Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lilith, Demonology and Vampires, article in The Century 1873

Lilith, Demonology and Vampires, article in The Century 1873

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The era of transition from animal to anthropomorphic demons is an era of monsters. The animal superstitions still survived sufficiently to furnish the bestial shapes through which, it was believed, the Archfiend delighted to wreak his malevolence upon the earth. He was accustomed to take possession of human forms, and, worse still, to transform human beings so possessed into wolves, into cats, into vampire bats. It was Europe which chiefly inherited this most revolting phase of demonism. With its Aryan blood came the doctrine of transmigration, with the easy antithesis that if animals could climb into men, men might relapse into animals. But upon this there came an invasion of Semitic religion, which had already a stock of legends establishing a relationship between the human and the diabolical worlds. A characteristic one was the Talmudic legend that Adam's first wife was Lilith, a beautiful woman with a heart of ice. Mr. Rosetti has painted an ideal Lilith, as the type of a beauty whose fascination is fatal. This Lilith, it is said, being too wicked to remain in Eden, was expelled, and Eve put in her place. Lilith then married Satan, and from them sprang all the devils which swarm in earth or air. Some far-off echo of this story seems to be represented in the Icelandic theory of elves. They say that once when Jehovah came to visit Eve he asked to see her children; but Eve had not washed and dressed them neatly, so she said they were all away. Whereupon for not being visible then the children of Eve, with exception of some who had appeared, were condemned to remain invisible, or at least to wander about the earth hiding from sight. Concerning Lilith one myth is told which seems to connect her with that snaky-haired Medusa whose head Perseus brought from Ethiopia. It is said that Lilith's beauty lay chiefly in her red hair; and when they who gazed on her died of the fascination, around each dead heart was found twined a single red hair. It is very likely that those beautiful red tresses have a mythological relation to the serpent-locks of Medusa which Leonardo da Vinci has depicted in his most wonderful work as of dazzling beauty. As Lilith was jealous of Eve, who had superseded her, there was a bitter enmity between her diabolical brood and the children of Eve, and so these devils were supposed to be always trying to take possession of human forms.

BUY - Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural by Howard Schwartz

Superstitions like these were in Europe raised to a fearful potency by their conjunction with the belief in an Archfiend, who, as the Prince of the air, and the Prince of this world, held an empire with which no god could, for the time, cope. In Slavic, Servian, and Polish countries the monstrous out-birth was the vampire. The belief that human beings were sometimes changed into the bats called vampires is found in India, and was also Magian. The word vampire, if with some we see the Greek PUR in it, seems, indeed, to refer us to the fire-born Phoenix. There was also that Arabic belief, which Mahomet rebuked, of the bird which was formed of a drop of blood in a dead man's brain, and revisited his grave every century. These notions seem mingled in the belief that the soul of the dead man returns as a vampire to suck the blood of his wife or friends, for which end he may take the shape of his old self, or even a more captivating one. Russian scholars, however, derive vampire from the Lithuanian wempti, to drink, in which case it would mean a bloodthirsty fiend. Corresponding with the vampire is the superstition known to history as the 'Berserker rage' of Scandinavia. There was in that country the legend of a mythical warrior, the son of an eight-handed chief, whose ferocity was beyond all that was conceivable in human nature. His rage answered instead of armor, whence his name Berserker, bare of armor. Ages after him there sprang up a race of champions who believed themselves, and were popularly believed, to be possessed by demons of ferocity, and they passed through as much of the world as they could, slaughtering all they met and drinking their blood. This, having passed away in its old form, reappeared again in the were-wolf madness. All over the continent, but principally in France, there was witnessed in the 15th and 16th centuries an outbreak of cannibalism, which was believed to occur through men transformed into wolves. Scores of men declared that by putting a wolf-skin belt round their waists they had repeatedly turned themselves into wolves, and were burnt for the same. This wild phantasm came into Europe by Russia and Scandinavia, where stories may still be heard of men in the coldest regions who every Christmas night are howling wolves; and similar superstitions survive in Greece from the story of Lycaon and his companion being changed into wolves,-a fable that reappeared in the Lupercalian festival of Rome, in the vicinity of which young men disguised as wolves pursued country maidens long after the Christian era. It is probable that our word Harlequin has in it the root of LUKOS, a wolf, and that the antics of that masked character of our pantomimes are relics of the ancient Lupercalia. In modern Greece the superstition lingers in a very serious form, the people believing that during the whole Christmas season the country is haunted by a diabolical were-wolf called Kalikantsaros, who meets people and puts a question to them; if they do not answer in a particular way, he falls upon and tears them dreadfully.

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