Friday, January 09, 2015

Supernatural Friday: Risen Dead: Vampire and Zombie

I will talk about two more well known denizens of the risen dead. Next week, I have to write about more. Today for Supernatural Friday, it is about the vampire and the zombie.


People think any person rising after dying is either a vampire or zombie. Vampires drink blood. Zombies eat flesh of the living.

Actually in Eastern European legends from way, way back, vampires not only drank blood, they ate flesh too.  And they didn’t just attack anyone. They went after their ‘dear ones,’ a term you heard about if you read any of The Strain novels, comics, and TV show.  Dear ones, in other words, their family in life.

Now vampires were almost entirely unknown to the European imagination prior to 1730, and Johannes Fl├╝ckinger’s strange report became known as the most thoroughly documented–as well as the most widely circulated–vampire narrative in the world. Following the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718, much of the region now known as the Balkans was ceded to the Habsburg Monarchy by the Ottoman Empire. Along with it came a rich folkloric tradition which quickly merged with European ideas of witchcraft that had gripped the continent for the past three centuries. These stories would be widely reproduced in French, German and, later, in English, to eventually find their way into the hands of an obscure Irish writer and theater manager by the name of Bram Stoker.

 Countess Elizabeth Bathory: said to have bathed in virgins' blood to keep her skin supple and young. She was a real person.

Personally, I am sure that vampires were known, as every parts of the world have blood sucking. Flesh eating fiends in their myths and legends, just not called vampires directly.  In European stories, the making of new vampires came through bites or contaminated blood. They had the ability to transform into specific animal “familiars” (especially wolves and bats), and the method of dispatching the undead by murdering them in their coffins while they slept, would all be borrowed directly from Slavic folklore. These individuals thought to be the undead would later be exhumed, the red fluid in and around their mouth or nose would only confirm the original assumption. In actuality, during the normal process of decomposition the lungs become loaded with a dark red sanguinous fluid and the brain liquefies. Depending on the orientation of the body, this liquid would have leaked out as it was acted on by the pull of gravity. Add to this the eruption of sanguinous fluid when a stake is hammered into their lungs (an event that can emit sounds from a low groan to a high pitched scream as gases are forced outwards) and the misinterpretation would be complete.

Rabies can also be a cause for what might be thought as vampirism. The one with rabies would go and try to bit others. This of course, can be attributed to werewolves. It is notable that in the early Slavic accounts there was no distinction between vampires and what we would now call werewolves; in some versions a vampire was simply what a werewolf became after they died.

Other, older, versions of the vampire were not thought to be human at all but instead supernatural, possibly demonic, entities that did not take human form.  Clear foundations for the vampire are in the ancient world, but it is impossible to prove when the myth first arose. Suggestions that the vampire was born out of sorcery in ancient Egypt, a demon summoned into this world from some other. Many variations of vampires are told in myths and tales from around the world. There are Asian vampires, such as the Chinese jiangshi (pronounced chong-shee), evil spirits that attack people and drain their life energy; the blood-drinking Wrathful Deities that appear in the "Tibetan Book of the Dead," and many others.

Finding a vampire can have many ways to do so worldwide.  According to one Romanian legend, you need a seven-year-old boy and a white horse. The boy should be dressed in white, placed upon the horse, and the pair set loose in a graveyard at midday. Keep an eye on the horse as it wanders around, and whichever grave is nearest the horse when it finally stops will be a vampire's grave. Potential revenants can be identified at birth, usually by some abnormality, some defect, as when a child is born with teeth. Children born with an extra nipple in Romania, with a lack of cartilage in the nose, or a split lower lip in Russia are suspect. When a child is born with a red caul, or amniotic membrane, covering its head, this was regarded throughout much of Europe as presumptive evidence that it is destined to return from the dead. Minor deformities were looked upon as evil omens at the time.

It didn’t help that sometimes someone might die after going unconscious and not reviving. These people are buried. Centuries later, there are coffins unearthed and the contents hold a skeleton with its hands at the top, scratches in the wood. Obviously these people revived—not really dead—and found themselves buried. Then they died for real. If any were exhumed by villagers and found this way, I am sure a wooden stake, or more likely an iron stake or knife, was plunged into the chest or even the mouth.  Other ways of killing vampires include decapitation and stuffing the severed head's mouth with garlic or a brick. In fact, suspected vampire graves have been found with just such signs. In 2013, archaeologists in Bulgaria found two skeletons with iron rods through their chests. this pair are believed to have been accused vampires, according to an article in Archaeology Magazine.  You can read the article here.

Ways to protect yourself if a vampire comes after you? One of the best ways to stop a vampire is to carry a small bag of salt with you. If you are being chased, you need only to spill the salt on the ground behind you, at which point the vampire is obligated to stop and count each and every grain before continuing the pursuit. Another says that vampires cannot enter a home unless formally invited in. Supposedly, garlic keeps the vampire away and maybe a good thing to post at window. Of course, it would keep many away, not just the blood sucking undead.

As for zombies, that was a term a reporter called the ghouls of Night of the Living Dead. Romero thought of them as ghouls, not zombies. A zombie is supposed to be the living dead: people who die and are resurrected, but without their souls. According to legend, a zombi is someone who has annoyed his or her family and community to the degree that they can no longer stand to live with this person. They respond by hiring a Bokor who turns that person into a zombie. They can take orders, and they're supposed to never be tired, and to do what the master says.

Zombies are the product of spells by a voodoo sorcerer called a bokor. The word is believed to be of West African origin and was brought to Haiti by slaves from that region. Slavery was hard and cruel and it coud even be thought that maybe zombies was developed to keep a slave from killing themselves to escape slavery.  To become a zombie was the slave's worst nightmare: to be dead and still a slave, an eternal field hand. There are several ways to destroy zombies in fiction or movies and TV shows (decapitations or gunshots to the head are popular), though according to Haitian folklore the goal is to release the person from his or her zombie state, not to outright kill the person. There are several ways to free a zombie; feed the zombie salt; others say that if a zombie sees the ocean its mind will return and it will become self-aware and angry, trying to return to its grave.

The word "zombi" —spelled for years without the "e"— first appeared in print in an American newspaper in a reprinted short story called "The Unknown Painter" in 1838.  Then William Seabrook wrote about seeing "voodoo" cults in Haiti and the concept of the zombi to many readers. Several film scholars believe the book was the basis of the classic 1932 horror film White Zombie. The most famous studies of Haitian zombies was ethnobotanist Wade Davis' 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombies, and Magic. Wade studied the case of Clairvius Narcisse, a man believed to have been turned into an actual zombie through a combination of drugs (including puffer fish venom and toad venom) in order to mimic death. Then they gave him the hallucinogenic drug tetrodotoxin to keep him in a zombie-like state.

 White Zombie (1932) Poster

Next week, I will post more undead creatures of legend. Since I have Marscon next weekend and will be out of town Thursday, I will post it a day early, on Thursday morning.

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