Protection against Vampires
Protection against Vampires(pop culture)
Coinciding with the emergence of the belief in vampires was the designation of methods of protecting oneself from them. In the West, the vampire first appeared as a threat to infants and to mothers at the time of birth, and the best protection available was the use of magic. The earliest barriers known to have been used against vampire attacks were magical words and acts, which survived in the more recent use of prayer and Bible quotes. In the first century, Ovid left an account of an ancient ritual to protect a child, which included touching the door where the infant resided with a branch of a plant, sprinkling the entrance of the house with water, and killing a pig that was offered to the strix (vampire) as alternative food. The words spoken during this ritual included:
Birds of the night (i.e., the strix), spare the entrails of the boy. For a small victim (the pig) falls. Take heart for heart, I pray, entrails for entrails. This life we give you in place of a better one.
After the pronunciation of the formula, the house was further secured with thorn branches at the window. This ancient account of warding off the attack of a vampire mentions one of the several most common items that served to protect people from vampires: the thorn. The hawthorn, in part because of its association with the story of Jesus’s death, was the most common across Southern Europe, but other thorns were used as magical barriers against both vampires and witches. Both the obvious problems that the wild thorn bush had presented to humans and its many values when properly utilized suggested the extension of its role into the supernatural realm. And, in fact, it was reported as an antiwitch and anti-vampire shield not only in Europe, but in Asia and the Americas.
Possibly even more than thorns, the pungent herb garlic, which was utilized as both a medicine and a food flavoring, was also a protective device used to ward off witches and vampires. Garlic was found in all parts of the world, particularly in the warmer climates, and everywhere found its way onto the list of anti-vampire items. Garlic’s inherent value as a medicine, coupled with its strong offensive smell, suggest its power to drive away the forces of evil.
The other ubiquitous protective device against vampires was seeds. All around the world people scattered seeds between themselves and the suspected vampire as a barrier. Vampires were thought to be fascinated with counting seeds, be they mustard, millet, grass, linen, carrot, poppy, or rice.
The seeds might be scattered in the coffin, over the grave, on the path between the grave site and the village, or around a home that the vampire might enter. The vampire would either have to count the seeds slowly, one per year, or be caught in a situation of having to collect and count enough seeds that it could not finish its task before dawn.
In Europe, especially since medieval times, objects sacred to Christianity, most commonly the crucifix, the eucharistic wafer, and holy water, have been cited as effective protective devices. Vampires were identified with the realm of the devil, and Satan and his minions could not exist in the presence of the holy. Mere priests, also being sinners, were not considered completely holy whereas the cross and eucharistic host were symbolic of the very presence of God. In Latin American countries, sacred pendants were attached to a child’s bed clothes. In Eastern Orthodox countries, an icon (such as a holy picture) had the same sacred value as a crucifix.
Around the world, several other sacred objects have been noted, but were not prominent in non-Christian societies. Here the vampire, indeed the whole realm of evil, was not seen in such polarized categories as it was in the Christian world. (In an early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy’s friend Willow [whose parents were Jewish] wonders if and how she could make use of the cross against vampires, a question raised previously in several movies such as Love at First Bite . The idea expresses the problem of affirming the particularly of the sacred in a more pluralistic religious setting.) The use of holy objects that banished the unholy also led to a consideration of various purifying agents. The most universal was fire. Fire, while destructive, cleansed. It was a major agent in destroying the vampire, but could also be used to drive the vampire away. From accounts around the world, numerous items have been used to ward off vampiric evil. Some are purely defensive, forming a barrier between the vampire and its potential victim.
Others create an aura or atmosphere that the vampire would avoid. A few were more offensive and would actually harm the vampire. Typical of the defensive protective devices would be the many things that could be placed in a bedroom to ward off a vampire. Shoes turned around, a mirror placed by the door, and a broom put behind a door all served in one or more cultures as a vampire barrier.
Items with illumination or smell, such as candles or garlic, were usually the best to create a protective atmosphere. However, metal—typically pieces of iron, placed under or near a baby’s crib—was thought to keep vampires away in many diverse cultures. Iron, when used as a structural feature could form a strong physical barrier for it was substance that vampires avoid. To a lesser extent, silver was used in a similar manner. Needles, knives, and scissors were also placed near the bed to be used against the vampire in the advent of an attack.
Protection against the Modern Vampire: With the secularization of the vampire myth in the late twentieth century, most of the prophylactic attributes of traditional protective items were lost. Recent vampires have been affected little by holy objects, thorns or seeds. Garlic alone remained an almost universal item that vampires were believed to avoid, and only a minority of contemporary Westerners used garlic with any regularity. Modern novels left victims with few protections from the onslaught of a vampire. Even fire, also still universally avoided by vampires, rarely occurred in modern society in a form useful to stave off a vampire’s effort to reach its victim. Modern vampires generally have extra strength, but can be overcome by a group of people.
In recent novels and films, victims have had little to protect them should a vampire single them out. The only forces holding the vampire in check were: a possible moral commitment not to kill; or rational consideration, to be discrete, that kept a vampire from leaving a trail of blood-drained bodies to be found by authorities who would then discern the vampire’s existence.
Some help survives. Taoist magical formulas written on paper and stuck to the forehead of a Chinese vampire has been a standard feature of Hong Kong movies. In the British television series Being Human, the Jewish werewolf found that the Star of David he wore around his neck kept the evil vampires at bay. The cross still works occasionally, but is less and less effective all the time.
Psychic Vampirism Among the most popular theories to explain the persistency and universality of vampire myths, the idea of psychic vampirism traced the belief in the vampire to various occult, psychic, or paranormal phenomena. Such explanations have their origin in folktales that identified the vampiric entity as a ghostly figure rather than a resuscitated body—or even further back to ancient times and the earliest vampirelike figures who were described as evil gods or demons, such as the lamiai of Greece. Such entities were closely related to the medieval incubus/succubus.
Psychic explanations of vampirism emerged in the nineteenth century on the heels of psychical research, a scientific discipline that assigned itself the task of investigating experiences formerly assigned to the realm of the occult or supernatural. It attempted to discern which experiences were illusional, which had ready psychological explanations, and which were paranormal or psychic. Psychical research borrowed many terms from spiritualism and occultism as a part of its early working language. While vampirism was not the most popular topic for discussion among spiritualists and occultists, it appeared occasionally and seemed to need an explanation from the perspective of the occult worldview.
Astral Vampirism: Among ritual magicians and theosophists, vampirism was explained as due to the astral body. It was their understanding that each person had not only a physical body, but a second body, usually invisible, which was often seen separating from the physical body at the moment of death. This astral body accounted for such phenomena as ghosts and out-of-body experiences. Henry Steel Olcott, the first president of the Theosophical Society, speculated that occasionally when a person was buried, the person was not really dead, but in a catatonic or trance-like state, still barely alive. Citing the experience of yogis who could slow their breathing to an indiscernible rate and survive without air for many weeks, Olcott surmised that a person could survive for long periods in the grave. In the meantime, the person would send his or her astral double to suck the blood or life force from the living and thus gain nourishment. This explanation, to Olcott, seemed to explain why a body that had been buried for weeks or months would be dug up and appear as if it had recently gorged itself on blood. It was his belief that the blood or life force swallowed by the astral form passed immediately to the organs of the physical body lying in the tomb, and then the astral body quickly returned to that corpse.
Olcott also commented on the practice of burning the corpse of a suspected vampire. He argued that vampirism, and the possibility of premature burial and vampirism, made cremation the preferable means of disposing of the physical remains of the deceased. Cremation severed the link between the astral and physical body and prevented the possibility of vampirism. Olcott’s original observations, including his preference for cremation, were later expanded on by other prominent theosophical writers such as Charles W. Leadbeater, Arthur E. Powell, and Franz Hartmann.
Hartmann traced the astral vampirism theory back to the alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541), though Olcott and his mentor, H. P. Blavatsky, seemed to have developed the theosophical position directly from the work of pioneer psychical researcher Z. J. Piérart. Hartmann, who related several vampire stories in the pages of the Occult Review, developed his own variation of astral vampirism in his theory of an “astral tumour.” He saw the vampire as a force field of subhuman intelligence that acted out of instinct rather than any rational thought. He differed from Olcott by suggesting that the vampire was malignant, but since it lacked any intelligence, was not morally evil.
Two modern versions of the astral vampirism hypothesis have been articulated. In the 1960s parapsychologist Scott Rogo formulated a theory based upon broad reading in both vampire and psychic literature and attention to some of the more exotic psychic occurrences. He posed the definition of a vampire as “a certain kind of haunting which results in an abnormal loss of vitality through no recognized channel.” Vampirism was not due to a living agent, but to a disassociated portion of the human that remains intact and capable of some degree of human consciousness after death. This remnant eventually dissipated, but that disintegration was postponed by its ability to take life from the living. Martin V. Riccardo, founder of the Vampire Studies network, suggested that astral vampirism may account for many of the reports of vampirism. He focused, however, upon the activity of individuals who sent their astral bodies to attack their sleeping neighbors. Riccardo cited a detailed case reported by occultist Dion Fortune, author of a volume on the prevention of various negative occult experiences, Psychic Self-Defense. Fortune discovered that some of her neighbors shared a nightmare attack attributed to the same person. Fortune confronted the person, who admitted to having magical powers and to harming others.
Vampiric Entities: Among the “I AM” Ascended Masters groups that have grown out of the original work of Guy Ballard, a somewhat different emphasis on the vampire theme has been evident. These groups posited the idea that over the centuries, humankind created a large number of what were termed “mass entities.” Through calling up negative realities, thinking about them, and feeling violently about them, they called these mass entities into existence. Every time a person gave attention to one of these mass entities, it drew strength from that individual and became more powerful in altering the course of humanity. The legion of mass entities went under names like war, pestilence, and fear.
These mass entities acted like vampires and, as one of the Masters speaking to the members of the Bridge to Freedom asserted, it was the task of those related to the Ascended Masters and their cause to dissolve the “vampire activity of the mass humanly created entities.” The work of dissolution was accomplished through decreeing, the particular process of prayer utilized by the “I AM”-related groups.
The Church Universal and Triumphant under the leadership of its Ascended Masters Messenger Elizabeth Clare Prophet, identified a number of disincarnate mass entities, including drug and tobacco entities, insanity entities, sex entities, and entities aligned against the church. One set of entities was termed Halloween entities, which included the horror entity named Dracula (female) or Draculus (male). The church has given its members a ritual of exorcism of these entities.
Magnetic Vampirism: The most common form of psychic vampirism, however, did not involve an astral body. Magnetic vampirism was the sapping of life force by one person from another. The idea of magnetic vampirism was based on the commonly reported experience of a loss of vitality caused by simply being in the presence of certain people. Hartmann referred to psychic sponges—people who unconsciously vampirized every sensitive person with whom they came into contact. He believed such a person was possessed by a vampiric entity who continually drained both the energy of its possessed host and all of his or her acquaintances. Scott Rogo, author of “In-depth Analysis of the Vampire Legend,” cited the case of clairvoyant Mollie Flancher who, because of some unrelated condition, was kept under careful observation for many years.
It was noted that any animals that she attempted to keep as pets soon died, and those close to her speculated that she had sapped them of their psychic energy.
Anton LaVey (1930–1997), founder of the Church of Satan, taught church members about psychic vampirism and how to avoid it as a key element in the Church’s ego development program.
Psychic vampirism made a significant comeback in the 1990s. A new movement of real vampires, the Sanguinarians, became visible and were identified by their con sumption of blood. As the new phase of the real vampire movement developed, however, it became evident that the great majority did not drink blood or had abandoned the practice for a number of reasons, including the transmission of blood diseases. At this point, voices favoring psychic vampirism came to the fore, and long-time Ohio vampire Michelle Belanger emerged as their primary spokesperson.
Note: There are many instances of tales of alleged psychic vampirism in theosophical literature in its early phase. These are collected in Marco Frenschkowski, “Okkultismus und Phantastik. Eine Studie zu ihrem Verhältnis am Beispiel der Helena P. Blavatsky,” Das schwarze Geheimnis. Magazin zur unheimlich-phantastischen Literatur 4 (1999): 53–104, No. 78 in the United States.