The Vampire Belief, article in Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics 1922
VAMPIRE.—-1. Introduction.—A vampire may be defined as (1) the spirit of a dead person, or (2) his corpse, re-animated by his own spirit or by a demon, returning to sap the life of the living, by depriving them of blood or of some essential organ, in order to augment its own vitality. This forms a particular aspect of the general belief that ghosts, or spirits sent by sorcerers, can annoy the living in various ways, or cause their sickness or death. The vampire is often one who has died an untimely death, or whose after life is unhappy, or a dead sorcerer, wizard, or other obnoxious person. Blood being a well-known soul- or life-vehicle, it was supposed that ghosts (or vampires) were eager to obtain it, as is seen from the well-known example of the shades for whom Odysseus sacrificed sheep on his visit to Hades, as well as from the custom of pouring blood upon graves. Tylor suggests that, when it was seen how certain persons grew thin and bloodless day after day, the easy explanation was that a nocturnal ghost or demon was sucking out their life. Hence the vampire belief might originate. The superstition is also connected with the fear which is aroused by the dead, partly because they are often seeking or calling the living, and, in those aspects of it which concern the return of the revitalized corpse, it is an extension of what may have been a primitive conception, viz, that the dead have a life of their own in the grave, which was, in fact, often erected as a kind of house, more elaborate than the houses of the living. Many tales both from savage and from barbaric peoples show that the dead are still living in the tomb and can encounter any intruder upon it (as in Scandinavian belief), or come forth from it to talk and feast with the living or to cause them annoyance. It was also held that a malicious spirit might take possession of a corpse and vitalize it for sinister purposes. The boundary-line between life and death seems to have been but vaguely defined. To prevent the return of the dead, whether bodily or as a ghost, many precautions were in use—e.g., enclosing the grave with a high fence, piling heavy stones upon it, diverting the course of a stream in order to bury in its bed and then permitting it to flow as before, binding the corpse securely (though this was done for other reasons also) or mutilating it.
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2. Range and examples of the vampire superstition.—-While the most gruesome examples of thin superstition (the vampire as a revitalized corpse) are to be met with among the Slavic peoples, in modern Greece, and in China, it is found in many other parts of the world and has been entertained in remote ages. It is not easily separated from other beliefs of a like kind. Not only the dead, whether in bodily or in (ghostly form, prey upon the living, but demons also, who sometimes have originated from ghosts, suck the blood of the living or feed on corpses.
Beliefs of this kind regarding spirits of certain dead persons are found sporadically in Polynesia, Melanesia, Indonesia, in India, and among African and South American tribes. Among higher races traces of the idea of the dead feeding on the living are found among the ancient Babylonians and other Semites, and in Egypt regarding the khu. In ancient Scandinavia the idea that the dead were alive in their barrows gave rise to the belief that they might become unhallowed monsters of the vampire kind, as is seen from the Grettis Saga. Parallels occur in Saxon England and among the early Teutons and Celts. In modern Greece the vampire belief has prevailed for many centuries, but largely moulded by Slavic influences. The Slavic superstition holds that various persons become vampires after death. The corpse is revitalized and thirsts for blood. Its ravages begin with relatives, then it attacks other victims, and these in turn become vampires. When the grave of a suspected vampire is opened, the corpse is found undecayed, the lips stained with blood. Its ravages occur by night: the grave must be re-entered by cock-crow, else the vampire must remain wherever he is, stiff and helpless. A great epidemic of vampire superstition occurred in Hungary in the l8th cent., which was investigated by a royal commission. In China a vampire belief exists, and offers a curious parallel to that of the Slavs.
3. Rites of riddance.—-Among the Slavs, when a grave is opened and the corpse is found to be fresh, swollen with blood, and life-like, it is transfixed through the region of the heart with a stake of aspen or maple (Russia), blackthorn or hawthorn (Serbia), but this must be done with one blow, for two blows would restore it to life. A suspected corpse is also buried in this way. A vampire at Laibach in 1672 is said to have pulled oat the stake and thrown it back. A person who committed suicide was often buried at cross-roads, the body transfixed with a spear or stake, in Britain and elsewhere, in order that the ghost might not walk, but perhaps in earlier superstition lest it should become a vampire. This was forbidden in England by law in 1824.
Sometimes also the head of the vampire was cut off. The heads of murderers whose spirits the living feared were also cut off and destroyed, or set between the legs or beneath the body. Another effectual way was to burn the corpse to ashes, but care was taken to drive back into the fire every creature which might come from it-—worms, snakes, beetles, birds, etc.—-lest the vampire should have embodied itself in one of them, and so resume its foul work. This was done among the Slavs, and in Bulgaria a sorcerer armed with a saint's picture is supposed to drive the vampire into a bottle containing some of its foul food, and, when corked up, the bottle is thrown into the fire. In Greece any corpse which is found not to have suffered dissolution, as well as any suspected of being a vampire, was, and even now still is, exhumed, cut to pieces, and burned, to prevent its farther wandering as a revenant. Boiling water or oil was poured on the grave, and the heart was torn out of the body and dissolved in vinegar. This is a reversion to the old pagan custom of cremation of the dead, and, in spite of Slavic influences, the Slavic method of staking the body is not in use.
In China suspected corpses were allowed to decay in the open air before burial, or, when buried, were often exhumed and burned. In the absence of the corpse from the grave, the coffin-lid was removed, thus letting in fresh air, which prevents the body from re-entering it. When the corpse was roaming about, rice, red peas, and pieces of iron were strewn round the grave; it could not pass these, and was found stiff and dead on the ground, and could then be burned.
To guard against the attacks of vampires, various charms, amulets, sacred symbols, and magic herbs are commonly used in the various countries where the belief exists.
4. Love motive in the vampire belief.—-Sometimes the vampire may have intercourse with the widow or other woman. This is part of a widespread belief that the dead or ghosts can have sexual union with the living, and, as far as revitalized corpses are concerned, this motive is found in the ancient Greek story of the girl Philinnion, who after her death was found with the youth Machatos in her father's house as his lover, leaving him at dawn. In such stories as this the vampire is linked to the ghostly mahr, or nightmare, in its erotic aspect on the one hand—the mahr comes into a room through the keyhole, as the vampire does—and to the mediaeval succuba on the other, in so far as the latter, like other erotic demons, preys upon the vital powers of man, so destroying them.
The vampire-lover theme is also illustrated by the 'Dead Rider' cycle, as in Burger's Lenore or Scott's spirited version, William and Helen. Burger's poem is based on the folk-belief that a dead man appears to those dearly loved—lover, wife, or child—because they sorrow so much, or in order to draw them to the grave. The living person rides with him on horseback or follows him, ignorant that he is really dead. Usually they reach the churchyard. The corpse sinks into his house—the grave—and the living barely escapes being entombed, or sometimes dies at the grave. Of this there are Scandinavian, Icelandic, Albanian, Breton, Scots, and English versions, and it is even found among the Araucanians as a purely native tale.
5. Vampire and were-wolf.—-Attention has been drawn elsewhere to the connexion between the kindred superstitions of the vampire and the weranimal. The main links are that the dead may become wer-wolves or other wer-animals and prey on the living,7 and, as in Greece and among the Slavs, that the man who was a wer-wolf in his lifetime becomes a vampire after death.
A farther link of connexion is found in the fact that both vampires and wer-wolves are believed to cause storms, drought, famine, and cattle-plague; both are killed by an aspen stake; and the vampire is sometimes the offspring of a witch and a werwolf (or the devil). While the wer-wolf is often a witch or wizard who has assumed animal form, both of these are often blood-suckers and eaters of human flesh, with all the perverted tastes of a vampire.
The earth personified, occasionally as Cerberos, was sometimes supposed to be an eater of the dead. Demoniac beings of the under world were also represented as eaters of the dead— Chimera, Eurynomos, the Egyptian 'eater of hearts' or 'eater of the dead,' etc.
6. The vampire in literature.—-Such a superstition has naturally attracted some attention in literature. Byron has an effective passage referring to it in The Giaour. His prose work on the subject (unfinished) was completed by Polidori and dramatized by Charles Nodier. Hoffmann introduces it in one of the tales in The Serapion Brethren. It is also the subject of Theophile Gautier's La Morte amoureuse, and of a story in J. S. Le Fanu's Green Tea. But the whole superstition has received the most effective treatment, with the greatest verisimilitude, from Bram Stoker in his Dracula, which embodies in a striking manner all that is believed on the subject in Transylvania.