Vampires

Vampires of Europe

In 2006, archaeologists unearthed a 16th-century skull in Venice, Italy, that had been buried among plague victims with a brick in its mouth. The brick was likely a burial tactic to prevent strega—Italian vampires or witches—from leaving the grave to eat people.

Not all vampires were thought to physically leave their grave. In northern Germany, the Nachzehrer, or “after-devourers,” stayed in the ground, chewing on their burial shrouds. Again, this belief likely has to do with purge fluid, which could cause the shroud to sag or tear, creating the illusion that a corpse had been chewing it. In the 1679 tract “On the Chewing Dead,” a Protestant theologian accused the Nachzehrer of harming their surviving family members through occult processes. He wrote that people could stop them by exhuming the body and stuffing its mouth with soil, and maybe a stone and a coin for good measure. Without the ability to chew, the tract claimed, the corpse would die of starvation.

Tales of vampires continued to flourish in southern and eastern European nations in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the chagrin of some leaders. By the mid-18th century, Pope Benedict XIV declared that vampires were “fallacious fictions of human fantasy,” and the Hapsburg ruler Maria Theresa condemned vampire beliefs as “superstition and fraud.” Still, anti-vampire efforts continued. And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, one of the last big vampire scares occurred in 19th century New England, two centuries after the infamous Salem witch trials. In 1892, 19-year-old Mercy Brown of Exeter, Rhode Island, died of tuberculosis, then known as consumption. Her mother and sister were already dead, and her brother Edwin was sick. Concerned neighbors worried that one of the recently deceased Brown women might be harming Edwin from the grave.

When they opened Mercy Brown’s grave, they found blood in her mouth and her heart and took this to be a sign of vampirism (though they didn’t call it that). The neighbors burned Mercy’s heart and mixed the ashes into a potion for Edwin to drink—a common anti-vampire tactic. The potion was meant to heal him; instead, he died a few months later. This wasn’t an isolated incident. Folklorist and Food for the Dead author Michael Bellestimates that there are 60 known examples of anti-vampire rituals in 18th- and 19th-century New England, and several others elsewhere in the country.

Vampire panics died down in the 20th century as these fictional monsters replaced folk beliefs (and as medical knowledge improved); however, there was a strange in the late 1960s, when Seán Manchester, the president of the British Occult Society, said that a vampire was causing people to see strange things in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Newspapers had already covered reports of a tall figure with burning eyes and other spectral sights floating in the cemetery, and journalists quickly picked up Manchester’s theory that these sightings were the work of an eastern European vampire. Newspapers even embellished his claims a bit, calling the figure a “king vampire,” or writing that the vampire had practiced black magic in Romania before traveling to London in his coffin.

Vampires in the Bible

The legend of Lilith derives from a theory that Genesis has two creation accounts (Genesis 1:27 and 2:7, 20–22). The two stories allow for two different women. Lilith does not appear in the Bible (apart from a debatable reference comparing her to a screech owl in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 34:14). Some rabbinic commentators, however, refer to Lilith as the first created woman, who refused to submit to Adam and fled from the garden. Eve was then created to be Adam’s helper. After their expulsion from the garden, Adam reunited for a time with Lilith before finally returning to Eve. Lilith bore Adam a number of children, who became the demons of the Bible. According to kabbalistic legend, after Adam’s reconciliation with Eve, Lilith took the title Queen of the Demons and became a murderer of infants and young boys, whom she turned into vampires.

Proverbs 30:14 – [There is] a generation, whose teeth [are as] swords, and their jaw teeth [as] knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from [among] men.

Leviticus 17:10-14 – And whatsoever man [there be] of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.

Revelation 16:6 – For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.

Joel 1:6 – For a nation is come up upon my land, strong, and without number, whose teeth [are] the teeth of a lion, and he hath the cheek teeth of a great lion.

1 Chronicles 11:19 – And said, My God forbid it me, that I should do this thing: shall I drink the blood of these men that have put their lives in jeopardy? for with [the jeopardy of] their lives they brought it. Therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mightiest.

Deuteronomy 12:23 – Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood [is] the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh.

Revelation 17:6 – And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

Revelation 9:8 – And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as [the teeth] of lions.

The History of the Vampire

The word “vampire” did not appear in English until 1734, when it was used in an Anglo-Saxon poem titled “The Vampyre of the Fens”. One of the earliest accounts of vampires is found in an ancient Sumerian and Babylonian myth dating to 4,000 B.C. which describes ekimmu or edimmu (one who is snatched away). The ekimmu is a type of uruku or utukku (a spirit or demon) who was not buried properly and has returned as a vengeful spirit to suck the life out of the living. The first full work of fiction about a vampire in English was John Polidori’s influential “The Vampyre”, which was published incorrectly under Lord Byron’s name. Polidori (1795-1821) was Byron’s doctor and based his vampire on Byron. In vampire folklore, a vampire initially emerges as a soft blurry shape with no bones. He was “bags of blood” with red, glowing eyes and, instead of a nose, had a sharp snout that he sucked blood with. If he could survive for 40 days, he would then develop bones and a body and become much more dangerous and difficult to kill.

According to several legends, if someone was bitten by a suspected vampire, he or she should drink the ashes of a burned vampire. To prevent an attack, a person should make bread with the blood of vampire and eat it. Things that repel vampires: churches; crucifixes; eucharist water; garlic; holy water; thresholds (unless they’re invited in); mirrors; sunlight; fire. Before Christianity, methods of repelling vampires included garlic, hawthorn branches, rowan trees (later used to make crosses), scattering of seeds, fire, decapitation with a gravedigger’s spade, salt (associated with preservation and purity), iron, bells, a rooster’s crow, peppermint, running water, and burying a suspected vampire at a crossroads. It was also not unusual for a corpse to be buried face down so it would dig down the wrong way and become lost in the earth. Garlic, a traditional vampire repellent, has been used as a form of protection for over 2,000 years. The ancient Egyptians believed garlic was a gift from God, Roman soldiers thought it gave them courage, sailors believed it protected them from shipwreck, and German miners believed it protected them from evil spirits when they went underground. In several cultures, brides carried garlic under their clothes for protection, and cloves of garlic were used to protect people from a wide range of illnesses. Modern-day scientists found that the oil in garlic, allicin, is a highly effective antibiotic.

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