The history of vampires has always fascinated me, every time period viewed them in an entirely different way. In older times, organized religion drastically changed how the undead were seen by the people, this is something I have read countless times in a handful of books, but I recently read a different take on Christianity and vampires. In Dr. Bob Curran’s book on vampires he takes a deeper look into the church and their views on the undead.
Dr. Curran writes that back in the day in Celtic Western Europe the Christian Church had to compete with old pagan beliefs, many of which they eventually incorporated into the Church’s own religious dogma. One belief was the notion of the Celtic Otherworld, where spirits went after death. This, obviously, didn’t fit with the Church’s idea of heaven and hell. So, a kind of compromise was made. Like many pagan ideals, the otherworld became incorporated into Christianity in the guise of purgatory, a place where a soul waited before receiving its final reward or punishment. Dr. Curran says that this was clever of the Church, for it incorporated pagan beliefs, while at the same time creating the potential to make money.
See, a soul could be released from purgatory only through having prayers and Masses said for it. The only person able to do this was a priest, who had to be paid to do so. Conveniently so, a special day was set aside for the remembrance of the dead when Masses were said for the souls: All Saints Day. This day coincided with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, a day for remembering the dead. The Church then taught that God permitted the dead to return on the evening before All Souls Day to remind the living of their duties to them. If their families were neglecting such obligations the angry dead might take physical revenge against them. Additionally, the dead who were not correctly buried according to the rites of the Church (which once again involved paying a priest) might return to punish the living for their neglect.
The notion of the vengeful dead caught on, the idea that the undead would return to prey upon surviving family members, cattle and livestock. They would suck blood from the animals, leaving the weak and useless. And sometimes, in an act of extreme punishment, they would drink the blood of humans. So, the myth of blood-drinking undead was created and the mass hysteria spread, with countless frightened people paying priests for protection.
Dr. Curran adds that Christianity isn’t the only religion to do something like this, after all, each and every country and religion has its own views on the undead. So please keep in mind that this is just one version of the vampire legend, one of hundreds.
I have to give props to Dr. Curran for his excellent research and well thought out ideas. Personally, I found this chapter on religion and vampires incredibly fascinating. I highly suggest picking up the book and reading it entirely.
But, back to the post, what do you guys think about this? The Church mixing old and new beliefs with the fear of their patrons in order to make money? Hmm.