Argument of the Author of the Jewish Letters, concerning Revenans

 [This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]


There are two different ways of effacing the opinion concerning these pretended ghosts, and showing the impossibility of the effects which are made to be produced by corpses entirely deprived of sensation. The first is, to explain by physical causes all the prodigies of vampirism; the second is, to deny totally the truth of these stories; and the latter means, without doubt, is the surest and the wisest. But as there are persons to whom the authority of a certificate given by people in a certain place appears a plain demonstration of the reality of the most absurd story, before I show how little they ought to rely on the formalities of the law in matters which relate solely to philosophy, I will for a moment suppose that several persons do really die of the disease which they term vampirism.

I lay down at first this principle, that it may be that there are corpses which, although interred some days, shed fluid blood through the conduits of their body. I add, moreover, that it is very easy for certain people to fancy themselves sucked by vampires, and that the fear caused by that fancy should make a revolution in their frame sufficiently violent to deprive them of life. Being occupied all day with the terror inspired by these pretended ghosts or revenans, is it very extraordinary, that during their sleep the idea of these phantoms should present itself to their imagination and cause them such violent terror? that some of them die of it instantaneously, and others a short time afterwards? How many instances have we not seen of people who expired with fright in a moment? and has not joy itself sometimes produced an equally fatal effect?

I have seen in the Leipzig journals an account of a little work entitled, PhilosophicŠ et ChristianŠ Cogitationes de Vampiriis, Ó Joanne Christophoro Herenbergio; "Philosophical and Christian Thoughts upon Vampires, by John Christopher Herenberg," at Gerolferliste, in 1733, in 8vo. The author names a pretty large number of writers who have already discussed this matter; he speaks, en passant, of a specter which appeared to him at noonday. He maintains that the vampires do not cause the death of the living, and that all that is said about them ought to be attributed only to the troubled fancy of the invalids; he proves by divers experiments that the imagination is capable of causing very great derangements in the body, and the humors of the body; he shows that in Slavonia they impaled murderers, and drove a stake through the heart of the culprit; that they used the same chastisement for vampires, supposing them to be the authors of the death of those whose blood they were said to suck. He gives some examples of this punishment exercised upon them, the one in the year 1337, and the other in 1347. He speaks of the opinion of those who believe that the dead eat in their tombs; a sentiment of which he endeavors to prove the antiquity by the authority of Tertullian, at the beginning of his book on the Resurrection, and by that of St. Augustine, b. viii. c. 27, on the City of God, and in Sermon xv. on the Saints.

Such are nearly the contents of the work of M. Herenberg on vampires. The passage of Tertullian which he cites, proves very well that the pagans offered food to their dead, even to those whose bodies had been burned, believing that their spirits regaled themselves with it: Defunctis parentant, et quidem impensissimo studio, pro moribus eorum pro temporibus esculentorum, ut quos sentire quicquam negant escam desiderare prťsumant. This concerns only the pagans.

But St. Augustine, in several places, speaks of the custom of the Christians, above all those of Africa, of carrying to the tombs meats and wine, which they placed upon them as a repast of devotion, and to which the poor were invited, in whose favor these offerings were principally instituted. This practice is founded on the passage of the book of Tobit;Ś"Place your bread and wine on the sepulcher of the just, and be careful not to eat or drink of it with sinners." St. Monico, the mother of St. Augustine, having desired to do at Milan what she had been accustomed to do in Africa, St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, testified that he did not approve of this practice, which was unknown in his church. The holy woman restrained herself to carrying thither a basket full of fruits and wine, of which she partook very soberly with the women who accompanied her, leaving the rest for the poor. St. Augustine remarks, in the same passage, that some intemperate Christians abused these offerings by drinking wine to excess: Ne ulla occasio se ingurgitandi daretur ebriosis.

St. Augustine, however, by his preaching and remonstrances, did so much good, that he entirely uprooted this custom, which was common throughout the African Church, and the abuse of which was too general. In his books on the City of God, he avows that this usage is neither general nor approved in the Church, and that those who practice it content themselves with offering this food upon the tombs of the martyrs, in order that through their merits these offerings should be sanctified; after which they carry them away, and make use of them for their own nourishment and that of the poor: Quicumque suas epulas e˛ deferant, quad quidem Ó melioribus Christianis non fit, et in plerisque terrarum nulla talis est consuetudo; tamen quicumque id faciunt, quas c¨m appossuerint, orant, et auferunt, ut vescantur vel ex eis etiam indigentibus largiantur. It appears, from two sermons which have been attributed to St. Augustine, that in former times this custom had crept in at Rome, but did not subsist there any time, and was blamed and condemned.

Now, if it were true that the dead could eat in their tombs, and that they had a wish or occasion to eat, as is believed by those of whom Tertullian speaks, and as it appears may be inferred from the custom of carrying fruit and wine to be placed on the graves of martyrs and other Christians, I think even that I have good proof that in certain places they placed near the bodies of the dead, whether buried in the cemeteries or the churches, meat, wine, and other liquors. I have in our study several vases of clay and glass, and even plates, where may be seen small bones of pig and fowls, all found deep underground in the church of the Abbey of St. Mansuy, near the town of Toul.

It has been remarked to me that these vestiges found in the ground were plunged in virgin earth which had never been disturbed, and near certain vases or urns filled with ashes, and containing some small bones which the flames could not consume; and as it is known that the Christians did not burn their dead, and that these vases we are speaking of are placed beneath the disturbed earth, in which the graves of Christians are found, it has been inferred, with much semblance of probability, that these vases with the food and beverage buried near them, were intended not for Christians but for heathens. The latter, then, at least, believed that the dead ate in the other life. There is no doubt that the ancient Gauls were persuaded of this; they are often represented on their tombs with bottles in their hands, and baskets and other comestibles, or drinking vessels and goblets; they carried with them even the contracts and bonds for what was due to them, to have it paid to them in Hades. Negotiorum ratio, etiam exactio crediti deferebatur ad inferos.

Now, if they believed that the dead ate in their tombs, that they could return to earth, visit, console, instruct, or disturb the living, and predict to them their approaching death, the return of vampires is neither impossible nor incredible in the opinion of these ancients.

But as all that is said of dead men who eat in their graves and out of their graves is chimerical and beyond all likelihood, and the thing is even impossible and incredible, whatever may be the number and quality of those who have believed it, or appeared to believe it, I shall always say that the return (to earth) of the vampires is unmaintainable and impracticable.





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