Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Origins of the Belief in Vampires by Cora Linn Daniels 1908

Origins of the Beliefs in Vampires by Cora Linn Daniels 1908

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

Under the names of vampire, were-wolf, man-wolf, night-mare, 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, Serbia, 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 Hebrew synonym of demon was serpent; the Greek, diabolus, a calumniator, or impure spirit. The Rabbis were divided in opinions, 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.

"The first theory of the vampire superstitions," remarks Tylor, "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 of 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 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 of 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.

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.

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.

The late Monsieur de Vassimont, counselor of the chamber of the courts of Bar, was informed by public report in Monrovia, 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 Serbia, 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.

In Hungary and Serbia, 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.

The real belief in vampires is to be found at the birthplace of Gilbert Stuart, the painter, 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.

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