Friday, September 30, 2016

The Animistic Vampire in New England by George R Stetson 1896


The Animistic Vampire in New England by George R Stetson 1896

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The belief in the vampire and the whole family of demons has its origin in the animism, spiritism, or personification of the barbarian, who, unable to distinguish the objective from the subjective, ascribes good and evil influences and all natural phenomena to good and evil spirits.

Mr Conway remarks of this vampire belief that "it is, perhaps, the most formidable survival of demonic superstition now existing in the world."

Under the names of vampire, were-wolf, man-wolf, nightmare, night-demon—in the Illyrian tongue oupires, or leeches; in modern Greek broucolaques, and in our common tongue ghosts, each country having its own peculiar designation—the superstitious of the ancient and modern world, of Chaldea and Babylonia, Persia, Egypt, and Syria, of Illyria, Poland, Turkey, Servia, Germany, England, Central Africa, New England, and the islands of the Malay and Polynesian archipelagoes, designate the spirits which leave the tomb, generally in the night, to torment the living.

The character, purpose, and manner of the vampire manifestations depend, like its designation, upon environment and the plane of culture.

All primitive peoples have believed in the existence of good and evil spirits holding a middle place between men and gods. Calmet lays down in most explicit terms, as he was bound to do by the canons of his church, the doctrine of angels and demons as a matter of dogmatic theology.

The early Christians were possessed, or obsessed, by demons, and the so-called demoniacal possession of idiots, lunatics, and hysterical persons is still common in Japan, China, India, and Africa, and instances are noted in western Europe, all yielding to the methods of Christian and pagan exorcists as practiced in New Testament times.

The Hebrew synonym of demon was serpent; the Greek, diabolus, a calumniator, or impure spirit. The Rabbins were divided in opinion, some believing they were entirely spiritual, others that they were corporeal, capable of generation and subject to death.

As before suggested, it was the general belief that the vampire is a spirit which leaves its dead body in the grave to visit and torment the living.

The modern Greeks are persuaded that the bodies of the excommunicated do not putrefy in their tombs, but appear in the night as in the day, and that to encounter them is dangerous.

Instances are cited by Calmet, in Christian antiquity, of excommunicated persons visibly arising from their tombs and leaving the churches when the deacon commanded the excommunicated and those who did not partake of the communion to retire. The same writer states that "it was an opinion widely circulated in Germany that certain dead ate in their tombs and devoured all they could find about them, including their own flesh, accompanied by a certain piercing shriek and a sound of munching and groaning."

A German author has thought it worth while to write a work entitled "De Masticatione mortuorum in tumulis." In many parts of England a person who is ill is said to be "wisht" or "overlooked." The superstition of the "evil eye" originated and exists in the same degree of culture; the evil eye "which kills snakes, scares wolves, hatches ostrich eggs, and breeds leprosy." The Polynesians believed that the vampires were the departed souls, which quitted the grave, and grave idols, to creep by night into the houses and devour the heart and entrails of the sleepers, who afterward died.

The Karems tell of the Kephu, which devours the souls of men who die. The Mintira of the Malay peninsula have their water demon, who sucks blood from men's toes and thumbs.

"The first theory of the vampire superstitions," remarks Tylor [Primitive Culture], "is that the soul of the living man, often a sorcerer, leaves its proper body asleep and goes forth, perhaps in the visible form of a straw or fluff of down, slips through the keyhole, and attacks a living victim. Some say these Mauri come by night to men, sit upon their breasts, and suck their blood, while others think children are alone attacked, while to men they are nightmares.

"The second theory is that the soul of a dead man goes out from its buried body and sucks the blood of living men; the victim becomes thin, languid, bloodless, and, falling into a rapid decline, dies."

The belief in the Obi of Jamaica and the Vaudoux or Vodun of the west African coast, Jamaica, and Haiti is essentially the same as that of the vampire, and its worship and superstitions, which in Africa include child-murder, still survive in those parts, as well as in several districts among the negro population of our southern states. The negro laid under the ban of the Obi or who is vaudouxed or, in the vernacular, "hoodooed" slowly pines to death.

In New England the vampire superstition is unknown by its proper name. It is there believed that consumption is not a physical but a spiritual disease, obsession, or visitation; that as long as the body of a dead consumptive relative has blood in its heart it is proof that an occult influence steals from it for death and is at work draining the blood of the living into the heart of the dead and causing his rapid decline.

It is a common belief in primitive races of low culture that disease is caused by the revengeful spirits of man or other animals—notably among some tribes of North American Indians as well as of African negroes.

Russian superstition supposes nine sisters who plague mankind with fever. They lie chained up in caverns, and when let loose pounce upon men without pity.

As in the financial and political, the psychologic world has its periods of exaltation and depression, of ebb and flow, of confidence and alarm. In the eighteenth century a vampire panic beginning in Servia and Hungary spread thence into northern and western Europe, acquiring its new life and impetus from the horrors attending the prevalence of the plague and other distressing epidemics in an age of great public moral depravity and illiteracy. Calmet, a learned Benedictine monk and abbe of Senones, seized this opportunity to write a popular treatise on the vampire, which in a short time passed through many editions. It was my good fortune not long since to find in the Boston Athenaeum library an original copy of his work. Its title-page reads as follows: "Traite sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, etc. Par le R. P. Dom Augustine Calmet, abbe de Senones. Nouvelle edition, revisee, corregie, et augmentie par l'auteur, avec une lettre de Mons le Marquis Maffei, sur la magie. A Paris: Chez debure l'aine quay des Augustins a l'image S. Paul. MDCCLI. Avec approb et priv du roi."

Calmet was born in Lorraine, near Commercy, in 1672, and his chief works were a commentary and history of the Bible. He died as the abbe of Senones, in the department of the Vosges.

This curious treatise has evidently proved a mine of wealth to all modern encyclopedists and demonologists. It impresses one as the work of a man whose mental convictions do not entirely conform to the traditions and dogmas of his church, and his style at times appears somewhat apologetic. Calmet declares his belief to be that the vampires of Europe and the brucolaques of Greece are the excommunicated which the grave rejects. They are the dead of a longer or shorter time who leave their tombs to torment the living, sucking their blood and announcing their appearance by rattling of doors and windows. The name vampire, or d'oupires, signifies in the Slavonic tongue a bloodsucker. He formulates the three theories then existing as to the cause of these appearances:

First: That the persons were buried alive and naturally leave their tombs.

Second: That they are dead, but that by God's permission or particular command they return to their bodies for a time, as when they are exhumed their bodies are found entire, the blood red and fluid, and their members soft and pliable.

Third: That it is the devil who makes these apparitions appear and by their means causes all the evil done to men and animals.

In some places the specter appears as in the flesh, walks, talks, infests villages, ill uses both men and beasts, sucks the blood of their near relations, makes them ill, and finally causes their death.

The late Monsieur de Vassimont, counselor of the chamber of the courts of Bar, was informed by public report in Monravia that it was common enough in that country to see men who had died some time before "present themselves in a party and sit down to table with persons of their acquaintance without saying a word and nodding to one of the party, the one indicated would infallibly die some days after."

About 1735 on the frontier of Hungary a dead person appeared after ten years' burial and caused the death of his father. In 1730 in Turkish Servia it was believed that those who had been passive vampires during life became active after death; in Russia, that the vampire does not stop his unwelcome visits at a single member of a family, but extends his visits to the last member, which is the Rhode Island belief.

The captain of grenadiers in the regiment of Monsieur le Baron Trenck, cited by Calmet, declares "that it is only in their family and among their own relations that the vampires delight in destroying their species."

The inhabitants of the island of Chio do not answer unless called twice, being persuaded that the brucolaques do not call but once, and when so called the vampire disappears, and the person called dies in a few days. The classic writers from Sophocles to Shakespeare and from Shakespeare to our own time have recognized the superstition.

Mr Conway quotes from the legend of Ishtar descending to Hades to seek some beloved one. She threatens if the door be not opened—

"I will raise the dead to be devourers of the living; 
  Upon the living shall the dead prey."

Singularly, in his discourse on modern superstitions De Quincey, to whom crude superstitions clung and who had faith in dreams as portents, does not allude to the vampire; but his contemporary, Lord Byron, in his lines on the opening of the royal tomb at Windsor, recognizes this belief in the transformation of the dead:

 "Justice and death have mixed their dust in vain, 
  Each royal vampire wakes to life again." 

William of Malmsbury says that "in England they believed that the wicked came back after death by the will of the devil;" and it was not an unusual belief that those whose death had been caused in this manner, at their death pursued the same evil calling. Naturally under such an uncomfortable and inconvenient infliction some avenue of escape must, if possible, be found. It was first necessary to locate the vampire. If on opening the grave of a "suspect" the body was found to be of a rose color, the beard, hair, and nails renewed, and the veins filled, the evidence of its being the abode of a vampire was conclusive. A voyager in the Levant in the seventeenth century is quoted as relating that an excommunicated person was exhumed and the body found full, healthy, and well disposed and the veins filled with the blood the vampire had taken from the living. In a certain Turkish village, of forty persons exhumed seventeen gave evidence of vampirism. In Hungary, one dead thirty years was found in a natural state. In 1727 the bodies of five religieuse were discovered in a tomb near the hospital of Quebec, that had been buried twenty years, covered with flesh and suffused with blood.

The methods of relief from or disposition of the vampire's dwelling place are not numerous, but extremely sanguinary and ghastly.

In Servia a relief is found in eating of the earth of his grave and rubbing the person with his blood. This prescription was, however, valueless if after forty days the body was exhumed and all the evidences of an archivampire were not found. A more common and almost universal method of relief, especially in the Turkish provinces and in the Greek islands, was to burn the body and scatter the ashes to the winds. Some old writers are of the opinion that the souls of the dead cannot be quiet until the entire body has been consumed. Exceptions are noted in the Levant, where the body is cut in pieces and boiled in wine, and where, according to Voltaire, the heart is torn out and burned.

In Hungary and Servia, to destroy the demon it was considered necessary to exhume the body, insert in the heart and other parts of the defunct, or pierce it through with a sharp instrument, as in the case of suicides, upon which it utters a dreadful cry, as if alive; it is then decapitated and the body burned. In New England the body is exhumed, the heart burned, and the ashes scattered. The discovery of the vampire's resting-place was itself an art.

In Hungary and in Russia they choose a boy young enough to be certain that he is innocent of any impurity, put him on the back of a horse which has never stumbled and is absolutely black, and make him ride over all the graves in the cemetery. The grave over which the horse refuses to pass is reputed to be that of a vampire."

Gilbert Stuart, the distinguished American painter, when asked by a London friend where he was born, replied: "Six miles from Pottawoone, ten miles from Poppasquash, four miles from Conanicut, and not far from the spot where the famous battle with the warlike Pequots was fought." In plainer language, Stuart was born in the old snuff mill belonging to his father and Dr Moffat, at the head of Petaquamscott pond, six miles from Newport, across the bay, and about the same distance from Narragansett Pier, in the state of Rhode Island.

By some mysterious survival, occult transmission, or remarkable atavism, this region, including within its radius the towns of Exeter, Foster, Kingstown, East Greenwich, and others, with their scattered hamlets and more pretentious villages, is distinguished by the prevalence of this remarkable superstition—a survival of the days of Sardanapalus, of Nebuchadnezzar, and of New Testament history in the closing years of what we are pleased to call the enlightened nineteenth century. It is an extraordinary instance of a barbaric superstition outcropping in and coexisting with a high general culture, of which Max Muller and others have spoken, and which is not so uncommon, if rarely so extremely aggravated, crude, and painful.

The region referred to, where agriculture is in a depressed condition and abandoned farms are numerous, is the tramping-ground of the book agent, the chromo peddler, the patent-medicine man and the home of the erotic and neurotic modern novel. The social isolation away from the larger villages is as complete as a century and a half ago, when the boy Gilbert Stuart tramped the woods, fished the streams, and was developing and absorbing his artistic inspirations, while the agricultural and economic conditions are very much worse.

Farm-houses deserted and ruinous are frequent, and the once productive lands, neglected and overgrown with scrubby oak, speak forcefully and mournfully of the migration of the youthful farmers from country to town. In short, the region furnishes an object-lesson in the decline of wealth consequent upon the prevalence of a too common heresy in the district that land will take care of itself, or that it can be robbed from generation to generation without injury, and suggests the almost criminal neglect of the conservators of public education to give instruction to our farming youth in a more scientific and more practical agriculture. It has been well said by a banker of well known name in an agricultural district in the midlands of England that "the depression of agriculture is a depression of brains." Naturally, in such isolated conditions the superstitions of a much lower culture have maintained their place and are likely to keep it and perpetuate it, despite the church, the public school, and the weekly newspaper. Here Cotton Mather, Justice Sevvall, and the host of medical, clerical, and lay believers in the uncanny superstitions of bygone centuries could still hold high carnival.

The first visit in this farming community of native-born New Englanders was made to_______, a small seashore village possessing a summer hotel and a few cottages of summer residents not far from Newport—that Mecca of wealth, fashion, and nineteenth-century culture. The ______ family is among its well-to-do and most intelligent inhabitants. One member of this family had some years since lost children by consumption, and by common report claimed to have saved those surviving by exhumation and cremation of the dead.

In the same village resides Mr ________, an intelligent man, by trade a mason, who is a living witness of the superstition and of the efficacy of the treatment of the dead which it prescribes. He informed me that he had lost two brothers by consumption. Upon the attack of the second brother his father was advised by Mr______, the head of the family before mentioned, to take up the first body and burn its heart, but the brother attacked objected to the sacrilege and in consequence subsequently died. When he was attacked by the disease in his turn, _______'s advice prevailed, and the body of the brother last dead was accordingly exhumed, and, "living" blood being found in the heart and in circulation, it was cremated, and the sufferer began immediately to mend and stood before me a hale, hearty, and vigorous man of fifty years. When questioned as to his understanding of the miraculous influence, he could suggest nothing and did not recognize the superstition even by name. He remembered that the doctors did not believe in its efficacy, but he and many others did. His father saw the brother's body and the arterial blood. The attitude of several other persons in regard to the practice was agnostic, either from fear of public opinion or other reasons, and their replies to my inquiries were in the same temper of mind as that of the blind man in the Gospel of Saint John (9: 25), who did not dare to express his belief, but "answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not; one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see."

At _______, a small isolated village of scattered houses in a farming population, distant fifteen or twenty miles from Newport and eight or ten from Stuart's birthplace, there have been made within fifty years a half dozen or more exhumations. The most recent was made within two years, in the family of ______. The mother and four children had already succumbed to consumption, and the child most recently deceased (within six months) was, in obedience to the superstition, exhumed and the heart burned. Dr _______, who made the autopsy, stated that he found the body in the usual condition after an interment of that length of time. I learned that others of the family have smce died, and one is now very low with the dreaded disease. The doctor remarked that he had consented to the autopsy only after the pressing solicitation of the surviving children, who were patients of his, the father at first objecting, but finally, under continued pressure, yielding. Dr _____ declares the superstition to be prevalent in all the isolated districts of southern Rhode Island, and that many instances of its survival can be found in the large centers of population. In the village now being considered known exhumations have been made in five families, in the village previously named in three families, and in two adjoining villages in two families. In 1875 an instance was reported in Chicago, and in a New York journal of recent date I read the following: "At Peukuhl, a small village in Prussia, a farmer died last March. Since then one of his sons has been sickly, and believing that the dead man would not rest until he had drawn to himself the nine surviving members of the family, the sickly son, armed with a spade, exhumed his father and cut off his head." It does not by any means absolutely follow that this barbarous superstition has a stronger hold in Rhode Island than in any other part of the country. Peculiar conditions have caused its manifestation and survival there, and similar ones are likely to produce it elsewhere. The singular feature is that it should appear and flourish in a native population which from its infancy has had the ordinary New England educational advantages; in a State having a larger population to the square mile than any in the Union, and in an environment of remarkable literacy and culture when compared with some other sections of the country. It is perhaps fortunate that the isolation of which this is probably the product, an isolation common in sparsely settled regions, where thought stagnates and insanity and superstition are prevalent, has produced nothing worse.


In neighboring Connecticut, within a few miles of its university town of New Haven, there are rural farming populations, fairly prosperous, of average intelligence, and furnished with churches and schools, which have made themselves notorious by murder, suicides, and numerous cases of melancholia and insanity.

Other abundant evidence is at hand pointing to the conclusion that the vampire superstition still retains its hold in its original habitat—an illustration of the remarkable tenacity and continuity of a superstition through centuries of intellectual progress from a lower to a higher culture, and of the impotency of the latter to entirely eradicate from itself the traditional beliefs, customs, habits, observances, and impressions of the former.

It is apparent that our increased and increasing culture, our appreciation of the principles of natural, mental, and moral philosophy and knowledge of natural laws has no complete correlation in the decline of primitive and crude superstitions or increased control of the emotions or the imagination, and that to force a higher culture upon a lower, or to metamorphose or to perfectly control its emotional nature through education of the intellect, is equally impossible. The two cultures may, however, coexist, intermingling and in a limited degree absorbing from and retroacting favorably or unfavorably upon each other—trifling aberrations in the inexorable law which binds each to its own place.

The most enlightened and philosophic have, either apparent or secreted in their inmost consciousness, superstitious weaknesses—negative, involuntary, more or less barbaric, and under greater or lesser control in correspondence with their education, their present environment, and the degree of their development— in the control of the imagination and emotions. These in various degrees predominate over the understanding where reason is silent or its authority weakens.

Sonya Kovalevsky (1850-1890), one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the century, who obtained the Prix-Bordin from the French academy, "the greatest scientific honor ever gained by a woman," "whose love for mathematical and psychological problems amounted to a passion," and whose intellect would accept no proposition incapable of a mathematical demonstration, all her life maintained a firm belief in apparitions and in dreams as portents. She was so influenced by disagreeable dreams and the apparition of a demon as to be for some time thereafter obviously depressed and low-spirited.

A well known and highly cultured American mathematician recently said to me that his servant had seven years ago nailed a horseshoe over a house door, and that he had never had the courage to remove it.

There is in the Chemnitzer-Rocken Philosophic, cited by Grimm, a register of eleven or twelve hundred crude superstitions surviving in highly educated Germany. Buckle declared that "superstition was the curse of Scotland," and in this regard neither Germany nor Scotland are singular.

Of the origin of this superstition in Rhode Island or in other parts of the United States we are ignorant; it is in all probability an exotic like ourselves, originating in the mythographic period of the Aryan and Semitic peoples, although legends and superstitions of a somewhat similar character may be found among the American Indians.

The Ojibwas have, it is said, a legend of the ghostly man-eater. Mr Mooney, in a personal note, says that he has not met with any close parallel of the vampire myth among the tribes with which he is familiar. The Cherokees have, however, something analogous. There are in that tribe quite a number of old witches and wizards who thrive and fatten upon the livers of murdered victims. When some one is dangerously sick these witches gather invisibly about his bedside and torment him, even lifting him up and dashing him down again upon the ground until life is extinct. After he is buried they dig up the body and take out the liver to feast upon. They thus lengthen their own lives by as many days as they have taken from his. In this way they get to be very aged, which renders them objects of suspicion. It is not, therefore, well to grow old among the Cherokees. If discovered and recognized during the feast, when they are again visible, they die within seven days.

I have personal experience of a case in which a reputed medicine-man was left to die alone because his friends were afraid to come into the house on account of the presence of invisible witches.

Jacob Grimm  (Teutonic Mythology) defines superstition as a persistence of individual men in views which the common sense or culture of the majority has caused them to abandon, a definition which, while within its limits sufficiently accurate, does not recognize or take account of the subtile, universal, ineradicable fear of or reverence for the supernatural, the mysterious, and unknown.

De Quincey has more comprehensively remarked that "superstition or sympathy with the invisible is the great test of man's nature as an earthly combining with a celestial. In superstition is the possibility of religion, and though superstition is often injurious, degrading, and demoralizing, it is so, not as a form of corruption or degradation, but as a form of non-development."

In reviewing these cases of psychologic pre-Raphaelitism they seem, from an economic point of view, to form one of the strongest as well as weirdest arguments in favor of a general cremation of the dead that it is possible to present. They also remind us of the boutade of the Saturday Review, "that to be really mediaeval, one should have no body; to be really modern, one should have no soul;" and it will be well to remember that if we do not quite accept these demonic apparitions we shall subject ourselves to the criticism of that modern mystic, Dr Carl du Prel, who thus speaks of those who deny the miraculousness of stigmatization: "For these gentlemen the bounds of possibility coincide with the limits of their niggardly horizon; that which they cannot grasp either does not exist or is only the work of illusion and deception."

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Sado-Masochism and Crime in History by Joseph Richardson Parke 1912


Sado-Masochism and Crime in History by Joseph Richardson Parke 1912

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In attempting to define sadism, Havelock Ellis is led to the conclusion, by others I believe overlooked, that it is not a perversion due to excessive masculinity; a conclusion well corroborated not only by the fact that strong men are more apt to be tender than cruel, and the most cruel men to be feminine in character, but the equally remarkable fact that the skull of De Sade, himself, according to the phrenologist who examined it, was so small and well formed that "one would take it at first for a woman's."

Indeed, the sadistic impulse, in my opinion, is quite as common in women as in men. I had a little daughter, since deceased, who possessed a small Chinese poodle, upon which she lavished the entire wealth of a peculiarly affectionate nature; and whipping that poodle, dashing cold water upon it, and treading upon its tail, were pastimes which not only afforded her the very keenest enjoyment, but were indubitably the concomitants of an equally strong affection, and few parents will be found who have not observed similar manifestations of active cruelty in their children.

That women can be gentle as kittens, or cruel as tigers, is a proverb founded on absolute fact; while it is only necessary to read the literature of Goethe, Heine, Platen, Hamerling, Byron and other authors, to recognize, in the affectionate submission of the heroine to the exactions arid cruelty of a tyrannical lover, that masochistic feeling which is a part of almost very woman's nature.

It is impossible to treat sadism, I repeat, apart from masochism, one being complementary to the other. The former represents the active role of absolute domination, and the latter, as Krafft-Ebing remarks, "a peculiar perversion of the psychical vita sexualis in which the individual affected, in sexual feeling and thought, is controlled by the idea of being completely subject to the will of a person of the opposite sex; and of being treated by this person as by a master, and humiliated and abused."

It was from the peculiar character of the Austrian novelist, Sacher-Masoch, who first discovered his perversion by the pleasure he experienced in being kicked in the face by his mistress, that Krafft-Ebing was led to adopt the term masochism, as the counterpart of sadism; but, as I have previously remarked, a careful consideration of the phenomena of both conditions will lead us to discard even an imaginary line of demarcation. De Sade, himself, was not a pure sadist, any more than SacherMasoch was a pure masochist, the sexual algophily of which Fere speaks being equally applicable in both cases; and the term algolagnia—pain with sexual excitement—which Schrenk-Notzing invented to cover both sadism and masochism, seems fairly adequate to describe both the passive and active forms of the perversion.

I am not sure that I am absolutely correct, indeed, in applying the term abnormal to either of these perversions; the instinct to bite, for instance, in sexual excitement being so universal as to fall readily within the lines of normality; and it is only when we go beyond this, and into the more pronounced forms of instinctive cruelty, that the adopted classification appears justified. The impulse of furibund passion, as manifested in the love-bite, may or may not be to shed blood; if it be the latter, and.not the mere emotional outburst of sexual detumescence, common to all animals, it is a perfectly natural manifestation of the law which makes courtship only a modified form of combat, of which blood is the natural concomitant. Thus, the heroes of De Sade's novels plan scenes of debauchery in which the shedding of blood is a necessary element of the fullest sexual enjoyment; and with the Hungarian, Countess Bathory, and Marshall Gilles de Rais, we find lust only satisfied with the death of innumerable victims.


The intimate relation between whipping and sexual passion has already been noticed. Cases were cited in which castigation was the only means of producing tumescence in certain persons, and Carnevin corroborates the same fact in reference to animals, in his case of a Hungarian stallion in which application of the whip had always to be resorted to to produce erection. Notwithstanding Fere's attempt to associate this phenomenon with the tonic effect of pain on the nerves, I am of opinion that we must seek its explanation rather in psychic causes; in the same influence, for instance, which arouses fear and anger, both of which, being fundamental to courtship and rivalry, may very well enter even more largely into the stronger passion.

Indeed, many lines of evidence directly lead to such a conclusion. The whipping of one boy has frequently been known to excite the sexual passions of another; the phenomenon being one of such general observation among school-teachers as to constitute their strongest argument against correctional castigation in educational institutions. Rousseau gives us an account of the development of his own masochistic tendency, from witnessing the punishment of children; and in the sadistic cases recorded by Regis and Krafft-Ebing, similar causative factors are observed.

The latter writer tells of a neurasthenic girl who derived the greatest pleasure from being spanked by her father, and whose subsequent longing was "to be the slave of a man, lying in fancy before him, he putting one foot upon my neck, while I kiss the other."

Anthropology tells us that there was a time when women were only won by blows, force and robbery; and it is quite possible that the relation between love and pain is, to some extent at least, as asserted by Schafer, atavistic. The pleasure, indeed necessity, of battle, murder and rape, in the animal world, makes it extremely probablethat sadistic outbreaks such as the terrible Whitechapel outrages, Lombroso's case of the man, Philippe, who, arrested for strangling prostitutes, after intercourse with them, said, "I am fond of women, but it's sport to choke them afterwards, and many others, of similar character, are only lingering remnants of a primitive law. However that be, there is scarcely a doubt that many, if not all, of the modern lust-murders of children are of sadic origin.

The Menesclou case is fairly typical of these. "Menesclou was arrested on a charge of abducting a four-year-old girl from her parents' residence; and, when taken into custody, the forearm of the child was found in his pocket. The head and entrails, in a half-burned condition, were discovered in the stove, but the genitals of the girl could not be found, being probably secreted and used by him for sexual purposes." "These circumstances, as well as the finding of a lewd poem in his pocket, left no doubt that he had violated the child, and then murdered her."

Another, that of the clerk Alton, is distinctly sadistic. He was a professed violator and murderer of little girls, luring them into thickets, and vacant buildings; and, on his arrest, entries like the following were found in his note-book: "Killed a young girl today; it was fine and hot.'" "Jack the Ripper," of Whitechapel fame; Holmes, who was executed in Philadelphia in 1896, convicted of the murder of nearly twenty women, and Johann Hoch, the Chicago Bluebeard, hanged in Feb., 1906, for more than an equal number of female murders, furnish remarkable instances of the same sexual perversion.

The confession of the pellagrous vampire, Verzeni, is interesting as affording an example of sadistic anthropopagy. "I had an unspeakable delight in strangling women," he remarks, "experiencing during the act erections, and intense sexual pleasure. It was a pleasure even to smell female clothing. The feeling of pleasure while strangling them was much greater than that which I felt when masturbating. I took great delight in drinking their blood, and in pulling the pins out of the hair of my victims. My mother first came to suspect me from noticing the spots of semen on my shirt, after each murder. I never touched the genitals of the women. It satisfied me sexually to fust seize them by the neck and suck their blood. During the strangling, I pressed myself against the entire body, but did not think of one part more than another."

He further states that he came to his perverse condition entirely independently of outside influences, his first experience of sexual pleasure coming from the wringing of chickens' necks.

That active sexuality is not at the bottom of all outrages, however, is well shown by the case of the Spaniard, Gruyo, who, while physically impotent, still continued his horrible deeds, strangling no fewer than six women in ten years. He covered his tracks with such care that, for the above period, he remained undetected, choking his victims, who were usually prostitutes, and tearing out their kidneys and intestines through the vagina.

Tarnowsky tells of a physician who, while ordinarily capable of normal intercourse, found that, when excited with wine, he was compelled to prick the woman's buttocks, and see blood, before he could have ejaculation, or obtain satiety of his lust; and Demme records the case of a man who was led from masturbation by, and sodomy upon, little girls, to lust-murder by the haunting thought of how pleasant it would be to stab a young and pretty girl in the region of the genitals, while having intercourse with her, and see the blood running from the knife. [This recalls the mythological legend of the vampires, originating, possibly, among the Greeks, in the myth of the laminae and marmolykes, blood-sucking women and men, a full account of which may be found in Tylor's "Prim. Cult.," 1893, Ch. xv. Goethe also makes use of it in his "Bride of Corinth," and there is little doubt, in my mind at least, that the origin of such outre fictional characters as Bram Stoker's Dracula, and the Slavonic and Albanian beliefs so gravely set forth in Ranft's "De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis," and Calmet's "Dissertation on the Vampires of Hungary," is to be found in the nocturnal depredations of sexual sadists, whose abnormality escaped detection through the fact that it was not then recognized or known.]

That sadism is not infrequent in women is also shown by Case 42, of Krafft-Ebing. "A married man presented himself with numerous cuts and scars on the arms. He told their origin as follows: When
he wished to have intercourse with his wife, who was young and nervous, he first had to make a cut in his arm. Then she would suck the wound, and during the act become violently excited sexually."

History is full of further instances of sadistic instinct in the sex, of which possibly Valeria Messalina and Catherine di Medici are the most noted; the latter, along with being the secret instigator of the awful St. Bartholomew Massacre, finding great pleasure, we are told, in having the ladies of her court whipped before her.



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Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Werwolf, article in The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911


The Werwolf, article in The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences 1911

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WERWOLF (from A.S. wer; cf. Lat. vir, man; and wolf; or, according to a later suggestion, from O.H.G. weri, wear, i.e. wearer of the wolf-skin), a man transformed temporarily or permanently into a wolf. The belief in the possibility of such a change is a special phase of the general doctrine of lycanthropy. In the European history of this singular belief, wolf transformations appear as by far the most prominent and most frequently recurring instances of alleged metamorphosis, and consequently in most European languages the terms expressive of the belief have a special reference to the wolf. Examples of this are found in the Gr. Lukanthropos, Russian volkodlák, Eng. “werwolf,” Ger. wahrwolf, Fr loup-garou. More general terms (e.g. Lat., versipellis; Russ., oboroten; O. Norse, hamrammr, Eng. “turnskin,” “turncoat") are sufficiently numerous to furnish some evidence that the class of animals into which metamorphosis was possible was not viewed as a restricted one. But throughout the greater part of Europe the werwolf is preferred; there are old traditions of his existence in England, in Wales and in Ireland; in southern France, Germany, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Servia, Bohemia, Poland and Russia he can hardly be pronounced extinct now; in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland the bear competes with the wolf for preeminence.

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In Greek mythology the story of Lycaon supplies the most familiar instance of the werwolf. According to one form of it Lycaon was transformed into a wolf as a result of eating human flesh; one of those who were present at periodical sacrifice on Mount Lycaon was said to suffer a similar fate. Pliny, quoting Euanthes, tells us (Hist. Nat. viii. 22) that a man of the family of Antaeus was selected by lot and brought to a lake in Arcadia, where he hung his clothing on an ash and swam across. This resulted in his being transformed into a wolf, and he wandered in this shape nine years. Then, if he had attacked no human being, he was at liberty to swim back and resume his former shape. Probably the two stories are identical, though we hear nothing of participation in the Lycaean sacrifice by the descendant of Antaeus. Herodotus (iv. 105) tells us that the Neuri, a tribe of eastern Europe, were annually transformed for a few days, and Virgil (Ecl. viii. 98) is familiar with transformation of human beings into wolves.

There are women, so the Armenian belief runs, who in consequence of deadly sins are condemned to pass seven years in the form of a wolf. A spirit comes to such a woman and brings her a wolf's skin. He orders her to put it on, and no sooner has she done this than the most frightful wolfish cravings make their appearance and soon get the upper hand. Her better nature conquered, she makes a meal of her own children, one by one, then of her relatives’ children according to the degree of relationship, and finally the children of strangers begin to fall a prey to her. She wanders forth only at night, and doors and locks spring open at her approach. When morning draws near she returns to human form and removes her wolf skin. In these cases the transformation was involuntary or virtually so. But side by side with this belief in involuntary metamorphosis, we find the belief that human beings can change themselves into animals at will and then resume their own form.


The expedients supposed to be adopted for effecting change of shape may here be noticed. One of the simplest apparently was the removal of clothing, and in particular of a girdle of human skin, or the putting on of such a girdle-more commonly the putting on of a girdle of the skin of the animal whose form was to be assumed. This last device is doubtless a substitute for the assumption of an entire animal skin, which also is frequently found. In other cases the body is rubbed with a magic salve. To drink water out of the footprint of the animal in question, to partake of its brains, to drink of certain enchanted streams, were also considered effectual modes of accomplishing metamorphosis. Olaus Magnus says that the Livonian werwolves were initiated by draining a cup of beer specially prepared, and repeating a set formula. Ralston in his Songs of the Russian People gives the form of incantation still familiar in Russia. Various expedients also existed for removing the beast-shape. The simplest was the act of the enchanter (operating either on himself or on a victim); another was the removal of the animal girdle. To kneel in one spot for a hundred years, to be reproached with being a werwolf, to be saluted with the sign of the cross, or addressed thrice by baptismal name, to be struck three blows on the forehead with a knife, or to have at least three drops of blood drawn were also effectual cures. In other cases the transformation was supposed to be accomplished by Satanic agency voluntarily submitted to, and that for the most loathsome ends, in particular for the gratification of a craving for human flesh. “The werwolves,” writes Richard Verstegan (Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, 1628), “are certayne sorcerers, who having annoynted their bodies with an oyntment which they make by the instinct of the devill, and putting on a certayne inchaunted girdle, doe not onely unto the view of others seeme as wolves, but to their owne thinking have both the shape and nature of wolves, so long as they weare the said girdle. And they do dispose themselves as very wolves, in wourrying and killing, and most of humane creatures.” Such were the views about lycanthropy current throughout the continent of Europe when Vertegan wrote. France in particular seems to have been infested with werwolves during the 16th century, and the consequent trials were very numerous. In some of the cases— e.g. those of the Gandillon family in the Jura, the tailor of Châlons and Roulet in Angers, all occurring in the year 1598, -there was clear evidence against the accused of murder and cannibalism, but none of association with wolves; in other cases, as that of Gilles Garnier in Döle in 1573, there was clear evidence against some wolf, but none against the accused; in all the cases, with hardly an exception, there was that extraordinary readiness in the accused to confess and even to give circumstantial details of the metamorphosis, which is one of the most inexplicable concomitants of medieval witchcraft. Yet, while this lycanthropy fever, both of suspectors and of suspected, was at its height, it was decided in the case of Jean Grenier at Bordeaux, in 1603, that lycanthropy was nothing more than an insane delusion. From this time the loup-garou gradually ceased to be regarded as a dangerous heretic, and fell back into his pre-Christianic position of being simply a “man-wolf-fiend,” as which he still survives among the French peasantry. In Prussia, Livonia and Lithuania, according to the bishops Claus Magnus and Majolus, the werwolves were in the 16th century far more destructive than “true and natural wolves,” and their heterodoxy appears from the assertion that they formed “an accursed college” of those “desirous of innovations contrary to the divine law.” In England, however, where at the beginning of the 17th century the punishment of witchcraft was still zealously prosecuted by James I., the wolf had been so long extinct that that pious monarch was himself able (Demonologie, lib. iii.) to regard “warwoolfes” as victims of delusion induced by “a naturall superabundance of melancholie.” Only small creatures, such as the cat, the hare and the weasel, remained for the malignant sorcerer to transform himself into; but he was firmly believed to avail himself of these agencies. Belief in witch-animals still survives among the uneducated classes in parts of the United Kingdom.


The werwolves of the Christian dispensation were not, however, all heretics, all viciously disposed towards mankind. “According to Baronius, in the year 617, a number of wolves presented themselves at a monastery, and tore in pieces several friars who entertained heretical opinions. The wolves sent by God tore the sacrilegious thieves of the army of Francesco Maria, duke of Urbino, who had come to sack the treasure of the holy house of Loreto. A wolf guarded and defended from the wild beasts the head of St Edmund the martyr, king of England. St Oddo, abbot of Cluny, assailed in a pilgrimage by foxes, was delivered and escorted by a wolf” (A. de Gubernatis, Zoological Mythology, 1872, vol. ii. p. 145). Many of the werwolves were most innocent and God-fearing persons, who suffered through the witchcraft of others, or simply from an unhappy fate, and who as wolves behaved in a truly touching fashion, fawning upon and protecting their benefactors. Of this sort were the “Bisclaveret” in Marie de France's poem (c. 1200), the hero of “William and the Were-wolf” (translated from French into English about 1350), and the numerous princes and princesses, knights and ladies, who appear temporarily in beast form in the Märchen of the Aryan nations generally. Nay, the power of transforming others into wild beasts was attributed not only to malignant sorcerers, but also to Christian saints. “Omnes angeli, boni et mali, ex virtute naturalihabent potestatem transmutandi corpora nostra,” was the dictum of St Thomas Aquinas. St Patrick transformed Vereticus, king of Wales, into a wolf; and St Natalis cursed an illustrious Irish family, with the result that each member of it was doomed to be a wolf for seven years. In other tales the divine agency is still more direct, while in Russia, again, men are supposed to become werwolves through incurring the wrath of the devil.

Romantic Mythology and Literature by W.P. Ker


Romantic Mythology and Literature by W.P. Ker

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Between the dramatic qualities of epic poetry and the myths and fancies of popular tradition there must inevitably be a conflict and a discrepancy. The greatest scenes of the Iliad and the Odyssey have little to do with myth. Where the characters are most vividly realised there is no room for the lighter kinds of fable; the epic "machines" are superfluous. Where all the character of Achilles is displayed in the interview with Priam, all his generosity, all his passion and unreason, the imagination refuses to be led away by anything else from looking on and listening. The presence of Hermes, Priam's guide, is forgotten. Olympus cannot stand against the spell of words like those of Priam and Achilles; it vanishes like a parched scroll. In the great scene in the other poem where the disguised Odysseus talks with Penelope, but will not make himself known to her for fear of spoiling his plot, there is just as little opportunity for any intervention of the Olympians. "Odysseus pitied his wife as she wept, but his eyes were firm as horn or steel, unwavering in his eyelids, and with art he concealed his tears."

In passages like these the epic poet gets clear away from the cumbrous inheritance of traditional fancies and stories. In other places he is inevitably less strong and self-sustained; he has to speak of the gods of the nation, or to work into his large composition some popular and improbable histories. The result in Homer is something like the result in Shakespeare, when he has a more than usually childish or old-fashioned fable to work upon. A story like that of the Three Caskets or the Pound of Flesh is perfectly consistent with itself in its original popular form. It is inconsistent with the form of elaborate drama, and with the lives of people who have souls of their own, like Portia or Shylock. Hence in the drama which uses the popular story as its ground-plan, the story is never entirely reduced into conformity with the spirit of the chief characters. The caskets and the pound of flesh, in despite of all the author's pains with them, are imperfectly harmonised; the primitive and barbarous imagination in them retains an inconvenient power of asserting its discordance with the principal parts of the drama. Their unreason is of no great consequence, yet it is something; it is not quite kept out of sight.

The epic poet, at an earlier stage of literature than Shakespeare, is even more exposed to this difficulty. Shakespeare was free to take his plots where he chose, and took these old wives' tales at his own risk. The epic poet has matter of this sort forced upon him. In his treatment of it, it will be found that ingenuity does not fail him, and that the transition from the unreasonable or old-fashioned part of his work to the modern and dramatic part is cunningly worked out. "He gets over the unreason by the grace and skill of his handling," says Aristotle of a critical point in the "machinery" of the Odyssey, where Odysseus is carried ashore on Ithaca in his sleep. There is a continual play in the Iliad and Odyssey between the wonders of mythology and the spirit of the drama. In this, as in other things, the Homeric poems observe the mean: the extremes may be found in the heroic literature of other nations; the extreme of marvellous fable in the old Irish heroic legends, for example; the extreme of plainness and "soothfastness" in the old English lay of Maldon. In some medieval compositions, as in Huon of Bordeaux, the two extremes are brought together clumsily and without harmony. In other medieval works again it is possible to find something like the Homeric proportion—the drama of strong characters, taking up and transforming the fanciful products of an earlier world, the inventions of minds not deeply or especially interested in character.


The defining and shaping of myths in epic poetry is a process that cannot go on in a wholly simple and unreflecting society. On the contrary, this process means that the earlier stages of religious legend have been succeeded by a time of criticism and selection. It is hard on the old stories of the gods when men come to appreciate the characters of Achilles and Odysseus. The old stories are not all of equal value and authority; they cannot all be made to fit in with the human story; they have to be tested, and some have to be rejected as inconvenient. The character of the gods is modified under the influence of the chief actors in the drama. Agamemnon, Diomede, Odysseus, Ajax, and Achilles set the standard by which the gods are judged. The Homeric view of the gods is already more than half-way to the view of a modern poet. The gods lose their old tyranny and their right to the steam of sacrifice as they gain their new poetical empire, from which they need not fear to be banished; not, at any rate, for any theological reasons.

In Shakespearean drama, where each man is himself, with his own character and his own fortune to make, there is small scope for any obvious Divine interposition in the scene. The story of human actions and characters, the more fully it is developed, leaves the less opportunity for the gods to interfere in it. Something of this sort was felt by certain medieval historians; they found it necessary to begin with an apologetic preface explaining the long-suffering of God, who has given freedom to the will of man to do good or evil. It was felt to be on the verge of impiety to think of men as left to themselves and doing what they pleased. Those who listen to a story might be tempted to think of the people in it as self-sufficient and independent powers, trespassing on the domain of Providence. A pious exculpation was required to clear the author of blame.

In the Iliad this scrupulous conscience has less need to deliver itself. The gods are not far away; the heroes are not left alone. But the poet has already done much to reduce the immediate power of the gods, not by excluding them from the action, certainly, nor by any attenuation of their characters into allegory, but by magnifying and developing the characters of men. In many occasional references it would seem that an approach was being made to that condition of mind, at ease concerning the gods, so common in the North, in Norway and Iceland, in the last days of heathendom. There is the great speech of Hector to Polydamas—"we defy augury"—there is the speech of Apollo himself to Aeneas about those who stand up for their own side, putting trust in their own strength. But passages like these do not touch closely on the relations of gods and men as they are depicted in the story. As so depicted, the gods are not shadowy or feeble abstractions and personifications; yet they are not of the first value to the poem, they do not set the tone of it.

They are subsidiary, like some other of the most beautiful things in the poem; like the similes of clouds and winds, like the pictures on the Shield. They are there because the whole world is included in epic poetry; the heroes, strong in themselves as they could be if they were left alone in the common day, acquire an additional strength and beauty from their fellowship with the gods. Achilles talking with the Embassy is great; he is great in another way when he stands at the trench with the flame of Athena on his head. These two scenes belong to two different kinds of imagination. It is because the first is there that the second takes effect. It is the hero that gives meaning and glory to the light of the goddess. It is of some importance that it is Achilles, and not another, that here is crowned with the light of heaven and made terrible to his enemies.

There is a double way of escape for young nations from their outgrown fables and mythologies. They start with enormous, monstrous, and inhuman beliefs and stories. Either they may work their way out of them, by gradual rejection of the grosser ingredients, to something more or less positive and rational; or else they may take up the myths and transmute them into poetry.

The two processes are not independent of one another. Both are found together in the greater artists of early times, in Homer most notably; and also in artists less than Homer; in the poem of Beowulf, in the stories of Sigfred and Brynhild.

There are further, under the second mode, two chief ways of operation by which the fables of the gods may be brought into poetry.

It is possible to take them in a light-hearted way and weave them into poetical stories, without much substance or solemnity; enhancing the beauty that may be inherent in any part of the national legend, and either rejecting the scandalous chronicle of Olympus or Asgard altogether, or giving it over to the comic graces of levity and irony, as in the Phaeacian story of Ares and Aphrodite, wherein the Phaeacian poet digressed from his tales of war in the spirit of Ariosto, and with an equally accomplished and elusive defiance of censure.

There is another way in which poetry may find room for fable.

It may treat the myths of the gods as material for the religious or the ethical imagination, and out of them create ideal characters, analogous in poetry to the ideal divine or heroic figures of painting and sculpture. This is the kind of imagination in virtue of which modern poets are best able to appropriate the classical mythology; but this modern imagination is already familiar to Homer, and that not only in direct description, as in the description of the majesty of Zeus, but also, more subtly, in passages where the character of the divinity is suggested by comparison with one of the human personages, as when Nausicaa is compared to Artemis, a comparison that redounds not less to the honour of the goddess than of Nausicaa.

In Icelandic literature there are many instances of the trouble arising from inconsiderate stories of the gods, in the minds of people who had got beyond the more barbarous kind of mythology. They took the boldest and most conclusive way out of the difficulty; they made the barbarous stories into comedy. The Lokasenna, a poem whose author has been called the Aristophanes of the Western Islands, is a dramatic piece in which Loki, the Northern Satan, appearing in the house of the gods, is allowed to bring his railing accusations against them and remind them of their doings in the "old days." One of his victims tells him to "let bygones be bygones." The gods are the subject of many stories that are here raked up against them, stories of another order of belief and of civilisation than those in which Odin appears as the wise and sleepless counsellor. This poem implies a great amount of independence in the author of it. It is not a satire on the gods; it is pure comedy; that is, it belongs to a type of literature which has risen above prejudices and which has an air of levity because it is pure sport—or pure art—and therefore is freed from bondage to the matter which it handles. This kind of invention is one that tests the wit of its audience. A serious-minded heathen of an older school would no doubt have been shocked by the levity of the author's manner. Not much otherwise would the poem have affected a serious adversary of heathendom, or any one whose education had been entirely outside of the circle of heathen or mythological tradition. An Englishman of the tenth century, familiar with the heroic poetry of his own tongue, would have thought it indecent. If chance had brought such an one to hear this Lokasenna recited at some entertainment in a great house of the Western Islands, he might very well have conceived the same opinion of his company and their tastes in literature as is ascribed by Bossu to Ulysses among the Phaeacians.

This genius for comedy is shown in other Icelandic poems. As soon as the monstrosities of the old traditions were felt to be monstrous, they were overcome (as Mr. Carlyle has shown) by an appreciation of the fun of them, and so they ceased to be burdensome. It is something of this sort that has preserved old myths, for amusement, in popular tales all over the world. The Icelandic poets went further, however, than most people in their elaborate artistic treatment of their myths. There is with them more art and more self-consciousness, and they give a satisfactory and final poetical shape to these things, extracting pure comedy from them.

The perfection of this ironical method is to be found in the Edda, a handbook of the Art of Poetry, written in the thirteenth century by a man of liberal genius, for whom the Æsir were friends of the imagination, without any prejudice to the claims of the Church or of his religion. In the view of Snorri Sturluson, the old gods are exempt from any touch of controversy. Belief has nothing to do with them; they are free. It may be remembered that some of the greatest English writers of the seventeenth century have come short of this security of view, and have not scrupled to repeat the calumny of the missionaries and the disputants against the ancient gods, that Jupiter and Apollo were angels of the bottomless pit, given over to their own devices for a season, and masking as Olympians.

In this freedom from embarrassing and irrelevant considerations in dealing with myth, the author of the Edda follows in his prose the spirit of mythological poems three centuries older, in which, even before the change of faith in the North, the gods were welcomed without fear as sharing in many humorous adventures.

And at the same time, along with this detached and ironical way of thinking there is to be found in the Northern poetry the other, more reverent mode of shaping the inherited fancies; the mode of Pindar, rejecting the vain things fabled about the gods, and holding fast to the more honourable things. The humours of Thor in the fishing for the serpent and the winning of the hammer may be fairly likened to the humours of Hermes in the Greek hymn. The Lokasenna has some likeness to the Homeric description of the brawls in heaven. But in the poems that refer to the death of Balder and the sorrow of the gods there is another tone; and the greatest of them all, the Sibyl's Prophecy, is comparable, not indeed in volume of sound, but in loftiness of imagination, to the poems in which Pindar has taken up the myths of most inexhaustible value and significance—the Happy Islands, the Birth of Athena.

The poet who lives in anything like an heroic or Homeric age has it in his power to mingle the elements of mythology and of human story—Phaeacia and Ithaca—in any proportion he pleases. As a matter of fact, all varieties of proportion are to be found in medieval documents. At the one extreme is the mythological romance and fantasy of Celtic epic, and at the other extreme the plain narrative of human encounters, in the old English battle poetry or the Icelandic family histories. As far as one can judge from the extant poems, the old English and old German poetry did not make such brilliant romance out of mythological legend as was produced by the Northern poets. These alone, and not the poets of England or Saxony, seem to have appropriated for literature, in an Homeric way, the histories of the gods. Myth is not wanting in old English or German poetry, but it does not show itself in the same clear and delightful manner as in the Northern poems of Thor, or in the wooing of Frey.

Thus in different places there are different modes in which an inheritance of mythical ideas may be appreciated and used. It may become a treasury for self-possessed and sure-handed artists, as in Greece, and so be preserved long after it has ceased to be adequate to all the intellectual desires. It may, by the fascination of its wealth, detain the minds of poets in its enchanted ground, and prevent them from ever working their way through from myth to dramatic imagination, as in Ireland.

The early literature, and therewith the intellectual character and aptitudes, of a nation may be judged by their literary use of mythology. They may neglect it, like the Romans; they may neglect all things for the sake of it, like the Celts; they may harmonise it, as the Greeks did, in a system of imaginative creations where the harmony is such that myth need never be felt as an encumbrance or an absurdity, however high or far the reason may go beyond it in any direction of art or science.

At the beginning of modern literature there are to be found the attempts of Irish and Welsh, of English and Germans, Danes and Northmen, to give shape to myth, and make it available for literature. Together with that, and as part of the same process, there is found the beginning of historical literature in an heroic or epic form. The results are various; but one thing may be taken as certain, that progress in literature is most assured when the mythology is so far under control as to leave room for the drama of epic characters; for epic, as distinguished from romance.

Now the fortunes of these people were such as to make this self-command exceedingly difficult for them, and to let in an enormous extraneous force, encouraging the native mythopoetic tendencies, and unfavourable to the growth of epic. They had to come to an understanding with themselves about their own heathen traditions, to bring the extravagances of them into some order, so as to let the epic heroes have free play. But they were not left to themselves in this labour of bringing mythology within bounds; even before they had fairly escaped from barbarism, before they had made a fair beginning of civilisation and of reflective literature on their own account, they were drawn within the Empire, into Christendom. Before their imaginations had fully wakened out of the primeval dream, the cosmogonies and theogonies, gross and monstrous, of their national infancy, they were asked to have an opinion about the classical mythology, as represented by the Latin poets; they were made acquainted with the miracles of the lives of saints.

More than all this, even, their minds were charmed away from the labour of epic invention, by the spell of the preacher. The task of representing characters—Waldere or Theodoric or Attila—was forgotten in the lyrical rapture of devotion, in effusion of pathos. The fascination of religious symbolism crept over minds that had hardly yet begun to see and understand things as they are; and in all their reading the "moral," "anagogical," and "tropological" significations prevailed against the literal sense.

One part of medieval history is concerned with the progress of the Teutonic nations, in so far as they were left to themselves, and in so far as their civilisation is home-made. The Germania of Tacitus, for instance, is used by historians to interpret the later development of Teutonic institutions. But this inquiry involves a good deal of abstraction and an artificial limitation of view. In reality, the people of Germania were never left to themselves at all, were never beyond the influence of Southern ideas; and the history of the influence of Southern ideas on the Northern races takes up a larger field than the isolated history of the North. Nothing in the world is more fantastic. The logic of Aristotle and the art of Virgil are recommended to people whose chief men, barons and earls, are commonly in their tastes and acquirements not very different from the suitors in the Odyssey. Gentlemen much interested in raids and forays, and the profits of such business, are confronted with a literature into which the labours of all past centuries have been distilled. In a society that in its native elements is closely analogous to Homer's Achaeans, men are found engaged in the study of Boethius On the Consolation of Philosophy, a book that sums up the whole course of Greek philosophical speculation. Ulysses quoting Aristotle is an anachronism; but King Alfred's translation of Boethius is almost as much of a paradox. It is not easy to remain unmoved at the thought of the medieval industry bestowed on authors like Martianus Capella de Nuptiis Philologiae, or Macrobius de Somnio Scipionis. What is to be said of the solemnity with which, in their pursuit of authoritative doctrine, they applied themselves to extract the spiritual meaning of Ovid's Metamorphoses, and appropriate the didactic system of the Art of Love?

In medieval literature, whatever there is of the Homeric kind has an utterly different relation to popular standards of appreciation from that of the Homeric poems in Greece. Here and there some care may be taken, as by Charlemagne and Alfred, to preserve the national heroic poetry. But such regard for it is rare; and even where it is found, it comes far short of the honour paid to Homer by Alexander. English Epic is not first, but one of the least, among the intellectual and literary interests of King Alfred. Heroic literature is only one thread in the weft of medieval literature.

There are some curious documents illustrative of its comparative value, and of the variety and complexity of medieval literature.

Hauk Erlendsson, an Icelander of distinction in the fourteenth century, made a collection of treatises in one volume for his own amusement and behoof. It contains the Volospá, the most famous of all the Northern mythical poems, the Sibyl's song of the doom of the gods; it contains also the Landnámabók, the history of the colonisation of Iceland; Kristni Saga, the history of the conversion to Christianity; the history of Eric the Red, and Fóstbræðra Saga, the story of the two sworn brethren, Thorgeir and Thormod the poet. Besides these records of the history and the family traditions of Iceland and Greenland, there are some mythical stories of later date, dealing with old mythical themes, such as the life of Ragnar Lodbrok. In one of them, the Heidreks Saga, are embedded some of the most memorable verses, after Volospá, in the old style of Northern poetry—the poem of the Waking of Angantyr. The other contents of the book are as follows: geographical, physical, and theological pieces; extracts from St. Augustine; the History of the Cross; the Description of Jerusalem; the Debate of Body and Soul; Algorismus (by Hauk himself, who was an arithmetician); a version of the Brut and of Merlin's Prophecy; Lucidarium, the most popular medieval handbook of popular science. This is the collection, to which all the ends of the earth have contributed, and it is in strange and far-fetched company like this that the Northern documents are found. In Greece, whatever early transactions there may have been with the wisdom of Egypt or Phoenicia, there is no such medley as this.

Another illustration of the literary chaos is presented, even more vividly than in the contents of Hauk's book, by the whalebone casket in the British Museum. Weland the smith (whom Alfred introduced into his Boethius) is here put side by side with the Adoration of the Magi; on another side are Romulus and Remus; on another, Titus at Jerusalem; on the lid of the casket is the defence of a house by one who is shooting arrows at his assailants; his name is written over him, and his name is Ægili,—Egil the master-bowman, as Weland is the master-smith, of the Northern mythology. Round the two companion pictures, Weland on the left and the Three Kings on the right, side by side, there go wandering runes, with some old English verses about the "whale," or walrus, from which the ivory for these engravings was obtained. The artist plainly had no more suspicion than the author of Lycidas that there was anything incorrect or unnatural in his combinations. It is under these conditions that the heroic poetry of Germania has been preserved; never as anything more than an accident among an infinity of miscellaneous notions, the ruins of ancient empires, out of which the commonplaces of European literature and popular philosophy have been gradually collected.

The fate of epic poetry was the same as that of the primitive German forms of society. In both there was a progress towards independent perfection, an evolution of the possibilities inherent in them, independent of foreign influences. But both in Teutonic society, and in the poetry belonging to it and reflecting it, this independent course of life is thwarted and interfered with. Instead of independent strong Teutonic national powers, there are the more or less Romanised and blended nationalities possessing the lands that had been conquered by Goths and Burgundians, Lombards and Franks; instead of Germania, the Holy Roman Empire; instead of Epic, Romance; not the old-fashioned romance of native mythology, not the natural spontaneous romance of the Irish legends or the Icelandic stories of gods and giants, but the composite far-fetched romance of the age of chivalry, imported from all countries and literatures to satisfy the medieval appetite for novel and wonderful things.

Nevertheless, the stronger kind of poetry had still something to show, before all things were overgrown with imported legend, and before the strong enunciation of the older manner was put out of fashion by the medieval clerks and rhetoricians.

The Vampire, article in The International Cyclopædia 1895


The Vampire, article in The International Cyclopædia: A Compendium of Human Knowledge 1895 - Visit my Supernatural blog at http://thedamnedthing.blogspot.com/

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VAMPIRE (Ger. vampyr), called also by the Servians vukodlak, and by the Wallachians murony, is, according to the popular belief of the Slavonic, Romanic, and Greek population of the Lower Danube and the Thessalian peninsula, a blood-sucking ghost. In the mythology of the ancient Greeks, beings of a similar nature existed—the Lamias, beautiful phantom women who, by all sorts of voluptuous delusions, allured youths to them in order to feast on their fresh, young, and pure blood and flesh. And among the Greek Christians there is a belief that the bodies of those who have died in excommunication are kept by the devil in a kind of life; that they go forth from their graves by night and suddenly destroy other men, and also by other means procure food.and thus keep themselves in good condition. They are called Burkolakke, or Tympanita; and the only way of escaping from their molestation is by digging up their unwashed corpses and burning them, after the removal of the excommunication. The vampire proper is the illegitimate offspring of parents themselves illegitimate, or the troubled spirit of one killed by a vampire. During the day be lies as a corpse, but turned in his grave, with a florid appearance and warm blood, open staring eyes, and skin, hair, and nails still growing. But by night, especially at full moon, he wanders about in the form of a dog, frog, toad, cat, flea, louse, bug, spider, etc., and sucks the blood from living persons by biting them in the back or neck. If a dead person is under suspicion of living a vampire his body is disinterred, and if it is found putrid it is only sprinkled with holy water by the priest; but if it is red and bloody, the devil is driven out, and on re-interring it a stake is driven through the breast, or a nail through the forehead; or it is perhaps burned.


The Vukodlaks, who are particularly greedy for the blood of young girls, pair with the Wjeschitza, a female ghost with wings of fire, which by night sinks down on the breast of the sleeping soldier, presses him in her arms, and inspires him with her fury. As, according to popular belief, every one who is killed by a vampire becomes himself a vampire, an outward sign of the vampire bite usually remains, although not always visible and recognizable by every one; therefore, at the obsequies of every Wallachian, of whatever age or sex, there is always a skilled person, generally a midwife, called in, in order to take precautious against the corpse becoming a vampire. A long nail, for instance, is driven through the skull; it is then rubbed in various places with the lard of a pig killed on St. Iguatius's day, and a stick made of the stem of a wild rose is laid beside it. Thessaly, Epirus, and the Wallachians of the Pindus know another kind of vampire still—living men who by night leave their shepherd dwellings, and, roving about, bite and tear everything that they meet, men as well as beasts. The Priccolitsch and the Priecolitschone of the Moldavo-Wallachians, who wanders about more frequently than the Murony proper, is likewise a real living man, who, by night, in the form of a dog, roams over heaths, pastures, and villages; and especially kills cattle and sucks their blood, from which cause he always looks healthy and blooming. Such a man is known by his backbone being prolonged in the form of a dog's tail. Thus the Vukodlak and the Murony would be something analogous to the nightmare of German mythology; and the Priccolilsch, on the other hand, to the Werewolf. The ghouls of the Arabs and Persians would seem to be identical with the vampires. In 1725 and 1732 exciting rumors about supposed vampires arose in Hungary and Servia, which resulted in the disinterment of numerous corpses and caused the publication of a multitude of writings in Germany for and against the matter, among which the most important is Ranft's Treatise on the True Nature of the Hungarian Vampire, in which an account is given of all the writings which had appeared on the subject (Leip. 1734).


The name vampire has been appropriated to blood-sucking bats. It was erroneously given to bats of the s.e. of Asia and Malayan archipelago, which are really frugivorous. The blood-sucking bats are all South American, and belong to the genus phyllostoma, or specter-bat, and genera nearly allied to it. The true vampires (desmodus) resemble the specter-bats; they have a small bifid membrane on the nose, no tail, and the inter-femoral membrane little developed. They have two great projecting, approximate upper incisors, and similar lancet-shaped superior canines, all of which are very sharp-pointed, and arranged to make a triple puncture like that of a leech. There are four bilobiate inferior incisors, the innermost separated by a wide interval; the lower canines are small; there are no true molars, but two false molars in the upper jaw, and three in the lower, of a peculiar form, apparently unfitted for mastication. The intestine is shorter than in any other mammal, and the whole structure seems to indicate that blood is the sole food. In some parts of South America, vampires are very numerous, and domestic animals suffer greatly from their nocturnal attacks. They seem to take advantage of an existing wound, but they can also make one. In some parts of Brazil the rearing of calves is impossible, on account of these bats, and there are districts, chiefly those in which limestone rocks prevail, with numerous caves, in which cattle cannot be profitably kept. Vampires sometimes attack men, when sleeping in the open air; but the stories of their fanning their victims with their wings, whilst they suck their blood, are fabulous.