Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guest: Andrew Boylan on the Vampire and the Divine

Something interesting to peruse and whet your appetite for further reading today.  Andrew Boylan, author and the mastermind behind the blog, Taliesin Meets The Vampire, has written a 6-part essay on The Vampire and the Divine.  He's given us exclusive access to the first part today at VampChix.  He's also made the entire document available as a downloadable file, which you can access here.

An Extract from: The Vampire and the Divine: A Shifting Relationship Seen Through Media Produced Between 1819 and 2010.

by Andrew M. Boylan

1. Opening and the Early Form

This essay looks to examine the relationship between the vampire and the divine. For divine I will accept any deific form, independent of actual religion or godform, so long as it is popularly seen as ‘good’, any supernatural force or agent actively opposing this will be deemed infernal. I have previously looked at the shifting use of the part holy symbols have to play in the vampire genre[1]. Whilst that essay looked at the use of holy symbols as an apotropaic this looks more into the relationship with the actual divine, and explores the vampire as it is used as an infernal agent opposing the divine, as a secular creature or perhaps a force of nature and as an agent of the divine. However, out of necessity we will explore similar concepts to that earlier essay in part 3, “You have to have faith for this to work on me!”

The essay comes with a simple caveat; the vampire as a symbolic archetype has proven itself to be incredibly malleable and versatile. Or, even more simply, the vampire has been used to represent most anything, however I intend to use some of the bigger films and classical books as well as more obscure media. I intend to use the vampire as portrayed in popular media rather than the traditional vampire of folklore – though traditions will be touched upon.

The first published English language vampire story was John W Polidori’s ‘the Vampyre’ – which first received (incorrectly credited) publication in 1819. The story itself was a good example of the versatility of the genre as it was a thinly veiled satire at the expense of Lord Byron and thus the debauched lifestyle of the vampyre, Lord Ruthven, could be seen to be the excesses of the landed classes. Even so, the vampyre is still a supernatural entity in this tale and is associated with intemperance, and evil will visit upon those who cross paths with the creature.

“They described it as the resort of the vampyres in their nocturnal orgies and denounced the most heavy evils as impending upon him who dared to cross their path.”[2]

However, there is no mention at all of the use of apotropaic substances or iconography, religious or otherwise. I will take this silence as an indication that there was no divine influence over the vampyre and, similarly, there is little to indicate that the vampires in Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood[3] are held at bay by the cross. They are, perhaps, created as a punishment for their own misdeeds – a curse bestowed if you like and, in the case of Varney, this might be for killing his wife or his child. That said we also hear of one character, Clara Crompton, raised as a vampire simply because she was killed by one (in an act of vengeance against her family). These discrepancies are not uncommon in the text, making it somewhat unreliable as a consistent source material, and are born from the nature of the Penny Dreadful.

Whilst stories such as La Morte Amoureuse[4] had a definitive religious aspect (concerning, as it does, a priest) and actually had the vampire destroyed by holy water, it is to the early English language stories we will look for now – due to the wider impact they seem to have had on the genre – and to Carmilla[5]. One of the big two stories, in my opinion, to impact the genre the vampire of the story, the eponymous Carmilla, does have a negative relationship with the divine. We see this when she hears hymns during a funeral procession:

“‘You pierce my ears,’ said Carmilla, almost angrily, and stopping her ears with her tiny fingers. ‘Besides, how can you tell that your religion and mine are the same; your forms wound me, and I hate funerals. What a fuss! Why you must die--_everyone_ must die; and all are happier when they do. Come home.’”[6]

What is interesting here, in looking at the relationship with the divine, is that not only does the hymn hurt Carmilla but she mentions a different religion. Could this be worship of the infernal?  

Whilst it isn’t obviously clear, I would argue that would seem to be the case, albeit subtly, in Bram Stoker’s seminal work, Dracula[7]; despite taking the name Dracula from the historical Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476). Stoker had used William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them[8] for research and copied into his notes [9] a footnote pertaining to the assertation that Dracula meant devil. However Stoker clearly did not base his vampire on the man also known as Vlad Ţepeş, or the Impaler, and only used his name. Indeed the vampire was, until the eleventh hour, still called Count Wampyr. We need to note that Dracul could translate as either ‘devil’ or ‘dragon’ and Vlad’s father was known as Dracul due to his membership of the Order of the Dragon. Dracula would therefore mean ‘Son of the Dragon’ when in context to Vlad III.

When it comes to the relationship this vampire had with the divine this is important for, as many atrocities that Vlad III might have carried out, he was a Christian; certainly he died a Catholic and had probably also been a member of the Orthodox Church. Compare and contrast this with the Count Dracula of the novel who became a vampire, Stoker hints, via the agency of the Devil.

“The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.  In the records are such words as 'stregoica' witch, 'ordog' and 'pokol' Satan and hell, and in one manuscript this very Dracula is spoken of as 'wampyr,'”[10]

The hint here being that, perhaps, this Dracula was the tenth scholar who, according to Emily Gerald (another source Stoker used in researching his novel):

“…is detained by the devil as payment, and mounted upon an Ismeju (dragon) he becomes henceforward the devil's aide-de-camp, and assists him in 'making the weather,' that is, in preparing thunderbolts.”[11]

We should note that Dracula is given some control of weather in the novel. Stoker also established many of the rules around using religious artefacts to fight the vampire. Jonathon Harker is given a crucifix by a concerned lady – interestingly Harker is uncomfortable with this at first as, being an English Churchman, he finds the crucifix idolatrous. Later, of course, he comes to rely on said crucifix. Stoker also establishes the use of the host; purifying Dracula’s unhallowed earth, making putty that prevents the undeads’ passage or searing the flesh of a mortal infected by the vampire’s blood.

Bizarrely Stoker seems to contradict himself with regards the place where a vampire might sleep. Having established the idea that the vampire should sleep on unhallowed earth or, as in Whitby, the grave of a suicide (which itself was in the consecrated grounds of St Mary’s Church), Stoker then suggests that hallowed ground is necessary:

“There have been from the loins of this very one great men and good women, and their graves make sacred the earth where alone this foulness can dwell.  For it is not the least of its terrors that this evil thing is rooted deep in all good, in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest.”[12]

This does seem incongruous as surely placing the host in the soil, which they do to purify Dracula’s boxes of earth, would offer a ‘holy memory’. That aside, however, Dracula is clearly the most influential vampire novel written and established the vampire as an unholy creature, perhaps even the devil’s aide-de-camp. We shall next see that it would be with the character of Dracula that this went a step further still.

Bibliography and Sources

[1] Boylan, Andrew M, (2006), Vampires and the Cross [online], available over four parts at: Taliesin Meets the Vampires,, (accessed: 14 December 2009)
[2] Polidori, John W, (1819), The Vampyre, Vampires – Encounters with the Undead, Ed. Skal, David J, 2001, p/42
[3] Rymer, James Michael, (1845-1847), Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood
[4] Gautier, Theophile, (1836), la Morte Amoureuse
[5] Le Fanu, J. Sheridan, (1872), Carmilla
[6] Le Fanu, J Sheridan, (1872), Carmilla, Vampires – Encounters with the Undead, Ed. Skal, David J, 2001, p.119
[7] Stoker, Bram, (1897), Dracula
[8] Wilkinson, William, (1820), An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them
[9] Stoker, Gram, et al, (2008), Bram Stoker's Notes for "Dracula": A Facsimile Edition
[10] Stoker, Bram, (1897), Dracula, 1992 Pan Ed., p.246-247
[11] Gerard, Emily, (1885), "Transylvanian Superstitions." The Nineteenth Century, p.128-144
[12] Stoker, Bram, (1897), Dracula, 1992 Pan Ed., p.247

Continue to read more here.


Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

I've been loving Andrew's blog for a while now. It is very cool.

Great essay.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

thanks Sarah

Unknown said...

Carmilla has things open to interpretation, and I don't believe the Hymn was harmful to Carmilla, I believe her reaction was one of guilt since the Woman being mourned was her victim. Other thins in Carmilla contradict the Divine Weakness idea.