Christianity and Vampirism

Priest (c) 2011 Screen Gems

The Old Testament warns against the drinking of blood: "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat." (Genesis 9:4); "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." (Deuteronomy 12:23)

Long before the Christian church began to unfold its wings throughout Europe, the vampire was an established myth. Vampire-like creatures had been a part of superstition since ancient Greece. The roots of the vampire were Pagan in nature, and the beliefs were widespread. The relationship that eventually formed between vampires and the Christian God is a tale riddled with irony.

Irony #1

- what they seek to destroy, they give life to

The Christian church had not established a stance on vampires when it split in 1054. However, the beliefs of the two churches that resulted - the Roman Catholic church in the west, and the Orthodox church in the east - can be directly linked to the vampire myth that continued to pervade the east. Roman Catholics believed that the bodies of their saints would not decay in the grave; instead, they would remain intact and give off a sweet odour. However, the Orthodox church found it more difficult initially to shake off its Pagan roots, and viewed an undecayed corpse as a sign of evil. Regardless, both churches had no formal stance on vampires save that it was part of a Pagan belief that was outdated and unChristian in nature.

Paganism, far from being an organized religion, was little more than a collection of folk wisdom and disorganized mythology; it was kept alive by the peasants who had no formal education other than the passing down of legend. As time went by, the Roman Catholic church grew concerned that the established Pagan mythologies would usurp the new Catholic beliefs that the church was trying to spread. As such, it began an investigation of the vampire myth. The church, with the intent to make its beliefs widespread and end Paganism (which they called witchcraft) began to link vampirism with Satan. They set forth a decree that vampires were corpses reanimated by Satan's devils. As a result, these vampires would flee from the signs of the true Christian God: the crucifix, holy water, and the eucharistic wafer.

The great irony of this period is that as the Church moved to end the Pagan mythologies, it would be their own decree that would lend historical validity to the vampire. So great was their influence that movies and novels in the late 20th century still show the vampire as a Satanic creature, made helpless when confronted with the signs of the true Christian God.

Irony #2

- this evil thing, best represented by Holy Men and their works

As time marched forward, numerous reports and treatments were issued by the Christian Church. Nearly all of the reliable research available from 1600-1800 A.D. was the work of deacons, priests, monks, and the like. Vampire scares continued to sweep through Europe, complete with vampire hunts and witch hunts, mass exhumations, legions of corpses staked and/or burned in an attempt to rid villages of vampirism. This became an area of intense study by the church. 

The Malleus Maleficarium, published by the church in 1486, was meant to be the handbook for the discovery and eradication of witches. It also covered vampirism and their link to Satan, as well as how to deal with the evil beings. By the 1600's, this treatise was being used as the "bible" of witch and vampire hunters across Europe. The treatise also included some early vampire sightings.

Dom Augustin Calmet (1672-1757) was a monk of the Benedictine order. His work, Treatise on The Appearance of Spirits and on Vampires, attempted to divorce the vampire from its link to Satanism and demonic forces. He described them simply as dead bodies which rise up, and proclaimed them to be superstition. He was heavily chided for his radical, sweeping declarations. Still, this work stands on its own in a time in history when so many were caught up in the massive witch and vampire hunts of the Middle Ages.

Even long after the hysteria of the plague-riddled Middle Ages had died down, important research was being conducted into the vampire myth. Probably the best known chronicler of vampire stories in ages past is the legendary Montague Summers. He was ordained as a deacon of the Anglican church in 1908, but soon after left the Anglican church in favour of the Roman Catholic church. He conducted numerous studies into all things supernatural. His two best-known vampire publications, The Vampire: His Kith and Kin and The Vampire in Europe are unparalleled in terms of vampire research.

Irony #3

- what they sought to destroy they gave credence to; the Beast lives on

Today, the vampire is as alive and well, if not more so, than any other time in the past. Goths dressed in black roam the streets and boulevards, and readers and moviegoers alike thrill at the presence of the fanged Beast. Emebedded in the vampire lore of today is Christianity and its symbols, all part of the fun. The Beast lives on, and will for many, many years to come. The names of these serious Christian researchers are as well known to dedicated vampire fans as Dracula, Lestat, and others. They must be turning over in their graves. :)

 

-- written by Angie McKaig

 

 

Fanged Films

USA, 2004
Behold the Raven
USA, 2011

From the Library

The Bat in NatureIndigenous to Central and South America, vampire bats live in a very strong social culture. The develop bonds with other bats in the colony, and learn to recognize each other through sound and scent. Vampire bats tend to live in caves, trees, or buildings. Their colonies can reach numbers of up to 2000 bats, but most colonies tend to house approximately 100 bats.
Blood has been a symbol of life since very ancient times. The blood in our veins has always been iconic of our continuing life. To lose too much blood is to lose consciousness, breath, and eventually, our very lives. If a person or animal is already dead and is cut open, blood does not flow. Only the living have blood that flows. Blood has been used throughout the ages as a ceremonial sacrifice.

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