Vampire Delusions, 1854 Article
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“Delusions involving supernatural visitations. There is no part of man’s organization more distinctly marked than his longings after the unseen. To commune with the invisible, and to expatiate on the eternal, are original instincts of man's nature—noble when taking the direction which God himself indicates; but paltry and puerile when employed for purposes different from those which he has prescribed. All who are not abandoned to entire thoughtlessness, are conscious of periods when deep solicitude about things invisible fills the soul. It is felt at such seasons that man is more than a material thing, and that the grave cannot be the limitation of his existence. Hence the anxiety of the soul to know what awaits it beyond the tomb. * * * God, while refusing to gratify idle curiosity, has met the cravings of man's nature by revealing to him the momentous truths of his eternal existence in a world to come; the misery or bliss that must characterize that existence, as he dies at enmity against God or in state of reconciliation with him; his lost and ruined condition by nature; [and] the need of his being born again by the Holy Spirit, as the sole ground of a sinner's acceptance. The carnal heart, however, while refusing faith in God's testimony on these points, is too often distinguished by childish credulity with respect to facts respecting the unseen world, which are only man's erroneous invention. We feel it our duty to call upon our readers to test all narratives of popular superstitions by the severest and strictest laws of evidence. A spirit of credulity is the very opposite of the spirit of true faith. It is curious, indeed, to observe how those who forsake the latter are generally prone to indulge the former. Napoleon Bonaparte believed on the presiding star of his destiny; and many of the literary circle that surrounded the “philosophical” king Frederick the Great, while they derided the truths of revelation, could yet perpetrate such follies as those which are recorded in the following extract. “Lanethrie, an avowed athiest, used to make the sign of the cross if it thundered. D'Argens would shudder if there were thirteen seated round the table. Others were the dupes of fortune-tellers, and full half of the court believed that a woman, all in white, appeared in one of the apartments of the castle, holding in her hands a large broom, with which she swept the room when any of the royal family were about to die. Several persons of distinction, occupying high places under government, were duped by a person who pretended to have the power of intercourse with evil spirits so as to discover hidden treasure. They even went the length of offering sacrifices to the devil, and procured at a great cost, as an acceptable offering, a goat which had not a single hair that was not black.’
“Among the superstitions which paganism transmitted to nominal Christians, was one of which scarcely any traces are now extant, though in its day it exerted a horrifying influence. It was known under the name of Vampyrism. A vampyre was represented as a dead man, quickened by magical processes into supernatural life, which was sustained by preying upon the bodies of the dead. The Greek Christians appear to have been specially addicted to this delusion, and in various countries of Europe, as in Bohemia and Hungary, such superstitions were prevalent even during the last century. To such an extent did credulity on this subject prevail, that not only were vampyres imagined in every district, but assemblies of soldiers and ecclesiastics gravely met to deliberate how the enormity could be stayed. One mode of discovering a vampyre was to pace a jet-black horse up and down the church yard between the graves. If the animal turned restive, and refused to proceed, it was concluded that a vampyre existed somehere in the vicinity.
Vam'pire, according to a superstitious belief somewhat prevalent in the east of Europe, Greece, Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, Poland, and Russia, the ghost or spirit of a dead person which issues forth by night and sucks the blood of living persons, particularly of the young and healthy, causing them to pine away and die. Vampires especially favor their friends and relatives with their visits, and any one whose death is caused by a vampire becomes a vampire. Among the Greeks the superstition has been so far modified by Christianity that the original vampires are supposed in many cases to be excommunicated persons, who are kept alive by the devil, and who procure their food in this and other unlawful ways. Where the belief in vampires prevails, when a person dies a careful examination is made by a skilled person lest he should have been killed by a vampire and so be liable to become one; if this is suspected, the body may be pierced with a stake cut from a green tree, the head cut off, and the heart burned. This is also the process for destroying the vampire spirit in a corpse believed to be already a vampire. The belief has been treated by Philostratus and Phlegon of Tralles; has served a literary purpose in Goethe's 'Braut von Korinth' [Bride of Corinth] and the operas of Palma, Hart and von Lindpainter.