Thursday, September 1, 2016

Vampire Lore from Eastern Europe by Elihu Rich 1855

VAMPIRES by Elihu Rich

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Those who are acquainted with Calmet's 'Phantom World,' need not be told how large a portion of his second volume is occupied with instances of Vampirism, which chiefly occurred in Hungary, and other parts of Eastern Europe, even as late as the 18th century. Vampires are also called 'Revenans.' The official document quoted by Horst describes them as dead persons who were believed to rise from their graves in the night-time, and suck the blood of the living, and then return to their coffins. The belief in these fearful stories, however, will become more intelligible if we suppose the dead body to have been inhabited by a daemon or evil spirit, whose presence preserved it unemaciated, and who thus dwelt in the tombs.

The horrors of Vampirism succeeded those of Witchcraft, and were if possible more fearful. The obvious facts were, that, after the death of certain persons, others, often their relations, were observed to grow pale, lean, and attenuated, and suddenly to follow them to the grave. Reports then became prevalent that the blood of such persons was sucked away in the night-time by the supposed Vampire; many on their death-beds solemnly declared that such was the case; and in some instances there were persons ready to affirm they had seen the spectre prowling for his victims. A penal process was then entered upon. The body was disinterred, and, as the legends affirm, was always found fresh and full of blood, if the accusation was true. In order to put an end to its crimes, a sharpened stake was driven through the heart, and the body was then burnt to ashes. We shall select a few instances in attestation of this wild superstition.

"A soldier who was billeted at the house of a Haidamagne peasant, on the frontiers of Hungary, as he was one day sitting at table near his host, the master of the house, saw a person he did not know come in and sit down to table also with them. The master of the house was strangely frightened at this, as were the rest of the company. The soldier knew not what to think of it, being ignorant of the matter in question. But the master of the house being dead the very next day, the soldier inquired what it meant. They told him that it was the body of the father of his host, who had been dead and buried for ten years, which had thus come to sit down next to him, and had announced and caused his death.

"The soldier informed the regiment of it in the first place, and the regiment gave notice of it to the general officers, who commissioned Count de Cabreras, captain of the regiment of Alandetti infantry, to make information concerning this circumstance. Having gone to the place, with some other officers, a surgeon, and an auditor, they heard the depositions of all the people belonging to the house, who attested unanimously that the ghost was the father of the master of the house, and that all the soldier had said and reported was the exact truth, which was confirmed by all the inhabitants of the village.

"In consequence of this, the corpse of this spectre was exhumed, and found to be like that of a man who has just expired, and his blood like that of a living man. The Count de Cabreras had his head cut off, and caused him to be laid again in his tomb. He also took information concerning other similar ghosts; amongst others, of a man dead more than thirty years, who had come back three times to his house at meal time. The first time he had sucked the blood from the neck of his own brother, the second time from one of his sons, and the third time from one of the servants in the house; and all the three died of it instantly, and on the spot. Upon this deposition, the commissary had this man taken out of his grave, and finding that, like the first, his blood was in a fluid state, like that of a living person, he ordered them to run a large nail into his temples, and then to lay him again in the grave.

"He caused a third to be burnt, who had been buried more than sixteen years, and had sucked the blood and caused the death of two of his sons. The commissary having made his report to the general officers, was deputed to the court of the Emperor, who commanded that some officers, both of war and justice, some physicians and surgeons, and some learned men, should be sent to examine the causes of these extraordinary events. The person who related these particulars to us had heard them from the Count de Cabreras, at Fribourg, in Brigau, in 1730."

We find another instance in the 'Lettres Juives,' new edition, 1738, letter 137, which is attested by two officers of the tribunal of Belgrade, and by an officer of the Emperor's troops at Graditz, who was an eye-witness of the proceedings. It is related as follows:—

"In the beginning of September there died in the village of Kisilova, three leagues from Graditz, an old man, who was sixty-two years of age. Three days after he had been buried, he appeared in the night to his son, and asked him for something to eat; the son having given him something, he ate and disappeared. The next day the son recounted to his neighbours what had happened. That night the father did not appear, but the following night he showed himself and asked for something to eat. They know not whether the son gave him anything or not; but the next day he was found dead in his bed. On the same day five or six persons fell suddenly ill in the village, and died one after the other in a few days.

"The officer or bailiff of the place, when informed of what had happened, sent an account of it to the tribunal of Belgrade, which despatched to the village two of these officers and an executioner, to examine into this affair. The imperial officer from whom we have this account repaired thither from Graditz, to be witness of a circumstance which he had so often heard spoken of.

"They opened the graves of those who had been dead six weeks. When they came to that of the old man, they found him with his eyes open, having a fine colour, with natural respiration, nevertheless motionless as the dead; whence they concluded that he was most evidently a Vampire. The executioner drove a stake into his heart, they then raised a pile and reduced the corpse to ashes. No mark of Vampirism was found either on the corpse of the son, or on the others."

But it was not always an easy matter to destroy the Vampire. The appearance of Ravenans in Moravia, gave occasion to a little work entitled 'Magia Posthuma,' printed at Olmutz in 1706, written by Charles Ferdinand de Schertz, dedicated to Prince Charles of Lorraine, Bishop of Olmutz and Osnaburgh. Among other cases, the author relates that of a shepherd of the village of Blow, near the town of Kadam, in Bohemia, who appeared during some time, and called certain persons, who never failed to die within eight days after. The peasants of Blow took up the body of this shepherd, and fixed it in the ground with a stake which they drove through it. This man, in that condition, derided them for what they made him suffer, and told them they were very good to give him thus a stick to defend himself from the dogs. The same night he got up again, and by his presence alarmed several persons, and strangled more amongst them than he had hitherto done. Afterwards, they delivered him into the hands of the executioner, who put him in a cart to carry him beyond, the village and there burn him. This corpse howled like a madman, and moved his feet and hands as if alive. And when they again pierced him through with stakes, he uttered very loud cries, and a great quantity of bright vermilion blood flowed from him. At last he was consumed, and this execution put an end to the appearance and hauntings of this spectre.

Great form was observed in the judiciary proceedings taken against these spectres,-—the exhumed bodies being carefully examined for the usual marks of depravity—which consisted in the freshness aud flexibility of the limbs, and the fluidity of the blood. With some of these facts, the horrible truth begins to dawn upon us that many of these Vampires were examples of persons buried alive; a suspicion which is confirmed by Calmet's 45th chapter, where he says, "It is an opinion widely spread in Germany, that certain dead persons masticate in their graves, and devour whatever may be close to them." He then cites the work of Michael Eauff, 'De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumalis,' who states that it was customary in some places to put a lump of earth under the chin of a dead person, or a little piece of money and a stone in the mouth, or even to tie a handkerchief tightly round the throat, to prevent this practice. Several cases are mentioned of corpses who have eaten their own flesh. What then are we to think of the following (chap, vii.) in these Vampire days? "Sometimes the internment of the bodies of suspicious persons is deferred for six or seven weeks. When they do not decay, and their limbs remain as supple and pliable as when they were alive, then they burn them. It is affirmed as certain that the clothes of these persons move without any one living touching them; and within a short time a spectre was seen at Olmutz, which threw stones, and gave great trouble to the inhabitants" —with much reason, we think, if burnt out of house and home in this fashion!

We cannot better conclude these details than by citing the following smart bit of criticism applied to the Vampire legends by an anonymous writer in an old magazine. "Hungary," he says, "has always been famous for the traditions of Vampirism. The exploits of the Hungarian Vampires are, for the most part, performed by male heroes, and are characterized by an extravagant coarseness and brutality, which is wild without being poetical. Many and various are the theories which have been started by the hagiologists to account for and explain so much of the extraordinary facts of Vampirism, the truth of which, it has been supposed, could not be denied. The Benedictine Abbe Dom Calmet appears to have satisfied himself on every point, except the manner by which the Vampire escapes from his tomb without deranging the soil, and enters through doors and windows without opening or breaking them. This stumbling-block he cannot get over. Either the resuscitation of these bodies, says the Abbé, must be the work of the Deity, of the angels, of the soul of the deceased, or of the evil demon. That the Deity cannot be the instrument is proved by the horrid purposes for which the Vampire appears—and how can the angels, or the soul, or the demon, rarify and subtilize gross corporeal substances, so as to make them penetrate the earth like air or water, pass through key-holes, stone walls, and casements?—even taking it for granted, that their power would extend to make the corpse walk, speak, eat with a good appetite, and preserve its fresh looks. The only instance directly against Dom Calmet, where the Vampire has been caught 'in articulo resurgendi,' is one stated before one of the many Vampire special commissions appointed by the Bishop of Olmutz, at the beginning of the last century. The village of Liebaea being infested, an Hungarian placed himself on the top of the church tower, and just before midnight (from midday to midnight are the Vampires' ordinary dinner hours) saw the well-known Vampire issue from a tomb, and, leaving his winding-sheet, proceed on his rounds. The Hungarian descended and took away the linen—which threw the Vampire into great fury on his return, and the Hungarian told him to ascend the tower and recover it. The Vampire mounted the ladder—but the Hungarian gave him a blow on the head which hurled him down to the churchyard, and descended and cut off his head with a hatchet; and although he was neither burnt nor impaled, the Vampire seems to have retired from practice, and was never more heard of. Here is a Vampire caught in the fact of emerging from earth without the assistance either of spade or pickaxe—and the story of the Ghole, in the Arabian Nights, affords a case of one taken 'in flagranti delicto.' It is, in fact, but fair to say, in justice to the Vampires, that the Abbe Calmet is rather a suspicious witness against them. His faith is unbounded and unshrinking, as to all the apparitions of the Romish Church—all the visions of St. Dunstan and St. Antony—he never doubts that St. Stanislaus raised a Polish gentleman from the grave, to prove to the king that the good saint had paid him for an estate which he had purchased without paying—but he has a slight grudge against the Vampires, on account of their near relationship to, and probably their lineal descent from, the imputrescent excommunicated bodies of the 'Greek' Church. At the same time he goes to the inquiry with an evident inclination for a miracle, if it could be made out—whether Greek or Roman, it would be equally a point gained against encyclopedists and the philosophers;—but if the Vampires could be made nothing of, why then, in one respect, 'tant mieux'— a new argument would be supplied against the alleged powers of Greek excommunication. The Greek priests, it is well known, from early periods of their schism with Rome, asserted that the divine authority of their bishops was manifested by the fact of the persons who died under their sentence of excommunication resisting the decomposing influences of death; while the Latin Church could not prevent its excommunication from mouldering into dust, which, according to the ancient and modern Greeks, was so essential to the repose and happiness of the spirit, and which made them attach so much importance to burial rites.

"Nec ripas datur horrendas, nec ranca fluenta
Transportare priusquam sedibus ossa quierunt."—Virgil.

"Tali sua membra sepulchro,
Talibus exuran Stygio cum carmine sylvis
Ut mullos cantata magos exaudiat umbra."—Lucan.

And this, we apprehend, is the real source of the vampire superstition. Hence the Vroucolaca of modern Greece, the real progenitor of the Vampire of Sclavonia— who, it is to be observed, has hitherto confined his sanguinary proceedings to the countries within the pale of the Greek Church, and those nearly adjacent to it. Tournefort relates, that in all the Archipelago the people firmly believed that it was only in the Greek Church that excommunication preserved the body entire and unputrified. Some ascribed it to the force of the bishop's sentence, others thought that the devil entered into the body of the excommunicate, and re-animated him, so that he became an evil spirit incarnate. Add to this the prevalent superstition that the dead ate and drank in their graves, that they devoured their own flesh and burial-clothes for want of better food, and that all the viands and wines placed on the bier, and in fact consumed by the priests, were really the nourishment of the dead—and a very slight and easy transition would conduct a superstitious race to the full belief in the demoniacal and hungry corpse sallying forth from the tomb, and satisfying at once its malignity and its appetite, by preying on the flesh and blood of the living. Tournefort was present at the exhumation, impalement, and burning of a Vroucolaca in the island of Mycone, who had broken the windows and the bones, and drained the bottles and the veins of half the inhabitants of the island. For many days the people were in continual consternation, and numbers left their abodes and the island—masses were said—holy water showered about in torrents —the nine days were passed, and still the Vroucolaca was every night at fresh mischief—the tenth day mass was said in the chapel where the unfortunate corpse lay—but to no avail."

In Wallachia an interesting device was resorted to for the discovery of suspected Vampires. A virgin youth, about the age of puberty, was placed on a horse, as yet 'insolitus blando labori,' of a jet black colour, without a speck of white. The boy rode the horse about the suspected burying-ground, and over all the graves; and when the animal stopped short, and refused, in spite of whip and spur, to set foot on any particular grave, it was an unerring indication that a Vampire lay within. [E. R.]

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