Legends of Blood

Wayne Bartlett and Flavia Idriceanu. Legends of Blood: The Vampire in History and Myth. Sutton, 2005.

This book traces the development of the image of the vampire in folklore, literature and film from the eighteenth century onwards. Of course much of this deals with the later literary developments, and the authors traces the various roles that the vampire has taken, and the themes which have been incorporated into the vampire myth.

For Magonia perhaps the main interest lies in the original vampire stories of the eighteenth century and what they can tell us about attitudes towards contemporary anomalous experiences. Vampire tales were in many respects to the early and mid eighteenth century what UFO stories were to the mid and late twentieth, with arguments centred around the validity of eyewitness testimony, claims of physical evidence, and various official investigations. There were the same polarisations between the sceptics of the period, such as Voltaire, and those who argued as did the Berlin correspondent of the Gazette des Gazettes that sceptical explanations in terms of mass hysteria and ignorant peasants not being able to recognise a dead body when they see one would not do and argued that “vampirism is proved by so many facts that no-one can reasonably doubt its validity, given the quality of the witnesses who have certified the authenticity of these facts”

This is of course the position taken by many of today’s anomalists. The folklorist David Hufford and the anomalist Jerome Clark argue that the intellectual elite operate from “a tradition of disbelief”. Hufford argues for example that academics who study the history of religious beliefs and movements will look to all sorts of social, cultural, political, economic and psychological causes for the developments but never even consider the possibility that say Joseph Smith or Mother Ann Lee were actual divinely inspired prophets (unless in the case of the former they are Mormons themselves) Clark has tended to extrapolate from this to studies of anomalies, apparently with at least some backing from Hufford.

The vampire stories clearly pose a problem for Clarkhuffordians, sceptics can reasonably claim that their traditions of disbelief are based on a co-ordinated and interconnected world view which simply means that vampires, witches, ghosts etc. simply cannot exist, no matter what the eyewitness testimony. Modern anomalists tend to view this as intellectual arrogance and point out that science can often be wrong, after all there was a time when practically all educated opinion believed that the earth was the centre of the universe. Once however the sceptics basic limiting principle is removed then it becomes hard for the Clarkhuffordians to deny the existence of vampires, witches, mermaids or anything else for which ‘eyewitness testimony’ can be adduced.

Of course in the real world, Clarkhuffordians do not do this, there is no demand for congressional investigations into vampires, and you can bet your bottom dollar none of them are going to claim that we should take the view that real dead vampires actually existed. The reason for this is that their reliance on eyewitness testimony is basically limited to the eyewitness testimony of contemporary Americans. Eyewitness testimony from 1950’s Quincy, MA is to be taken at face value, that from 1750s Hungary is not.

For the psychosocials among us these stories have their interest too, for example they show many of the features of witch hunts, spreading out across the community, except that the accused are the dead rather than the living. Did vampire epidemics then rise as enlightenment authorities clamped down on local witch hunts? The clearly express cross-generation conflict, the ritual disinterring and desecration of the bodies, being an act of revenge, in the way that the bodies of Cromwell and the other regicides were disinterred and ritually ‘executed’ after the Restoration.

In a society where respect for ones elders was considered a religious duty, and co-operation with neighbours a necessity, only by arguing that these people were not really ones beloved parents or godly neighbours, but something alien and malignant which had taken their place, could this posthumous revenge be justified.  | PR |

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