The Chewing Dead: The Vampire’s Heritage
In 1679, a theologian named Philip Rorh, published a 24-page work entitled Dissertatio Historico-Philosophica de Masticatione Mortuorum (also known by the shorter title de Masticatione Mortuorum) or The Chewing of The Dead. Rohr was located in the Holy Roman Empire (composed of what are now Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Austria, Slovenia, Czech Republic, as well as parts of Italy, France, & Poland), and based his work off the common beliefs of the time, particularly those of vampires and the living dead.
In 17th century Europe it was a notorious belief that the bodies of the dead could inevitably spring to life, hell bent on inflicting disease and death on all in their path. But the dead Rorh discussed in his work not only had a taste for blood, they generally ate their victims’ flesh as well. This occurrence was known as manduction, or the chewing dead. Although this differs from our more modern understanding of the vampire, as mentioned before, it is a significant historical account of vampire-like creatures: those who return from the dead to prey on human blood or suffering, who wreak havoc on the living during the night, and who can only be killed through extreme methods.
De Masticatione Mortuorum discusses several common techniques used to keep the dead from resurfacing as blood seeking vampires, many of which have been verified by recent archeological excavations. Most commonly, a coin or stone was placed in the mouth to impede the corpse from chewing, and the lips were sewn shut to keep the object in place. According the Rohr’s work, there was an all-around vampire panic in his day, and bodies were frequently unearthed from their graves in order to inflict these proffered solutions. Similar to today’s vampires, the chewing dead could be stopped by simply severing the head of the corpse, or by driving stakes through the body, pinning them to the ground.
Rohr, however, being the theologian that he was, vehemently protested these actions. De Masticatione Mortuorum is more or less a harsh chastening of such beliefs and traditions. Rohr clearly states that to treat the dead with such disrespect and judgment was morally wrong and that the irrational fear of the living dead only incited the people to sin. In fact, Rohr strongly believed that the Devil used exhumations as a means to escalate the people’s fears. He believed that fumes from the rotting corpses could inflict illness and disease on the living, which the living in response would then believe even more strongly in a vampire’s power.
Although I’m positive the smell of a rotting corpse would be revolting and most likely trigger some intense vomiting, I’m also pretty sure that it can’t kill you. Yet according to another work titled De masticatione mortuorum in tumulis by Micha‘l Ranft written over 25 years after Rohr’s De Masticatione Mortuorum, people who were exposed to the corpse of such vampiric dead often died as well. Ranft tries to justify such deaths as a result of mental insanity or delusion caused by irrationally fears, but I’m also pretty sure that people don’t die just because they think they will.
Ultimately, what it boils down to is this: however irrational Philip Rohr or Micha‘l Ranft found the belief to be, the chewing dead were powerful enough to move entire people groups to formulate traditions and develop folklore revolving around such ‘myths.’ More so than even this, people died without logical or theological explanation. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough evidence for me.