C&C: Vampires

Through mere glimpses of him, however, demonic accuracy is achieved: Dracula is an Antichrist. He cannot attack unless willingly engaged. He baptizes his victims in his blood even as he drinks theirs in a sacrifice that gives eternal “life” in animated death. He unites captive souls to his existence, thriving on the unhallowed. He twists scripture to his purpose, lusts for worship … and fears Christ. Crisis Magazine, Oct 2013

Over at Father Z’s blog (several years  back) he made a (joking) post about how sad he was that he didn’t get a vampire hunting kit for Christmas; one comment pointed out that we can’t sell blessed objects. (Technically false; blessed objects can be sold for their intrinsic value, without added price for the blessing, but accurate in terms of buying a Vampire hunting kit which would be pretty worthless without blessing.) This got me thinking about the various legends related to vampires, and Catholicism, especially with how often it is gotten wrong.

The most famous example of really bad theology would probably be from Dracula; at one point, Van Helsing makes a putty out of consecrated Hosts and uses it vampire-proof a room.

Needless to say, this isn’t respectful of the Body of Christ, and if the vampire is reacting to the Body of Christ then it probably wouldn’t be effective, either:

With respect to the presence of Christ, most theologians would hold that, although the host externally remains intact for several days, the real presence would cease as soon as the host is fully soaked with water as from that moment the species is no longer exclusively that of bread.

Dracula is rather well researched on the folklore of vampires. For example, the crucifix has power in and of itself, since it has a representation of Christ on it, while crosses depend more on the person holding the cross invoking God directly. In various times and places the cross (or other objects, such as holy medals) being formally blessed was held to be enough to invoke God – those objects are called sacramentals, things that recall the sacraments. (Dracula’s mistaken abuse of the Host is in keeping with someone who didn’t recognize transubstantiation, but viewed it as a sort of super-stong symbol.) The most obvious sacramental, which is also used in popular pieties and commonly available for the asking, would be holy water– many parishes even have dispensers. It should be kept in mind that the people who really believed in vampires weren’t trying to use holy water or any other sacramental for some kind of a magical effect, but to invoke God’s protection from forces of evil.

Some of the things vampires fear are symbolic instead of sacramental– running water calls to mind baptism and the washing away of sins, silver is “white” metal and thus pure, garlic and various plants were believed to be medicines against corruption. Even salt, because of its powers of preservation, was thought in some places to ward off evil– including vampires.

Now, for someone wanting to do a Catholic friendly Dracula type vampire?  You might consider using an unconsecrated host– if the image of the body of Christ on the Cross works, then the object originally intended to become His body would work better. (Credit to Vathara, an author who poked at things long enough to get that spark moving.  If you like urban fantasy along the lines of Harry Dresden, but wish they had a little more theology, she’s got an awesome series started– first book is A Net of Dawn and Bones. It’s not exactly Catholic, but it’s not hostile, and it takes theology seriously, which is a nice change.)

Vampires not having a reflection probably grew out of the folklore of the soulless not having a shadow and the way that mirrors were once backed with silver. Some more folklore savvy stories have had digital cameras work to record vampires, but not silver-based movie cameras, and at least one used silver nitrate in the blood to kill off a vampire.

Speaking of souls, this is probably the biggest problem with vampire stories: all too often, authors write “vampires” that by all evidence possess rational souls. To shamelessly steal–er, borrow– from Jimmy Akin’s highly enjoyable Theology of the Living Dead, there are four basic options for any flavor of living dead:

animal soul- this is the most traditional, but has more in common with modern zombies as far as behavior goes; modern vampires are generally more intelligent than the average human.

non-human rational soul – Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s vampires– they are evil, but the “demons” animating vampires aren’t Satanic, and a lot of the other “demons” shown are know to just be multidimensional travelers. The theology of that show makes my head hurt….

human souls – the ‘vampire’ subculture would be an example of this, or if a story had vampirism as a sort of disease

No soul – the body is remote-controlled, either by technology (nanobot vampires) or perhaps demonic possession. (As I understand it, demons are spirits, rather than souls, and couldn’t inhabit a body the way a human soul would. I’d highly advise a lot of mythology research before anybody tried to write this!)

Most vampire stories these days are either humans with a disease or non-human souls animating a body; some of them aren’t “allergic” to blessed objects, even. Obviously, if they have rational souls, we have to treat them as people rather than monsters…but it doesn’t make any sense why holy objects would harm them, then. On practical levels, anything that smokes on contact with a holy object is not to be considered a good neighbor!

I hope this struck your fancy as much as it struck mine!

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  1. There is only one source of vampire lore that the Bear recognizes: The Fearless Vampire Hunters (1966) with Sharon Tate. It was the inspiration for the Fearless Demon Hunters in some disreputable sequel to a disreputable original novel he, erm, read somewhere along the line. In the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, the most memorable display is an actual vampire hunting kit, or at least the kids thought so. There’s also sex. Hard to separate vampires from sex in cinematic portrayals for some reason, although the Bear sees no obvious reason why this should be so, other than a woman with a pretty neck swooning from blood loss might as well be swooning from something else.

  2. If I might double-dip on the writing issue, writing absolutely purely evil characters is difficult and tiresome. (Bear thinks C.S. Lewis said as much about The Screwtape Letters.) Once a Catholic novelist concludes that even such basics as common sense in some way partakes of God’s goodness, he must think about his world-building theology carefully. Dante’s frozen innermost circle of Hell, or Lovecraft’s insane and incomprehensible gods are probably closer to reality, but don’t themselves make for a ripping yarn. I think a Catholic portrayal of occult themes should recognize the self-defeating nature of evil. In Bear’s own disreputable tales, humans are never beaten by evil. If they are beaten, they have beaten themselves, even if they “win” the conventional story line. One might go so far (for writing purposes) to reveal a certain comic element that is rooted in a lack of things like humble human insight. Didn’t Chesterton say the devil fell on account of “gravity?” (Taking himself too seriously.) Of course, evil is no laughing matter, but Bear always thought humans had an edge that the devil, for all his experience and intelligence, just doesn’t quite understand, and that helps balance the conflict, at least in fiction.

  3. I kind of like the theory that they’re an inversion of Christian theology– rather than “this is my blood” eternal life route, its “I take your blood” route to eternal life; so it makes sense he’d be an anti-Bridegroom, too.

  4. …an inversion of Christian theology…

    Of course. When the vampire takes the blood of its victim, the vampire is enacting a mockery of the Eucharist. We Christians recognize that the actual Body and Blood of our God, the Christ Jesus, is in the Eucharist. We drink His blood so that we may have eternal life. The vampire drinks the blood of an image of God intending to have undead existence.

    Recall the Gospel reading of the Sunday before last (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time). “He said to them, “Whose image is this…?” The Pharasees knew full well whose image is on the coin and whose image is on themselves and us.

    Ignatius Press offers a critical edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula but I do not recall if it contains any theological discussion of Stoker’s characterization of the vampire.

  5. The Host putty actually is from folklore. But the usual variation is leaving a Host on the windowsill. (Obviously also Not a Good Idea.) Some people think that walking off with a Host for your own purposes is a modern idea; alas, they are wrong.

    An awful lot of these rural occult ideas just translate to “Grab the best stuff you can get, and mix them together!” They were not thinking about canon law or theology.

  6. You are a wealth of knowledge, Foxfier! 🙂

    I have heard that the whole Dracula story descends from Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracul where Dracul derives from the Latin Draco meaning Dragon:


    However, that the Dracula of Bram Stoker’s novel was in the service of the ancient dragon or serpent called Satan or the Devil gives meaning to his name.

    Ironically, Vlad III who was called Impaler – the first Dracula – hated Muslims and earned his bloodthirsty reputation in the manner with which he pursued and killed Ottoman Turks. He would even burn and destroy his own land to prevent Muslims from making use of it as they entered. Everyone feared him, even the Europeans of other countries threatened by Islam. Apparently he grew up among Ottoman Turks who abused and tortured him as a child (though his brother was said to have willingly stayed with the Turks). History is funny and the origins of the vampire lore murky.

    I am sure if I made any historical mistakes, our resident historian Donald will correct me! 😉

  7. Heck, an awful lot of any occult stuff I’ve seen/heard of works that way– “mix the two powerful things, it’ll be twice as powerful.”

    Digging around on “Saint Death” and probably expanding it to Narco Saints– pretty much that, with a lot of Aztec type stuff for some of the “powerful.”

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