THE VAMPIRE LEGEND BY ALFRED FELLOWS 1908
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THOSE who investigate the occult may do so for many reasons, and may come to diverse conclusions, but on one point they are likely to be in entire agreement. On the one hand, beneficent spirits may appear, messages of peace be given, and the sorrowful be comforted; but on the other manifestations of evil may take place, and those who wish to control or check these without injury to themselves may require stout hearts, good nerves, strong wills, and, probably, consciences which will not betray them in the face of the encounter. In fact, taking an average of ghost stories and legends of apparitions, it is hardly too much to say that evil seems to preponderate. Now and then a messenger may come with tidings of value to the living; but more often the reverse is the case, and perhaps it might be possible to make a scale from messages or apparitions which are of real service, through others which are uncertain, ambiguous, or merely futile (which might form the large majority of those obtained at amateur séances, where there are any results at all) to those which are actually harmful. These might range from deliberately misleading communications, through mischief of shattered crockery and overturned furniture of the poltergeist order, and such manifestations of evil spirits as occurred in the case of Mr. Stainton Moses (as recorded in the proceedings of the Psychical Research Society) to grave injury to the living either through terror, or even physical violence. For the whole literature of the subject abounds with such instances, and there are many stories of evil entities which, either resenting the presence of man, or desirous for their own purposes to injure or kill him, have added to the list of human victims. But at the bottom of the scale of horror, below the tales of black magic, witchcraft, even of the great Spirit of Evil itself, may be placed the legend of the vampire.
Broadly speaking, it is almost universal. The ghouls of Asia, vampires of Servia, vroncolaces of Greece, oupires, revenans, in different names, and with local variations of details, as described in old books and legends, and to this day believed by the peasantry of many lands (especially in the east of Europe) bear a broad general resemblance. The legend may thus be typified: after the death of some known bad character, usually by suicide or violence, an apparition of the dead is seen, and as it draws near the watcher, the latter is paralysed much in the same way that a bird is paralysed at the approach of a snake. The vampire then draws the blood from the victim, as a rule by biting or fastening on the neck, the victim sometimes being killed outright by its loss, in other cases grievoust injured. After this has occurred once or more, and when those round about realize what is happening, the body of the criminal or suicide is disinterred, and is found to be like that of a living person—the skin smooth, the cheeks ruddy, without decay, and the limbs supple and pliable—and in one gruesome account the coffin was stated to be an inch deep in blood. On finding these signs, either the head is cut off, or a stake is driven through the heart, or the body is placed upon faggots and burnt outright —sometimes, by various accounts, shrilly screaming as it is mutilated or consumed by fire. But when this has been done the vampire is laid, and the living have rest from its visits.
There are vampire legends in England; there are vampire legends in Ireland; there are many legends in Germany, Russia, Bohemia, Moravia, Greece, and Servia, and perhaps most of all in Hungary. Indeed, though the word appears to be of Servian origin, all researches seem to lead back to the Carpathians, and the most circumstantial stories, with perhaps one exception, relate to the Hungarian instances in the early part of the eighteenth century.
In this hideous legend of the vampire there are two remarkable features. Its ubiquity—for a belief found amongst the common people in India and Ireland can hardly have had the same origin, unless it is primeval—and the agreement of the main incidents. The details of a story of Irish witchcraft, for example, might not be recognized by a Russian or Hungarian peasant, but he would at once understand those of an Irish vampire legend.
In the panic which, if there is any truth at all in the Hungarian legends, seems to have pervaded several villages at about the same time (and no one who disbelieves in vampires need disbelieve in a panic arising from faith in them), another characteristic was firmly regarded as true—that the victims were likely themselves to become vampires, and that from a single example numbers were thus likely to multiply and to afflict whole communities. For instance, one Arnald Paul, of the village of Madreiga in Transylvania, died in 1727, after having been bitten by a Turkish vampire. He in turn bit and killed the son of one Heyducq Millo, and the last victim, after having been buried for nine weeks, attacked a girl called Stanoska, who was almost strangled, and died three days afterwards. In another case a man who had been dead over thirty years killed his brother, his son, and a servant, each dying instantly; and on a general disinterment of those recently dead in one village, seventeen out of forty were discovered to have the signs of vampirism.
Again, in another case, after nine people had died, the Emperor of Austria sent an officer, who, together with a local curé, deposes to the facts. The result of inquiry was the exhumation and cremation of one Peter Plogojovitz, and after this the village was left in peace.
These circumstantial stories are all related by the learned Abbé Calrnet, who tells them with comments and observations and quaint theories almost worthy of Herodotus. One may be quoted. After remarking on some difficulties arising from identifying the vampire when its ravages have been discovered, he relates a method he had heard for this purpose. A boy of great purity and innocence is placed on a young horse, hitherto unridden, and led about the cemetery. The horse will proceed freely until he comes to the grave of the vampire, which he will refuse to cross. This having thus been identified, it can be opened and the body burnt.
Madame Blavatsky, in Isis Unveiled, tells an even profuser tale of the vampire of a governor of a Russian province, which, on the stroke of midnight, crossed a bridge over a river in Russia in a coach and four, the sentries being numbed or paralysed, and fastened itself on the widow, whom it was slowly killing until the corpse was exhumed and burnt, when the widow recovered.
Those who have been to Waterford in Ireland will recollect the little graveyard under the ruined church near Strongbow's tower. Legend has it that underneath there lies a beautiful female vampire, still ready to kill those she can lure thither by her beauty.
A vampire story is also told about an old Cumberland farmhouse, the victim being a girl, whose screams were heard as she was bitten, and who thus escaped with her life. In this case the monster was tracked to a vault in the churchyard, forty or fifty coffins being found open, and their contents mutilated and scattered. But one coffin was untouched, and on the lid being opened, the apparition was recognized, and the body was burnt.
Even for those who are disposed to be credulous in the matter of ghost-stories, the material here is certainly tough. The Abbé Calmet relates that one sign of a vampire was the muddy feet, and found himself terribly puzzled to know how the corpse could leave its grave. No doubt, if all vampires came from vaults like “Dracula" or that in Cumberland, it might be supposed that they knew of some outlet; but most are related to have been placed in coffins buried in the earth in the usual way. Now, a ghost which can pierce the skin and transfuse blood from the body of a victim to its own, must be at least partially materialized; and since by no known process can either a solid body or a fluid pass without alteration through yards of earth and the walls of a coffin, the evil spirit must have the power to materialize above ground and the power to de-materialize and re-materialize its ghastly provender above and below ground respectively. Also, it must be assumed from the beginning that it has power to return to its dead body; that the stolen blood can give it the vitality it desires; and that it deliberately elects to lead this horrible existence, even though it involves the murder of the living.
Turning to those who have entertained such beliefs, it may be remarked that they were held no more incompatible with Christianity than belief in witchcraft (for St. Dunstan remains a saint, though he states that he tweaked the devil's nose; and it is just possible that, in the province of the powers of darkness, St. Dunstan’s testimony may be worth as much as the ignorance of Professors Tyndall and Huxley).
Thus devout Christians have believed in this possibility; and, of course, in modern days the Theosophists accept it without question, identifying the vampire as one who by a wicked life has so become entangled in his lower nature that his immortal soul is lost, and he seeks to postpone his terrible fate of the “second death” in this way.
For those who are not prepared to accept the teachings of Madame Blavatsky and Mr. Leadbeater, very great difficulties remain. Thus, though we no longer bury suicides with a stake through them, not a shred of evidence of vampirism appears to exist to-day; and in addition to suicides, many thousands of people a year die suddenly, by violence or otherwise, and at least some of these must be sunk enough in evil to qualify. Yet no one becomes mysteriously anaemic during the night, with curious little blue punctures near the veins of the neck (in passing, it might have been thought that arterial rather than venous blood would have conferred most vitality)?
Two answers have been given; the first, that the combination of circumstances which creates a vampire have always been rare, and must become rarer, and, secondly, that some occult knowledge of materialization and de-materialization is necessary for the evil spirit, and if this is not acquired during life, it is not likely to be learnt after death. Thus in the days when men tampered with black magic, the possibility existed; but now, in the west of Europe, it has virtually disappeared.
These maybe received for what they are worth; but perhaps the most profitable line the speculation can take will be towards our own extreme ignorance of the great problems of life and death. For example, let a doctor be asked if, when he is watching on a death-bed, he can state the exact moment of death. He may answer that he can; but, probably, the older and more experienced he is, the less confident will be the reply. Again, let the resuscitatation of the apparently drowned be considered: a body which has no breath in it, and all the signs of death, is brought from the water; but, perhaps hours afterwards, by the steady patience of those practising the artificial respiration (and, it may be, the strength of their wills also—we know very little), the life returns, very painfully, and the rescue is complete.
For another research, some of the literature of the “Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial“ might be found suggestive. Tales of catalepsy and stirrings in cofiins being lowered into the ground; tales, even more gruesome, of bodies which have been buried, and have apparently moved in their coffins—stories which, when they come home, seem almost to touch the limits of horror.
But these, it might be argued, record mistakes only, of the burial or attempted burial of those really living. This, however, is mere juggling with words. The point is that the body may be apparently dead, even to a skilled observer (there are many walking about with their own death certificates, signed by a doctor), and yet the soul may return; and it has been said that the only absolute criterion of death is the decomposition of the larger organs—which, of course, would plainly render the body uninhabitable. [A case—authentic or otherwise was recorded in the papers recently of a lady in Paris who became a vampire as the result of being buried alive.]
In the restoration of the apparently drowned the compelling force is known; but is any one wise enough to know with certainty that other and vastly different forces cannot act to the same end? And in particular, artificial breathing is an impulse from this side—but what do our orthodox teachers know, of the forces on the other? Is it so past belief, for example, that the discarnate spirit of a suicide, appalled at the frightful conditions he has created for himself, should seek refuge from them, desperately, by an ineffectual attempt to retrieve his step?
Those who have studied the occult will have less difficulty than others in regarding the body as the clothes or shell, and the soul as the inhabitant—the "dweller in the innermost." Every case of possession may thus be regarded as the ejectment of the rightful owner by an intruder. But whereas for spirits anxious for life in the body it might be next to impossible to seize one occupied by an ordinary and healthy man, an empty tenement would clearly be very different. And if it was only just vacated, its former owner would most easily re-enter it.
But such a tenement would have no life in it; if then it could be vivified by the “blood which is the life” it might just be habitable. There is no magic in transfusion of blood; cases of wounds and accidents where the body has almost been drained of blood and has been restored by transfusion are numerous.
Now, if the possibility of "black magic" is postulated; if an utterly unscrupulous man could learn the secrets of materialization and dematerialization in his lifetime; if he suffered a violent death without mutilation; and if, rather than experience the horrors he had brought upon himself, he preferred a life-in-death in his dead body—all the elements for the vampire legend are completed. The evil spirit could enter its tenement, vacate it by night and roam about, materializing sufficiently for its terrible purpose (the known phenomenon of "repercussion" would, of course, account for the muddy feet of the body), dematerialize itself and its burden to go through the ground, and dwell in the grave during the daytime. Of course, if the body was burnt or the head severed this would be impossible, and thus the explanation suggested above would be consistent with the one underlying feature of every vampire legend—that the living, to rid themselves of the monster attacking them above ground, must disinter and destroy the body buried below.
But with every probability, it is of no importance at all, whether the inhabitants of England or America believe in vampires or not. If their existence was ever possible a combination was required of extraordinary baseness with certain occult powers, and though there might still be men base enough, and others with sufficient knowledge, yet in our own days strong-willed men of utter depravity do not study magic, and those who do so sincerely, though they may have plenty of faults, must have such a genuine desire for knowledge for its own sake that it is to be hoped they would not be sufficiently evil in nature to choose such a course.
But the legend suggests one quality of evil spirits which modern investigators might readily corroborate—their desire for vitality. For this, as they have none or next to none themselves, they must rob the living. And if the dreadful method of the vampire is the most effective, it is not the only way; and the consequences to those who have attended séances without proper precautions, in the loss of vitality, of health, of sanity, sometimes even of life itself are well known. For the lesson of caution in dealing with the supernormal cannot be too often repeated; and if the legend of the vampire helps to point it, it need not be wasted.
And again, in studying the transfer of vitality from one living being to another it is not sufficient to confine the attention to the actual vampire animals. These exist, and are numerous; for in addition to the one noxious species of bat, there are active water-beetles and larvae, and the weasel tribe may be mentioned. But vitality may be transferred consciously or unconsciously, from one human being to another, and probably the process is always going on to a greater or less degree. Old people are said to absorb it from the young, and some people seem to have the special faculty of gathering it in, just as others radiate it. No doubt a healthy person with an abundance would gladly part with some to an invalid wife or child or parent, and it is probable that a strong presence has done good in many a sick chamber; but a voluntary offering is different from robbery by a person with a special faculty for this sort of theft, and if any one continually finds himself or herself languid or enervated after being in a particular presence it may be better to avoid that individual’s society.
If there are good arguments against giving up vital energy to a living being who absorbs it, there are tenfold better against yielding it to a discarnate spirit, and thus those who find themselves utterly wearied and used up after séances should either discontinue their researches or change their circle, and that without delay.
Finally, so far as the dead can injure the living, and wish to do so, modern evidence corroborates the ancient and widely held beliefs of other centuries, both from Christian and non-Christian sources—that those who die violent deaths, and especially suicides, are far more likely to haunt particular places or persons than others, and, if any of the stories of sleepers hurled from their beds and violently beaten are true, are occasionally, capable of real mischief. In these circumstances sometimes a religious ceremony is used (within the last twenty years, to the writer's knowledge, a ghost has been laid by an eminent dignitary of the Church of England) or again the troubled spirit has been able to communicate a particular wish and has disappeared after it has been obeyed.
And thus it is just possible—for those who keep open minds, and who do not believe that the agnostic knows everything (though he seems ready to teach everybody)—to credit priest and peasant in the Middle Ages with a greater knowledge of their own affairs and their own afflictions, and the appropriate remedies, than we ourselves possess in the twentieth century. And in such wise the legend of the vampire may be left to those who care to study it, with the heritage of knowledge that they possess, and the open mind, of which the gift nowadays is perhaps less evident.
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