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Vampyrism


Published by the Theosophist Society (1910)

The Theosophical Society has culled many original sources of accounts of Vampires; this article from the Theosophical Messenger presents several other accounts (some well-known), including a different translation of Dom Calmet's oft-cited treatise on the subject.


(These articles to which we have given the general title Vampirism, are extracted from an old book called The Acsculapian Register, published as a monthly medical journal in Philadelphia during the latter half of the year 1824. As can be seen the original articles from which the editor of the Register obtained his material belonged to a very much earlier period.

The articles are reprinted here in order to suggest to modern readers something of the superstitious attitude of even scientifically inclined writers of earlier days when discussing subjects more or less dealing with the occult.)


Gentlemen,- In reply to your twelfth query relating to Vampires, I will, with your permission, give two or three short communications, on the subject, extracted from the works of the Rev. Aug. Calmet, entitled, "Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des Demons et des Esprits, et sur les Revenans et Vampires, de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie et de Silesie." To those who know that gentleman as author of the celebrated Dictionary of the Bible, the relation he gives will be confided in, as in no way exaggerated beyond the actual statements he received.

Speaking of the apparitions or ghosts which were so common, formerly, in Moravia, he says, "I was told by the late M. de Vassimont, Counsellor, etc., that having been sent into Moravia by his late royal highness, Leopold I., Duke of Lorraine, on business of his brother, Prince Charles, Bishop of Olmutz, and Osnabruch, he was informed by public report, that it was common in that country to see men some time deceased, appear in company and sit down at table with persons of their acquaintance, without speaking, but nodding to some one, who infallibly died within a few days. The fact was confirmed to him by many, and by an old curate, among others, who said he had witnessed it more than once.

The bishops and priests of the country consulted Rome respecting this extraordinary fact, but no answer was returned, because it was apparently considered as the mere result of popular imagination. They afterwards concluded to dis-inter those who had returned, and burn, or otherwise destroy their bodies. After which, said the good priest, they were delivered from the importunity of these spectres, which are now much less frequent than formerly."

"These apparitions gave rise to a little treatise, entitled, Magia posthuma, by Charles Ferdinand de Schertz. The author relates, that in a certain village, a woman dying, was buried as usual, with all the necessary rites. Four days after her death, the inhabitants heard a great noise and tumult, and saw a spectre, that appeared sometimes as a dog, sometimes as a man, not to one person, but to many, and giving them severe pain, squeezing their throats, and pressing on their stomachs nearly to suffocation. It brused almost every part of them, and reduced them to such a state of debility, that they became pale and emaciated. It even attacke animals, the cows being found thrown down and half dead, sometimes it tied them together by their tailes. They expressed the pain they felt by their bellowing. Horses were seen overpowered with fatigue, in profuse sweats, heated, out of breath, and foaming, as after a long and painful race.

The author mentioned, examined the affairs as a lawyer, and reasons much respecting it, and asks, supposing these vexations and misfortunes arise from the person suspected, whether we can burn her, as is done to the bodies of other apparitions, who injure the living. He relates several similar instances, and the evils ensuing. A shepherd of the village of Blow, appeared for some time, and called certain persons, who died within eight days. The peasants dug up the body of the shepherd, and fastened it to the ground by driving a stake through it. In this situation the man laughed at them, and told them they were very good to give him a club to keep off the dogs. The same night he arose and frightened numbers by his appearance, strangling more than he had before done. They then delivered him over ot the executioner, who placed him on a cart to carry him out of the village and burn him. The corpse screamed most furiously, shook his feed and hands as if alive, and when they thrust stakes again through him, he roared loudly, and discharged large quantities of florid blood. At length they burned him, and an end was put to his appearance and his manifestations.

Similar measures were pursued in other places where these spectres appeared,- when taken up, they look florid, their limbs were supple and uncorrupted, yet smelling very offensively. The author quotes different writers, who attest to what he says of these spectres, which still appear, he tells us, frequently in the mountains of Silesia and Moravia. They are seen by day and night, and things that belong to them are perceived to move and change place, without being visibly touched. The only remedy is to cut off the head, and burn the body of those thus returning."

"In proceeding against the bodies of Vampyres, all the forms of Justice are maintained, witnesses are cited and heard; opinions are weighed, and the dis-interred bodies are examined, to see if the ordinary marks of Vampyrism are present, to enable a judgement to be made, if they are those that molest the living. These marks are mobility, and suppleness of the limbs, fluidity of the blood, and incorruption of the flesh. If such are discovered, the bodies are delivered to the executioner to be burned. It sometimes happens that the spectres still appear for three or four days after the execution. Sometimes the burial of the body is delayed for six or seven weeks, when suspected. If they do not putrify, and their libms continue supple and movable as when alive, they are then burned. We are assured as a fact that the clothes of these persons move, without any one touching them; and not long since, at Olmutz, continues the same author, was seen a spectre, who threw stones, and gave much trouble to inhabitants."

We come now to some details of the Hungarian Vampyres, who sucked the blood of the living - as detailed by Calmet.

"It is now about fifteen years, that a soldier being billetted with a peasant on the frontiers of Hungary, whilst sitting at table with his host, saw an unknown person enter, who took a seat beside them. The master of the house was much frightened, as well as the rest of the company. The soldier could comprehend nothing of the matter; but the master of the house, dying the next day, he made himself acquainted with it. He was told that it was the father of his host, who had been dead and buried more than ten years, who had thus seated himself beside him, and had announced and caused his death.

The soldier immediately informed the regiment, who mentioned it to the officers. These gave commission to the Count de Cabreres, Captain of an infantry corps, to inquire into the affair. Having, with other officers, visited the place, accompanied by a surgeon and an auditor, they took the depositions of all belonging to the house, who attested uniformly, that the spectre was the father to the master of the house, and that all the soldier had related was strictly true. The same was affirmed by all the inhabitants of the village.

In consequence of this, they dug up the body, and found it like that of a man just dead, and his blood like that of a living person. The Count ordered his head to be cut off, and he was then buried again. He also received information of other apparitions, one of which was that of a man more than thirty years deceased, who had thrice returned to his house at meal time, and sucked the blood, the first time from the neck of his brother, the second time from one of his sons, and the third time from one of the servants, who all died immediately.

On this deposition, the commissary had the man taken up and finding him like the former, with fluid blood, as in a living person, he ordered a large spike to be driven into his temple, and then to be buried. He burned a third, who had been buried more than sixteen years, and had sucked the blood and caused the death of two of his sons. The commissary having made his report to the general officers, they dispatched him to the emporer's court, who ordered some officers of war, of justice, physicians, surgeons, and several savants, to go and examine into the causes of events so remarkable. The person who informed us of these particulars had them from the Count de Cabreres, at Frilbourg, in Brisgau, in 1730."



From the Mercure Galant, of 1693-4.

The public memories of 1693-4 speak of the Upiers, or vampyres, or apparitions, which are seen in Poland and particularly in Russia. They appear from mid-day to midnight, and suck the blood of living men or animals so greedily, that it sometimes runs out of their mouths, nose and ears, and the corpse sometimes floats in the blood around him. It is said that a species of hunger compels him to devour the linen about him. The vampyre, or a demon in his shape, goes by night to embrace and squeeze violently his relations and friends, and suck their blood, until he debilitates and emaciates them, and at length causes their death. This persecution does not stop with one person, but is extended to the last individual of the family, unless interrupted by cutting off the head, or opening the heart of the vampyre, whose body is found in his shroud, soft, flexible, swelled and red, although dead for a long time. There flows from them a large quantity of blood, which some, mix with flour to make bread; which eaten as usual, prevents the return of the spirit.


A letter on the subject of apparitions.

In order, says Calmet, to omit nothing, that can elucidate this subject, I will here give a letter from a very honest man, and well informed as to what regards apparitions.

"You wish my dear cousin, to be rightly informed of what passes in Hungary respecting certain apparitions who kill many in that country. I can speak particularly on the subject ,for I have been quartered there for several years, and am naturally inquisitive.

I have heard in my life time a number of histories or pretended ones of spirits and sorcery, but I scarcely credit one in a thousand. We cannot be too circumspect in this respect, without risking being deceived. Yet there are facts so well averred that we cannot avoid believing them. As to the apparition of Hungary, the following is the state of the case. A person finds himself attacked with debility, loses his appetite, visibly emaciates, and in about 8 or 10 days, sometimes 15, dies without any fever or other symptoms than the above.

They say here, that it is an apparition which effects this, and sucks his blood. The greater part of those thus attacked, believe they see a white spectre, which follows them everywhere like a shadow.

Whilst we were quartered among the Valsques, in the Banat of Temesvar, two horsemen in the company of which I was cornet, died of this disease; and several others who were also attacked, would also have died, had not a corporal of the company dissipated the disease by means of the remedy employed by the people of the country. It consists of several particulars, and although infallible, I have never seen it in print; it is as follows:

A young boy is selected, who is presumed from his age, to be a virgin. They make him mount bare-backed, on a stallion, yet chaste, and perfectly black; and cause him to walk through the grave-yard over all the graves; those which the animal refuses to pass, in spite of whipping, are reputed to contain a vampyre; the grave is opened, and the body is found as fat and fine, as if of a man in tranquil sleep. They cut his throat with a hatchet, from which flows blood of the most beautiful vermillion hue, and in large amount. You would swear that it was the throat of the most healthy and living man that was cut; this done, they fill up the grave, and you may reckon on the disease ceasing; and that all who were attacked will slowly recover, like persons from a long complaint. Such was the case with our soldiers. I was then commander of the company, the captain and lieutenant being absent. I was much displeased that the corporal performed his experiment without me and with difficulty refrained from regaling him with a good beating, a very common occurrence among the troops of the emperor, as I would not have missed it on any account.


Account of a Vampypre, from the Jewish Letters - Letter 137.

We have had in these parts of Hungary, a scene of Vampyrism which is duly attested by two officers of the tribunal of Belgrade, who came hither, and by an officer of the emporer's troops at Gradisch, who was an eye witness of the proceedings.

About the beginning of September, in the village of Kisilova, three leagues from Gradisch, died an old man of 62 years, etc. Three days after his burial, he appeared at night to his son, and having asked for something to eat, it was given him; he ate it and disappeared. On the morrow, the son related what had happened to the neighbors. This night the father did not come; but on the succeeding one he showed himself, and asked for some food; it is not known whether or no he received anything, but the son was found dead in his bed in the morning; the same day five or six persons suddenly sickened in the village, and died successively in a few days. The bailiff of the place informed of what had taken place, sent a statement of it to the tribunal of Belgrade, who dispatched to the village two of its officers, with an executioner, to examine into the affair. The imperial officer, from whom this relation comes, also went to Gradisch, in order to witness a fact of which he had so often heard. They opened all the graves of those who had died within six weeks; on coming to that of the old man, they found him with his eyes open, of a rosy colour, with natural respiration, although motionless and dead. Hence it was concluded that he was a notable Vampyre. The executioner drove a stake through his heart. A pile was erected, and the corpse was burned to ashes. No mark of Vampyrism was discovered in the body of the son, nor of the others.

Thank God, we are anything but credulous. We confess that all the lights which natural philosophy can throw on this fact, afford no insight into its causes. We can not, however, refuse assent to a fact attested juridically, and by persons of probity, etc.


Other Examples
"In a canton of Hungary called, in Latin, Oppida Heidonum, the people (called Heiduques) believe that certain dead persons, whom they denominate Vampyres, suck all the blood of the living, so that these visibly become emaciated, whilst the corpses, like leeches, are gorged so abundantly with blood, that it flows out of the various passages, and even by the pores. This opinion is supported by several facts, which can scarcely be doubted, when we consider the rank of the witnesses testifying to them. A few of the most remarkable are here reported.

It is about five years since a Heiduque, an inhabitant of Medreiga, named Arnold Paul, was crushed by the fall of a load of hay. Thirty days afte his death, four persons died suddenly, and in the manner of those, according to the traditions of the country who are molested by Vampyres. It was then recollected that this Arnold Paul had often related that in the environs of Cassova, and on the frontiers of Turkish Servia, he had been tormented by a Turkish Vampyre; for he believed, also, that such as were passive Vampyres during life, became active ones after death; that is, those who have been sucked, suck likewise in their turn; but he had found means to cure himself by eating some of the earth of the Vampyres grave, and sprinkling himself with his blood, a precaution which, however, did not prevent his becoming one after death, since being disinterred, forty days after being buried, all the marks of an arch Vampyre were found on the corpse. The body was red, his hair, his nails, and beard were grown; and his veins filled with fluid blood, and flowing from every part of his shroud. The bailiff of the place, in whose presence he was taken up, and very expert in Vampyrism, according to custom, had a very sharp stake driven through the heart of the deceased, passing through his body, which made him cry out horribly, as if alive. This done, they cut off his head, and burned the whole. The same was done to four other persons who had died from Vampyrism, lest they might in turn kill others. All this could not, however, prevent (that towards the end of the last year, that is after five years) the renewal of these prodigies, and the unhapppy death of several inhabitants. In the space of three months, seventeen persons of different ages and sex died of Vampyrism; some without any indisposition, and others after languishing two or three days. It is stated, that among them, one Stanoska, daughter of the Heiduque Jotuitzo, who had gone to bed perfectly well, awoke in the middle of the night, trembling and crying frightfully, saying that the son of the Heiduque Millo, who had been dead nine weeks, had nearly strangled her in her sleep. From that time she lingered, and died in three days; what she stated, made it known that Millo's son was a Vampyre, and on taking him up it was found to be the case. The principal people of the place, the physicians and surgeons, examined how the Vampyrism could have been renewed, after the precautions taking some years preceding.

At length it was discovered after much research that the deceased Arnold Paul, had killed not only four persons spoken of, but also several animals, of which the neew Vampyres had eaten, and the son of Millo amongst the rest. On these indications, they resolved to disinter all who had died within a given period; and of forty, they found seventeen with the most evident signs of Vampyrism; they therefore thrust them through the heart, cut off their heads, then buried them, and threw their ashes into the river.

All the above information, etc., was taken juridicially, in proper form, and attested to by several officers in garrison there, by the surgeons-major of the regiments, and by the chief inhabitants. "The process-verbal was sent, about the end of January last, to the imperial council of war at Vienna, who ordered a military commission to examine into the truth of all the facts.

"Those who testified to it, were the Hadnagy Barriarar, and the elderly Heiduques; and it was signed by Bartner, first lieutenant of the regiment of Alexander Wirtemberg; Clickstenger, surgeon major of the regiment of Frustembruch; three other surgeons of the company; Guoichitz, captain at Stallath.

According to Calmet, vestiges of Vampyrism are to be traced to the remotest antiquity. Isaiah 34 v. 14, describing the state to which Babylon would be reduced, says it should become the resort of Satyrs. Lamiae, Hobgoblins (in Hebrew Lilith). This last signified in Hebrew, what the Greeks and Romans express by Strix and Lamia, or sorcerer and witch, who endeavor to destroy newborn children. Hence the Jews, in order to drive them away, were accustomed to write on the four extremities of a woman just delivered, Adam, Eve, begone Lilith.

The ancient Grecians knew them under the name of Lamiae, and believed they devoured children, or sucked their blood until they died. Horace says, "neu pransae Laminae vivium puerum extrahas alvo," and Ovid speaking of the Stiges, describes them as dangerous birds, which fly by night seeking for infants, to devour them and suck their blood.

"Carpere dicuntur lactentia viscera rostris Et plenum poto sanguine guttur habent Est illis Strigibus nomen."

These prejudices were so profoundly rooted in the minds of uncivilized nations, that they put to death all who were suspected of being Striges, or sorcerers, and of devouring living persons. Charlemagne, in the statutes he composed, for his new Saxon subjects, condemned to death those who should believe that a man or woman were (Striges) sorcerers, and eat living persons; or who should on this pretense cause them to be burned, or give their flesh to be eaten, or should eat it themselves. From this we may observe, that it was believed that there were persons who did eat living people; that they were killed and burned; and that sometimes their flesh was eaten, as we have before noticed that in Russia, bread was eaten that was made up with the blood of Vampyres; that at other times their corpses were exposed to carnivorous animals, as is still the case in places where these apparitions are found, after impaling them, or cutting off their head. The laws of Lombardy equally prohibit killing the servant of another, as a witch, Striga, or Masca. This last word Masca, from whence comes mask, has the same meaning with the Latin Larva, a spirit, phantom, or spectre.

Many more examples are given by Calmet of the same character with those we have brought forward. They all serve to show the imbecility of man; and how readily he advances in the career of credulity and superstition. Nor is the belief of witches, etc., limited to the dark ages of the world; most of the instances enumerated, are scarcely more remote than a century and a half from our own times; and now there are hundreds who implicitly accredit those of the nursery, even in the most enlightened nations of the world. The blue laws of New England, it is believed, are yet many of them in existence, and the history of witchcraft in Connecticut, etc., by Hutchinson, evinces that it is not among the illiterate only, that credulity abounds.

Whoever would wish to read further on the subject of Vampyres, may consult a paper in the 3d vol. Manchester Memoirs, p. 86, or the 2d vol. p. 19 London Athenaeum. They are substantially similar to those of Calmet, and are probably derived either from him, or from the same authorities with his own. See also some passing remarks in Haller's Pathological observations; also in Spengel's Histoire de la Medicine, vol. 6, and in Germann's work entitled, de Miraculis Mortuorum, printed in 1670, which Sprengel tells us was, in a measure, the Codex of all the absurdities arising from a belief in demoniacal diseases and miraculous cures.






Although this article is largely a newer translation of Calmet's treatise, a few other interesting accounts of vampirism are also included. However, by 1910, even the Theosophical Society was moved to assert that belief in such things only reasserts the "imbecility of man."

From The Theosophic Messenger, volume 12, October, 1910.