Christianity and Vampyres



The belief in vampyres preceded the introduction of Christianity into Southern and Eastern Europe. It seems to have originated independently as a response to unexplained phenomena common to most cultures. Ancient Greek writings tell of the Lamiai, the Mormolykiai, and other vampire like creatures. Independent accounts of vampires emerged and spread among the Slavic people and were passed to their nonSlavic neighbors. Possibly the Gypsies brought some belief in vampires from India that contributed to the development of the myth. As Christianity spread throughout the lands of the Mediterranean Basin and then northward across Europe, it encounted these vampire beliefs that had already arisen among the many Pagan people. However, vampirism was never high on the Christian agenda and was thus rarely mentioned. It continued presence was indicated by occasional documents such as an eleventh-century law promulgated by Charlemange as Emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire. The law condemned anyone who promoted the belief in the witch/vampire (specifically in its form as a strix), and who on account of that belief caused a person thought to be a vampire to be attacked and killed.
By the end of the first Christian millennium, the Christian Church was still organizationally united and in agreement upon the basic Christian affirmation (as contained in the Nicene Creed) but had already begun to differentiate itself into its primarily Greek (Eastern Orthodox) and Latin (Roman Catholic) branches. The church formally broke in the year 1054 with each side excommunicating the other.
During the second Christian millennium, the two churches completed their conquests through the remaining parts of Europe, especially eastern Europe. Meanwhile, quite apart from the major doctrinal issues which had separated them in the eleventh century, the theology in the two churches began to develop numerous lesser differences. These would become important especially in those areas where the boundaries of the two churches met and wars brought people of one church under the control of political leaders of the other. Such a situation arose, for example, in the 12th century when the predominantly Roman Catholic Hungarian conquered Transylvania, then populated by Romanians, the majority of whom were Eastern Orthodox. Slavic but Roman Catholic Poland was bounded on the east by Orthodox Russian states. In the Balkans, Roman Catholic Croatia existed beside predominantly Orthodox Serbia.
One divergence between the two churches frequently noted in the vampire literature was their different understanding of the noncorruptibility of dead bodies. In the east, if the soft tissue of a body did not decay quickly once placed in the ground, it was generally considered a sign of evil. That the body refused to disintegrate meant that the earth would, for some reason, not receive it. A non-corrupting body became a candidate for vampirism. In the west, quite the opposite was true. The body of a dead saint often did not experience corruption like that of an ordinary body. Not only did it not decay, but it frequently emitted a pleasant odor. It did not stink of putrefaction. These differing understandings of incorruptibility explain in large part the demise of belief in vampires in the Catholic West, and the parallel survival of belief in Orthodox lands, even though the Greek church officially tried to suppress the belief.

Vampires and Satan

Admittedly, vampires were not a priority issue on the agenda of Christianity theologians and thinkers of either church. However, by 1645 when Leo Allatius [1586-1669] (also known as Leone Allacci who was a 17th century Greek vampirologist and was possibly the first modern author to write a book on vampires) wrote the first book to treat the subject of vampires systematically, it was obvious that much thought, especially at the parish level, had been devoted to the subject. The vampire had been part of the efforts of the church to eliminate Paganism by treating it as a false religion. The deities of the Pagans were considered unreal, nonexistent. In like measure, the demons of Pagan lore were unreal.
Through the 13th and 14th centuries, as the Inquisition became a force in the Roman Catholic church, a noticeable change took place in theological perspectives. A shift occurred in viewing Paganism (or witchcraft). It was no longer considered merely a product of the unenlightened imagination, it was the work of the devil. Witchcraft was transformed in the popular mind into Satanism. The change of opinion on Satanism also provided a opening for a reconsideration of, for example, the incubus/succubus and the vampire as also somehow the work of the devil. By the time Allatius wrote his treatise on the vampire, this changing climate had overtaken the church. Allatius was Greek, but he was also a Roman Catholic rather than an Orthodox believer. He possessed a broad knowledge of both churches. In his De Greacorum bodie quirundam opinationibus, the vampire towards which he primarily turned his attention was the vrykolakas, the Greek vampire.
Allatius noted that among the Eastern Orthodox Greeks a noncanon, that is, an ordinance of uncertain authorship and date, was operative in the 16th century. It defined a vrykolakas as a dead man who remained whole and incorrupt, who did not follow the normal patterns of disintegration which usually occurred very quickly in a time before embalming. Occasionally, such a vrykolakas was found, and it was believed to be the work of the devil. When a person discovered a vrykolakas, the local priest was to be summoned. The priest chanted an invocation to the Mother of God and again repeated the services of the dead. The earlier noncanon, however, originated in the period when the church was attacking the belief in vampires as superstition and was designed to reverse some centuries-old beliefs about vampires. It ascribed incidents involving vrykolakas to someone seeing a dead person, usually at night, frequently in dreams. Such dreams were the work of the devil. The devil had not caused the dead to rise and attack its victims, but deluded the individual with a false dream. Allatius himself promoted the belief that was gaining dominance in the west through the 16th century: vampires were real and were themselves the work of the devil. Just as the Inquisition in the previous century had championed the idea that witchcraft was real and that witches actually communed with the devil, so vampires were actually walking around the towns and villages of Europe. They were not the dead returned, they were bodies reanimated by the devil and his minions. Allatius even quoted the witchfinders bible, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Witch’s Hammer), which noted the three conditions necessary for witchcraft to exist: the devil, a witch and the permission of God. In like measure, Allatius asserted that for vampires to exist all that was needed was the devil, a dead body, and the permission of God.
The tying of vampirism to the devil by Allatius and his colleagues brought Satan into the vampire education. Vampirism became another form of Satanism and the vampire the instrument of the devil. Also, his victims were tainted by evil. Like the demons, vampires were alienated from the things of God. They could not exist in the realms of the sacred and would flee from the effective symbols of the true God, such as the crucifix, or from holy things, such as holy water and the eucharistic wafer, which both orthodox and Roman Catholics believed to be the very body of Christ. In like measure, the offices of the church though the priest were an effective means of stopping the vampire. In the eastern orthodox church, the people always invited the priest to participate in their anti-vampire efforts. In its attempt to counter the superstitious beliefs in vampires, the orthodox church ordered its priests not to participate in such activities, even threatening excommunication.

The 18th Century Vampire Debates

During the 17th Century, reports, not just of vampires, but of vampire epidemics, began to filter out of eastern Europe, especially Prussia and Poland. These incidents involved cases in which bodies were exhumed and mutilated. The mutilation of the bodies of people buried as Christians and presumed awaiting the resurrection was of utmost and serious concern to Christian intellectuals and church leaders in western Europe. The majority of these reports came from Roman Catholic-dominated lands, the most important from that area of Serbia which had been taken over by Austria in the wake of a fading Ottoman Empire. The cases of Peter Plogojouitz and Arnold Paul launched a heated debate in the German (both Lutheran and Catholic) Universities. In the midst of this debate, Cardinal Schtrattembach, the Roman Catholic bishop of Olmutz, Germany, turned to Rome for some advice on how to handle the vampire reports. The pope, in turn, called upon the learned archbishop of Trani, Italy, Giuseppe Davanzati, who spent five years studying the problem before writing his Dissertazione sopra I Vampiri, finally published in 1744.
Davanzati was swayed by the more skeptical arguments which had emerged as the consensus in the German debates. He advised the pope that the vampire reports were originating in human fantasies. While these fantasies might possibly be of diabolical origin, past oral attention should be directed to the person reporting the vampire. The bodies of the suspected vampires should be left undisturbed. The church followed Davanzati’s wisdom.
Meanwhile, as Davanzati was pursuing his research, so was Dom Augustin Calmet. Calmet known throughout France as a Bible Scholar, published his Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Anges des Demons et des Espits, et sur les revenants, et Vampires de Hingrie, de Boheme, de Moravie, et de Silesie two years after Davanzati. Calmet played devil’s advocate to his fellow churchman. He described some detail the reports of the eastern European vampires and called upon theologians and his scholarly colleagues to give them some serious study. He essentially argued the medieval position that the bodies of suspected vampires were animated by the devil and/or evil spirits. His colleagues in the church did not receive his report favorably. Even members of the Benedictine order, of which he was a member, chided him for giving credence to what amounted to nothing more than children’s horror stories. Though finding little support among the theologians and church hierarchy, he found broad popular support. His book went through several printings in France and was translated and published in Germany and England.
The sign of the future came in 1755 and 1756 when in two actions Empress Maria Theresa took the authority of handling the vampire cases out of the hands of parish priests and local authorities and placed it in the hands of Austrian government officials. The clear intent of the law was to stop the disturbance of the graves. During the decades following Maria Theresa’s action, the spokespersons of what would become known as the Enlightenment would take over the final stages of the debate that vampires were unreal. After a generation in which the likes of Diderot and Voltaire expressed their opinion of vampires, scholars have not found it necessary to refute a belief in the vampire. Calmet became an intellectual relic, though he provided a number of interesting stories from which a popular literary vampire could be created.

Dracula and the Church

Interesting enough, the first vampire stories from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “The Bride of Corinth” to Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” were largely secular works. Religious artifacts and religious characters were almost completely absent. At the end of “Carmilla” as Laura’s father began his quest to locate and destroy Carmilla, he suggested to Laura that they call upon the local priest. The priest performed certain solemn, but unnamed, rituals which allowed the troubled Laura to sleep in peace. However, he did not accompany the men to finally kill Carmilla, though two medical men were present to oversee the act. It was left to Bram Stoker and his novel Dracula to reintroduce Christianity into the vampire’s life. In the very first chapter, as Jonathan Harker made his way to castle Dracula, a woman took off a rosary, with an attached crucifix, and gave it to him. In spite of his anti-Roman Catholic background, Harker put the rosary around his neck and wore it. Later, an enraged Dracula lunged for Harker’s neck but quickly withdrew when he touched the rosary. Abraham van Helsing, the pious vampire hunter from Holland, explained that the crucifix was one of several sacred objects whose presence deprived the vampire of it’s power.
Besides the crucifix, Van Helsing used the eucharistic wafer, the bread consecrated as the body of Christ in the church’s communion service (in this case the Roman Catholic mass). He placed the wafers around the openings of the tomb of Lucy Westenra and sanitized (destroyed the effectiveness of) the boxes of native soil Dracula brought from his homeland. Most importantly, the wafer burned its imprint into the forehead of the tainted Mina Murray after her encounter with Dracula. In subsequent productions of Dracula, the eucharistic wafer largely dropped from the picture. It was used on occasion to sanitize the earth, but only in Bram Stoker’s Dracula did the scene of Mina’s branded by the wafer become a part of a dramatic presentation. Instead, frequently used to cause the vampire to lose its strength or to harm the vampire.

The Vampire and the Church since Stoker

Through the 20th century, the crucifix became a standard part of the vampire hunter’s kit. Frequently he would flash it just in time to save himself. On many occasions, heroines were saved from a vampire about to pounce upon them b a shining cross hanging around their neck. At the same time, especially since mid-century, the vampire novel began to show signs of secularization. Some vampires came from outer space or arose as victims of a disease. Such vampires, lacking any negative supernatural origins, were unaffected by the holy objects.
As the century progressed, vampire hunters challenged the role of Christianity in the culture. Some expressed their doubts as to its claims to exclusive truth concerning God and the world. Writer Anne Rice, for example, very early in her life became a skeptic of Roman Catholicism, in which she was raised. Her vampires reflecting her nonbelief, were unaffected by Christian symbols. They walked in churches with impurity and handled crucifixes with no negative reaction. In like measure, Chelsea Quinn Yarbo’s hero, St. Germain, and other “good guy” vampires were not Satanic, quite the opposite, they were moral agents. The vampires in Yarbo’s books had no negative reaction to Christian objects or places.
Vampires in science fiction were raised in an alien culture that had never heard of Christianity. They were among the first group of vampires that had no reaction to Christian sacred symbols. The vampires of The Hunger by Whitley Striber and those in Elaine Bergstrom’s novels, were unaffected by the cross because they were aliens. Bergstrom’s vampires, the Austria family made their living working in cathedrals repairing stained glass. Other writers affected by the religiously pluralistic culture in the west questioned the value of Christian symbols for people raised in or adhering to another faith. For example, they asked if Jewish symbols served as protection from Jewish vampires. In Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon me but your Teeth are in my Neck (1967), one of the more humorous moments came from a Jewish vampire attacking a young girl who tried to protect herself with a cross.
The relation to the sacred in general and Christianity in particular will continue to be a problem for vampire novelists, especially those working in the Christian west. The vampire is a supernatural gothic entity whose popular myth dictated its aversion for the crucifix. The literacy vampire derives its popularity from the participation of its readers in a world of fantasy and supernatural power. At the same time, an increasing number of novelists do not have a Christian heritage and thus possess no understanding or appreciation of any power derived from Christian symbols. For the foreseeable future, new vampire fiction will be written out of the pull and tug between these traditional and contemporary perspectives.


Sources Frayling, Christopher. Vampires: Lord Byron to Count Dracula. London: Faber and Faber, 1991. 429 pp. Summers, Montague. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. London:Routledge, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, & Co., 1928. 356 pp. Reprint. New Hyde Park, NJ: University Books, 1960. 356 pp.


Interesting tidbit that I found on http://www.pathwaytodarkness.com/ while I was searching for more information to add to the site.

Not exactly what I would put up in the main group profile, but I thought was interesting enough for a post. Christianity and Vampirism 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 odor. 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 favor 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. Embedded 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