User Profile
Michael Bell
McKinney, Te...


No Categories at this time.

Recent Entries

You have 987142 hits.

Latest Comments

Posted By Michael Bell

Here’s the first half of the bibliography for citations in my blog entry on vampire definitions.

Barber, P. 1988. Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Black, G. F., and W. T. Northcote. 1903. Examples of Printed Folklore Concerning Orkney and Shetland Islands. Publications of the Folk-Lore Society. London.

Black, W. G. 1883. Folk-Medicine: A Chapter in the History of Culture. Publications of the Folk-Lore Society. London.

Brendle, T. R., and C. W. Unger. 1970. Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans: The Non-Occult Cures. Proceedings of the Pennsylvania German Society, vol. 45. New York: Augustus M. Kelley.

Briggs, K. 1976. An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. New York: Pantheon Books. 481 pp.

Carlson, M. M. 1977. What Stoker saw: An introduction to the History of the Literary Vampire. Folklore Forum 10:26-32.

Coote, H. C. 1878. Some Italian Folk-Lore. Folk-Lore Record 1:187-215.

Currier, J. M. 1891. Contributions to New England Folklore. Journal of American Folklore 4:253-56.

Foust, R. 1986. Rite of Passage: The Vampire Tale as Cosmogonic Myth. In Aspects of Fantasy: Selected Essays from the Second International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film, ed. W. Coyle. Contributions to the Study of Fiction and Fantasy, no. 19, 73-84. Westpoty, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Frazer, S. J. G. 1911-15. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. 3d ed. London: Macmillan. 12 vols.

------. 1977. Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion. New York <London>: Arno Press, Macmillan. 2.

------. 1977. Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion. New York <London>: Arno Press, Macmillan. 1.

------. 1977. Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion. New York <London>: Arno Press, Macmillan. 3.

Hand, W. D., ed. 1964. Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. Vol. 6-7, Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Holte, J. C. 1987. The Vampire. In Mythical and Fabulous Creatures: A Source Book and Research Guide, ed. M. South, 243-64. New York: Greenwood Press.

Posted By Michael Bell

Looking at the vampire tradition as found in New England from other venues reveals additional windows into the realm of folklore. Cures for consumption, using ashes, and burning hearts and corpses all are components in a web of interconnected beliefs and practices. While the New England version of vampirism certainly seems connected to Europe, there are significant distinctions between these two traditions, which we might represent as a continuum ranging from explicit vampirism on one end to folk medical practice on the other. The explicit side is represented by the full-blown tradition as it is known in Eastern Europe (Romanian versions, for example), with variants addressing all aspects of vampirism (including an indefinite array of epidemics/plagues caused by vampires, reasons for becoming a vampire, how it travels and changes shape, its night visits, and methods for identifying, warding off, disarming, and destroying it); the other end of the continuum—the purely folk medical practice—is the American version, which I think is best exemplified by a variant collected in Grafton County, New Hampshire, published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1891: “If the lungs of a brother or sister who died of consumption be burned, the ashes will cure the living members of the family affected with that disease” (Currier 1891, 253).

Ultimately, what ties these seemingly diverse traditions together is the belief that a corpse—perhaps undead, perhaps animated by an evil spirit—is responsible for an otherwise unexplainable sequence of deaths. Reduced to its common denominator, the vampire is, as Paul Barber suggested, a scapegoat: A vampire is “a corpse that comes to the attention of the populace at a time of crisis and is taken for the cause of that crisis” (Barber 1988, 125). Barber’s elegant definition incorporates most instances that have been labelled vampirism, even though it opens the door to beings excluded by the “splitters.” For the purposes of this study of America’s historic vampires, Barber’s definition works quite well.

By the twentieth century, vampires had disappeared from their natural habitat in the New England countryside. Ironically, those who argued in the late nineteenth century that civilization was on the verge of eradicating the last vestiges of “primitive survivals from a barbaric past” were, in a sense, at least partially correct: an empirically tested bacterium had banished this traditional scapegoat. As the vampire tradition became an oddity of the past rather than “a horrible superstition” actually practiced by folks living down the road, Hollywood was beginning to teach people how to enjoy vampires. New England’s vampires soon were adopted, then adapted, by a mass media eager for new Dracula clones. As Holte (1987:261) pointed out, “the vampire has served as a metaphor for the dark side of human emotions and behavior.”  What better food for the human imagination than sex, violence, superhuman power, and eternal life?

Posted By Michael Bell

In the Golden Bough, Frazer provides other connections, in the form of ashes and heart burning, to curing consumption and ridding oneself of vengeful beings. One cure for consumption is to swallow the ashes of Midsummer fires (Frazer 1911-1915, 10:194-195). Burning or boiling the heart of a bewitched animal will compel the witch to appear (Frazer 1911-1915, 10:321-322). Montague Summers writes that burning a witch prevents hereditary witchcraft in subsequent generations (Summers 1928, 81). Burning the corpse, or selected parts, of the suspected vampire is a commonplace method of killing or laying the fiend. It is widespread and undoubtedly ancient. Voltaire described how Greeks dealt with vampire attacks: “The Greek corpses go into the houses to suck the blood of little children, to eat the supper of the fathers and mothers, drink their wine, and break all the furniture. They can only be put to rights by burning them when they are caught. But the precaution must be taken of not putting them into the fire until after their hearts are torn out, which must be burned separately” (Voltaire 1927, 7:145).

Among eighteenth-century Serbs, local gypsies served as the experts in vampire destruction:

In the year 1731 vampires disturbed the village of Medvedja. The High Command from Belgrade immediately sent a commission of German officers and others to the spot. They excavated the whole cemetery and found that there really were vampires there, and all those dead found to be vampires were decapitated by the Gypsies, their bodies cremated and the ashes thrown into the river Morava.

Vukanovic writes that “both Gypsies and other races in the Balakns believe that Dhampir, a magician created through the love relations between a vampire and its living wife, has the supernatural power of seeing, removing and destroying vampires” (Vukanovic 1960, 53). In some localities, this position is like an inherited trade that is passed down in families from father to son.  In others, it is the “posthumous” child (that is, born after its father’s death) who may serve as the vampire’s destroyer. There is a prescription, widely held throughout the Blakans, that absolute silence must be observed during the ceremony. Among the Balkan Gypsies, Serbs and Albanians, the successful magician is paid a sum of money in addition to being given a fine meal and traveling expenses (if needed).

Consistent with the dynamic nature of folklore, the up-to-date Dhampir often kills the vampire with a firearm. There is a Macedonian story about a woman named Karolinka “who became a vampire after her death and for a year haunted her living relatives frequently.  Once her family wanted to throw her into the water, but she sensed their intentions and immediately escaped.  The peasants told the whole affair to the administrative authrorities of the day, and when the police came into the village and used their guns against her, she fled; and nobody ever saw her again” (Vukanovic 1960, 47-48).

Posted By Michael Bell

A link between the agent and the cause of death is illustrated by an example from the northern counties of England, collected in the nineteenth century, where a young man “was at last restored to health by eating butter made from the milk of cows fed in kirkyards [churchyards], a sovereign remedy for consumption brought on through being witch-ridden” (Black 1883, 96). Tracking the association between churchyards (that is, burial grounds) and consumption yields another remedy, this one collected in 1901 on the Shetland Islands, Scotland, that takes us within a step of the actual corpse:

A much-respected dissenting clergyman, still alive, called at this cottage . . . to inquire for a poor woman who was dying of consumption. On hearing she was no better, he inquired if they had used means to aid her recovery: “Yah,” said her aged mother, “we gaed to the kirkyard, and brought mould frae the grave o’ the last body buried, an’ laid it on her breast. As this had nae effect, we gaed to the brig ower which the last corpse was ta’en, an’ took some water frae the burn below, an’ made her drink it. This failed too, an’ as a last resource, we dug a muckle hole i’ the grund, an’ put her in’t” (Black and Northcote 1903, 151).

Folk logic, of course, is doubled-edged, and the same reasoning can be used to cause, rather than cure, consumption. In African American witchcraft practices, the intention of the perpetrator determines the result. Graveyard dirt, which presumably contains some portion of the buried corpse (much like kirkyard mould), is fed to a relative of the person in the grave to cause lingering bad health, eventually resulting in death [see (Hyatt 1970-1978, 4:#7544)]. The following formula was collected from an African American woman in Mississippi by Newbell Niles Puckett (1926:141) in the 1920s:

The Mississippi slave Negroes would pull up the grave-board from the head of the tomb and whittle a few shavings from it, letting them fall on the grave itself. These shavings were then picked up, together with a little of the gravedirt, boiled in water, and strained. This decoction mixed with whiskey and given to an enemy was sure to cause his early death by consumption (Puckett 1926, 141).

Posted By Michael Bell

Serbians and Wallachians even today might perform a ceremony of remembrance, a pomana, to ensure that dead relatives have what is necessary and thus have no need to return and haunt their living kin:

All food and drink consumed at a pomana as well as the songs sung and the music played, are regarded as sacrifices to the deceased in whose honour the ceremony is conducted. Accordingly, the more guests are invited to a pomana, and the more food and drink is consumed, and the more joy and music, the more the needs of the soul are catered for in the world beyond (Schierup 1986, 181).

Included in the protective acts and objects used for disabling a vampire, among the Gypsies of the Balkan Peninsula, are putting a sprig of hawthorne into the stocking of the deceased, covering the mirrors while the corpse is still in the house (thus preventing him from seeing himself), and placing a piece of iron (sometimes a file, small saw, or small axe) to the head of the corpse. Driving a nail into the ground beneath the death spot can also serve the same purpose. Frazer notes an Asian analog: "In Cochin China the troublesome ghost of a stranger can be confined to his grave by knocking a nail or other piece of iron into the earth of the grave at the point where his head reposes" (Frazer 1977, 3:29).

Despite the popular notion that driving a stake through the heart of a vampire is the method for killing a vampire, there actually are several ways to destroy it. Both burning the corpse or its parts and decapitation are widespread rites of riddance. Staking, itself, may suggest different theories: staking through the heart implies that the heart is the seat of the soul or spirit, so that driving a stake through it will decidedly kill the vampire. Staking the corpse to the ground, on the other hand, is an expedient means of immobilizing it, ensuring that it cannot leave the grave. Sometimes more than one method may be used. For "very obstinate cases of vampirism" in Romania, for example, "it is recommended to cut off the head and replace it in the coffin with the mouth filled with garlic; or to extract the heart and burn it, strewing the ashes over the grave" (Frazer 1977, 2:86-87). [Frazer might have found these practices in Emily Gerard’s Land Beyond the Forest (1888), used by Stoker for background to Dracula.]