I can’t help myself. I love these blood-sucking, night-stalking, dark, mysterious creatures. I can’t get enough of them. I know they’re scary and usually evil, but I sometimes finding myself wishing they were real. Especially sexy vamps like this….
I also find myself wondering where the legend of vampires came from (just like I wonder where the idea of gods came from). A few years ago, I stumbled onto an interesting book that discusses this very topic.
Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England’s Vampires by Michael E. Bell explores the folklore of American vampires who are, according to a Publisher’s Weekly review,Â more macabre than their Eastern European cousins.
If I were to chose a form of immortality, I’d rather be a vampire here on earth in the throes of passion, blood-lust, and pain, than a saint in heaven — a bucolic land of milk an honey — playing a harp and singing “hosanna” to God for eternity. But American vampires aren’t really immortal. They’re not even really undead. If you ask me, they got royally screwed by whoever handed out monster powers.Â These American vampires make their friends and relatives gravely ill without actually getting to rise from their own graves.
In an interview on SeacoastNH.com, Bell describes the basic premise of his book:
When consumption (which is what people used to call tuberculosis that settled in the lungs) took hold in a family, some people in the outlying areas of New England would open the graves of their deceased relatives, looking for signs that they considered out of the ordinary — such as liquid or “fresh” blood in the heart. The heart would be cut from the body and burned to ashes. Often the ashes were administered, in water or some medicine, to sick family members. The belief supporting these practices seemed to be that there was some sort of evil, perhaps a demon, residing in one of the bodies that was draining the life from others in the family.Â
Strangely vampire hunting in America was a form of alternative medicine. The author’s explanation for the belief that people were reaching out from the grave with an evil force that caused disease to spread reminds me of reasons that people turn to homeopathy, acupuncture, and other unproven medical treatments:
I believe that this practice was probably much more prevalent and widespread than we might think. The few cases I’ve found are just the tip of the iceberg. I think that this practice reveals how people deal with looming death that is considered untimely or premature — they will not accept it without putting up a fight. If the medical profession says, “I can’t help you,” then people will look elsewhere for an answer. And folklore always has an answer. It may not be an effective answer, but in the end, even a wrong answer is better than none. Doing something beats doing nothing.
Unfortunately, people feel the same frustrations today and look for solutions that are often no less outlandish.
Food For the Dead is not just about people exhuming bodies to look for supernatural causes of disease. It is the story of the author’s search for the origins of the vampire legend in New England, and the stories of the people he met — living, dead, and undead — during the twenty years that he researched this topic. As I said, I read this book several years ago, but I remember that it was spooky and engrossing. I thinkÂ I’ve just inspired myself to re-read it on my next free weekend. Crap. My nightstand is getting buried in books again.
Next week, mummies! Â I guess these creatures don’t really fit in the cryptozoology category, but we don’t have a category for monsters.