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The belief in the vampire and the whole family of demons has its origin in the animism, spiritism, or personification of the barbarian, who, unable to distinguish the objective from the subjective, ascribes good and evil influences and all natural phenomena to good and evil spirits.
Mr Conway remarks of this vampire belief that "it is, perhaps, the most formidable survival of demonic superstition now existing in the world."
Under the names of vampire, were-wolf, man-wolf, nightmare, 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, Servia, 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 character, purpose, and manner of the vampire manifestations depend, like its designation, upon environment and the plane of culture.
All primitive peoples have believed in the existence of good and evil spirits holding a middle place between men and gods. Calmet lays down in most explicit terms, as he was bound to do by the canons of his church, the doctrine of angels and demons as a matter of dogmatic theology.
The early Christians were possessed, or obsessed, by demons, and the so-called demoniacal possession of idiots, lunatics, and hysterical persons is still common in Japan, China, India, and Africa, and instances are noted in western Europe, all yielding to the methods of Christian and pagan exorcists as practiced in New Testament times.
The Hebrew synonym of demon was serpent; the Greek, diabolus, a calumniator, or impure spirit. The Rabbins were divided in opinion, 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.
Instances are cited by Calmet, in Christian antiquity, of excommunicated persons visibly arising from their tombs and leaving the churches when the deacon commanded the excommunicated and those who did not partake of the communion to retire. The same writer states that "it was an opinion widely circulated in Germany that certain dead ate in their tombs and devoured all they could find about them, including their own flesh, accompanied by a certain piercing shriek and a sound of munching and groaning.”
A German author has thought it worth while to write a work entitled “De Masticatione mortuorum in tumulis.” In many parts of England a person who is ill is said to be “wisht” or looked.” The superstition of the “evil eye” originated and exists in the same degree of culture; the evil eye “which kills snakes, scares wolves, hatches ostrich eggs, and breeds leprosy." The Polynesians believed that the vampires were the departed souls, which quitted the grave, and grave idols, to creep by night into the houses and devour the heart and entrails of the sleepers, who afterward died. *
The Karems tell of the Kephu, which devours the souls of men who die. The Mintira of the Malay peninsula have their water demon, who sucks blood from men's toes and thumbs.
* Foster's Observations During a Voyage Around the World.
“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 say 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 night
“ The second theory is that the soul of a dead man goes out 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 in 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.
It is a common belief in primitive races of low culture that disease is caused by the revengeful spirits of man or other animals-notably among some tribes of North American Indians as well as of African negroes.
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.
As in the financial and political, the psychologic world has its periods of exaltation and depression, of ebh and flow, of confidence and alarm. In the eighteenth century a vampire panic beginning in Servia and Hungary spread thence into northern
* Primitive Culture. † Cited from Götze's Russ., Volkls., p 62.
and western Europe, acquiring its new life and impetus from the horrors attending the prevalence of the plague and other distressing epidemics in an age of great public moral depravity and illiteracy. Calmet, a learned Benedictine monk and abbé of Sénones, seized this opportunity to write a popular treatise on the vampire, which in a short time passed through many editions. It was my good fortune not long since to find in the Boston Athenæum library an original copy of his work. Its title-page reads as follows: "Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires ou les revenans de Hongrie, de Moravie, etc. Par le R. P. Dom Augustine Calmet, abbé de Sénones. Nouvelle edition, revisée, corregie, et augmentie par l'auteur, avec une lettre de Mons le Marquis Maffei, sur la magie. A Paris : Chez debure l'aine quay des Augustins à l'image S. Paul. MDCCLI. Avec approb et priv du roi.”
Calmet was born in Lorraine, near Commercy, in 1672, and his chief works were a commentary and history of the Bible. He died as the abbé of Senones, in the department of the Vosges.
This curious treatise has evidently proved a mine of wealth to all modern encyclopedists and demonologists. It impresses one as the work of a man whose mental convictions do not entirely conform to the traditions and dogmas of his church, and his style at times appears somewhat apologetic. Calmet declares his belief to be that the vampires of Europe and the brucolaques of Greece are the excommunicated which the grave rejects. They are the dead of a longer or shorter time who leave their tombs to torment the living, sucking their blood and announcing their appearance by rattling of doors and windows. The name vampire, or d'oupires, signifies in the Slavonic tongue a bloodsucker. He formulates the three theories then existing as to the cause of these appearances :
First: That the persons were buried alive and naturally leave their tombs.
Second: That they are dead, but that by God's permission or particular command they return to their bodies for a time, as when they are exhumed their bodies are found entire, the blood red and fluid, and their members soft and pliable.
Third: That it is the devil who makes these apparitions appear and by their means causes all the evil done to men and animals.