencies, the scourge of the vourdalak, as the Slavs call it, is to this day dreaded and guarded against. Vampire lore has been a fertile source of inspiration to the writer of weird fiction. When the famous trio, Byron, Lewis, and Mary Shelley, rain-bound in a Swiss villa, planned their mystical romances, of which “Frankenstein" is the only one that has not sunk into oblivion, Lord Byron chose a Greek vampire, whom he made to reappear later in the London drawing-rooms, as the subject of his prose effort. One of Sheridan le Fanu's most powerful stories deals with a beautiful and fascinating female vampire, for whom it is impossible not to feel a qualm of regret when she vanishes from the scene, having been staked and beheaded in the orthodox fashion. Many will remember. also, Dion Boucicault's bloodcurdling play of "The Vampire," which during its short run proved too exciting for the nerves of even a London audience. Romance invests the vampire with sickeningly human attributes, which place it far above the category of stock supernatural horrors. It is described as showing marked partiality in its choice of a victim, being attracted to some one person in especial, lavishing upon him or her unwholesome endearments, delaying with an epicure's instinct the gratification of its abominable propensity, and gloating over the unconscious doomed one with something of a lover's ecstasy. There is fascination mingled with disgust in the mere thought of this loathly creature of legend—a creature which, however, has been believed in as an actual fact, not only by ignorant peasants, but by professors of occult science in general, among whose number might be reckoned learned doctors and philosophers, and wise and benevolent dignitaries of the Church. To venture on examining the foundations of such belief would be as idle as to propound the query —“Are there ghosts?" If there are ghosts—— and many sensible people maintain that there are—it is not stretching credulity too far to assume that an earth~bound spirit may, by reason of its material affinities, become a vampire. Apart, however, from supra-mundane speculations, it is certain that vampires do exist under the conditions of every-day social intercourse. There are vampires who suck the brains of their fellow-men and women. There are vampires who, if they do not actually suck the lifeblood, drain away by slow degrees the nerve force of their victims. Who cannot in the circle of his friends and relations point to such an one? There is the ordinary social bore, whose mere presence inflicts a profound and unaccountable sense of exhaustion. There is the domestic vampire who seems to derive sustenance from the emotional expenditure of those sensitive beings unfortunate enough to have come directly under the baleful influence. There are husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters, who feed upon each other's very hearts, recruiting their own emotional vigor at the expense of another's suffering, with a horrible egotism which is nothing short of vampirism. It is a fact admitted by physicians that young children are injured in health by sleeping with older persons, the aged and feeble adding to their reserve of vital force by contact with the young and vigorous. Once open the door to this suggestion, and many a death from slow decline might be traced by the fanciful to some living vourdalak seated at the family hearth, and none the less pestilential because innocent of evil intent. Mesmeric adepts have a theory that every human body gives out magnetic emanations which change according to the conditions of the body, and are subject to the laws which govern physical electricity, two positives or two negatives repelling each other, and vice versa. Sympathies and antipathies might thus be readily accounted for, and it is, perhaps, as satisfactory an explanation as any other of “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell." But according to these philosophers, human magnetism has certain subtle, absorbent, psychic properties, which, if understood and duly directed, would render it the most potent of forces. Such a theory, if admitted, would revolutionize the whole social system. When a young couple showed symptoms of attachment, the first consideration which would suggest itself would be whether their magnetic emanations were mutually beneficial or the reverse. Marriages would be regulated on strictly psychological principles, and it is possible that there might be less work in the Divorce Court in consequence. So with all other relations of life. Servants would be magnetically tested before they were engaged. Schools, looked upon under the new lights as hot-beds of Vampirism, would cease to exist. Psychic professors would act as stewards in ball-rooms, and only permit those to dance together whose magnetism harmonized. Guests at dinner parties would be selected in reference to the healthy blending of magnetic currents. Quarrelling would become an impossibility. Nervous exhaustion would be an unknown malady; the petty jars and wear and tear of life would be done away with; and, in short, the new discovery would herald a millennial age.—Globe.

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