“Mankind is not likely to salvage civilization unless he can evolve a system of good and evil independent of heaven and hell.” —George Orwell
Yes folks, it’s that time of year again. Pumpkins are being carved into ghoulish faces or happy munchkins, children are agonizing over ‘what’s the best costume,’ parents are worried about all the sugar their children are about to consume or does the loot in their trick-or-treat bags contain something harmful? That’s all part of the fun and excitement that is Halloween. But what are we really celebrating, and how did vampires come to play such an important role in this holiday?
Perhaps the answer to the first part of the question lies in the ancient customs of the Celts or even as far back as Pagan times. Halloween is the shortened version of “All Hallow’s Eve or the “Eve of Hallow’s Day.” Now known as “All Saints Day,” named by Pope Gregory IV in 835 AD, it was the day when good won out over evil. The Celts celebrated Samhain (from the old Irish Samaim). The festival marked the end of the harvest season and was a time for celebration and stocking the larders for the winter. The Celts also believed that on October 31, the boundary between the living and the dead dissolved and the deceased became dangerous for the living.
In Pagan culture, October 31st was New Year’s Eve, a night of evil and terror when all hell broke loose. Goblins and ghosts were abroad that night, while witches celebrated their black rites as the spirits and souls of the dead roamed the Earth. Through Christianity the celebration of “All Hollow’s Day” came to be when “all whom God has called to Glory” are celebrated, hence All Saints Day.
“Whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil.” —Frederick Nietcsche
For thousands of years the conflict between good and evil has fascinated mankind and some of our greatest literary works have dealt with that issue. I refer to Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost
In Mathew Beresford’s book “From Demons to Dracula: The Creation to the Modern Vampire Myth” (Reaktion 2008), the author notes, “There are clear foundations for the vampire in the ancient world, and it is impossible to prove when the myth first arose. There are suggestions that the vampire was born out of sorcery in ancient Egypt, a demon summoned into this world from some other.” There are many variations of vampires from around the world. There are Asian vampires, such as the Chinese jiangshi (pronounced chong-shee), evil spirits that attack people and drain their life energy; the blood-drinking Wrathful Deities that appear in the “Tibetan Book of the Dead,” and many others.
The more modern belief in vampires stems from superstition and mistaken assumptions about post-mortem decay (Middle Ages). The first recorded accounts of vampires follow a consistent pattern: Some unexplained misfortune would befall a person, family or town — perhaps a drought dried up crops, or an infectious disease struck. Before science could explain weather patterns and germ theory, any bad event for which there was not an obvious cause might be blamed on a vampire. Vampires were one easy answer to the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people.
With this in mind, it’s easy to make the connection between vampires and Halloween. After the sun sets on Halloween, the boundary between the “living” and the “dead” is thought to be at its thinnest and allows “evil” to break through and terrorize the world. Then, as dawn breaks, evil is driven away and good prevails. Also known as the “undead” or the “living dead,” vampire’s rise from the grave makes them the perfect representation of the belief that on the night of October 31 evil reigns.
Vampires are always going to be one of the most dominant figures associated with Halloween. Understanding the legends behind vampires makes recreating one yourself all the more interesting as well as appealing. The sexy, powerful and bewitching character of a vampire is rich in tradition, folklore and is based on thousands of years of history. In the early 19th century the image of vampires began to transform. From Polidori’s The Vampire, (1819), the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1847); Sheridan Le Fanu’s tale of a lesbian vampire, Carmilla (1872) and the masterpiece of the genre: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) a new vampire was born. In more recent literature, some authors have created a more “sympathetic vampire.” In Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, the hint of a vampire distinguishing between good and evil was suggested and several years later Buffy, The Vampire Slayer proposed that vampires, like humans can have both good and evil as depicted by Angel, the long-suffering horrifically evil vampire turned good.
“Evil is a point of view.” Interview with a Vampire, Anne Rice
The Vampire indeed, seems to have found his own way into immortality and infamy.