From Fear to Fascination A study of the transformation of social roles of the Slavic and American vampire. In America today, we are surrounded by borrowed images. People from all over the world flock here, and bring with them a background of cultures and beliefs, filled with imagery reflecting those ideas.
Often times, these elements take on a life of their own in the cauldron known as the American "melting pot," and through interaction with their new surroundings, evolve into something quite different from their original form, becoming an integral part of our culture. Perhaps one of the most fascinating figures to undergo this process is that of the vampire.
With its original association with evil, disease, and death, it is surprising that this creature of the dark has garnered the appeal it has in American culture today. Indeed, our fascination with something that was once feared seems to indicate that the vampire's function in today's society is fundamentally different from that which it was originally. To unravel the mystery of why such a change could have occurred, we must understand the nature of the transformation of the "old" vampire into what it is today.
This requires us to first look at the past to establish the nature of the pre-existing vampire and then to the present to understand precisely which elements changed, contributing to its apparent transformation. It has been established that the vampire image we know today came from the English literary vampire, which has its origins in Slavic traditions. Therefore it is fundamental that vampires in past Eastern European situations be studied to establish an understanding of the vampire that existed before it was eventually introduced into American culture.
In doing so, proceeding with caution is essential, for the word vampire can refer to a wide range of images and phenomena, depending on the context in which it is used. Because of this, it is often difficult to isolate what is meant by the term vampire, especially when it is applied to two different times and places, which is what must be done.
Consequently, a working definition should be closely followed when calling something a vampire to ensure that equivalent concepts are being compared. Since vampires of both past and present will be examined, our definition must be one that includes and describes vampires of the Slavs, but allows us to filter out elements in today's society that are not directly comparable to the Slavic vampire. As stated earlier, the ultimate goal is to understand both past and present social roles of the vampire in order to shed light on its apparent functional transformation.
In an attempt to do this, these roles will be derived from pre-existing data. Consequently, the definition of the vampire should not make any assumptions about its social role. Instead, the definition must focus on other elements that we can find in both cultures, namely, those concerning the image itself.
Focusing on the image of the vampire enables us to isolate it in both cultures for further analysis. The definition must account for some degree of variability, since the image has changed somewhat over time, and even varies within each culture. But it must set a boundary to what can be accepted as a vampire and what cannot.
Professor Jan Perkowski, a member of the University of Virginia's Slavic Department, has done extensive research concerning the Slavic vampire, and has come up with the following general definition for such creatures. A Slavic Vampire is "a reanimated corpse which returns at night to prey on the living. Note that this definition fits our specifications quite well. It focuses on the image of the vampire, not its social function, and is specific enough to limit which beings of Slavic folklore can be included in our analysis.
Furthermore, it is broad enough to allow some variation in the vampire image, so that in addition to application to vampires of the past, it can be applied as our definition of what comprises the vampire image today. In this fashion, we are assured that when deriving a social function for each image that we label a vampire, we are using truly comparable images. This is crucial, since it would not be surprising if two different images had different social functions. What is surprising is that very different social impacts are potentially implemented by the same image, namely that of the Slavic and present day American vampire.
Consequently, the term vampire, henceforth, will refer to the image of a reanimated corpse which returns at night to prey on the living. Now that we can isolate vampires across time and place by a working definition, we must find a way we can determine the social role a vampire image plays in a given society. First of all, a complete description of the account in which the vampire image appears should be documented. Such things as a description of the vampire, its activity pattern, its origin, and how one can detect, protect, or destroy it should be included. Perkowski, in studying the Slavic Vampire, devised an outline of analysis to be applied to individual accounts of Slavic vampires, which includes these items as well as others.
It can be referred to for this step, though its importance is diminished in the sense that individual testimonies are not being evaluated. Rather a general overall image event in a society is described to the fullest extent. Nonetheless, the more details concerning Perkowski's outline that can be filled especially those listed above , the more complete our knowledge of the vampire will be. One must remember, however, the level of detail will be limited by social constraints. Our description of the vampire should be applicable to the majority of vampires in a given culture, to ascertain the image at a social level.
This means that some of the elements listed above can only be referred to in the most general sense, given the great diversity of vampire accounts. Once a description of the image is documented, we are ready to proceed with analysis. I propose that the social function of a vampire can be derived from the context in which it is presented, which I will refer to as the vampire's paradigm.
Within each paradigm are two components. One is the source by which the vampire image is transmitted within the community it effects. In other words, how would a person living in a community with vampires come to know about them? By what means is news of the vampire spread? This could include but not be limited to written sources, the media, and oral transmission. The second component of the paradigm is the reason for its transmission.
This includes issues such as: Why did transmission take place? By carefully outlining a vampire's paradigm, one can accurately derive its social function. To illustrate this, let us take the most general case on a generic image, loosely defined, but then apply the paradigm approach. In a psychology class at the University of Virginia, students were presented the image in Figure 1 along with its caption for thirty seconds, and asked to remember everything they could about the image. After the image was presented, students were then asked to quickly sketch what they had just saw, including the caption.
Once this was done, the students were asked a series of questions, in which they could refer back to their sketches if need be. These results may seem surprising, since the same picture was shown to all the students. There was key difference in the way the image was presented, however. About half of the students received that caption shown in Figure 1, namely "Poster for a Trained Seal Act. Figure 1: Picture shown to students in experiment.
This experiment illustrates the importance of understanding an image's context in which it is presented. If we make an analogy between the picture in the experiment and the vampire image, the value of the paradigm analysis becomes abundantly clear. Like the experiment's image, the vampire's image, by our definition, is loosely defined and allows for a large margin of variance.
The sketches the students made of the image correspond to their internal representation of that image. When asked to refer back to that representation, the context in which the image was stored, namely the caption, largely determined how the student interpreted the image. Like our vampire of the past and present, the experiment's picture was essentially the same image in two different contexts. Without knowledge of the context, the meaning of the image is ambiguous or misjudged. The paradigm analysis assures that one looks at the caption below the image — its conceptual association — and then extract its social effects.
This is primarily done through focusing on the second element of the paradigm — the motivation for stating the vampires existence or spreading news concerning it in the experiment, this would be either a ballroom dance or a trained seal act. The first element of the paradigm, that of transmission, is essential as well, since it can play a large part in determining the social role, which is what concerns us. For example, if the picture was circulated among a group of people, it would be important to know whether that was done verbally in which case the personal impressions that one person associated with the image would be transmitted along with the image , or if just the image without the caption were given leading to ambiguity of the picture, and thus allowing for more individual interpretation , or if only one of the captions were included leading to a biased interpretation.
Each one of these scenarios would predict a different overall social impact of the picture. Another important aspect of this approach it that one derives the context of the image in the society where that image resides. The two aspects of the paradigm ask questions in relation to the community being studied. By doing so, we do not run the risk of applying any of our own "captions," or biases, to someone else's representation.
Instead, by knowing their social context, we can make an accurate assessment of what "captions" are actually present. Once this is accomplished, the social role can be derived. For example, if we found out someone in the experiment received the picture with a label pertaining to the seal act, we could predict that the person's internal representation of the image would include such items as a seal and a beach ball. Results from the study would most likely verify our predictions. Thus, by applying the paradigm approach an image, one can accurately predict the social impact of that image.
As enlightening as the above comparison was, in the experiment above, one was dealing with a single person at a time. As eluded to earlier, in dealing with vampires, we are dealing with the image in a social context. Therefore, we will need to find out the context of the vampire on a social level. To do this, the questions we ask must be answered with responses that are accurate a majority of the time.
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It would be rare to find answers that will be correct in all instances — there will inevitably be exceptions. But by answering the questions outlined carefully and accurately for the majority of the people, the vampire's context for most of the members of the society will be known, and thus its primary social functions can be derived.
Let us now apply the paradigm approach to the Slavic vampire. We are fortunate in the sense that research and analysis has already been done on the subject, and many accounts of the Slavic vampire have been compiled. Several testimonies of the Slavic vampire from various sources and concerning various countries are included. After referring to this data, an overall pattern emerges that applies to the majority of Slavic vampires.
What proceeds it a very general outline describing this pattern. Many details are omitted, since these vary from story to story, and only the most pervasive characteristics concern us at this point. The description is as follows:. A village suffered from a disease or death or, as is more often the case, a series of deaths.
These events were mysterious, in the sense that there were no physical causes known to the villagers that could be offered to account for them. Often times such deaths were attributed to vampires, which were corpses that came to the victims at night, attacking them, often times sucking their blood to the point of death. The way to stop the vampire was to either use various precautions to prevent it from entering the home, or to actually destroy the vampire itself.
This was usually done by digging up graves, searching for corpses that showed signs of being a vampire. A vampire corpse, once identified was disposed of in a certain prescribed way.
Frequent methods used were decapitation of the corpse, removal of its heart, impaling of the heart with a special sharp object, cremation, or some combination of these acts. By these methods, the vampire was found and eliminated. With this description we are now ready to extract the Slavic Vampire's paradigm. The first issue of concern is the way news of the vampire was spread. This is difficult to know for sure. Most of the communities in which the events occurred were in a small town or village, and many times a group of residents would work together to dig up the vampire corpse. Given the local scope of the event, news of the vampire was most likely communicated word of mouth, referred to as oral transmission.
In her book American Vampires , Norine Dresser, a professor of folklore at California State University, states that oral transmission "has been considered as the primary mode of communication of concepts, stories, customs No sources of documenting vampires written by the Slavs themselves contemporary to the event could be found by the author of this paper. Other forms of communication, such as the media, were not present in Slavic societies at the times of the recorded events, which must have occur before they were reported in Thus, within the community itself, word of mouth was the most common way news of a vampire was spread.
The second issue is of motivation. Why would someone announce the presence of a vampire, or spread the word of its existence? The events have one key element in common: they involve mysterious deaths, which are caused by vampires. Therefore the vampire is seen as a threat, causing fear. Others are warned, and steps are taken to stop it. At one level, this is the motivation for spreading the news of the vampire. If we look more closely, we will see another reason for expressing the existence of a vampire. Attributing the deaths to a vampire is the only thing explaining the fatalities, since there was no known physical cause at the time.
By doing this, the villagers could take a course of action to stop the deaths. If vampires did not exist, nothing would explain these deaths and people would feel helpless, since they would not have known what to do. In other words, by attributing a cause to the terrible event, a course of action could be taken to make things better. In this case, the vampire is that cause, or a scapegoat for the deaths.
It is feared because of this, yet steps can be taken to destroy the vampire, and stop the deaths. Thus, in the minds of the Slavs, the vampire was an anxiety reliever since it was a scapegoat for a fearful event which could be destroyed. A similar conclusion is arrived at by Perkowski as well, for individual testimonies. He states that "The vampire's psychological role is that of a socially acceptable anthropomorphization of the fear of sudden, unpredictable adversity, especially death. But what of it's role on a social level? To the best of our knowledge, we know news of it was primarily spread word of mouth, and that the Slavs consciously feared the vampire, blaming it for the terrible event.
Therefore, this impression was tied to the image as it was spread throughout the community. Others who heard this were gladly willing to accept it for the psychological reasons already discussed, and had probably heard of the vampire legend before from others in similar situations, so accepting it would not require an outstanding leap of faith.
Thus, the fear of the vampire as the cause of death spread throughout the entire community, and the social role of the vampire was that of scapegoat for mysterious deaths. Consequently, we can conclude that the pre-existing social role of the vampire image was that of a scapegoat. With this established, we are ready to investigate the role of the vampire in today's society, and determine upon our findings whether a shift in its social role did take place, and if so, to explain the causes of that transformation. In order do this, a general description of the account in which the vampire appears today needs to be found.
To isolate a general account of the vampire in contemporary America is difficult. Even with our definition of the image, if we look closely, we find the reanimated corpse ubiquitous. Novels, films, television shows, Halloween costumes, candy, and even breakfast cereals are stamped with the presence of the vampire.
How, then, are can we expect to get a handle on one unifying account of the presence of the vampire image? One way to do this is to ask people what they think about vampires, and how they encountered them and see if any prevailing trends emerge. Dresser did just that. In her book American Vampires , she reveals results of a questionnaire distributed to high school and college students, which was designed to examine whether or not people believed in the possibility of vampires. Before we embrace this evidence and its ramifications, however, one other thing must be taken into account — the vampire's image.
It is important to ensure that when the subjects of the survey were asked about vampires, the image being discussed was one that fits our definition, namely, that is it a reanimated corpse which returns at night to prey on the living. Concerning nocturnal behavior, when asked, "Under what circumstances does a vampire appear? Therefore, we see that the image of the vampire as we define it is still very much intact in today's society, and is in the minds of a significant part of the population. In fact, if we probe even deeper into Dresser's findings, we find that other attributes associated with the vampire today, such as precautions and cures, are identical to those associated by the Slavs with their vampire.
Weighing all of this evidence, it seems that when responding to the survey concerning vampires, the subjects, at least most of them, saw an image comparable to the one the Slavs had, and thus we can use this data in our analysis. Already we see a stark contrast between this scenario and the one that existed with the Slavs — the media seems to have taken over the role of oral transmission.
Dresser refers to this as "tubal transmission," and says, "The television tube has become the tribal storyteller. With the invention of VCRs, numerous vampire films can now be watched at home on TV, in addition to the vampires that are broadcast on the tube itself. Dresser devotes 63 pages of her book citing commercials, films, and television shows that have exposed us to the vampire. To list them would be a paper in itself. Suffice it to say, it is clear that the primary way we come in contact with the vampire these days is through television and film.
An important thing to note is that because television transmits the image, people are exposed and conditioned to the vampire at an early age. As shall be discussed later, this early exposure to the vampire image will be an important fact when considering its social role today. It has now been established that the most influential place the vampire resides is on television. Applying this knowledge to the process of "tubal transmission," a general account of how the vampire appears in today's society becomes apparent.
Most children start watching television at a very young age. Almost immediately, they are exposed to the vampire image. Television commercials such as those for "Count Chocula" cereal, cartoons such as "Count Duckula," and "Count Count" on Sesame Street are just a few examples of the vampire kids see Incidentally, all three of these example are not only cited in Dresser's book, but can personally be recalled by the author of this paper as well.
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The vampire image, now instilled in the children's minds, grows and develops, through further exposure to television, as well as other sources such as comic books, novels, films, and Halloween activities. The result of this growth and development is the image of the vampire that was expressed in the results of Dresser's survey.
After describing this account of the vampire image, one might be quick to point out that the examples given of the vampire on television i. Recall, however, that it has been established that the vampire image in people's minds does fit our definition, as evidenced by Dresser's survey and that these very same people attribute television as the major source of their exposure to vampires. What this means is that the images enumerated above, although not the image we defined, are part of the process that eventually leads to the manifestation of the image we are concerned with, and should thus be included in our account.
Firstly, the means of transmission of the image must be taken into account. Obviously, television plays an essential role, one that should be looked at more closely. On the level of the medium itself, network executives,. In this way a cycle is created. Viewers, now familiar with the vampire image, pay attention to it when it is on the air, and thus increase television ratings. Because of this, the vampire image is used repeatedly to attract even more audiences. Here we see that television, although often seen as a one-way, non-interactive form of communication, does participate in a "feedback loop," generating and responding to its audiences' reactions.
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Furthermore, as we shall soon discuss, there are various aspects about the vampire that appeal to different audiences. Television networks are understandably very concerned with things that appeal to people. Thus, through market research and popular trends, the vampire image keeps on finding its way to the place we first found it — the TV screen.
Television, as important as it may be, is not the only way the vampire image is circulated. Halloween paraphernalia, films, novels. Note that word of mouth, the primary form of vampire news circulation among the Slavs, no longer has nearly the significant role it once used to. This plays a key role as to what aspects of the vampire image are transmitted.
Among the Slavs, through oral transmission, the person's impression of the image was tied to the vampire when news of it spread. It was the impression, namely the fear and blame placed on the vampire image that stood out in the transmission — not the image itself. If anything, the image was a vehicle for fear, which was often sought out and destroyed to relieve anxiety. This established the social role of the vampire as a scapegoat. Today, we see quite a different scenario taking place. Now, through the media, especially television, it is the image itself that is being transferred, with interpretation left primarily to the viewer.
Although the vampire can be and has been depicted in a variety of ways that would influence one's interpretation of the image, ultimately it is the individual doing the interpretation, and no single association with the image is transferred throughout society. In order to determine the nature of these interpretations, one must consider the second aspect of the paradigm — the motivation for transmission. Why is the vampire transmitted on TV, and marketed through the media? To an advertiser the answer is obvious — the vampire is popular.
People want to see it. The vampire, particularly Count Dracula, is the one of the most popular Halloween costumes year after year. But the question is why? We know that the very people who watch the vampire on TV report a comparable image to that of the Slavs, yet the Slavs were terrified of the vampire. Why are we not?
The answer to this lies in the context in which it is presented. The vampire's most influential home is that of television. Television is a part of our everyday lives, and as a consequence, so are the common images it transmits. It is by this means that the word "vampire" has entered our everyday vocabulary. Thus, the vampire is no longer threatening. We do not fear the vampire because it is something that is commonplace.
Furthermore, it has been shown that the people are exposed to the vampire at an early age. These images are often times playful and humorous, such as in cartoons or commercials. Thus, the vampire is not initially associated with fear and anxiety, but rather entertainment. This attitude toward the vampire — its familiarity and entertainment value, established at an early stage in life, sets a precedent as to how we approach the vampire the rest of our lives.
Another reason for lack of fear is that we do not share the Slavs' motivation for it. Recall, the Slavs needed a way to explain the calamities of death and disease that surrounded them. They did so through the image of the vampire. Because the vampire was seen as a cause of their troubles, their fear and anxiety were associated with it. Today, we have medical science to explain diseases and epidemics, and this function of the vampire is gone. We may still be afraid of having a disease, but now we turn to a doctor, not a vampire, to explain.
Thus, although the image of the vampire among the Slavs remains with us, there is no room for its previous social role in our society. With this knowledge, we can now directly address the question of how the vampire is interpreted today, and more importantly, establish its social role. As explained earlier, the image of the vampire is primary in what is transmitted, not its psychological associations. It is left up to the individual to determine those. It has also been shown that the vampire is very approachable, due to its familiarity and entertainment context established early in life.
Finally, the motivation to fear the vampire no longer exists in the way it did for the Slavs. Bearing these in mind, it is understandable that Dresser says, " American Vampires have become less lethal and more benign than their Old World antecedents. A brief look at a few examples will illustrate this point. Many scholars have attempted to explain the vampire's appeal in psychological terms. Literary scholar James Twitchell claims that psychoanalytically speaking, the vampire image is so popular because it represents a "complete condensation of problems and resolutions of preadolescence.
Kirk J. Schneider, a faculty member of the California School of Professional Psychology, offers a vastly different explanation. He maintains that the vampire figure, specifically Dracula, is appealing because it is horrifying. Schneider states that true horror is when we are unexpectedly immersed in the infinite. Seeing this boundlessness is analogous to the boundlessness of that which is sacred, and thus dealing with the horror allows us to get a feel of what it would be like to deal with the holy.
Dracula seems infinite is his power — and the characters in the story as well as the audience must deal with that endless power. In regards to Dracula, Schneider states that "Dracula is not simply about a monster, it is about the mysterious force which permits monstrosities. Perkowski claims that the figure of Dracula the Vampire functions as a symbol of evil.
He states the Vampire "is a focus of fascination for forbidden, proscribed feelings and acts rife with guilt and fear, a focus for venting one's secret desires to surfeit. Many other scholarly interpretations for the vampire's appeal can be found, dealing with issues such as immortality, eroticism, and the symbolic meaning of blood, to name a few.
All claims can be justified in some way or another. Amidst these various interpretations, it would be instructive to know what vampire fans themselves consciously attributed as appealing about the image. As part of Dresser's research, she asked people what they found so appealing about the vampire.
The answers she reports reveal incredible diversity. Qualities mentioned include: eroticism, immortality, power, victimization, beauty, elegance, romanticism, the supernatural, mystery, and the unknown. Of these, three were mentioned most often, the first of which was sexual attraction. People found the biting and blood sucking element of the vampire extremely sexual. They also found the fact that vampires are immortal quite appealing.
This should come as no surprise, given that we live in an age where science strives to prolong lives as our population continues to age. The third major appeal of the vampire is power. The vampire's dominance in the biting of its victim was especially highlighted in this category. All three of these appeals are supported with extensive testimony by vampire fans. Although the testimony is convincing, is also raises several issues. It shows that even though vampire appeal can be categorized broadly, the function of a specific attribute of the vampire is individually determined, and cannot be generalized to broad sociological functions.
For example, when dealing with sex appeal, some fans focus on act of blood sucking as being intrinsically erotic. Other's see an encounter with the vampire as foreplay, and thus sexually enticing. Still others see the vampire image as sexual, but focus on the sympathy the sexual act elicits for the victim. The opposite view is also taken: the eroticism present demonstrates the vampire's needs to be loved, and fans feel sorry for the vampire because they lead "dreadful half-lives. Consequently, even though it would be tempting to make broad statements about the vampire's social function given that their appeal falls into a major category, this would not be accurate.
Dresser succumbs to this temptation to some extent by stating that "the three major attractions of the vampire are totally compatible with American ideals of power, sex, and immortality. By doing so, Dresser strongly implies that the sexual role of vampires can be equated with the role of sex in America as a whole.
This simply is not true. Although the prevalence of sex in our society could be the reason people interpret the vampire as sexual, we have established that the impact of that sexuality is individually determined. To compare this to a social role of sex in our society seems unjustified. The same can be said about the other categories as well.
Dresser does not fully ignore the individual aspect of the vampire, however, by acknowledging that it has adapted to our culture by catering to the individualism of the US. With all of these interpretations of the vampire, it is clear that the image is much less threatening today than it was in Slavic society. As a result, associations are freely made with it and are much more diverse, and leave us hanging with the question of what its social role is. Many explanations have been offered, and these are well supported under the context in which they are presented.
Some are scholarly and deal with it at a subliminal level, while others are openly acknowledged by vampire fans themselves. But to take any one of these and assign it as the unifying social function of the vampire, which is often done or implied, would be a mistake. Although their validity may have been proven in certain contexts, it must be remembered that these contexts are not shared by all, or even a majority of the population.
Since the image, and not its associations, are what we receive today through television and the rest of the media, the context of the vampire is determined by the psyche it enters, and thus varies from individual to individual. This accounts for its diversity of interpretation that we witness today.
What this tells us is that the American Vampire today is used as source to fulfill the individual desire and needs of a population. This, in itself, should be considered its significant role in society. It would otherwise be difficult to understand why the image of a reanimated corpse has been preserved for so long, given that its ancient social function is of little use in American society today. But the image of a reanimated corpse and its desire for blood serves as symbol at so many levels and in so many ways, that once we are exposed to it at an early age, it stays with us forever, adapting in its meaning to each person's own psyche.
To isolate the fulfillment any one of these needs as social role in itself would be unjustified. But the general therapeutic role of the vampire should not be overlooked. It allows us to express our thoughts and ideas, fulfill our fantasies, and cater to needs otherwise left unnourished. Thus, by isolating the vampire image in both the past and present, and then analyzing its paradigm, we were able to assess its social role, in both the past and the present.
As shown above, in the past, the vampire was needed as an outlet of fear and anxiety by being a scapegoat for unexplainable calamity. Now, with medical science, this role is extinct in our culture. But instead of disappearing, the vampire has entered the media, serving as a multifaceted creature, able to fulfill a wide range of elements in the individual psyche. The reasons for its shift in function is not only due to our change in needs, but also a change in the way the vampire image is transmitted.
Earlier in history, the associations of fear with the vampire were inseparable in its transmission, whereas today the image can stand alone, making it subject to a much broader scope of interpretation. It would be interesting to apply a similar approach to the vampire in its different stages as it migrated into our society. Subjecting vampires such as the ones in Fluckinger's report and English Literature would quite possibly reveal a more progressive transformation of its function to what we know today. One thing, however, is known for sure: the image has withstood the test of time and change of cultures.
In doing so, it has shown that, real or unreal, the vampire seems immortal with its continued presence in our society. American Vampires. New York: Vintage Books, Perkowski, Jan L. Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. New York: Ballantine Books, Schneider, Kirk J. Horror and the Holy. Chicago: Open Court, Stoker, Bram. The Essential Dracula. Leonard Wolf. New York: Penguin Group, Television Programs: Vampires, Witches, and Werewolves. Unsolved Mysteries. Peter Graves. Films: Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Francis Ford Coppola. Tod Browning. Universal, Interview with a Vampire. Neil Jordan. Warner Bros. Class Notes: Jain, Samay. Paul Gold, University of Virginia. Jain, Samay. Jan L. Perkowski, University of Virginia. World Wide Web: Vampyres Only. In The Blood Exploration of the relationships between blood and vampire myth in pre-Industrial Europe.
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Part One. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. Leviticus Any broad exploration of pre-Industrial European society cannot help but touch upon the plethora of peasant tales that both served to entertain the populace and teach morality to the children of Europe.
On surface examination, at least, this function of folklore seems apparent enough. It is a perfectly valid assessment of the function of common fable—but in many respects, it is inadequate. Peasant tales served, in many cases, as more than simple fables. The fact that the vast bulk of European humanity remained illiterate in pre-Industrial Europe should stimulate questions about the more complex and subliminal purposes of this entirely oral form of literature.
It is accurate to speak of the clergy as disseminators of morality, speaking in broad terms. After all, one of the primary functions of any religion is to legislate morality to both the elites and the commoners. However, the Catholic and Orthodox churches of medieval Europe were not fortunate enough to be working with a tabula rasa. Before the peoples of the continent had been converted to Christianity, they had obviously held to various other belief systems. While on the surface these pre-Christian institutions seemed to have disappeared rather thoroughly throughout most of Europe by the eleventh century, the nuances left behind by them and their companioned folklore continued to affect peasant life subtly for many centuries, and arguably continue to impact the broader culture to this day.
Of particular interest is the folklore of blood, due to the wide range of symbolism invoked by this vital substance. Blood folklore has a fascinating history in Europe, primarily because of the conflict between Christian blood myth and the more traditional blood legends that predate the introduction of Christianity to the European mass culture. In the words of anthropologist Reay Tannahill,. Every time he set out for the hunt he was aware that some day It is not difficult to understand why The fact, therefore, that blood figures centrally in Christianity should be as unsurprising as its central importance in all of folklore and peasant tradition.
Nonetheless, it is interesting to compare Christian blood ideology with pre-Christian blood ideology, specifically with that body of oral tradition that survived the Christian conversions and continued to be passed down through successive peasant generations by way of storytelling. This series shall look at the ways by which these peasant tales began to alter due to the growing Christian influence over European society.
One specific topic with respect to blood folklore — namely, the legendary creature known generally as the vampire today — will be discussed in detail. This concept, taken together with the wholly pre-Reformation Christian idea of Eucharistic transubstantiation, may further our understanding of the place of blood, blood potency, and blood magic in pre-Industrial Europe.
It seems that every pre-Christian society on Earth has had some version of the legendary vampire tale as part of the repertoire of its common storyteller. Examples of vampires as a symbol in social legend can apparently be traced as far back as ancient Assyria, where excavations have unearthed vampires depicted on pottery art, including an apparent etching of a vampire copulating with a man. The idea of the vampire as a perverse sexual symbol shall be discussed later. In fact, belief in the vampire seems so utterly universal that it is sometimes difficult to research "non-literary" examples of vampire folklore, because of the bewildering variety of names used to describe the creature.
In Russian, there are the terms upir , and upyr. In Albania there is the shtriga , in Greece alone the ghello , drakos , drakaena , and the lamia , the vrykolakes , brykilakas , barbarlakos , borborlakos , and the bourdoulakos. From Sanskrit come the terms katakhanoso and baital. Obviously, due to the limited contact between these widely-differing cultures, the vampire legends among them differ significantly as well. However, from the outset, it shall be necessary to separate the traditional mythology from the modern Hollywood redefinition of the undead bloodsucker.
In particular, this article shall explore the traditional concept of the vampire as viewed by the societies of eastern and southeastern Europe. The reasoning behind this is that, while the modern perception of vampires is derived from popular literature and the cinema, that perception, in fact, was drawn from the traditional Balkan stories of the monsters. Therefore, our own society in some ways does derive its perception of the vampire from traditional peasant folklore, but certainly not in others.
The differences are quite striking. For example, in peasant Russia the vampire was able to walk the earth in broad daylight—according to legend, he rose at noon and could feed from the populace until midnight, when he was forced to return to his grave. In addition, many of the modern conceptualizations simply do not appear in medieval tales, or if they do they are too sketchy or ambiguous to assume they were directly derived from the folklore of the distant past.
The Balkan vampire was often a hideous beast, far from the princely count depicted in Dracula or later. The cape, tuxedo, jewelry, and grand estate which occupy much of the cinema vampire's inventory were inserted into the legend by none other than Bram Stoker — himself; this one author has done more to mutate the peasant tales than anyone else in history aside from contributions by LeFanu, author of the earlier Carmilla , or arguably from much-later additions to the genre made by Anne Rice and other similar authors. Obviously no malice need be felt toward the man, since he hardly erased the earlier tales from the unconsciousness of European society; they are, in fact, still widely told and believed by rural populations throughout the Balkans and into Poland and Russia.
The following twentieth-century tale, recorded as coming from the mountains of northern Albania, serves as a good example of the real vampire i. I sat by many an open hearth, and heard of Kilmeni life. Much we talked of that dire being the Shtriga, the vampire woman that sucks the blood of children, and bewitches even grown folk, so that they shrivel and die. All Kilmeni, and indeed all the tribes, believe in her.
She may live in a village for years undetected, working her vile will It is to keep the bones of the last pig you ate at carnival, and with these to make a cross on the door of the church upon Easter Sunday Then if the Shtriga be within, she cannot come out, save on the shoulders of the man that made the cross She, and she alone, can heal the victim, who withers and pines as she secretly sucks its blood. This peasant belief is a fine example of the nature of the vampire throughout the Balkans.
Several excellent points are above illustrated; the vampire of eastern Europe was, traditionally, either a very old or a very young woman. There are only rare examples of male vampires, and when they turn up their characteristics are usually quite different. The vampire was most often not a noble; on the other hand, they tended to be on the opposite end of the social strata-hermits and the homeless were quite often put on trial for vampirism in medieval Europe. Part Three: Feeding Practices.
Another critically important characteristic of the vampire was its selective feeding practices. Traditional vampiresses seemed to have fed exclusively on either children or members of the opposite sex. As illustrated, peasants had all sorts of unusual concoctions and rituals for defeating the creatures. They progressed from the simple one outlined earlier to much more bizarre and complicated ceremonies.
A traditional Lithuanian vampire tale or a quasi-vampire tale, more appropriately, since there is never any direct reference to vampirism; yet the distinguishing characteristics contained within make it all to clear the young woman described suffered from either vampirism or something incredibly similar goes something like this:. A poor farmer has a beautiful young daughter who he is unable to marry off, because every young suitor who tries to spend the night with her is found dead the next morning.
The hero of the story hears of both the daughter and her father's offer of three hundred gold coins to whomever can survive but a single night with the girl. Before attempting to bed with her, he seeks out the advice of an old crone in the forest, who gives him a magic bridle. When he approaches the girl, she tries to attack him but he throws the bridle on her, turns her into a horse, and rides her through the countryside until he has worn her out and she dies of exhaustion.
The farmer is enraged at the young man and orders him to bury her. Fortunately, before he attempts to do so he again seeks the advice of the old crone, who gives him a prayer book and a candle to protect himself from her evil. That night, the girl rises from the dead and calls for help, and a horde of little devils answers the call and swears to exact vengeance on the young man. He has however, on the advice of the old crone, drawn a circle around himself with candle wax. The demons are unable to see him due to the protection of this circle, and as soon as the rooster crows the girl again drops dead.
The same thing happens on the following night, but on the third night the devils finally catch him and are about to burn him when God manages to convince the rooster to crow early, which forces the imps to return to wherever they came from. There are clear-cut religious overtones in the fable, all of which suggest that the girl is somehow in league with the Devil. However, it is the end of the story that makes it rather clear that the girl is either a vampire or something like one:.
The young man straddled one of the iron hoops—pooff! When he rode on a little farther, the second and third hoops broke. All the hoops had broken, one after another, by the time he reached the cemetery, and the farmer's daughter tried to get up, but the young man grabbed the hammer, hit the stake, and drove it into her heart. The farmer's daughter fell back into her coffin, never more to rise. Now she was really dead. The use of a wooden stake through the heart, usually of pine or ashwood, clearly links this story to the vampire mythology.
That particular method of destruction is most commonly called for wherever vampires are to be encountered, although wards can often vary dramatically in their composition. It should be noted that there are twelve recorded variants of this story, some in Russian, some in Estonian, and, most interestingly, one in Icelandic. The fact that there is a version of this fable called 'The Farmer's Daughter who was a Witch' in the source cited above in Icelandic peasant lore suggests that the tale may originally have been a Norse one, or at least picked up by the Varangians when they settled the Lithuanian-Ukrainian region in the ninth century and from there transmitted through Scandinavia to Iceland.
This would predate the conversion of the Lithuanian people to Christianity by five hundred years. It is no small detail, then, that a German variant of the same tale is explicit in identifying the girl who is, in this version, the daughter of a king and queen as killing the soldiers guarding her body 'bloodily' i.
Even more noteworthy is the detail that he saved the girl from the vampiric curse by biting down on her forefinger 'vigorously', again on the advice of a wise old person. This tale is said to have over sixty variants in both Germany and France. The primary difference here is the introduction of blood into the story. While it is very likely that one of these tales arose from the other, the fact that the Lithuanian tale, probably a pagan one, omits the blood references is extremely significant. While blood folklore, as we have seen earlier, is central to any society whether ultra-primitive or completely industrialized, blood figures centrally in the very nature of the Christian religion.
There is, in Norine Dresser's work entitled American Vampires , a very useful paradigm to illustrate this. A young woman, believing herself to be an actual 'vampire' meaning she feels she must ingest human blood in order to remain healthy , tells of a very religious upbringing in which she was educated in a Catholic school. She fondly remembers all of the beautiful artwork at the school, in stained-glass windows and on plaster statues, of a bleeding Christ dying on the cross, nails through his wrists and the wounds of the sword in his belly.
The central story of Christianity, of course, is the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of the son of God. Jesus dies on the cross, bleeding for all the sins of man, and after a short spell of death rises from the grave and transcends, joining his Father in heaven. Blood is thus symbolically associated with many different themes here: death and rebirth, suffering and eternal life, pain and everlasting peace. Blood has always figured strongly in Jewish folklore as well. Bram Stoker was certainly onto something when, in his novel Dracula , he had the Count quote the Old Testament, "the blood is the life.
In addition, there is the midrash rabbinical fable of Lilith, the first wife of Adam, who was cast out from the garden because she refused to assume a subordinate sexual position. Lilith was transformed into a nocturnal monster who mated with animals and sought out the children of Adam and Eve, killing them vengefully and consuming their flesh. Part Four:. Not found in archive. Part Five: Exitus. The myth could not have developed to the extent that it did without the help of Church theology and practice. Of course, it was not purposely fabricated by the Church itself; in fact, the medieval Church often worked hard to eliminate belief in the latter blood legend.
The core theme in both traditions, of course, is parasitism-parasitism of several different types. There is hardly anything more parasitic than the vampire, a literal leech of a being. Vampires were traditionally depicted as preying upon members of the opposite sex or on children, and in extracting a quantity of fluid from an unwilling victim. All one needs to do is invert the symbolic fluid extraction thereby transforming it into fluid deposition , and you have the image of a rape.
Sexual imagery permeates through the entire legend of the vampire; a re-examination of the quoted fables will uncover numerous sexual undertones i. The bite of the vampire—the so-called "vampire's kiss"—itself is sexually suggestive, as it takes place in a region which is especially tactile-sensitive and an erogenous zone.
In this sense, the vampire is so symbolic of a human passion that it makes it literally impossible for the creature to exist in reality; it is far too one-dimensional a monster to have any realistic qualities. Of even greater importance to the symbolic nature of the vampire is the fact that vampires are reported to regain their vitality after feeding upon a host; tales of vampires excavated from their graves tell of corpses, long dead, that look as alive and healthy as that of any mortal being.
Thus, the vital essence of blood transfers from the host to the predator, taking the very life energy from the victim and siphoning it into the parasite. Post-conversion vampire folklore only serves to further the transubstantiate claims of the Church, it seems; the power of blood that allows the vampire to remain eternally youthful, even though it resides in a dead body that should be rotting, seems to parallel the power of faith in transforming simple wine and bread to flesh and blood.
Is it yet another unrelated phenomenon, then, that the bodies of saints were said to be immune to decomposition even while they lay in the earth? The sheer power of blood in the human consciousness cannot be underestimated. The fear that blood of innocent victims was being used by the undead to extend their unnatural lives drove eastern Europeans throughout the Middle Ages to unearth bodies and drive nails into their heads, pound stakes into their chests, decapitate them, shove garlic into their dead mouths, or place the Host over their eyes, all to keep them in their tombs.
In this case, it is very important to note that in Romania, the moroi , simple revenants, are carefully distinguished from the strigoi , the vampires. Both are undead, and yet the moroi are often viewed as friendly spirits and guardians of their mortal families. It is the strigoi which attract the utter revulsion and fear of the populace.
Even though a moroi may be destroyed by similar means, it is the strigoi —the blood drinkers—that peasants throughout the Balkans have made a career out of hunting. It can be concluded, then, that Western civilization has maintained a rather schizophrenic position on blood imbibement. While the medieval Church maintained a position that the drinking of Christ's blood was not only beneficial but even necessary for Salvation, the other two 'minority groups' who allegedly consumed blood; namely, the Jews and the vampires, were widely reviled and looked upon as in league with the Devil.
There is yet another possible parallel in that by the latter Middle Ages the clergy was forbidden from sexual activity; was the symbolic blood imbibement of the priestly class able to serve as a form of compensation from lack of sexual stimulation? This is, of course, a very far-fetched conclusion, but one which should be kept in mind when studying blood folklore and the place it has in popular culture.
It is one more possibility to consider when examining the relationships between blood accusations, the magical qualities of blood, and life. For just as "the blood is the life", so is sex a vital component of the continuation of the human species. In both vampire folklore and the blood libel in the case of the latter circumcision slander stands out as the shining example of sexual connotation , there are very potent and blatant suggestive sexual symbols.
Now, one needn't necessarily conclude that both myths arise solely from deep-seated sexual origins, but it does appear that sexual motifs come closest to linking the blood mythologies of pre-Industrial Europe together into a rational set of thematic, related concepts. The Forbidden: Past and Recent Vampires as Symbols of Changing Sexual Mores An in-depth study of vampires both as mirror and influence on historic and current sexual mores.
There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips in the super-sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes and waited- waited with beating heart. Over the centuries, the vampire has undergone radical changes. The personalities of vampires in recent movies reflect modern attitudes toward sensuality and pleasure. Emerging from the mists of our own collective unconscious, the Children of the Night represent forbidden rapture.
After all, blood drinking is the oldest taboo of Judeo-Christian tradition because the blood was thought to encompass the God-given life force of a living thing.
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Even the consumption of animal blood was outlawed. Thus the connection between vampires and sin was forged. Soon they came to stand for all of our transgressions- chemical addictions, sex addictions, egotism, greed, and vanity. We have praised them and cursed them in the same breath, grateful for the vicarious experience they afford us yet horrified at how deftly they mimic the monsters within our own hearts. The evolution of the filmic vampire mirrors cultural beliefs about eroticism and guilt. Through a careful study of this vampire, one can make out the veiled influence of the Puritanical guilt complex we inherited as Americans and its resulting psychological sadomasochism.
In order to begin this undertaking, it is necessary first to discuss our point of origin. Eroticised vampires existed at the very beginnings of modern Western civilisation. For example, in ancient Roman literature, there were the Lamias. Thus, no attempt will be made to analyse the vampire as representative of non-Western cultural sex guilt.
Contrasting modern characterisations of the vampire will include The Hunger , The Addiction , and Habit , three vampire films of the s and s. His appetite has made him a monster, cursed to live outside of society, beyond the will of God. In the words of Jonathan Harker, "Have you ever seen that awful den of hellish infamy with the very moonlight alive with grisly shapes and every speck of dust that whirls in the wind a devouring monster in embryo?
The Count charms beautiful young women from their beds to receive his kiss, seducing them into a state of wanton submission. He is the ruling alpha male, powerful, aggressive, and dominant. It is his desire that matters, not that of his devotees. This point of view reflects the sexual politics of its era. Women are passive receivers of sex, never equal partners or initiators. And while they may partake of some degree of pleasure, there is always some pain and suffering involved, at least in the beginning.
In addition, the tale of the Old World vampire serves as a warning for adolescent girls.
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Forsake from the handsome stranger and love a boy whose family your family knows for the wanderer in fine clothes with an exotic accent will take advantage of you. From the masculine point of view, this same idea signals a pervasive fear that you, too, could lose your woman to the powerful enchantments of another man evil enough to ignore your claim to her. Another implication here is the fear that a man who cannot fully arouse and pleasure his wife will lose her to one who can.
Both Arthur and Jonathan were very noble men, but neither one could erotically possess a woman as could Dracula. The common threads running through all these interpretations of the novel are pleasure, suffering, and guilt. Interestingly, they are not separate entities but rather a trinity of facets belonging to the same experience, namely of an erotic encounter.
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