Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dracula's Bats?

This is from an article published in "Dark Nights: Official Journal of the Vampyre ConneXion" Issue #21 Deep Midwinter Edition 2008-2009. I have added some revision.
Vampires and bats are related in several different ways. The Etruscans, a group of Eastern European people who brought civilization to Greece, painted some of the first images of "demons" that is, men with bat like wings and (barbed) tails on tomb walls in Italy. the bat has always been associated with both the dead and evil. (The ancient Sumerians said the Land of Death, under the earth, was inhabited by "bat-like souls who ate only dust). Most gargoyles, dragons and devils in the European tradition, bear bat-wings when they are representative of evil. The bat was considered a "night bird" (since most people in ancient times did not have categories and distinctions between birds, reptiles and mammals. Hence reptilian dragons with bird like beaks, lion's paws and bat's wings, and other mammalian accouterments like horns). Bat's were in the same unfavorable position as crows, ravens, vultures, owls and other "evil-birds" which either feasted off the dead, or like bats, lived in tombs and catacombs and which flew only by night, which of course is when the dead arise to bother the living. (In her book No Go The BogeyMan by Marina Warner, it is said that the Dutch invoked the BogeyMan as a bat. And a 14th Century writer quoted in her book says that witches and vampires can indeed transformed into bats). Bats were harbingers of bad ghosts because they often lived in tombs.

Bats were not considered "bloodsuckers" but then neither were most vampires at first. Only some of them drank blood. Most lived by spreading plagues or instilling a killing fear into their victims. (Some sucked the breath out of babies, sucked out a nursing mother's milk, some stole and ate people, and some were more like sexual predators living off the sexual energy of others, which is where the mixture of sex and bloodshed came from in Stoker's seminal work {pun intended}All vampires are really forms of Bogeymen). The Eastern European vampires were more like super poltergeists, evil souls which being so full of anger and hate could not rest without destroying other's lives, on which they fed.

Bats, like mice and rats were considered "vermin" which spread disease. And since a bat bite could cause rabies, they were strictly a forbidden and unclean animal. Such animals were always associated with witchcraft and witch's familiars. Bat's blood was put in potions to either create a poison or to give the person imbibing the potion the power of a bat, to see in the dark and to fly swiftly from one place to another in order to observe others. Owls and bats of course can see in places which humans cannot. (Again ancient people did not recognize that bats were using echo-location in the dark).

Vampires were "created" when men or women became witches, were born witches (i.e. the children of those convicted or accused of witchcraft), or were excommunicated for practicing witchcraft, spells and charms. It was witches that people were afraid of not bats or owls. And witches that died badly (were murdered), or who were not buried properly (nailed into their coffin, having their head lopped off, mouth stuffed with garlic or a brick, etc.), would become fearsome vampires which would rise at night and seek victims to kill, usually close family members first. They would then, as witches did in real life, cause plagues and panic in a community. And yes in some Eastern European traditions witches, warlocks, sorcerers and vampires would take on the form of a bat, a rat, a large dog or wolf,a raven or a crow,owl or cat. Let's face it, these ancient people feared a lot because they did not understand the world they lived in. But they knew rats, wolves and bats could cause trouble in their communities.

Later when European Conquistadors from Spain entered the New World and found bats sucking the blood out of their cattle and themselves they of course named them Vampire Bats.(Recently a giant vampire bat has just been discovered). And the bat, especially to the Aztecs represented a very bloodthirsty "god." I could go on with some very interesting digressions concerning vampires and bats. But just think: Vampires, rats, bats = plague bearing vermin. If a bat got into your home, you killed it immediately. It was a bad omen and very few people would keep such night flying critters as pets. Such a person would be considered to be a witch.

If a plague came into town and no one could find a source or a cure, someone dug up a person they considered to be a "witch" or someone evil or accursed, or even just a unlikeable person who had recently died. Then they would be accused post mortem of being a vampire and they then disposed of the corpse in some traditional manner to prevent vampirism. By the time all the rites and rituals were accomplished the plague usually played itself out. So the idea that destroying the vampiric corpse stopped the plague gained legitimacy. (You have to remember how slowly the wheels of thought and action ground back in the olden days).

Bram Stoker did extensive research on Eastern European vampire, witchcraft and superstition traditions that state evil beings could become bats. this was a "natural" transformation for supernatural beings. the idea that "turning into a bat" was some Hollywood myth created by modern writers begins to make sense when one realizes the Hollywood community at the time Dracula was first made, was composed of many Eastern and Western European men and women who still had cultural ties to the old country and would have known that vampires could turn into bats. It is the confusion between European bats and the New World Vampire bats that have made people think that a vampire becoming a bat is a post-modern addition to the Dracula story.

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