Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Vampires and Werewolves: Are They Mostly Ghostly Or Really Rather Real?

 By Susan A. Sheppard

Linking vampires and werewolves to the spirit world is questionable since they are usually portrayed  in our literature and folklore as physical beings, ones that can be felled by a silver bullet, or stopped by a wooden stake driven through the heart.
 Hollywood movies tell us that Vampirism and Lycanthropy are somehow linked to ghosts, spirits, or at least the occult and so, “Dracula” and “The Wolfman” show up, along with witches and ghosts, as popular symbols each All Hallows Eve though little really links them to the day of October 31st, a date which was of the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain and the Irish Catholic holiday we now know as Halloween.
=If we travel back in time, though, ghosts or spirits of the dead were believed to have the ability to return as corporeal or carnal beings, still interested in experiencing humanly
 Long ago, it was thought that the dead still ate, could take in nourishment, become intoxicated by alcohol (in fact, they craved it), and could even return to have sexual relations with human beings. In fact, a common belief was the dead envied the living. Fearing their wrath, people left offerings to appease the walking spirits of the dead, as a way to placate them with promises of physical pleasures, such as food, tools, favored animals, slaves or wives, who were sometimes sacrificed to keep the deceased spirit happy or satisfied with familiar company in the afterlife. If the spirit or ghost was not satisfied, they could visit bad luck upon those still alive.
We still see elements of carnal ghosts in animistic religions
such as Voodoo, where rum, flowers, candles and cigars are left on gravesites or altars for the dead to enjoy, and the Dumb Suppers of the Welsh where an extra plate is left at the table for the returning spirits to eat with and visit relatives. We have mostly outgrown this idea of appeasing the dead with offerings and gifts, but we still send bouquets to funerals, leave flowers on graves as well as heavy stones to keep the dead from “walking,” or rising out of the ground (the origins of tombstones) a terrifying concept even in our modern age. When an idea has that much power over the human mind and imagination, it is not about to go away. Thus, we find our tales of the walking dead in books and movies about vampires. Fictional vampires remain hugely popular, and are even believed in, with vampire television shows and movies, vampire nightclubs, vampire games such as Masquerade, the Gothic music movement and individuals who truly believe they are vampires, and must partake of human blood, usually to remain “the Undead,” (a word completely made up by author Bram Stoker), and to maintain their, special vampire powers.

This, given the fact that vampires, as we look upon them now, are entirely a literary invention.
The first literary vampire may have appeared in 1812 in John Polidori’s The Vampyre, where the vampire is truly a Byronesque figure, since Polidori based his vampire character on his former employer, the infamous English poet Lord George Gordon Byron. Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu appeared in 1872 and introduced female vampires as sexual beings. In 1897, Irish author Bram Stoker picked up the wand and published his groundbreaking book Dracula. A number of plays and movies followed into the 20th Century, culminating with Anne Rice’s famous novel Interview with the Vampire in 1976 and the literary obsession with vampires continues through books like Twilight and others.
Originally vampire tales can be traced to places like India, Greece, the Middle East, most especially Scythia, that made their way into Eastern Europe, fueled by the Gypsies or Romani peoples migrating out of India, where the vampire saga gained momentum, unfolding its legend like the multi-petals of a blood-red rose.  But in the beginning the vampire was little more than a shade or a ghost, or at least an energy thief coming in the guise of a vexing spirit. Usually this ghost was thought to be someone who had recently died, one who missed his family and tried to return by leaving his grave at night. But after one died, the spirit of the deceased could change into something much more malevolent.
Often, the vampire would attack those who were sleeping, feeding upon their vital energies, crushing and paralyzing his victims with supernatural strength. Since the walking dead or the vampire had become a demon of sorts, crucifixes were placed above headboards of beds, and garlic wreaths were put in strategic spots in the home, such as over doorways or in windows to ward off the afflicting fiends. Sleep Paralysis, or the Old Hag Syndrome as well as beliefs in “Elf pressing” and being “Hag ridden” may explain what is really behind ancient tales of vampirism, when its victims woke up tired and depleted of energy while remembering the presence of an evil spirit having visited upon them the night before.
At the same time, vampires were capable of transforming very much like witches and fairies that are transformed through their fairy-witch glamoury powers. The vampire was thought to turn himself into a bat, a wolf, a rat or a mist that could seep under doors or through openings in the windows. Also, like the living, the vampire needed sustenance, preferably human blood.
And yet, it is implied that it is the vampire’s control over his victim that is most important. The vampire is a monster who has gained mastery over himself and his urges. He is not an emotional wreck of a monster like the werewolf He chooses his victims to suit his purposes. The vampire may be cursed but he is not at the whim of his curse and really rather likes being a vampire.

Like most parasites, the vampire is concerned with self-preservation, at least in the tales that have developed around his legend. As a preternatural being, the vampire is only vulnerable while he is sleeping. Somewhere between a ghost and a ghoul, vampires are commonly referred to as revenants, from the French word revenoir meaning “to return.” In this way, it is easy to see how the vampire remains a type of carnal ghost.
During the Middle Ages, werewolves were looked upon pretty much the same as witches, or mortal human beings who made a pact to the Devil, ones who rnbbed magical ointments on their bodies in order to fly, and were capable of transforming themselves into animals, such as a wild a cat, in order to gain power over others or visit evil upon them. They did not start out as a shade or a ghoul in legend as the vampire did. Instead, the werewolf was a brute of a beast whose only magical ability was shape shifting.
Werewolf comes from the Old Saxon word wer, meaning man, coupled with the word “wolf’ literally translated as “man-wolf.” But unlike ghosts or spirits, the werewolf is a corporeal beast. One could turn into a werewolf just by being bitten by a wolf.

According to Hollywood movies, the werewolf is cursed and suffers because of it in his human form. The werewolf strives to defeat or contain his bestial nature, whereas, the vampire may know he is cursed, but does not wish to change and has no remorse over his beastly acts. The werewolf begs to be locked into a room upon oncoming night to contain his savage nature, especially during full moons, while the vampire gladly leaves his coffin for a night on the town under the very same circumstances.  Early 20th Century writer, Montague Summers firmly believed in werewolves and wrote and published his book “The Werewolf’ in 1933. But Summers concluded much as others did in Medieval times that Lycanthropy was the result of some dealings with the Devil, thus, werewolves, and witches too, were practicing a form of Satanism. And yet, stories of werewolves abound in almost every society, every country, including non-Christian ones and places without wolves, such as Japan, might have Were-foxes, thus, stories of werewolves as beastly creatures of the night, pre-date Christianity by a few thousand years.

In ancient Greece and the Baltic regions, a number of cults worshipped werewolves, or at least canine creatures very much like them. The earliest Germans believed that their ancestors returned to them as wolves. Later in Germany, the hide of a hanged criminal could transform a man into a werewolf, if he chose to wear the skin during the Full Moon. At least, it was thought. The dates of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are both linked to the werewolf. Children born during Christmas or New Year’s Eve had a better chance of becoming a werewolf it was believed, especially if the baby was born having teeth already. A baby at birth wearing a “caul” (or membrane sac over the face) was also a possible werewolf
In 1589, a man by the name of Peter Stubbe, of Cologne, France (now Germany) confessed to killing and eating a number of children, including his own son. He also admitted to stealing and devouring livestock, as well as having sexual relations with his daughter and sister. A pact with the Devil, Stubbe claimed, gave him the savage powers of the werewolf Stubbe later confessed since he was not able to control himself After a speedy trial, local government sentenced Peter Stubbe to being burnt at the stake, with sister and daughter meeting the same fate. In the years between 1520 and 1630 there were thirty thousand reports of werewolves in France. By the 1700s, witch-burnings and reports of werewolves faded in Europe. Like the vampire, the werewolf gained new life through literature and works of the fiction much later because the general public no longer believed in the half-man half beast. Shamanism and Animism may have something to do with a belief in werewolves early on. In most cultures, the line that defined human beings as separate from the animal and plant worlds was blurred. Uncivilized humans did not have the same desire to “lord over” creatures and plants. All beings in the natural world were connected. The wolf, especially, because of his prowess and strength, became a creature very feared but also admired. Since the wolf’s eyes reflected light in the night, he seemed quite spectral.
 In the legend about the founding of Rome, there is a tale that hints at a history behind the werewolf, or the half-man half-beast. Romulus and Remus were twin sons born to the god Mars and Rhea Silvia, but they were unwanted and so cast into the river Tiber. While the god Tiberinus rescued the mother Rhea Silvia, a she-wolf saved the twins and suckled them as her own along with her cubs. Rome was then founded on Palantine Hill where the she-wolf nursed the twins. As the twins reached adulthood, Romulus killed Remus after an argument. Romulus, the wolf-boy, then founded Rome, or Roma, after his name. Stories of wolf-boys and wolf-girls abound throughout world culture, or rather feral children who are raised by animals, primarily dogs or wolves. In 1920, in Northern India, a missionary in charge of an orphanage near Midnapore happened upon a wolf pack late at night, and noticed two childlike, yet ghostly figures enter-twined with the wolves. The missionary climbed into a tree that sat atop a termite mound to view the wolf-pack from a birds-eye-view, and glimpsed two very human apparitions accompanying the wolves and described them as"
"Hideous looking. Hand, foot and bodies like human beings; but the heads were a ball of something covering their shoulders, and the upper portion of the bust. Their eyes were bright and piercing, unlike human eyes and they ran on all fours like wolves.”

However, the beings were neither ghosts, nor apparitions. They were two actual human children that had been raised amongst wolves, now referred to as “feral children.” Feral children have been reported everywhere and will continue to in the most remote parts of the earth that still have populations of dogs and wolves.

The question persists: Are werewolves (and vampires) really real?
Or are such isolated reports of feral children or adults behind the legend of the werewolf? Do the witch’s powers of glamoury or “shape-shifting” have connection to supposed appearances of werewolves through their spells? Are werewolves and vampires preternatural creatures intrinsically aligned as they are so often in popular Halloween imagery? Or are werewolves born out of simple myths surrounding an ordinary animal once feared?
Perhaps like witches nd fairies as fairy-tale creatures, tales of the werewolf and the vampire reveal truths, but perhap truths that speak only of our human desire for enchantment
not only in the way we choose to dream and imagine but also in the way we fear. -- Susan A Sheppard

Although the author of this article is Susan Sheppard, grateful acknowledgement is made to the Haunted America website where the article first appeared.
Learn about Susan's Haunted Parkersburg Ghost Tours at the link below.


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