Vampires: Blood Suckers from Beyond the Grave

Vampires: Blood Suckers from Beyond the Grave
Review by The Mad Bibliographer, submitted on 6-Nov-1997

Rowan Wilson. Vampires: Blood Suckers from Beyond the Grave. (Strange But True) New York: Sterling, 1997; 170 pp., index. ISBN: 0-8069-0575-1; $5.95.

As the title indicates, this book focuses on real-life vampire-related phenomena: per se vampires of centuries past and modern times; the historical figures Vlad Tepes and Elizabeth Bathory; and modern "vampire murderers" and flesh-eaters. "What Is a Vampire?" the first chapter asks. The author responds by describing historical vampires, including Arnod Paole, Peter Plogojowitz, and Johannes Cuntze (Cuntius). Wilson finds many attempts to rationalize such cases (particularly Paul Barber's work) unconvincing because those providing explanations "do their debunking piecemeal." Details of bodily decomposition or the notion that some "vampires" were buried alive deal with only a few aspects of complex cases.

Wilson, in contrast, compares historical vampires to poltergeist phenomena (citing particularly the work of Guy Leon Playfair, who has concluded that poltergeists *are* in fact spirits and not manifestations of spontaneous psychokinesis) and to the earthbound entities that Tibetan Buddhists call *pretas*. Wilson analyzes several instances of these "hungry ghosts" by drawing parallels with vampire phenomena. His comparisons stress that instances of "psychic invasion" by vampires or hungry ghosts occur when the victim is asleep or in a near-sleep or trancelike state and that hungry ghosts, like vampires, often take a sexual interest in the living. Wilson speculates that its crudest form, the male sexual urge is basically a desire for "possession" and that the act of physical penetration is an act of aggression. As a man holds a woman in his arms, he experiences a desire to absorb her, to blend with her, and the actual penetration is only a token union.

A spirit lover, in contrast, can achieve "total interpenetration, a union of minds," and Wilson describes cases of possession indicating that some spirits do precisely that. Such occurrences indicate that the hungry ghosts behind vampire phenomena are earthbound spirits that have in effect become addicted to drawing human vitality.

Wilson pointedly does not try to explain why, if vampirism is the drawing of *psychic* energy, so many accounts of vampires mention the drinking of blood.

Unfortunately, the chapters on criminals -- "vampire murderers" and cannibals -- make no connections between their activities and those of per se vampires. The "vampire murderers" include Vincenz Verzeni (courtesy Psychopathia Sexualis ), Peter Kurten, Fritz Haarmann, and Wayne Boden. Flesh eaters Jeffrey Dahmer and Issei Sagawa have their own separate chapter. Wilson considers cannibalism a form of trying, vampire-like, to absorb the life force of a human being. In contrast, he describes the need to tear flesh or shed blood that "vampire murderers" experience "a failure of the imagination" in that these individuals think that the perfect sexual experience will bring lasting happiness. Oddly, Wilson never indicates any connection between the actions of "vampire murderers" and the male sexual desire to possess or the aggressive act of physical penetration.

The chapters on "Monsters of the Carpathians" and the vampire in fiction are little more than a distraction in the midst of what could be a fascinating discussion of the concept of the vampire and how it is made manifest by both the living and the dead. The section on Vlad Tepes includes a great deal of political history; that on Elizabeth Bathory at least fits in thematically with the chapters on vampire murderers and cannibals: like them, it describes sadism and murder in some detail. Wilson makes no attempts to connect Vlad's or Elizabeth's activities to those of real vampires, however.

In short, Rowan Wilson's Vampires includes a few interesting ideas and a great deal of barely-related padding. The padding makes interesting reading; this is a good lightweight book for someone with no background whatsoever in vampire-related subjects. However, only the chapter dealing with connections between vampires and hungry ghosts presents material that distinguishes Vampires from numerous other nonfictional works.

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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  

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