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Vampires, Burial, and Death

Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    Vampires, Burial, and Death
    Book Description:

    In this engrossing book, Paul Barber surveys centuries of folklore about vampires and offers the first scientific explanation for the origins of the vampire legends. From the tale of a sixteenth-century shoemaker from Breslau whose ghost terrorized everyone in the city, to the testimony of a doctor who presided over the exhumation and dissection of a graveyard full of Serbian vampires, his book is fascinating reading."This study's comprehensiveness and the author's bone-dry wit make this compelling reading, not just for folklorists, but for anyone interested in a time when the dead wouldn't stay dead."-Booklist"Barber's inquiry into vampires, fact and fiction, is a gem in the literature of debunking… [and] a convincing exercise in mental archaeology."-Roy Porter,Nature"A splendid book about the undead, illuminated by the findings of morbid anatomy…. The main value of this most interesting book is to remind us how far we have come in our ability to explain the world and how this has released us from at least some terrors."-Anthony Daniels,Spectator"This book is fascinating reading for physicians and anthropologists as well as anyone interested in folklore."-R. Ted Steinbock, M.D.,Journal of the American Medical Association"A fascinating and pain-staking (sorry!) thesis, which welds together folklore, epidemic panic, communal stupidity, and forensic and funereal science."-Huw Knight,New Scientist

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15348-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Preface to the 2010 Edition How Shall the Dead Arise?
    (pp. v-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    If a reader were to glance through the first chapters of this book, he might reasonably conclude that he had come upon a book on the folklore of the European vampire. The vampire, however, is only a local manifestation—albeit a particularly dramatic one—of a worldwide phenomenon, and I have chosen him as an example merely because it is convenient to do so: not only do we have a great deal of data on the folklore of the European vampire, but that data is published in languages familiar to a Western scholar.

    What this book is really about is...

  6. I Peter Plogojowitz
    (pp. 5-9)

    Europeans of the early 1700s showed a great deal of interest in the subject of the vampire. Indeed, the word itself entered English in 1734, according to theOxford English Dictionary,at a time when, in Germany especially, many books were being written on the subject.

    In retrospect it seems clear that one reason for all the excitement was the Peace of Passarowitz (1718), by which parts of Serbia and Walachia were turned over to Austria. Thereupon the occupying forces, which remained there until 1739, began to notice, and file reports on, a peculiar local practice: that of exhuming bodies...

  7. II The Shoemaker of Silesia
    (pp. 10-14)

    Even before Peter Plogojowitz’s death there were detailed accounts of exhumations, and not just from Slavic territory. And if you look at just the exhumation, rather than the folklore associated with the revenant, many of these accounts are very much like the Slavic ones: vampire andNachzehrer(fromnach[after] andzehren[consume, prey upon]: a northern German variety of revenant) seem to be identical in the grave.

    We see this in the following account. This particular revenant is referred to in the text simply as a “ghost”(Gespenst)and is found in Grässe’s collection of Prussian folklore.¹

    In the...

  8. III Visum et Repertum
    (pp. 15-20)

    Perhaps the most notable instance of “vampirism” is that associated with the name of Arnod Paole, who fell off a haywagon and into history in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Paole, an ex-soldier from Serbia, was the first of a series of vampires that finally attracted the attention of the authorities and led to the investigative report known asVisum et Repertum (Seen and Discovered).Paole himself, as it happens, was not studied closely: the investigators arrived on the scene several years after he had been exhumed, staked, and burned.

    The report itself is a curious document. Hardly...

  9. IV De Tournefort’s Vrykolakas
    (pp. 21-28)

    At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the French botanist Pitton de Tournefort had the opportunity to observe, firsthand, the dissection of a Greek vrykolakas on the island of Mykonos. His account follows:

    We saw a rather different and quite tragic scene on the same island occasioned by one of those corpses that are believed to return after their burial. The one of whom I shall give an account was a peasant of Mykonos, naturally sullen and quarrelsome—a circumstance to be noted concerning such matters. He had been killed in the fields, no one knew by whom nor how....

  10. V How Revenants Come into Existence
    (pp. 29-38)

    From the point of view of our informants, the factors that bring revenants into existence fall into the following broad categories: (1) predisposition; (2) predestination; (3) events: things that are done to people, things that they do, things that happen to them; and (4) nonevents: things that are left undone.

    We have already looked at one example of a revenant—de Tournefort’s vrykolakas—who apparently achieved this status merely by being a difficult and troublesome person. This is quite common: people who are different, unpopular, or great sinners are apt to return from the dead. It may be merely a...

  11. VI The Appearance of the Vampire
    (pp. 39-45)

    Of the various vampires from folklore and fiction, perhaps the most easily described is that of the cartoons, since there the artist’s object is to create, as quickly and efficiently as possible, something that will be recognized instantly, by anyone, as a blood-sucking monster rather than, say, a tall, brooding fellow in old-fashioned clothing. I suspect that a cartoonist allowed to use only two vampire-markers would demand a black cloak and long canine teeth. With these the artist could transform any figure into something vampirelike.

    What is curious about this is that neither the cloak nor the canines finds a...

  12. VII Apotropaics I
    (pp. 46-56)

    Apotropaics, or methods of turning evil away, are diverse: they include mutilation of the corpse, physical restraints, various funerary rites, and even deception intended to trick the spirit world. Witness the following account from Bukowno, Poland:

    The wife of the peasant who had met the revenant, told about it in the whole village, but people did not want to believe her. Only when a number of people had convinced themselves that the revenant was actually coming into this village, did they tell the priest. He then had the revenant taken out of the grave, had a slip of paper put...

  13. VIII Apotropaics II
    (pp. 57-65)

    When one considers that vampires commonly infect others with their condition, it will become obvious that, if even a single vampire escapes the ministrations of the local people, vampirism may increase in geometric proportion. In a short time there may be more vampires than normal people.

    This was believed to explain epidemics of plague, although it was sometimes thought necessary to find and destroy only the original vampire, not his every victim, to end the plague.* The mechanism whereby this happens is never explained, but I have seen nothing to suggest that, as in the movies, the vampire recruits a...

  14. IX Search and Destroy
    (pp. 66-81)

    If the means of preventing vampirism—or warding off actualized vampires—are unsuccessful, then one must find the creature and kill it. This is, as it turns out, somewhat more difficult in folklore than in fiction, where the conventions are much simpler and more limited. In fiction, for example, the “native earth” theory often hampers the movements of the vampire, who is frequently under the obligation to rest, during the day, over soil from his native land (that means Transylvania: fictional vampires are usually Romanian, even when, like Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, they speak with a Hungarian accent). Because of this,...

  15. X The Vampire’s Activity
    (pp. 82-97)

    The vampire of fiction has traditionally led an uncomplicated life, except when he wishes to travel and is obliged to take with him both his coffin and a supply of dirt from his original burial place.* For the most part, however, such a vampire lives quietly in his castle, having none but a parasitic relationship with his neighbors. The very name of the castle, when uttered by a visitor, will frequently send these neighbors into shock.

    The vampire is not without energy and purpose, however. Often enough, he is shown to be engaged in an effort to do nothing less...

  16. XI Some Theories of the Vampire
    (pp. 98-101)

    Almost as bizarre as vampires themselves is the principal theory with which scholars have attempted to explain the vampires. According to this theory, the “vampires” were people who were not actually dead but merely in a coma and who, on being discovered “coming to life” as they were exhumed, so frightened people that they were then killed.*

    Unfortunately, this theory fails us where our documentation is strongest, namely in those accounts—such as de Tournefort’s and Flückinger’s—where outside observers looked closely at “vampires” that had been unearthed. De Tournefort watched the dissection of a Greek vrykolakas and insists that...

  17. XII The Body after Death
    (pp. 102-119)

    The body undergoes remarkable changes in both size and color after death, and these are unlikely to enhance its attractiveness. The quotation from Dante’sInferno, therefore is intended as a warning label for this chapter, like the ones on packages of cigarettes, to suggest that one’s peace of mind and of stomach may be at risk here. But, however distasteful it is to do so, one must learn about the reality of death and decay in order to understand the folklore of death and decay.

    For the moment, then, our question is this: if a body does not become a...

  18. XIII Actions and Reactions
    (pp. 120-132)

    We have seen that much of what a corpse “does” results from misunderstood processes of decomposition. A close study of the data reveals not only that the bodies of supposed vampires were quite obviously dead but also why they were believed to do such diverse and bizarre things. If we consider these carefully we may find that the events have a certain logic.

    Fortunately, we have sufficient information to do this. Vampires differ from other monsters of folklore: although they have an active life in legends and tales, there is an endless array of evidence—folkloric, archaeological, and even legal—...

  19. XIV Hands Emerging from the Earth
    (pp. 133-146)

    Once we see clearly that the exhumed vampire was merely a dead body, undergoing a process of decomposition that rendered it monstrous and threatening, we find that most of our information about it begins to make sense. And that includes even the belief that the vampire leaves the grave. Bodies emerge from the earth, with or without help, for many reasons. One of these, as we saw in chapter 10, is that they may be attacked by scavengers.

    It is evident that in Europe this process was mythologized into the belief that dogs and wolves were the enemies of vampires...

  20. XV Down to a Watery Grave
    (pp. 147-153)

    The folkloric reflexes of the buoyancy of the corpse are not limited to the belief that the revenant walks (as we have already seen in the Russian belief that Mother Earth spews forth an unclean corpse). The Grimms report, for example, a similar belief that accounts for bodies coming to the surface in water: a river or lake demands, every year, the sacrifice of an innocent child, but does not tolerate a corpse and sooner or later hurls it onto the bank.¹ Similarly, they recount a medieval story that is worth examining in some detail:

    In the year 1267, In...

  21. XVI Killing the Vampire
    (pp. 154-165)

    As we have seen, there are good reasons for “binding the corpse in place”; otherwise it may be dug up by scavengers, uncovered by erosion, or floated to the surface in storms. These things are seen as action by either another (animate) agency or the corpse itself: things do not just happen; something animatewillsthem to happen. Once the process is seen as possible, it may be conceived of quite differently or be viewed as preventable through magic. Also, since apotropaics can undergo reinterpretation, we cannot always take the word of our informants as to their function. They may...

  22. XVII Body Disposal and Its Problems
    (pp. 166-177)

    The fear of the corpse, which Sir James Frazer saw as virtually universal,¹ has some important implications for body disposal. We may expect the following exigencies to be among those determining how methods are chosen:

    1. Disposal should be quick, taking place before the corpse has a chance to “act.”

    2. The corpse should be rendered inert as quickly as possible.

    3. The corpse should require as little handling as possible.

    In times of epidemic, the first and third exigencies may override the second. In a study of the customs of the Chamars of India, Briggs says, “When a person...

  23. XVIII The Soul after Death
    (pp. 178-188)

    We have seen that bodies continue to “act” after death. Such functioning is deduced not just from the alterations in the body but from events that may follow the death. As we have seen, our informants believe that death itself is passed around, not viruses and bacteria. Because they live in a world governed by personal relationships, not impersonal laws, contagion tends to be seen as meaningful and deliberate and its patterns based on values and vendettas, not on genetic predisposition or the domestic accommodations of the rat flea.

    In recent history, the closest parallel to this situation may be...

  24. XIX Keeping Body and Soul Apart
    (pp. 189-194)

    We have seen that to account for death people hypothesize an animating principle that is generally associated with a variety of natural phenomena. The presence or absence of breath, the temperature of the body, the existence of images in dreams, reflections, and shadows—any of these may be interpreted as a kind of servomechanism that operates the body and ceases to function or departs at death. The reader may protest that neither reflection nor shadow can be demonstrated to depart at death, but here the facts of optics and those of folklore simply do not jibe: it is widely believed...

  25. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-198)

    Most folklore is not presented to us as a simple account of experience but is put through a series of cognitive filters, so that a narrated event, however “real,” may end up in later retellings with little or no resemblance to what we think of as reality. A variety of processes shape the event. Events may be seen, for one thing, as the outcome of animate forces rather than impersonal laws. The particular events associated with the discovery of dead bodies are especially subject to reinterpretation, because they are likely to be experienced incompletely. Thus, a process may be experienced...

  26. Notes
    (pp. 199-214)
  27. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-232)
  28. Index
    (pp. 233-239)