Vampirism, beliefs about death etc

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Donald Morse writes that “Vampirism is based on basic human beliefs and fears. First, there is the uncertainty about death and the future. Is there a soul separate from the body? Can the soul remain after the body is destroyed? Is there life after death? Is immortality possible? Are there ghosts? Can the dead leave their graves and infect the living or attack the living?  The latter was considered to be a more likely possibility if the deceased had been a villain during life.” (emphasis mine, Morse, 183)

This comment on villainy is a thread Morse picks up on later, when he discusses “why a person becomes a vampire or acts like a vampire.”  Morse writes that “Pious members of the Eastern Orthodox Church believe it’s the work of the Devil. However, a person who becomes a vampire is not considered to be an innocent victim. The Orthodox Church teaches that evil people – infidels, the unbaptized, thieves, murderers, the excommunicated, and suicides – can become vampires.” (emphasis mine, 190)

Bearing in mind that Morse doesn’t seem to have given these beliefs any merit – or even the benefit of critical thought – (he just lists them), there are some interesting social concerns pointed to here!

Another social concern that Morse picks up on later is that of deception and manipulation. He writes: “One other aspect of vampirism is the ability of the vampire to deceive and con others (especially women). He is a master at this, and in some ways, he is similar to the current psychopath.” (my emphasis, 192) This last comparative leap is not backed up with evidence, but as it goes, the hint at crossovers between urban legends merits consideration! How do vampires in current literature draw on media and fictional fears about ‘the psychopath’ or the hidden violence of ‘middle America’?

Would it be fair, on this note, to suggest that much of the vampiric fiction (and there is loads) that has appeared on bookshelves in recent years is American? I have no evidence of this – I’m just thinking of some of the most popular ones – but it might be worth wondering how culturally specific some of this writing has been… and then in what ways this culture has been adopted in other countries…

There are, it seems, a number of social concerns explored through stories about vampires. In a word list or brainstorm, I would start with: GOOD, EVIL, VILLAINY, REDEMPTION, DEATH, LIFE AFTER DEATH, HOW THE DEAD INFLUENCE THE LIVING, THE SOUL, THE BODY (AND HOW THE BODY AND SOUL CONNECT), THE PHYSICALITY AND SPIRITUALITY OF THE GRAVE AS A SOCIAL SITE, SOCIAL FEARS, MENTAL INSTABILITY AND VIOLENT INDIVIDUALS LIVING IN THE COMMUNITY…

Ref: Donald Morse (1993) ”The stressful kiss: a biopsychosocial evaluation of the origins, evolution, and societal significance of vampirism’ Stress Medicine 9; 181-199

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