To find the first references to vampires, we have to go back to the records of Chaldea and Assyria, but these records do no more than inform us of a current belief in the existence and raids of these monsters; there is nothing to explain their origin and nothing to justify them. They are accepted as facts. In some quarters of the globe, especially on the European Continent, Servia, Austria, and parts of the Balkans, the dread of the vampire is still a living force; not with people of intelligence and education, but with the uninstructed peasantry. And yet it would not be fair to the countries named to generalise so freely, and a strict regard for truth compels us to say that the vampire superstition lives in those isolated districts where the tradition of its ravages is strongest.
Mr Bram Stoker’s Dracula aroused a good deal of interest in this country as to the reality of phenomena recorded in history; and when it was followed by “Modern Vampirism: its dangers and how to avoid them,” by A. O. Eaves, a book on which I shall have something to say later, it is clear that there yet lingers among us a kind of half notion that Vampirism may contain a germ of truth.
That Vampirism is not an exploded superstition is evident from an even earlier book, which bears the name of Herbert Mayo, M.D., formerly Senior Surgeon of Middlesex Hospital, and Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at King’s College. The book is intitled, On the Truths contained in Popular Superstitions, and is dated 1851. After describing the alleged methods of vampires and the means of avoiding their attacks (according to the best authorities), Dr. Mayo goes on to say, “This is no romancer’s dream. It is a succinct account of a superstition which to this day survives in the East of Europe, where little more than a century ago it was frightfully prevalent. At that period Vampirism spread like a pestilence through Servia and Wallachia, causing numerous deaths, and disturbing all the land with fear of the mysterious visitation against which none felt himself secure. Here is something like a good, solid, practical, popular delusion. Do I believe it? To be sure I do. The facts are matters of history; the people died like rotted sheep; and the cause and method of their dying was, in their belief, what has just been stated.” Dr. Mayo then begins to establish the reasons why he believed the phenomena of Vampirism were real in the places mentioned, quoting at length the evidence of a document signed by three regimental surgeons, and formally countersigned by a lieutenant-colonel and sub-lieutenant. The date is June 7, 1732, and the place is Mednegna, near Belgrade. A specimen case will give the reader an idea of its contents. “A woman of the name of Miliza had died at the end of a three months’ illness. The body had been buried ninety odd days. In the chest was liquid blood. The body was declared by a heyduk, who recognised it, to be in better condition and fatter than it had been in the woman’s life-time.” This is in keeping with the theory that a vampire is “a dead body which continues to live in the grave; which it leaves, however, by night, for the purpose of sucking the blood of the living, whereby it is nourished and preserved in good condition.” Dealing with the physiology of the matter first of all, Dr Mayo contends that an epidemic of Vampirism may be started by a few premature burials; and that they are the bodies of persons who have been buried alive. This statement is quite sufficiently startling to compel a pause. A lot of people are buried before they are dead, if we are to believe in the testimony of careful inquirers, and yet we do not seem to have outbreaks of Vampirism as they had in the eighteenth century. Besides, what has become of the possibility of smothering a man to death by screwing him down in a coffin, and interring him in seven feet of earth? What is there after that to keep the average stockbroker from resuming life and activity? These are questions which cannot be set aside.
Dr Mayo can find no satisfactory explanation of the activity of the vampire when on the rampage. It is the ghost of the vampire which visits the victim and sucks his blood: a very substantial ghost, indeed. But he thinks the death-trance of the victim may become epidemic, acting by means of suggestion. Very true; the whole thing is suggestion from beginning to end. We have only to make people believe in the possibility of being operated upon after the manner of the vampire, and imagination will do the rest.
It is distinctly annoying to take up a modern book on the subject and find that the author’s first words are: “Want of space will prevent elaborate and detailed proofs being given of the statements made in the following paper. Most of the statements made have been verified by more than one of the investigators into the subjects dealt with, observers who have developed within themselves extensions of faculties possessed by all, but latent as yet in most of us.” When Mr A. O. Eaves starts out in this manner, we know what value to place upon his stories, his arguments, and his conclusions. Of course, to him the origin of vampire superstitions is in the fact that vampires have always existed. A bad man dies and can’t get away from his earth life. He strives to come back again into earthly conditions, and Vampirism is one of the ways open to him. Says Mr Eaves:–“In the case of those removed by accident, or suicide, in which no preparation of any kind has been made, and where all the life-forces are in full play, if the life has been a degraded one, then they will be alive to the horrors of this plane. They will be cut adrift, as it were, with all their passional nature strong upon them, and must remain on that plane until the time their death in an ordinary manner would have taken place. Thus a man killed at 25, who would otherwise have reached the age of 75, would spend half a century upon this plane. In case of the suicides, seeing they have not accomplished their end, viz., to put an end to existence, the return for earth-life grows upon them with terrible zest.”
“It is here that one of the dangers of Vampirism occurs. If the experience they seek cannot be obtained without a physical body, only two courses are open for them. One is to do so vicariously. To do this, they must feed on the emanations arising from blood and alcohol; public houses and slaughterhouses are thronged with these unhappy creatures, which hang about and feed thus. From this standpoint the habit of offering blood-sacrifices to propitiate entities, as found recorded in some of the world-scriptures, becomes luminous, and the history of magic teems with such examples. Not content, however, with thus prolonging their existence on the lower level of the astral plane, the entities lure on those human beings whose tastes are depraved, causing them to go to all kinds of excesses, enticing them on in sensuality and vice of every kind. Each time a man yields to temptation, the supremacy over him which these creatures hold becomes the stronger; they gain possession of his will, till at length they control him altogether. How many men, who have hitherto lived a blameless life, have on the spur of the moment committed some heinous crime, and the public have marvelled how they came to do it. The explanation offered after the commission of the crime has often been to the effect that they could not tell what possessed them to do it, but they felt a sudden impulse sweep over them and they obeyed it. Here, without doubt, is the genesis of the conception of a tempter, and one feels more inclined to pity than to blame in many cases.”
If the censorship of books is needed, it is needed in such cases as Modern Vampirism. A young girl of highly nervous temperament might easily be obsessed by reading it, purely through the action of imagination. Mr Eaves is quite sincere, and means well, but the mischief of his book in some hands is palpable. No doubt, to think and live purely is, as he says, a “defence”; it is a defence against many evils on the ordinary plane of life; but when he advocates a plentiful use of garlic and the placing of small saucers of nitric acid to scare away vampires, we wonder whether we are still in the middle ages.
To recapitulate: The origin of vampire superstitions must be sought in the ignorance of early races who buried their dead in the earth, for it is singular that the races which cremate their dead have been practically free from vampire legends. Earth burial has never been free from the possibility of premature interment, and although there is no reason to believe that a man buried alive will not die in his coffin of suffocation, an ignorant peasantry seemed to imagine that he could live, issue forth at night, and keep himself alive by sucking the blood of the living. It is notable that as disbelief in this notion assumed large proportions, owing to the advance of education and refinement, the phenomena disappeared. Visitations as recorded in history have borne the marks of an epidemic, and even Dr Mayo was not averse to the proposition that a man who had a wasting disease, or was threatened with one, could imagine himself vampirised and thus spread the contagion to others. Vampirism is only another proof of the power of the mind over the body. It is the fixed idea that does the work. Mr Stanley Redgrove quotes an illustration from J. G. Fraser’s Psyche’s Task:–
“In illustration of the real power of the imagination, we may instance the Maori superstition of the Taboo. According to the Maoris, any one who touches a tabooed object will assuredly die, the tabooed object being a sort of ‘anti-talisman.’ Professor Frazer says:–‘Cases have been known of Maoris dying of sheer fright on learning that they had unwittingly eaten the remains of a chiet’s dinner, or handled something that belonged to him,’ since such objects were ipso facto tabooed. He gives the following case on good authority: ‘A woman, having partaken of some fine peaches from a basket, was told that they had come from a tabooed place. Immediately the basket dropped from her hands and she cried out in agony that the atua or godhead of the chief, whose divinity had been thus profaned, would kill her. That happened in the afternoon, and next day by twelve o’clock she was dead.’ For us the power of the taboo does not exist; for the Maori, who implicitly believes in it, it is a very potent reality, but this power of the taboo resides, not in the external objects, but in his own mind.” Very true. And the power of the vampire is the power of the idea.