I added The BS historian to the 'Reading list' a coupla days ago, as the blog touches on a few issues pertinent to the field. Which ones? These...
If there's anything I've learned from years of vampire research, it's that writings on the subject are rife with embellishment, misrepresentation, misinterpretation and flat-out lies. Now, you might be asking (depending on your poll choice), 'Hang on, vampires don't exist. It's not like it matters. They're imaginary.' To which I say, 'Maybe so. But you didn't make them up.'
When Rousseau wrote, 'There is not an historical fact in the world more fully attested, than that of the Vampires' (1763, p. 56), he wasn't kidding. Just to be clear, he wasn't upholding their reality, he was commenting on their status as a well-documented species. Regardless of one's personal beliefs on their 'existence', the vampire is as much a historical being - as portrayed by exhumation reports, folk beliefs and oral tales, etc. - as an 'imaginary' one. Proper respect needs to be given to their historical and cultural origins, ensuring they're represented accurately, without recourse to, well, making stuff up.
That's why I appreciate - and practice - the sceptical approach to texts in this field. It's a purgative (the reason why I called one of Elizabeth Miller's books an 'enema') approach in a field waist-deep in mud and dirt. Now, that doesn't mean I go around pooh-poohing the very idea of vampires themselves. That'd be almost redundant. No, I'm more interested in seeing whether what has been said about them is accurately relayed. You'd be surprised at how much speculation is presented as fact.
For instance, do you recall the Venetian 'vampire' unearthed in 2006? One major problem with that name: Venice has no extant vampire tradition. The whole case pretty much hinged on the skeleton of a woman in a plague pit found with a hunk o' brick in her mouth. This lead many to conclude that the item had originally been placed there as a method to prevent her feeding on the living. However, other explanations were possible, as the bshistorian recounts:
Yet another possibility, very relevant in this case, is some sort of prophylactic against the disease itself – sure, this woman was the only one in her mass plague pit grave to be so dealt with – yet lots of individuals in this Anglo-Saxon cemetery had stones in their mouths. A whole pit of vampires? Unlikely. Disease victims? More plausible. Or once again, were they punished criminals, or morally deficient in some way? We can’t really know. Nor can we with this Venice “Vampire”.And that's the point. No need to automatically jump to that conclusion. I would also add that closer scrutiny should be given to the extant traditions in these locals. While debate continues over 'vampire's' etymology (see Kreuter 2006), we can at least agree that the tradition was centred in Slavic territories, as attested by its very name. However, it's generally accepted that the vampire is a universal tradition. To do so, however, a lotta wrangling's gotta be done over the definition of 'vampire'. The term, itself, however, applied to a specific type of revenant. This is also acknowledged by bshistorian:
One of the vampirologist’s (and indeed BS Historian’s) bugbears is the phenomenon of myth-creep. The more paranormal ideas are milked for their intellectual and commercial appeal, the more we see them distorted and modified to incorporate unrelated bits of history and folklore. In the case of the vampire it’s often an attempt to give it greater antiquity, presumably because the early 18th century isn’t far back enough for the first sightings of beings who we now think of as immortal. In fact that idea is itself a retrofit of a fictional, rather than folkloric attribute of the vampire.A word on 'the early 18th century' mention. Clearly, the era in which the vampire entered popular consciousness, is being alluded to here. However, there's precious little evidence that the tradition stretched much further back than that. Augustin Calmet, famous for his dissertations on vampires, made reference to the vampire's historicity:
In this age, a new scene presents itself to our eyes, and has done for about sixty years in Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland; men, it is said, who have been dead for several months, come back to earth, talk, walk, infest villages, ill use both men and beasts, suck the blood of their near relations, destroy their health, and finally cause their death; so that people can only save themselves from their dangerous visits and their hauntings, by exhuming them, impaling them, cutting off their heads, tearing out their hearts, or burning them. These are called by the name of oupires or vampires, that is to say, leeches; and such particulars are related of them, so singular, so detailed, and attended by such probable circumstances, and such judicial information, that one can hardly refuse to credit the belief which is held in those countries, that they come out of their tombs, and produce those effects which are proclaimed of them.
Antiquity certainly neither saw nor knew anything like it. Let us read through the histories of the Hebrews, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Latins; nothing approaching to it will be met with (1850 , p. 2).In this century, G. David Keyworth (2006) upheld Calmet's comments in his examination of vampire traits, by comparing them with other folkloric and legendary beings. He'd later expand his findings into a book (2007).
The attempts to give vampires a 'greater antiquity' for 'intellectual and commercial appeal' has been exploited in a variety of different ways. One of the obvious ones concern the popularity of vampire killing kits (VKK). That is, high-priced antiques sold off as genuine 19th century novelties. There are three things majorly wrong with this practice. Firstly, they're fake. Second, auctioneers present them as legit (which, in turn, can only cast a dim light on the profession, itself). Third, actual historical items are misrepresented - some, defaced - in the process of creating these kits.
The bshistorian has given brilliant coverage to the VKK 'industry' here, here, here, here, here and here. We need more blogs like that, not just in paranormal research, but in vampirology, too. It's one thing to enjoy vampires as entertainment, it's another to purposefully misrepresent their history and deceive others, to score a quick buck. So, my hat's off to BS!
Calmet, A, 1850 (1751), The phantom world: or, the philosophy of spirits, apparitions, & c., vol. 2, trans. H Christmas, Richard Bentley, London.
Keyworth, GD, 2006, ‘Was the vampire of the eighteenth century a unique type of undead-corpse?’, Folklore, vol. 117, no. 3, pp. 241–60.
Keyworth, [G]D, 2007, Troublesome corpses: vampires & revenants from antiquity to the present, Desert Island Books, Southend-on-Sea.
Kreuter, PM 2006, 'The name of the vampire: some reflections on current linguistic theories on the etymology of the word vampire', in P Day (ed.), Vampires: myths and metaphors of enduring evil, At the interface/probing the boundaries 28, Rodopi, Amsterdam, pp. 57–63.
Rousseau, JJ, 1763 (1762), An expostulatory letter from J.J. Rousseau, citizen of Geneva, to Christopher de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris, London.