|Raphael - St Michael the Archangel slaying a Dragon|
September 29th is Michaelmas, the Western Christian feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, one of the four quarter days of the year and often taken to be the first day of Autumn; Michael is one of the four principal archangels, the others being Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel, but different traditions also name other archangels in addition to these. One of these, Samael (also called Samil or Sammael) is regarded as both good and bad, in Talmudic tradition he is seen as the Angel of Death, and sometimes called Satan.
|Adam and Eve|
One legend tells how when God made Adam, he also made a wife for him from the same earth; her name was Lilith. Lilith refused to submit to Adam as they were both made at the same time from the same material and eventually left him, going to live instead with Samael, and refusing God’s command to return to the Garden of Eden. Adam went to God, who caused him to fall into a deep sleep and took one of Adam’s ribs, from which he formed a ‘second wife’, Eve. Samael came to Eve in the guise of a serpent and persuaded her to eat the Forbidden Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and then she got Adam to do the same. As God had forbidden them to eat the fruit, he cast them out of the Garden and into the world, where they were mortal, subject to illness, pain and death.
|Michelangelo - Adam and Eve|
Samael came again to Eve and seduced her, making her pregnant with the first human to be born, Cain. Adam and Eve had a son of their own, Abel, and one day, thinking that God favoured Abel more than himself, Cain slew Abel. For this first murder, Cain was cursed by God and sent out into the wilderness East of Eden, bearing on him the Mark of Cain, a sign from God that He would punish anyone who killed Cain. Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, who would be the father of all mankind. Lilith and Samael gave birth to demon children, the Lilin, but because Lilith had refused to return to Adam in Eden, God punished her by killing one hundred of her children every day. In revenge, Lilith killed a hundred newborns every night, boys up to eight days old and girls up to twenty, unless they wore an amulet around their neck inscribed with the names of the angels Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof.
|Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Lilith|
In the legends of the Sumerians and Akkadians, going back beyond 700 BCE, Lilith and the Lilin were night demons, who came to men and women as they slept, disturbing their dreams and making love to them. The legend carried on in subsequent civilizations, with the Babylonians and the Assyrians, where they were the lilitû, becoming the shedim of the Jews, and the Ancient Greek Lamia.
|Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare|
The night-stalking, child-eating demon then passed into Roman mythology and the legends of the Middle Ages, where she continued to haunt the dreams of men, feeding on their blood, as had Cain, her son, who had died in Noah’s Flood.
|Travels of Three English Gentlemen - 1744|
In 1734, a work called Travels of Three English Gentlemen was written, describing a journey made through Europe, and in Carniola (now in modern Slovenia), they describe how, on Michaelmas Day, the inhabitants gathered cherries. Later, these Three Gentlemen, record a Carniolan legend,
“We must not omit observing here, that our landlord seemed to pay some regard to what Baron Valvasor has related of the Vampyres, said to infest some parts of this country. These Vampyres are supposed to be the bodies of deceased persons, animated by evil spirits, which come out of the graves, in the nighttime, suck the blood of many of the living and thereby destroy them.”
This is the first recorded use of the word ‘vampire’ (or ‘vampyre’) in the English language, appearing in Volume 4 of the Harleian Miscellany in 1744. The Baron Valvasor mentioned in the passage is Johann Weikhard von Valvasor, a Carniolan scientist and nobleman, who wrote a fifteen-volume The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola published in 1689, in which he records the story of Jure Grando, a Kringan (now in Croatia) peasant who died in 1656.
After his death, Grando haunted Kringa for sixteen years as a štrigon or vampire, who knocked on house doors where, soon after, someone would die. He called on his widow and sexually assaulted her. Eventually, some villagers exhumed Grando’s corpse, which was said to be smiling and perfectly preserved. They tried to drive a hawthorn stake into its heart but it would not pierce the skin. Prayers of exorcism were said and then one villager, Stipan Milašić, sawed the head off the body, which screamed and bled until the grave was filled. Peace returned to Kringa after the vampire was vanquished. This is the first report of a vampire in European literature. Our Three English Gentlemen also note that in Poland, the demons are called Upier and Upierzyca (male and female). Similar words occur in other European languages, upyr in Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian, upir in Czech and Slovak, vampir in Croatian and Dutch, and vampyr in Danish and Swedish. As knowledge of the Balkan and Slavic countries became wider, other vampire stories spread across Europe; Arnold Paole, Peter Plogojowitz and Ruža Vlajna were all Serbian vampires who were variously investigated in the eighteenth century.
|F G Gainsford - Portrait of John Polidori|
In 1819, John Polidori published The Vampyr, the first vampire novel in English, sparking a craze for vampire stories that has barely slowed since. In the book, the aristocratic Lord Ruthven (based, in part at least, on Lord Byron), newly arrived in London society, makes the acquaintance of the young Aubrey and the two travel to Rome, where Ruthven attempts to seduce the daughter of one of Aubrey’s circle, causing Aubrey to abandon him. He goes to Greece, where he falls in love with Ianthe, an innocent inn-keeper’s daughter, who tells him local tales of the vampires and their nocturnal orgies.
|Title Page - J Polidori - The Vampyre - 1819|
Returning late one evening, Aubrey hears a scream and goes to investigate in a nearby hut, where an unknown assailant knocks him insensible. He is roused by villagers and sees Ianthe lying dead, the victim of a vampire. Lord Ruthven arrives in Athens, and on hearing the tale rushes to Aubrey’s sickbed. As he recovers, they make plans to travel together in Greece but as they do, they are attacked by bandits and Ruthven is shot in the shoulder. As he lies dying, he makes Aubrey promise not to mention anything about him or his death to anyone for a year and a day. Aubrey swears he will and Ruthven dies, whereupon Aubrey returns to London alone. One day, whilst out in society with his sister, he is shocked to see Ruthven apparently live and well, who whispers to him, ‘Remember your oath.’
Aubrey has a nervous breakdown and is haunted by visions of Ruthven, but as the months pass his conditions improve and his sanity returns, until one day his sister visits him and he notices a locket around her neck. In it is a portrait of Ruthven, which he crushes underfoot, only to be told that his sister is betrothed to Ruthven. Bound by his oath, Aubrey cannot reveal Ruthven’s secret, but begs his sister on bended knee not to marry Ruthven. Convinced that his madness has returned, he is confined to his room, and his warnings go unheeded. He writes a letter and bribes a servant to deliver it but it is handed over to the doctors instead, as further proof of his madness.
On the morning of the wedding, one year after Ruthven’s ‘death’, Aubrey escapes and confronts Ruthven, who again whispers ‘Remember your oath’, adding that he has already seduced the sister, who will be ruined if he continues to oppose the wedding. Aubrey collapses and is carried back to his rooms, and the wedding takes place. As midnight approaches, Aubrey rouses and tells his guardians the full story, then dies. The guardians rush to the honeymooner’s hotel where they find Ruthven gone and his bride, drained of blood, lying dead in bed, a victim of the Vampyre.
|Varney the Vampire|
It is not, it must be said, a masterpiece of literary fiction but nonetheless it started a fashion for all-things vampire. A very popular tale was Varney the Vampire, a penny-dreadful serial that ran to over 600,000 words, as was Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire Carmilla, but the ultimate incarnation was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1895), which followed Polidori’s lead in personifying the vampire as a sophisticated aristocrat.
Our fascination with the vampire continues (Buffy – could you please do something about Edward Cullen?), with works of variable literary and artistic quality published almost weekly, but if I might point you one, if you have not already read it – Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum.
- "Remember -- that which does not kill us can only make us stronger."- "And that which does kill us leaves us dead!"