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widely used symbol. In various forms, it can be found in such diverse cultures as those of ancient India, Egypt, and pre-Columbian North America. It also is found in the megalithic monuments of Western Europe.
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The crucifix, a major symbol of the Christian faith, is a Latin cross with a figure of Jesus on it. It often appears on the end of the rosary, a string of prayer beads. The cross represents Jesus as he was executed on the original Good Friday. The crucifix is used primarily by Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, the several branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and other church bodies that follow a similar liturgical style of Christianity. In general, Protestant and Free churches do not utilize the crucifix. They prefer a plain cross, sometimes thought of as an empty cross, without the corpus a symbol of the resurrected Christ.
In the first chapter of the novel Dracula, (1897) a woman in Bistritz, Transylvania, took a rosary from her neck and gave it to Jonathan Harker upon hearing that he was going to visit Count Dracula. Harker, a member of the protestantized Church of England, had been taught that such an object was a product of idolatrous thinking. However, he put it around his neck and left it there. A short time after his arrival at Castle Dracula, Dracula made a grab for Harker’s throat. Harker reported, “I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.” Having yet to figure out what Dracula was, he wondered about the meaning of the crucifix.
The crucifix played an important role in several other scenes in the novel. One appeared again in the hands of a man aboard the Demeter, the ship that brought Dracula to England. He was found tied to the ship’s wheel with the crucifix in his hands, the beads wrapped around an arm and a wheel spoke. Later, after Lucy Westenra died and while she was experiencing life as a vampire herself, vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing locked her in her tomb for a night with a crucifix and garlic, described as things she would not like. In Van Helsing’s famous speech in chapter 18, he described the crucifix as one of the things that, like garlic, so afflicted the vampire that the creature had no power. So, when the men burst into the bedroom where Dracula was sharing blood with Mina Murray (by then Mina Harker), they advanced upon him with their crucifixes raised in front of them. Dracula retreated.
Through the tale Dracula, then, the crucifix entered vampire lore as a powerful tool against vampires, especially when confronting one directly. It was not mentioned in historic vampire stories, though many priests who participated in the dispatching of a vampire no doubt wore the crucifix. The emergence of the crucifix came directly from Bram Stoker‘s combining some popular ideas about the magical use of sacred objects by Roman Catholics and the medieval tradition that identified vampirism with Satanism (through Emily Gerard, Stoker developed the notion that Dracula became a vampire due to his having intercourse with Satan). In addition, a significant amount of Roman Catholic piety focused around the crucifix, and among church members it could easily take on not just sacred, but magical, qualities. It was not just a symbol of the sacred, but the bearer of the sacred.
If then the vampire was of the realm of Satan, it would withdraw from a crucifix. For Stoker, the presence of the crucifix caused the vampire to lose its supernatural strength. Thus, in the case of Harker, Dracula lost his fury; Lucy could not escape her tomb; and when the men burst into Mina’s bedroom, the weakened Dracula, faced with overwhelming odds, departed quickly. Following Dracula, the crucifix became a standard element of vampire plays, movies, and novels through the twentieth century. A second sacred object, the eucharistic wafer, largely dropped out of the picture. However, the crucifix acquired one of the properties Stoker assigned to the wafer. It burned vampire flesh, and left a mark on those tainted with the vampire’s bite. Thus the crucifix not only caused the vampire to lose strength, but actually did it harm. If a potential victim wore a crucifix, the vampire must find some method of removing it, either through hypnotic suggestion or with the help of a human cohort.
While the crucifix was a standard item in the vampire hunter’s kit, it was not omnipresent in vampire books and movies. The relation to the holy was among the first elements of the tradition to be challenged as the vampire myth developed. Writers who were not Roman Catholic or even Christian found no meaning in the crucifix and the eucharistic elements and simply dropped them from consideration. However, others, most prominently Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Anne Rice, chose to acknowledge the sacred world but essentially deny its power, specifically mentioning the immunity of their vampires to holy objects. Yarbro’s vampire, St. Germain, existed prior to Christianity and never converted to its beliefs. Rice, writing in Catholic New Orleans, created her vampire, Lestat de Lioncourt, as a child of Roman Catholics in France; and at various points in Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, Roman Catholic supernaturalism was specifically cast aside. Lestat was described, for example, as already an atheist when he was transformed into a vampire. Nevertheless, he called upon those bits of Christianity he remembered, in an attempt to keep the vampire Magnus from him. His efforts were useless. Then, accompanying the bites that made Lestat a vampire, Magnus pronounced the words of consecration from the Mass, “This is my Body, This is my Blood.” Like Yarbro, Rice replaced Christianity in her writings with a new, pre-Christian myth that began in ancient Egypt with the original vampire couple, Akasha and Enkil.
The challenge to the effectiveness of the crucifix in vampire novels symbolizes a larger challenge to the role of the supernatural in modern life. It includes a protest against the authority of any particular religion and its claims of truth in a religiously pluralistic world. While the lessening of the role of the supernatural in the novels of Rice and Yarbro has its supporters, the crucifix remains a popular protective object for fictional characters. Consideration of their reaction to sacred objects likely will continue to be a conscious element in the development of new vampire characters in the future.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cross remains an object that can affect vampires negatively, but it obviously does not have the power it has manifested in the past. Possibly the most telling episode relative to the cross was in season four. In “Who Are You,” a group of vampires take over a church on a Sunday morning. Standing before the assembled congregation, their leader makes a short speech noting his previous fear of entering such a building and enjoying his discovery that there are no negative effects. As he speaks, a crucifix is displayed prominently in the window above the altar behind the vampire. He closes his speech by noting that the Lord seems to be absent, at least there are no visible effects of his presence. He mockingly informs the congregation that he had come to the church primarily because he had heard that the Lord would be present.
Similarly, in the “Twilight” series, the cross is no longer a factor. Author Stephenie Meyer is a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Christian church that does not particularly favor the display of crosses. The vampires of the Twilight saga are affected by neither crosses nor holy water.