Monday, 26 December 2011

Season's greetings

I trust everyone had a merry Christmas? Hope so. I've been digging up some vampy stuff to mark the occasion.

The connection between vampires and the season is established through Greek folklore. 'Any child who had the misfortune of being born between Christmas Day (December 25) and the Feast of the Twelfth Night (January 5),' writes Theresa Bane, 'will rise from its grave as a callicantzaro when it eventually dies.'1

What does this unfortunate creature look like? 'Half human and half animal, it has a black face, red eyes, very long ears, clawed hands, and sharp teeth.'2 What makes it vampiric? 'The first time that it returns it will seek out its surviving family members, ripping them apart, limb from limb, with its clawed hands.'3 Yikes. But what about the bloodsucking component usually associated with vampires? 'Although blood drinking is not a requirement for its survival, that is something the callicantzaro most certainly revels in.'4

From further readings—and barring regional variants—it seems the account's been filtered down to us from a much older source. 'It would seem, however, from the account of them given by Allatius,' says Thomas Wright, 'that these were but different names for the same thing, callicantzara being the more modern.'5 'Allatius' is a reference to Leo Allatius (1586–1669): 'In 1645 he included the first methodical discussion of vampires, in De Graecorum hodie quorundam opinationibus'.6

Wright also notes that the power of these beings 'was greatest during the eight days of Christmas; and it was believed that any one who chanced to be born during that period was so affected, that "he seemed to be born only to be the plague of himself and of every one else."'7 What happened next?
As soon as the eight days came, he would rush from his own house, in a state of madness, and wander about during the night . . . He never rested, but with his hair rough and dishevelled, and his face wild, he fell on every one he met, and tore their faces with his long sharp nails; then, jumping heavily upon their shoulders, and grasping them by the throat, when he had nearly choked then, he asked, . . . "Tow or lead?" If the sufferer answered "Tow," his tormentor instantly left him, and hastened in search of somebody else whom he might torment; if the answer was "Lead," then he fell upon him with all his might, tore him miserably with his nails, and left him half dead.8
Interestingly, Wright doesn't describe the calllicantzaro as a vampire type, as many modern authors do, but links it with another folkloric being: 'These callicantzari seem to have resembled, in some respects, the changelings of our [English] popular creed; except that, while with us they generally pine away, amongst the Greeks their diabolical natures were only exhibited after they were grown up.'9

It's clear he saw a distinction between them, as he goes on to note: 'The Greek burculaca, bulcolacca, or buthrolaca, for the name is differently spelt, was the Teutonic vampyre.'10 In this case, he clearly outlines the being's undead state, but rather than suck the blood of innocent victims, it 'walked about the streets, and knocked at people's doors, and always called by name some person in the house. If the persona who was named answered, he was sure to die on the following day.'11

1. T Bane, Encyclopedia of vampire mythology, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, N.C., 2010, p. 41.

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. ibid., pp. 41–2.

5. T Wright, 'On the popular superstitions of modern Greece', Essays on subjects connected with the literature, popular superstitions, and history of England in the Middle Ages, vol. 1, John Russell Smith, London, 1846, p. 296.

6. I disagree with that claim. See: 'The Church vs. the undead, pt. 2'.

7. Wright, pp. 296–7.

8. ibid., pp. 297.

9. ibid., pp. 298.

10. ibid., pp. 299.

11. ibid.

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