Parapsychology is the scientific study of the paranormal. It is NOT alien abduction, cryptozoology (e.g. Loch Ness), mythical creatures (e.g. werewolves) or UFOs. Today, however, I shall be offending parapsychologists the world over, stepping “outside of the box” and delving into a subject that has fascinated those living on the fringe – the dark, seductive world of the vampire!
I’ve been fascinated by vampirism as long as I have the Parapsychological world. These mythical or folkloric creatures hold such a regaled position in our culture as the centre of dark and romantic mystery. They feature in a wealth of popular movies where their role as villain never strangles their popularity, it only heightens it. Look at how television is now peppered with these spicy characters – Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries. But what are vampires?
There are references to vampiric-like spirits (i.e. reanimated corpses who subsist on blood) in many cultures and many periods in history. Babylonian demonology talks of Lilu. Sumerian mythology talks of Akhkharu. In Jewish demonology there are references to the ‘mother of all vampires’, Lilith. Vampires in our society appear to have originated more from the Slavic people (Eastern Europeans – Russia, Serbia, Poland) where a long tradition of folklore and story-telling fuelled dramatic and deathly tales of corpses coming back from the dead and drinking the blood of humans. It’s no surprise, therefore, to find that Romania is oft quoted as the true origin of vampiric legend. Romania is surrounded by Slavic countries and certainly with the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, the country has developed vampiric fame in it’s own right.
Romanians have a wealth of terms for a variety of vampires – Strigoi, strigoi ui, moroi, pricolici. Even today these terms are still used – a colleague of mine recently visited Transylvania and because of her pale skin and red-hair was called a strigoi. She was none too pleased when she found out the meaning! The earliest use of the actual word – vampire – in the English language tells a gripping story.
In 1732, an English translation of a German report of the much-publicized Arnold Paole and Peter Plogojowitz vampire staking in Serbia was published. According to Wikipedia, it all started with an outbreak of alleged vampire attacks in East Prussia in 1721 and in the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1725 to 1734. Two famous cases involved Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole. As the story goes, Plogojowitz died at the age of 62, but came back a couple of times after his death asking his son for food. When the son refused, he was found dead the next day. Soon Plogojowitz returned and attacked some neighbours who died from loss of blood. These two incidents were extremely well documented. Government officials examined the cases and the bodies, wrote them up in reports, and books were published afterwards of the Paole case and distributed around Europe. The controversy raged for a generation. The problem was exacerbated by rural epidemics of so-claimed vampire attacks, with locals digging up bodies. Many scholars said vampires did not exist, and attributed reports to premature burial, or rabies. Nonetheless, Dom Augustine Calmet, a well-respected French theologian and scholar, put together a carefully thought out treatise in 1746 in which he claimed vampires did exist. This had considerable influence on other scholars at the time.
Eventually, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her personal physician to investigate. He concluded that vampires do not exist, and the Empress passed laws prohibiting the opening of graves and desecration of bodies. This was the end of the vampire epidemics. By then, though, many knew about vampires, and soon authors would adopt and adapt the concept of vampire, making it known to the general public.
Despite the idea of vampires coming under the study of folklore, I’m fascinated by the stories because the accounts hold some similarity to various Parapsychological accounts. With vampires you hear accounts of levitation (PK), reincarnation, telepathy, hypnosis, self-apporting and asporting – a parapsychologist’s dream…or a nightmare!
© Ciaran O’Keeffe 2011