[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
Every age, every nation, every country has its prejudices, its maladies, its customs, its inclinations, which characterize them, and which pass away, and succeed to one another; often that which has appeared admirable at one time, becomes pitiful and ridiculous at another. We have seen that in some ages all was turned towards a certain kind of devotion, of studies and of exercises. It is known that, for more than one century, the prevailing taste of Europe was the journey to Jerusalem. Kings, princes, nobles, bishops, ecclesiastics, monks, all pressed thither in crowds. The pilgrimages to Rome were formerly very frequent and very famous. All that is fallen away. We have seen provinces over-run with flagellants, and now none of them remain except in the brotherhoods of penitents which are still found in several parts.
We have seen in these countries jumpers and dancers, who every moment jumped and danced in the streets, squares or market-places, and even in the churches. The convulsionaries of our own days seem to have revived them; posterity will be surprised at them, as we laugh at them now. Towards the end of the sixteenth and at the beginning of the seventeenth century, nothing was talked of in Lorraine but wizards and witches. For a long time we have heard nothing of them. When the philosophy of M. Descartes appeared, what a vogue it had! The ancient philosophy was despised; nothing was talked of but experiments in physics, new systems, new discoveries. M. Newton appears; all minds turn to him. The system of M. Law, bank notes, the rage of the Rue Quinquampoix, what movements did they not cause in the kingdom? A sort of convulsion had seized on the French. In this age, a new scene presents itself to our eyes, and has done for about sixty years in Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland: they see, it is said, men who have been dead for several months, come back to earth, talk, walk, infest villages, ill use both men and beasts, suck the blood of their near relations, make them ill, and finally cause their death; so that people can only save themselves from their dangerous visits and their hauntings by exhuming them, impaling them, cutting off their heads, tearing out the heart, or burning them. These revenans are called by the name of oupires or vampires, that is to say, leeches; and such particulars are related of them, so singular, so detailed, and invested with such probable circumstances and such judicial information, that one can hardly refuse to credit the belief which is held in those countries, that these revenans come out of their tombs and produce those effects which are proclaimed of them.
Antiquity certainly neither saw nor knew anything like it. Let us read through the histories of the Hebrews, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Latins; nothing approaching to it will be met with.
It is true that we remark in history, though rarely, that certain persons after having been some time in their tombs and considered as dead, have returned to life. We shall see even that the ancients believed that magic could cause death and evoke the souls of the dead. Several passages are cited, which prove that at certain times they fancied that sorcerers sucked the blood of men and children, and caused their death. They saw also in the twelfth century in England and Denmark, some revenans similar to those of Hungary. But in no history do we read anything so usual or so pronounced, as what is related to us of the vampires of Poland, Hungary, and Moravia.
Christian antiquity furnishes some instances of excommunicated persons who have visibly come out of their tombs and left the churches, when the deacon commanded the excommunicated, and those who did not partake of the communion, to retire. For several centuries nothing like this has been seen, although it is known that the bodies of several excommunicated persons who died while under sentence of excommunication and censure of the Church are buried in churches.
The belief of the modern Greeks, who will have it that the bodies of the excommunicated do not decay in their tombs or graves, is an opinion which has no foundation, either in antiquity, in good theology, or even in history. This idea seems to have been invented by the modern Greek schismatics, only to authorize and confirm them in their separation from the church of Rome. Christian antiquity believed, on the contrary, that the incorruptibility of a body was rather a probable mark of the sanctity of the person and a proof of the particular protection of God, extended to a body which during its lifetime had been the temple of the Holy Spirit, and of one who had retained in justice and innocence the mark of Christianity.
The vroucolacas of Greece and the Archipelago are again revenans of a new kind. We can hardly persuade ourselves that a nation so witty as the Greeks could fall into so extraordinary an opinion. Ignorance or prejudice, must be extreme among them since neither an ecclesiastic nor any other writer has undertaken to undeceive them.
The imagination of those who believe that the dead chew in their graves, with a noise similar to that made by hogs when they eat, is so ridiculous that it does not deserve to be seriously refuted. I undertake to treat here on the matter of the revenans or vampires of Hungary, Moravia, Silesia, and Poland, at the risk of being criticized however I may discuss it; those who believe them to be true, will accuse me of rashness and presumption, for having raised a doubt on the subject, or even of having denied their existence and reality; others will blame me for having employed my time in discussing this matter which is considered as frivolous and useless by many sensible people. Whatever may be thought of it, I shall be pleased with myself for having sounded a question which appeared to me important in a religious point of view. For if the return of vampires is real, it is of import to defend it, and prove it; and if it is illusory, it is of consequence to the interests of religion to undeceive those who believe in its truth, and destroy an error which may produce dangerous effects.
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