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Conspiracy Theories and Catholicism: Vampires

January 14, AD2014 13 Comments

Foxfier

Albino assassin monks, secret Bible books, pagan Santas and secret councils—this is a series about popular culture claims related to Catholicism. If you have a suggestion for a future article, please leave a message in the comments or email me. Prior posts available by clicking my name.

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, 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 enough 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 how often they are portrayed wrongly.

The most famous example of bad (horrifying, really) Catholic theology that involves vampires and popular culture is probably the Dracula story. At one point, Van Helsing makes a putty out of consecrated Hosts, and uses it to vampire-proof a room. It’s supposed to be alright, because he has a dispensation. (No, they don’t work that way.)

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 isn’t effective, either.

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

That aside, Dracula is rather well researched in regards to 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 formally-blessed cross (or other objects, such as holy medals) was thought to be enough to invoke God. Those objects are called sacramentals, things that recall the sacraments. (Dracula’s mistaken abuse of the Host is indicative of someone who didn’t recognize Transubstantiation, but viewed it as a sort of super-strong symbol.) The most obvious sacramental, which is also used in popular pieties and commonly available for the asking, is 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.

Vampires lack of 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 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 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Non-human rational soulBuffy the Vampire Slayer’s vampires– they are evil, but the “demons” animating vampires aren’t Satanic, and a lot of the “demons” are just multidimensional travelers. The theology of that television show makes my head hurt….
  3. Human souls – the ‘vampire’ subculture would be an example of this, or if a story had vampirism as a sort of disease.
  4. 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 even “allergic” to blessed objects. Obviously, if they have rational souls, we have to treat them as people rather than monsters, but then it doesn’t make any sense why holy objects would harm them. On practical levels, anything that smokes on contact with a holy object is not to be considered a good neighbor!

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

About the Author:

Former sailor and technician, current geek, "three prong" conservative, mother and practicing Catholic. Happily married to TrueBlue. Ranch raised in rural Washington, currently settled in the Seattle Blob.

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  • John Darrouzet

    Thanks for your post. Two responses.

    First, unless we start from the position that all events are random and only explained by chance, we are most likely starting from the opposite position that attempts to give organization to evident facts so we can understand them better. The result: likely stories. Some of these may be more likely than others, of course. When we don’t like a story, we call it a conspiracy theory. When we like it, ewe call it history.

    Second, Father Robert Barron provides an interesting take on the recent vampire craze. Here’s the link:

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0ChnQE7DO0U&autoplay=1

    • http://sailorette.blogspot.com/ Foxfier

      A bit more cynical a view that I’d favor– conspiracy theories tend to appeal directly to emotion, while history (outside of pop) tries to account for objective facts.

      The video is a pretty good elaboration of the situation described in the Crisis magazine quote.

    • http://sailorette.blogspot.com/ Foxfier

      Incidentally, auto-play smokes on contact with holy objects.

  • http://www.dianemckelva.com/ Diane McKelva

    Foxfier, I am enjoying this series, because you are approaching issues that make us stop and think a little deeper.
    John, I enjoyed this video and explanation from Fr. Barron. It is a very good clarification. And I am fascinated by Ann Rice’s transformation. God is an awesome God. ;)

    • http://sailorette.blogspot.com/ Foxfier

      Thank you– I know I write like a geek, but it’s a field rich for conversion, plus… so much of the Catholic faith is so NEAT!

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  • cestusdei

    I remember a guy who once asked me if I knew anything about Jesuit assassination squads…I almost said “yes.”

    • Howard

      I told someone that the swords of the Knights of Columbus are merely ceremonial — we use machine guns for the real fighting. (This was someone I knew, and he could take a joke.)

    • http://sailorette.blogspot.com/ Foxfier

      Really is tempting, isn’t it?

  • Howard

    Vampires are the ultimate monsters of my nightmares, where they are consistently and vividly portrayed: they are dead bodies possessed by demons. Modern movies get everything wrong, perhaps most importantly that their vampires are not really dead. Mine are as dead as a day-old corpse, so they have no lusts or appetites; they are animated by super-intelligent spirits of burning hatred and inconceivable evil. Although the soul proper to that body no longer animates it, he is somehow still tortured by this abuse of his body. They are walking blasphemies, inverted parodies of the incarnation.

    Twenty years ago I woke up from a dream in which the demon newly possessing the body of a young woman identified itself to the other demons in a way that made it clear he had once “been” Rasputin. That … fit a little too well, and it took me a good hour after waking up to shake the conviction that Rasputin had, after all, been a vampire.

    • http://sailorette.blogspot.com/ Foxfier

      Oh, my… I don’t suppose you’re able to stand that fear-splunking enough to write a book with that, have you? It would probably sell quite well, but holy cow I wouldn’t want to write it. (I’m a big scaredy cat. I get nightmares from hearing about movies.)

    • Howard

      Thanks, but I’m nearly 100% sure I could not write natural-sounding dialog, and my plots would probably tend to be too contrived — maybe not exactly Mary Sues, but barely any better.

      Every once in a while I have a dream that is almost a complete short story, though, rather than a vignette. A year or 2 ago I had a dream in which I kept seeing a scene enacted at a boat ramp just off the highway by people in oddly old-fashioned clothes that looked more appropriate for the 1950’s; since they kept repeating their actions EXACTLY and showed no awareness of my presence, I knew they were ghosts. There was also some business at the water’s edge that really gave me the creeps; I strongly suspected it was an infanticide with connotations of black magic. A friend of mine looked up their license plate, and sure enough, it dated from the late ’50’s, but surprisingly all the “ghosts” were of people who were still alive, with the exception of the middle-aged “father figure”, who had just recently passed away. And yet … in a real sense, they had all died spiritually that day, which is why I was seeing their ghosts. I did write that one up into about a 1-2 page story for my blog, but that’s about my limit.

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