In the opening scenes of the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film interpretation of the classic Bram Stoker novel, Dracula, Draculea (Gary Oldman) kisses a crucifix and says “God be praised! I am victorious!”
Later, upon learning of the death of his wife, Elisabeta, by suicide he goes on to renounce God in the strongest possible terms:
DRACULEA (translation): I renounce God! I shall rise from my own death to avenge hers with all the powers of darkness!
Draculea stabs at the altar cross with his sword.
Blood pours from the cross, from the eyes of statues, and from candle flames.
Draculea fills a chalice with the blood and drinks it
DRACULEA (translation): The blood is the life and it shall be mine!1
This, then, is one of the latest in an ages long line of representing the Vampyre as anti-religious; evil and completely lacking in morals and conscience — what a good thing it is that we know not to believe everything we see on the silver screen.
At first glance it would seem that any creature that preys, or feeds, on people must be the antithesis of any accepted religious doctrine but then where does that leave the church? The organized religions of the world feed off the need of millions to believe in a divine spiritual being; the religions meet, foster and, ultimately, survive because of the strength of these beliefs — could this qualify as a form of spiritual vampyrism?
If we look back into the history of some of the world’s oldest cultures we can readily find references to the consumption of human blood for ritual purposes; rituals designed to bring about enhanced abilities in the consumer, or, to bring those imbibing closer to their divine deity or deities. Instances such as these can be seen as analogous to the “classical” vampyric activity for which the “undead” were most well known.
From the earliest historical reference we can find examples of vampyrism; the Hindu Holy Scripture the “Rig Veda” recounts vampyric activities, from around 7200BC, attributed to a class of lesser daemon.
Biblical tales of the female night demon Lilith represent a vampyric image whose fecundity and sexual preferences, according to some, showed she was a Great Mother of settled agricultural tribes, who resisted the invasions of the nomadic herdsmen, represented by Adam. It is felt the early Hebrews disliked the Great Mother who drank the blood of Abel, the herdsman, after he was slain by the elder god of agriculture and smithcraft, Cain (Genesis 4:11).
Egyptian mythology affords us the story of the goddess Sekhmet, originally the war goddess of Upper Egypt, and seen as the more vicious of the two war goddesses; the other, Bast, the war goddess for Lower Egypt. Sekhmet was seen as the avenger of wrongs, and scarlet lady, a thinly veiled reference to blood. A goddess whom, according to one version of legend, was set the task of killing the scheming enemies of Ra but became intoxicated with the taste of blood and almost wiped out the race of man.
In fact, in almost every race, creed and culture the image of the vampyre, or the consumption of human blood, exists in one form or another. This, ultimately, makes the vampyre one of the single most entrenched icons of mankind’s history and beliefs.
The church accepts the existence of vampyres
During the Middle Ages, the church came to give credence to the belief in vampyres. It also, quite naturally, concluded that it alone had the power to stop them; this position was reinforced two centuries later, in 1489, with the landmark publication, Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer Against Witches). This work was actually produced to deal with the persecution of witches but the church held it to be equally effective against vampyres as well.
A further two hundred years after this, evidence that the Church still clung to a belief in vampyres was found in the writing of the theologian Leo Allatius.
A church scholar, Allatius studied the vrykolakas, the Greek vampyre, and in his work entitled On the Current Opinions of Certain Greeks (1645), he concluded that vampyres were oft the result of excommunications. His demonstrable proof of their vampyrism was that the body did not decay, indicating that it could not leave the earthly plane. Leo Allatius may well have been one of the first scholars to declare, officially, that vampires were under the power of the Devil and that they prowled at night.
However, a swollen body was also evidence of possible vampyrism. As some bodies might not decay rapidly due to the type of chemicals in the soil or cold air temperatures, and since bodily swelling was the result of naturally produced gasses in a corpse, many a dead man was wrongly presumed to be a vampire.
Conversely, in Roman Catholic canonical circles, incorruptibility –the failure of the dead body to decay — was also a sign of holiness, even evidence of saintliness. The difference was that a vampire did not totally decay but did become grotesque in form with discoloration and bloating, while a holy body remained almost perfectly intact as if still alive. Also, it was held that vampyres smelled badly during the period of lack of decay, whereas sanctified bodies did not.
A commonly held belief of early Greek Christians was that a priest or bishop; upon excommunicating an evildoer, could also prevent the sinner’s body from decomposing. Thus, the soul would not be free to go to heaven and was left to dwell on earth until it received a pardon for its sins. In the western Church this belief was apparently also held.
The case of the Archbishop of Bremen, in the 10th century, St. Libentius, demonstrated this. He was said to have excommunicated some pirates; the body of one of them was allegedly discovered many years later still un-decomposed. The corpse apparently required a pardon of its sins, by a bishop, before its remains would dissolve. The clergy, thus, had the power to make or break possible vampyres through excommunication and absolution.
Further, supposed proof of the church’s power over vampyres (hence the reported power of the crucifix or holy cross to scare off vampires) dates, it would seem, to medieval England. A writer named William of Newburgh discussed the case of a man who died in the 12th century AD. Supposedly he rose from the dead to torment his wife and, after causing much consternation with the local villagers and clergy, the bishop of the region pardoned the corpse in writing for all his past sins. The grave was opened and the actual written pardon was placed over the body of the “vampyre”. The people were surprised, or perhaps not, to see the body was still in good condition without any sign of decay, surely this was proof of vampyrism? Fortunately for all, once the pardon was placed in the grave, the alleged “vampyre” visited no more.
The Church, in Europe during the Middle Ages, in coming to recognize the existence of vampyres had changed the tales from a pagan folk myth into a legendary creature of the Devil. The vampyre, thought clearly a thing of evil and a pagan myth, had its believability reinforced by existing Christian doctrines such as life after death, the resurrection of the body, and “transubstantiation”.
The latter was a concept based on the Last Supper and the dogma of Pope Innocent III in 1215 A.D., which held that the “bread and wine” and its equivalent during Christian Communion literally transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Christ.
Quite naturally, people who adhered to this belief, and whom partook of the “blood of Christ”, would have little or no difficulty in believing the corruption of this — the drinking of blood by evil demons, namely, vampyres.
Dawning of the Age of Reason
The early 1700s saw the astonishing move by the Sorbonne University, in Paris, of formally opposing the common practice of mutilating corpses to prevent the deceased from becoming vampyres. The Sorbonne (which the renowned writer Voltaire had once been shocked to discover actually debated the legitimacy of the mythological vampire) finally took the radical position, for the time, that the mutilation of corpses suspected of vampyrism was a practice based on irrational superstitions.
The belief in vampires, however, did not go without intelligent criticism. Dom Augustine Calmet, born at M’nil-la-Horgne, France in 1672, was a French Benedictine and a professor of philosophy, Hebrew, theology and history. He was educated at the Benedictine priory of Breuil, and in 1688 joined the Abbey of St-Mansuy at Toul, where he began to gather material for his commentary of the Bible.
In 1704 he was sent to M’nster in Alsace as sub-prior and professor of exegesis. There he completed his book “Commentaire litt’ral sur tous les livres de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Testament”. The first of 23 quarto volumes appeared in Paris in 1707, while the last was published in 1716.
Dom Calmet also wrote the celebrated “A Treatise on Apparitions, Spirits and Vampires” (a.k.a. The Phantom World). This 1746 publication dared challenge the rampant vampyre superstitions of the day and spoke of required proof before acceptance of a belief. He especially doubted, he wrote, that vampyres could perform superhuman tasks, such as rising from the dead. He also analyzed and critiqued the supposed vampire epidemics throughout Europe, questioning their basis in reality.
Calmet died on 25 Oct., 1757, at the abbey of Senones, near Saint-Di’ (near Paris).
The vampyric beliefs that such rational thinkers now challenged seemed based on the general ignorance of the population. The greater tragedy of the vampyre legends was that the actual ascendance of the belief of the vampyre myth might well have been aided and abetted through the deeds of organized religion.
Religion and the modern vampyre
William Schnoebelen, writing on the subject of vampyres and religion, states:
“Many people today, even Christians, balk at the idea of vampires walking the earth. They relegate them to the category of horror films; or else they ask how does the discussion of such a subject edify the Body of Christ?
“As one who is a former ‘vampire’, now set free by the power of the Cross of Christ, I have a certain vested interest in this issue which goes beyond the academic.”2
He goes on to make a very valid point in his essay, that of the idea of consuming the body and the blood of The Christ. He says:
“It is also important to note that while the vampire legend is nearly universal, it reached its most epidemic proportions in heavily Catholic (or Orthodox) eastern Europe. Most cultures have taboos against drinking blood. This can doubtless be traced back to the command the Lord gave Noah after the flood forbidding the drinking of blood (Gen. 9:4). It is ironic that both the Catholic and Orthodox religions feature as their central superstition the idea of drinking blood and eating flesh (under the sacramental appearance of wine and bread) against the specific commands of God. That these religions are dominant in cultures where vampirism (both in legend and in practice) runs deep is significant.”2
Schnoebelen proceeds to claim that he was led to “vampyrism” by members of the Orthodox clergy whom represented themselves to be the custodians of the ancient, and true, secret of resurrection… “drinking the blood of the living”.
He claims that their representations were verified by initiations in which he experienced things that ultimately produced a marked aversion to all food except for human blood, communion wafers and sacramental wine. He further claims to have gone on to develop a genuine addiction to fresh blood.
A once widely touted, and employed, method of detecting “living” vampyres was the act of passing garlic around in church. Whosoever balked at partaking of the pungent offering was immediately thought to be a vampyre themselves. This, of course, is only a valid test if the religious notion of the vampyre as an agent of the Christian devil holds true; along with the reputed aversion to sanctified ground that vampyres were commonly believed to have. However, the very act of searching for vampyres amongst the church congregation belies this assertion. Why would a vampyre go to church in the first place? One would suppose, logically, that it would be for the same reasons that other churchgoers do — to offer praise to the God of that religion; to receive communion in the hope of salvation or to ask forgiveness for any sin they might have committed. Whatever the reason there is no clear or substantial reason as to why vampyres should not attend religious services. There is, however, clear and precise instruction in the Christian bible.
In Acts 10:43 it says, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
There does not seem to be any specific exclusion of vampyres attached to this statement. So, by that rationale, if a vampyre were to go to church, profess and be completely honest in, his belief in Christianity and the teachings of Jesus we should reasonably be able to expect that he, or she, would be forgiven of their sins.
While vampyrism is not normally considered a religion by itself we can see, quite clearly, how belief in the existence of vampires (the imaginary creatures) is based on ancient religious myths and more contemporary religious dogma. An important point worth noting is that many vampyres (the real individuals, i.e. HLVs) regard vampyrism as a spiritual pursuit. In addition, many vampyres follow “The Black Veil”, a non-binding vampyre code of ethics. Ethical codes and spirituality are often components of religion.
Today, a chief source for the vampyric studies and resources is, of course, the Internet and a brief search will yield many, many links to the subject of vampyres and religion. Two of these I would like to introduce here.
The first is a widely respected and well-established organization that boasts a wealth of informative resources for the modern HLV (Human Living Vampyre). The Vampire Church (http://www.vampire-church.com/) introduces its mission with the following statement:
“The Vampire Church acts as a haven for people to find others,
and also acts as a resource for information, on vampirism..
The Vampire Church was conceived to do research and
provide a place, to learn about vampirism.”
It may well be that the only connection to religion, organized or otherwise, is in the organization’s name… a name that undoubtedly evokes images of steadfast and protective trustworthiness. Whatever the religious outlook of such an organization may be, the connotation exists.
In a more esoteric vein, yet still highly reminiscent of religious symbolism, we find “The Vampire Temple” (http://www.vampiretemple.com/)
A secretive and highly selective organization, The introduction to the Vampire Temple reads as follows:
We are the Vampire.
We do not rely upon beliefs.
We operate from knowledge and certainty.
Everything We Teach requires personal verification.
The Temple Stands Alone.
This is the only true Vampire religion in the world.
This Temple is the only authorized public access to Our religion.
This website is the only authorized Temple internet connection.
We do not recognize any other claiming to be Vampire.
We are unique.
The Vampire Bible.
We are the Authors of The Vampire Bible.
These are the Teachings needed to practice Authentic Vampirism.
Our Teachings are Ancient and the only path to become Vampire.
We assist those who obtain these Teachings here.
We enslave those who do not.
The choice is yours.
The Temple has an international membership.
The Temple has in-person meetings worldwide.
The Temple has an extensive internet message board.
The Temple has a dedicated Priesthood.
We are Watching.”3
Some rather extraordinary claims, undoubtedly, and yet there is the use of the word religion in the second paragraph of this statement. The mention of the “Vampire Bible” and the use of the term “priesthood” all combine to lend an air of organized religious methodology to this body.
The vampyre was born of the beliefs and inexplicable experiences of ancient peoples, it came to be — perhaps due to its enormous influence, an enemy of the church and thus the vampyre was demonized so that it might be brought under the jurisdiction of the clergy. A clergy which, in its early days, used superstition and inherent human fears to strengthen and consolidate its own aims and goals. This is the way of any good organization… by exploiting the natural order of things it may make its own passage more profitable or comfortable.
Prior to this canonical interference there was little suggestion that vampyres were particularly associated with daemons or evil deities. The Gods, and Goddesses that displayed vampyric characteristics were worshiped as fervently as any other deity of their time. Their vampyrism was seen as nothing more than a characteristic of their existence.
Following this train of thought to its logical conclusion, it would seem that the Christian Devil has no more claim to being overlord of vampyres than this author has. Subsequently I can determine no reason why vampyres may not practice religion, in freedom and in a socially acceptable way, like any other free-thinking being. The ages old concept propagated by many orthodox religions, that sins are forgiven if you perform certain simple rites, guarantee that vampyres also have a method by which – if they are of these particular religious persuasions – they may gain absolution.
Of course, that always pre-supposes that one sees their vampyrism as a sin – if not, then there is no problem here… is there?
© Hawkmoor 2005 (except where noted)
REFERENCES & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
1Excerpt from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay by: James V. Hart
2Vampires: Hollywood is Pushing Them… But Are They Real?, by William Schnoebelen
3The Creed of the Vampire Temple. © 2005 Temple of the Vampire