Are Vampires Really Dead?

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




The opinion of those who hold that all that is related of vampires is the effect of imagination, fascination, or of that disorder which the Greeks term phrenesis or coribantism, and who pretend by that means to explain all the phenomena of vampirism, will never persuade us that these maladies of the brain can produce such real effects as those we have just recounted. It is impossible that on a sudden, several persons should believe they see a thing which is not there, and that they should die in so short a time of a disorder purely imaginary. And who has revealed to them that such a vampire is undecayed in his grave, that he is full of blood, that he in some measure lives there after his death? Is there not to be found in the nation one sensible man who is exempt from this fancy, or who has soared above the effects of this fascination, these sympathies and antipathies—this natural magic? And besides, who can explain to us clearly and distinctly what these grand terms signify, and the manner of these operations so occult and so mysterious? It is trying to explain a thing which is obscure and doubtful, by another still more uncertain and incomprehensible.

If these persons believe nothing of all that is related of the apparition, the return, and the actions of vampires, they lose their time very uselessly in proposing systems and forming arguments to explain what exists only in the imagination of certain prejudiced persons struck with an idea; but, if all that is related, or at least a part, is true, these systems and these arguments will not easily satisfy those minds which desire proofs far more weighty than those.

Let us see, then, if the system which asserts that these vampires are not really dead is well founded. It is certain that death consists in the separation of the soul from the body, and that neither the one nor the other perishes, nor is annihilated by death; that the soul is immortal, and that the body destitute of its soul, still remains entire, and becomes only in part corrupt, sometimes in a few days, and sometimes in a longer space of time; sometimes even it remains uncorrupted during many years or even ages, either by reason of a good constitution, as in Hector and Alexander the Great, whose bodies remained several days undecayed; or by means of the art of embalming; or lastly, owing to the nature of the earth in which they are interred, which has the power of drying up the radical humidity and the principles of corruption. I do not stop to prove all these things, which besides are very well known.

Sometimes the body, without being dead and forsaken by its reasonable soul, remains as if dead and motionless, or at least with so slow a motion and such feeble respiration, that it is almost imperceptible, as it happens in faintings, swoons, in certain disorders very common amongst women, in trances—as we remarked in the case of Pretextat, priest of Calame; we have also reported more than one instance, considered dead and buried as such; I may add that of the Abbé Salin, prior of St. Christopher, who being in his coffin, and about to be interred, was resuscitated by some of his friends, who made him swallow a glass of champagne.

Several instances of the same kind are related. In the "Causes Célèbres," they make mention of a girl who became enceinte during a long swoon; we have already noticed this. Pliny cites a great number of instances of persons who have been thought dead, and who have come to life again, and lived for a long time. He mentions a young man, who having fallen asleep in a cavern, remained there forty years without waking. Our historians speak of the seven sleepers, who slept for 150 years, from the year of Christ 253 to 403. It is said that the philosopher Epimenides slept in a cavern during fifty-seven years, or according to others, forty-seven, or only forty years; for the ancients do not agree concerning the number of years; they even affirm, that this philosopher had the power to detach his soul from his body, and recall it when he pleased. The same thing is related of Aristæus of Proconnesus. I am willing to allow that that is fabulous; but we cannot gainsay the truth of several other stories of persons who have come to life again, after having appeared dead for three, four, five, six, and seven days. Pliny acknowledges that there are several instances of dead people who have appeared after they were interred; but he will not mention them more particularly, because, he says, he relates only natural things and not prodigies—"Post sepulturam quoque visorum exempla sunt, nisi quod naturæ opera non prodigia sectamur." We believe that Enoch and Elijah are still living. Several have thought that St. John the Evangelist was not dead, but that he is still alive in his tomb.

Plato and St. Clement of Alexandria relate, that the son of Zoroaster was resuscitated twelve days after his (supposed) death, and when his body had been laid upon the funeral pyre. Phlegon says, that a Syrian soldier in the army of Antiochus, after having been killed at Thermopylæ, appeared in open day in the Roman camp, and spoke to several. And Plutarch relates, that a man named Thespesius, who had fallen from the roof of a house, came to himself the third day after he died (or seemed to die) of his fall.

St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, seems to suppose that sometimes the soul transported itself without the body, to repair to the spot where it is in mind or thought; for instance, he says, that he has been transported to the third heaven; but he adds that he knows not whether in the body, or only in spirit—"Sive in corpora, sive extra corpus, nescio, Deus scit." We have already cited St. Augustine, who mentions a priest of Calamus, named Pretextat, who, at the sound of the voices of some persons who lamented their sins, fell into such an ecstasy of delight, that he no longer breathed or felt anything; and they might have cut and burnt his flesh without his perceiving it; his soul was absent, or really so occupied with these lamentations, that he was insensible to pain. In swoons and syncope, the soul no longer performs her ordinary functions. She is nevertheless in the body, and continues to animate it, but she perceives not her own action.

A curé of the Diocese of Constance, named Bayer, writes me word that in 1728, having been appointed to the curé of Rutheim, he was disturbed a month afterwards by a specter, or an evil genius, in the form of a peasant, badly made, and ill-dressed, very ill-looking, and stinking insupportably, who came and knocked at the door in an insolent manner, and having entered his study told him that he had been sent by an official of the Prince of Constance, his bishop, upon a certain commission which was found to be absolutely false. He then asked for something to eat, and they placed before him meat, bread, and wine. He took up the meat with both hands, and devoured it bones and all, saying, "See how I eat both flesh and bone—do the same." Then he took up the wine-cup, and swallowed it at a draught, asking for another, which he drank off in the same fashion. After that he withdrew, without bidding the curé good-bye; and the servant who showed him to the door having asked his name, he replied, "I was born at Rutsingen, and my name is George Raulin," which was false. As he was going down stairs he said to the curé in German, in a menacing tone, "I will show you who I am."

He passed all the rest of the day in the village, showing himself to everybody. Towards midnight he returned to the curé's door, crying out three times in a terrible voice, "Monsieur Bayer!" and adding, "I will let you know who I am." In fact, during three years he returned every day towards four o'clock in the afternoon, and every night till dawn of day. He appeared in different forms, sometimes like a water-dog, sometimes as a lion, or some other terrible animal; sometimes in the shape of a man, or a girl, when the curé was at table, or in bed, enticing him to lasciviousness. Sometimes he made an uproar in the house, like a cooper putting hoops on his casks; then again you might have thought he wanted to throw the house down by the noise he made in it. To have witnesses to all this, the curé often sent for the beadle and other personages of the village to bear testimony to it. The specter emitted, wherever he showed himself, an insupportable stench.

At last the curé had recourse to exorcisms, but they produced no effect. And as they despaired almost of being delivered from these vexations, he was advised, at the end of the third year, to provide himself with a holy branch on Palm Sunday, and also with a sword sprinkled with holy water, and to make use of it against the specter. He did so once or twice, and from that time he was no more molested. This is attested by a Capuchin monk, witness of the greater part of these things, the 29th of August, 1749.

I will not guarantee the truth of all these circumstances; the judicious reader will make what induction he pleases from them. If they are true, here is a real ghost, who eats, drinks, and speaks, and gives tokens of his presence for three whole years, without any appearance of religion. Here follows another instance of a ghost who manifested himself by actions alone.

They write me word from Constance, the 8th of August, 1748, that towards the end of the year 1746 sighs were heard, which seemed to proceed from the corner of the printing-office of the Sieur Lahart, one of the common council men of the city of Constance. The printers only laughed at it at first, but in the following year, 1747, in the beginning of January, they heard more noise than before. There was a hard knocking near the same corner whence they had at first heard some sighs; things went so far that the printers received slaps, and their hats were thrown on the ground. They had recourse to the Capuchins, who came with the books proper for exorcising the spirit. The exorcism completed they returned home, and the noise ceased for three days.

At the end of that time the noise recommenced more violently than before; the spirit threw the characters for printing, whether letters or figures, against the windows. They sent out of the city for a famous exorcist, who exorcised the spirit for a week. One day the spirit boxed the ears of a lad; and again the letters, &c., were thrown against the window-panes. The foreign exorcist, not having been able to effect anything by his exorcisms, returned to his own home.

The spirit went on as usual, giving slaps in the face to one, and throwing stones and other things at another, so that the compositors were obliged to leave that corner of the printing-office and place themselves in the middle of the room, but they were not the quieter for that.

They then sent for other exorcists, one of whom had a particle of the true cross, which he placed upon the table. The spirit did not, however, cease disturbing as usual the workmen belonging to the printing-office; and the Capuchin brother who accompanied the exorcist received such buffets that they were both obliged to withdraw to their convent. Then came others, who, having mixed a quantity of sand and ashes in a bucket of water, blessed the water, and sprinkled with it every part of the printing-office. They also scattered the sand and ashes all over the room upon the paved floor; and being provided with swords, the whole party began to strike at random right and left in every part of the room, to see if they could hit the ghost, and to observe if he left any foot-marks upon the sand or ashes which covered the floor. They perceived at last that he had perched himself on the top of the stove or furnace, and they remarked on the angles of it marks of his feet and hands impressed on the sand and ashes they had blessed.

They succeeded in ousting him from there, and they very soon perceived that he had slid under the table, and left marks of his hands and feet on the pavement. The dust raised by all this movement in the office caused them to disperse, and they discontinued the pursuit. But the principal exorcist having taken out a screw from the angle where they had first heard the noise, found in a hole in the wall some feathers, three bones wrapped up in a dirty piece of linen, some bits of glass, and a hair-pin, or bodkin. He blessed a fire which they lighted, and had all that thrown into it. But this monk had hardly reached his convent when one of the printers came to tell him that the bodkin had come out of the flames three times of itself, and that a boy who was holding a pair of tongs, and who put this bodkin in the fire again, had been violently struck in the face. The rest of the things which had been found having been brought to the Capuchin convent, they were burnt without further resistance; but the lad who had carried them there saw a naked woman in the public market-place, and that and the following days groans were heard in the market-place of Constance.

Some days after this the printer's house was again infested in this manner, the ghost giving slaps, throwing stones, and molesting the domestics in divers ways. The Sieur Lahart, the master of the house, received a great wound in his head, two boys who slept in the same bed were thrown on the ground, so that the house was entirely forsaken during the night. One Sunday a servant girl carrying away some linen from the house had stones thrown at her, and another time two boys were thrown down from a ladder.

There was in the city of Constance an executioner who passed for a sorcerer. The monk who writes to me suspected him of having some part in this game; he began to exhort those who sat up with him in the house, to put their confidence in God, and to be strong in faith. He gave them to understand that the executioner was likely to be of the party. They passed the night thus in the house, and about ten o'clock in the evening, one of the companions of the exorcist threw himself at his feet in tears, and revealed to him, that that same night he and one of his companions had been sent to consult the executioner in Turgau, and that by order of the Sieur Lahart, printer, in whose house all this took place. This avowal strangely surprised the good father, and he declared that he would not continue to exorcise, if they did not assure him that they had not spoken to the executioners to put an end to the haunting. They protested that they had not spoken to them at all. The Capuchin father had everything picked up that was found about the house, wrapped up in packets, and had them carried to his convent.

The following night, two domestics tried to pass the night in the house, but they were thrown out of their beds, and constrained to go and sleep elsewhere. After this, they sent for a peasant of the village of Annanstorf, who was considered a good exorcist. He passed the night in the haunted house, drinking, singing, and shouting. He received slaps and blows from a stick, and was obliged to own that he could not prevail against the spirit.

The widow of an executioner presented herself then to perform the exorcisms; she began by using fumigations in all parts of the dwelling, to drive away the evil spirits. But before she had finished these fumigations, seeing that the master was struck in the face and on his body by the spirit, she ran away from the house, without asking for her pay.

They next called in the Curé of Valburg, who passed for a clever exorcist. He came with four other secular curés, and continued the exorcisms for three days, without any success. He withdrew to his parish, imputing the inutility of his prayers to the want of faith of those who were present.

During this time, one of the four priests was struck with a knife, then with a fork, but he was not hurt. The son of Sieur Lahart, master of the dwelling, received upon his jaw a blow from a pascal taper, which did him no harm. All that being of no service, they sent for the executioners of the neighborhood. Two of the persons who went to fetch them were well thrashed and pelted with stones. Another had his thigh so tightly pressed that he felt the pain for a long time. The executioners carefully collected all the packets they found wrapped up about the house, and put others in their room; but the spirit took them up and threw them into the market-place. After this, the executioners persuaded the Sieur Lahart that he might boldly return with his people to the house; he did so, but the first night, when they were at supper, one of his workmen named Solomon was wounded on the foot, and then followed a great effusion of blood. They then sent again for the executioner, who appeared much surprised that the house was not yet entirely freed, but at that moment he was himself attacked by a shower of stones, boxes on the ears, and other blows, which constrained him to run away quickly.

Some heretics in the neighborhood, being informed of all these things, came one day to the bookseller's shop, and upon attempting to read in a Catholic Bible which was there, were well boxed and beaten; but having taken up a Calvinist Bible, they received no harm. Two men of Constance having entered the bookseller's shop from sheer curiosity, one of them was immediately thrown down upon the ground, and the other ran away as fast as he could. Another person, who had come in the same way from curiosity, was punished for his presumption, by having a quantity of water thrown upon him. A young girl of Ausburg, a relation of the Sieur Lahart, printer, was chased away with violent blows, and pursued even to the neighboring house, where she entered.

At last the hauntings ceased, on the 8th of February. On that day the specter opened the shop door, went in, deranged a few articles, went out, shut the door, and from that time nothing more was seen or heard of it.





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