The Vampire and Holy Symbols

In _The_Dracula_Tape_ by Fred Saberhagen, Count Dracula explains that he is not frightened by religious symbols, but that he has such respect for Christianity (being a Catholic himself, as I recall) that he objects to the profaning of sacred symbols by their use against him. He is physically unharmed.

Night StalkerIn _Those_Who_Hunt_The_Night_ by Barbara Hambly, the vampires are unaffected by religious symbols; one even wears a crucifix. The vampires are allergic to silver and certain types of wood. The shape of the item is meaningless.

In _Vampire_Junction_ by S.P. Somtow, Valentine the vampire has outgrown any fear of silver or religious symbols, but younger vampires believe that such items can hurt them, so they are intimidated by them. Valentine lets his servants use crucifixes to control the other vampires, and doesn't tell his fledglings there is no power in such symbols.

Jack Fleming, in P.N. Elrod's series, 'The Vampire Files,' states that he was a pretty good guy before he died, and he is still a pretty good guy as a vampire. He is not afraid of religious symbols, but occasionally pretends to be intimidated so as to get his adversary to drop his/her guard.

Anne Rice's Louis (_Interview_With_The_Vampire_) even goes into a Catholic church in Paris, enters a confessional and ends up killing the priest. He expects to be struck by lightening or something, but is unharmed even though he is in 'a House of God' and touches the crucifix.

I think that the five examples cited show that modern authors are definitely moving away from religious symbolism to control/avoid vampires. I attribute this to a growing awareness in our society of the variety of religious experiences available around the world, and the recognition that there are many people (including vampires) to whom Christian religious symbols are meaningless. It could also reflect a spreading disinterest in religion and a rejection of religion's control over the individual.


Holy Symbols in Folklore and Pre-Twentieth Century Vampire Fiction

From: Dragon

As can be seen from Davis' survey above, the trend in modern Vampire fiction is away from the efficacy of Holy symbols as wards against the undead. The situation was far different in 19th century and earlier fiction. Generally those stories are closer to the vampire tradition of Europe, a tradition that evolved in an intensely religious world. Further, the holy symbols associated with the vampire are generally those of the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, reflecting the region of Europe in which the vampire myth matured. The vampire myth reached its current form in central and southeastern Europe, an area dominated by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the struggle between those two faiths. Two of the major supposed causes of vampirism were excommunication or burial in a region dominated by a sect conflicting with one's own.

Stoker's Dracula is repelled by the crucifix or any other symbol of the Church. Bits of Holy Wafer or a sprinkling of Holy Water is efficacious in repelling the vampire or in purifying a location so that the undead can no longer enter. Van Helsing uses this method to cleanse the coffins of the undead so that they can no longer rest within. LeFanu's Carmilla is repelled by the reading of religious verses and at one point faints during a religious reading. Other 19th century and some 20th century fiction show the vampire similarly susceptible to the manifestations of Christianity.

As with many other aspects of the myth, the folklore literature is mixed on this issue. The diversity most likely reflects the varying evolution and epidemiology of vampirism across the different regions of Europe. It is really only in the 19th century, with the development and dissemination of fictional vampire literature in western Europe that the vampire myth became homogenized and assumed a more uniform and consistent nature. In some European stories, the vampire cannot even enter the shadow of a church. In other areas the vampire is relatively immune to the emblems of the Church. Generally though, across most of Europe the vampire, since he was an agent of Satan, was held to be subject to the dominion of the symbols of Christ. The Cross, Holy Water and other symbols of the Church were almost universally held to be powerful weapons against vampires, werewolves, witches and other spawn of Satan.


A Brief Synopsis of List Discussion of the Holy Symbol Issue

List discussion concerning this topic has ranged across the entire spectrum of possible positions. As with most vampire topics, the exact position of the writer is very dependent on the writer's view of the nature of vampirism. However, few of the list members seem to support the traditional outlook on holy symbols.

Many list members felt that the traditional interpretation of vampires and holy symbols, i.e., that the vampire is repelled because the holy object is an actual expression of the power of Christ and his Church over the minions of Satan, was unacceptable. They felt that this interpretation implied the superiority of the Christian religion over all other faiths in a manner that invalidated other religions. If the symbols of Christ held an innate power over the servants of Darkness then Christianity must be the One True Religion. Many people find this outlook unacceptably chauvinistic and demeaning to the followers of other faiths.

For those list members who accepted the idea that holy symbols had any power at all over vampires, the consensus seemed to be that the power of the symbol derived from the faith of the wielder (or more rarely, from the belief of the vampire) rather than any intrinsic power of the symbol itself. In other words, if a person, confronted by a hungry and hostile vampire, presents any symbol which they truly believe to represent the power of Light and Goodness, their very belief will manifest itself in a force sufficient to drive away the undead. Other list members were willing to accept that the symbol might have some innate power (however, this power would be equally available to followers of other faiths) but the wielder must have a true belief in his symbol for that power to be manifested. There is some support for this position in modern fiction. A common scene in many vampire movies is that of the would-be vampire killer who has little or no religious belief presenting his cross only to have it sneeringly taken away by the unaffected vampire.


From: Amos Haggard

Vampires are creatures of myth and imagination, and as such, probably closer to the ideal than the real, for most of us at least. When fiction deals with myth, or with folklore, wish-fulfillment tends to be stronger than realism. So we have the Western gunman in his role as the hero's best friend riding for the sunset to leave the hero free to marry the heroine; because it is nice to imagine that someone would do that. The word 'marry', by the way, was used advisedly. And because he is imaginary, we can make him do what we like, and there is no need to remember that Wyatt Earp was probably a dispassionate killer. The same human desire to create a moral light in the darkness - a light preferably held in the strong hands of the hero - led to the idea that symbols of good could keep the vampire away. But as literary taste moves away from moral example and happy endings, so the idea of evil being defeated by good becomes less credible. The vampire disregards the cross, and the human carrying it doesn't quite believe in it either. Notions of what is good and what is evil become more uncertain. Maybe a pentangle would be a safer bet... or an AK 47.

The point of all this is that I would agree with the idea that a power-symbol is effective against a vampire only if you believe in it. However, this is very difficult to explain, unless you concede that your belief, or your imagination, is responsible for the vampire's power as well as the symbol's. It would be my view that the sane human mind finds it almost impossible to imagine complete and irresistible evil. In the imagination, there will always be some way to combat the dark. When the general mood is as pessimistic as it is at present, and people see their symbols losing power, there is always a last resort. You can welcome the vampire's advance, in the hope that his attack will release you, instead of ending your life. You can grow to despise your weakness and idolize those who take advantage of it. You can allow your fascination with the killer to become stronger than your identification with his victim. You can enjoy cool sex with your vampire lover and finish by becoming vampire yourself.

From: Enigma Nocturnus (KHELDAR@KSUVM.KSU.EDU)

On the holy symbol issue, I am vexed with a variation on the problem that faces philosophers working in the branch of Ethics: how to deal with the multiplicity of religions. One can take either of two approaches to the matter. First, one religion could be the 'true religion' and all the rest are fallacious. Second, one could take a relativist approach and claim that all religions are equally valid. Actually, I take a variation on the second view, since I am a strange breed of agnostic (I am currently calling myself a transcendentally agnostic manichean). I acknowledge the existence of a multiplicity of Gods/Goddesses, however, I do not worship any of these beings. I see a situation in which the Gods/Goddesses act under the auspices of something greater (which is _not_ worshipped) and essentially indefinable (at least by mortals). This came about because of my attempts to account for humans becoming Gods/Goddesses, and the reverse. Anyhow, enough of my particular views. Suffice it to say, that I will attempt to establish a set of theories involving holy symbols that either 1) satisfy a multi-religion context or 2) dispense with religion all together.

Imprimis, the protection offered by the holy symbol comes from an innate quality of the object (sanctity) and/or an innate quality of the wielder (faith). If religion is used, then the answer is simple. Blessing of a holy symbol (or empowering, if you prefer), endows it with a certain power. This power, by itself, would not be sufficient, as we see many examples where an individual who has no faith has his holy symbol batted away by the attacking vampire. Faith is a necessary component: it would appear to act as the catalyst by which this power can act in terms of defense.

There is an alternate argument: that an agency of the deity, or the deity himself, comes to the defense of the would-be victim. These arguments tend to get around the problem of the vampire and the victim being of different religions, which results if the repellent nature of the symbol is purely because of the vampire's fear of sacrilege...

Secundus, let us turn to a hypothesis where a purely psychic phenomena occurs. In some ways, it shares some kinship with the posting I made some weeks previously concerning vampire's inability/aversion towards crossing thresholds. What might be happening under the aegis of religion could well be an unconscious psychic defense. I read the process as follows: Mortal presents holy symbol, and the fear of the vampire reacts with this defensive action by an automatic surge of will through the holy symbol. The vampire, who is already very sensitive to such phenomena, recoils from the pain at the flood of force, tinged with fear.

Now, this view has some interesting corollaries. First, to a trained mind, the holy symbol can be dispensed with, as he or she is able to manage his or her personal defenses/shields to act in a much more efficient manner. Second, vampires would probably be barred by such magical phenomena as magic circles and wards. I would argue that the vampire would not be helpless in such cases, and could launch an attack on said defenses (and an older vampire could likely make a more effective attack, being both more proficient in the arts and/or more sensitive to the interactions going on).

In any case, the two major mechanisms I described are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they mesh without too much fuss. By length, I think it is fairly indicative of which I prefer, however (having extensively studied psychic, magical, and other metaphysical phenomena in the attempt to understand my world).

Source: a compilation of posts to the VAMPYRES list over the past few years. Ficiton summary by Davis Farnsworth.

Fanged Films

USA, 1979
Vampire (TV)
USA, 2006

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?

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