Monday, April 30, 2012

From Lilith to Edward: How Early Vampire Mythos Spawned From Demonic Possession

If I had to mark a point on a timeline of pop culture, when vampires stopped being monsters and started being an aspiration, I would choose Queen of the Damned. The red-head’s plot in that film seems so secondary to the rest of the film. It’s only at the end, when Lestat’s loneliness is cured by her companionship, that we even see her plot intersecting his in any kind of meaningful way. Suddenly, the only downside to being a vampire is loneliness, which can be cured by the right generic female character. This is a big turn from the tortured existence of Louis and a giant leap away from the Nosferatu and Dracula.

Vampires are supposed to be dark. Vampirism was never something we were meant to embrace. A modern lens of tolerance has twisted the mythos, turning these creatures of the night into something that is just misunderstood. The earliest writers of vampires in fiction would tear out their hair if they could read contemporary vampire romance. Accepting any vampire protagonist who isn’t constantly struggling with his nature is completely against the point. Sure, I’ve read some darkly sexy works that have come out of the new millennium, but happily ever after and vampires were never meant to go together. This is because vampires were created as a symbol of demonic possession.

First of all, if you do a Wikipedia search, you’ll find that vampire history starts with demons and the damned. One of the earliest vampires, from Ancient Babylon, is Lilitu. Lilith. The Mesopotamians, Hebrews, and Ancient Greeks all had legends of demons who were the first vampires. Other vampires were witches, malevolent spirits, and suicide victims. If you don’t believe that these evil spirits were the ancestors of our modern, popular vampire, look at the facts. The proof is in the powers:

Drinking Blood
Vampires can only feed on blood. This means that they are parasites that have to suck the life out of other humans to survive. This is inherently evil: killing others for your own selfish needs.

Aversion to the Sun
Though this weakness didn’t enter the mythos until after Dracula, the aversion to the sun is an incredibly symbolic weakness. The sun is an archetypal symbol of light and truth, associated with divinity and God (take your pick of which God). In the Ancient Greek religion, the sun was associated with prophecy, truth, and healing. Therefore, the direct contrast of this would be lies and death.

Sleeping in a Casket
Death. Right? Vampires are DEAD.

Garlic has been used-- back before we had Phizer to make our drugs-- as a powerful antiseptic. It’s used to ward off plague and disease. Like the parasitic implications of drinking blood, warding off vampires with garlic alludes to a presence in the body that is not meant to be there. It is unhealthy and must be killed off.

Crosses and Holy Water
Ever seen The Exorcist? If you’re possessed by a demon, the first person you call is a priest. It is not the power of these symbols, but the belief in them that turns vampires away. According to Christian demon lore, a demon needs permission to enter a human being. If you are armed with faith (as channeled through these symbols), a demon should not be able to harm you.

Entering Without Permission
Once again, Christian demon lore says that a demon needs permission to enter a human being. Because a vampire attack would cause bodily harm, rather than spiritual, the home is a natural extension of the body.

The romanticization of vampires comes from the seductive quality of those like Dracula. Like a demon, the vampire is a tempting, seductive creature that lures its victims to evil.

Traveling as Mist
Vampires that can turn into mist would be able to follow you wherever you go. This power is a symbol. You cannot board up the door to escape a creature who can travel as black mist; there is no physical way to arm yourself for spiritual warfare.

Of course, vampire powers and weaknesses change through history and literature. Some of the oldest vampire beliefs led people to decapitate women who died before marriage so that they would not rise up as vampires. Some vampire creation myths require the exchange of blood. Some require sharing a grave.

These changes, however, left the vampire essentially unchanged. It has not been until very recently that the spirit of the vampire has shifted. Perhaps this is a sign of the change in our society; the western world has become more secular. Whatever the cause, a vampire mythology that has stayed relatively the same in meaning for thousands of years has made a sudden shift in the last decade and a half. Is this a good thing? That’s up to you to decide.

Miss Kendall Harker, 

From the night we first met, I knew that you belonged at my side. There was something extraordinary about you, even in your most fragile moment. 

In all of my time on this earth I have never met a woman as beautiful as you who has the wit and the strength of will to match it. Feeling the pounding of your heart through your breasts, warm against my chest, as we lay together, reminds me of what it feels like to be alive. Not since my death have I felt such excitement and hope for my future. Our future.

All of my roaming through time has been for the sole purpose of finding you. I never wish to be separated from you. Never again will I have to go to my grave alone. My daily death will be a sweet respite with your body next to mine. You are mine, and either you or I or both shall perish before I ever let you go.

Forever Yours,
Rawdon Hale


Roxanne Rhoads said...

yes vampires and demons go hand in hand. Pretty much every culture has some kind of vampire/demon myth.

Today we embrace the vampire for all his darkness and his abilities because he is so much better than the real monsters in the world we live in. I'd rather deal with a vampire than a rapist, murderer, crazy psychopath, suicide bomber, or religious fanatic that thinks all infidels should die- and I think many others would too.

At least a vampires' needs and desires are apparent and not fueled by inexplicable things we can't understand or fathom like most of the "real" monsters in our world today who are fueled by mental issues and psychosis.

Amy Leigh Strickland said...

Indeed. Vampires as predators are a great literary analogue for the real, more frightening predators in our society.

Our victorian ancestors feared being tempted to evil. Today, with a media filled with these real monsters, we don't fear corruption of the innocent so much as the victimization of those same innocents.