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Native North American Vampire? November 13, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (obit 1558), on his trips into the wilderness of North America, did not meet a vampire: but he heard about a creature that sounded strikingly like one and that had caused the Indians some problem a generation before, c. 1500. It would be tempting to say that we are referring to a dreamtime outside of time. And yet… And yet… The Indians showed Álvar the wounds that the Bad Thing had left on their bodies.

These Indians and the ones we left behind told us a very strange tale. From their account it may have occurred fifteen or sixteen years ago. They said there wandered then about the country a man, whom they called ‘Bad Thing’, of small stature and with a beard, although they never could see his features clearly, and whenever he would approach their dwellings their hair would stand on end and they began to tremble. In the doorway of the lodge there would then appear a firebrand. That man thereupon came in and took hold of anyone he chose, and with a sharp knife of flint, as broad as a hand and two palms in length, he cut their side, and, thrusting his hand through the gash, took out the entrails, cutting off a piece one palm long, which he threw into the fire. Afterwards he made three cuts in one of the arms, the second one at the place where people are usually bled, and twisted the arm, but reset it soon afterwards. Then he placed his hands on the wounds, and they told us that they closed at once. Many times he appeared among them while they were dancing, sometimes in the dress of a woman and again as a man, and whenever he took a notion to do it he would seize the hut or lodge, take it up into the air and come down with it again with a great crash. They also told us how, many a time, they set food before him, but he never would partake of it, and when they asked him where he came from and where he had his home, he pointed to a rent in the earth and said his house was down below. We laughed very much at those stories, making fun of them, and then, seeing our incredulity they brought to us many of those whom, they said, he had taken, and we saw the scars of his slashes in the places and as they told.

Estos, i los de mas atràs, nos contaron una cosa mui estraña, i por la cuenta que nos figuraron, parescia que havia quince, ò diez i seis años, que havia acontescido, que decian, que por aquella Tierra anduvo vn Hombre, que ellos llaman Mala cosa, i que era pequeño de cuerpo, i que tenia barbas, aunque nunca claramente le pudieron vèr el rostro, i que guando venia à la Casa, donde estaban, se les levantaban los cabellos, i temblaban, i luego parescia à la puerta de la Cafa vn tiçon ardiendo: i luego aquel Hombre entraba, i tomaba al que queria de ellos, i dabales tres cuchilladas grandes por las hijadas, con un pedernal mui agudo, tan ancho como vna mano, i dos palmos en luengo, i metia la mano por aquellas cuchilladas, i sacabales las tripas, i que cortaba de una tripa poco mas, ò menos de un palmo, i aquello que cortaba echaba en las brafas, i luego le daba tres cuchilladas en un braço; i la segunda daba por la sangradura, i desconcertabaselo, i dende à poco se lo tornaba à concertar, i poniale las manos fobre las heridas, i deciannos, que luego quedaban sanos: i que muchas veces, quando bailaban, aparescia entre ellos en habito de Muger vnas veces, i otras como Hombre: i quando èl queria, tomaba el Buhìo, ò Casa, i subiala en alto, i dende à un poco caia con ella, i daba mui gran golpe. Tambien nos contaron, que muchas veces le dieron de comer, i que nunca jamàs comiò, i que le preguntaban donde venia, i à què parte tenia fu Casa, i que les mostrò vna hendedura de la Tierra, i dixo, que fu Cafa era allà debaxo. De estas cosas, que ellos nos decian, nofotros nos reìamos mucho, burlando de ellas: i como ellos vieron que no lo creìamos, truxeron muchos de aquellos, que decian que èl havia tomado, i vimos las señales de las cuchilladas, que èl havia dado en los lugares, en la manera que ellos contaban.

Cabeza de Vaca interpreted this unpleasant creature as the devil. After all, the Bad Thing came out of the ground and harmed the villagers. Indeed, CdV even attempted some crude evangelisation saying that should the villagers take up the cross then the Bad Thing would not dare return. Bad thing is generally believed to have been a North American trickster. Were the wounds self inflicted then in part of a ceremony? Certainly, the spinning house sounds like it may have been a drugged up Indian sweat house party. Had the Spandiards misunderstood crucial parts of the story? Any other non-European vampires: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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13/Nov/2012: Chris from over at Haunted Ohio Books  sent this great selection in: You asked for non-European vampires. I give you The Vampire Cat of Japan. With a wonderful illustration. Other Pacific vampires include the aswangs of the Philippines, who look like bat-winged humans; and the sat-kalauk of Burma  I know you want non-European, but Dr. Shuker also called attention to a very strange resemblance between the current image of the chupacabra and a 1940s Dutch war cartoon.  Then there is the vampire of the West Indies. This is from “Duppies, Obeah & Other Specialities of the West Indies” by E. Katherine Bates in Borderland, Vol. 4 1897, edited by William Thomas Stead.  THE WEST INDIAN VAMPIRE. /Speaking of desecrated graves, brings us to the subject of vampires. A firm belief in Loogaroos (“from the French, Loupgarou) exists amongst the negroes of the West Indian Islands. These Loogaroos are supposed to haunt the magnificent silk-cotton tree where they fold up their skins, hiding them away and thus rendering themselves invisible. The negroes further declare that the Loogaroos flash through the sky in the form of balls of blue flame on their way to the graveyards, where they perform their ghastly ceremonies. If a negro feels exhausted or languid on waking up, he declares that the Loogaroo has been sucking his blood. A story is told in Grenada of an old woman known to be a Loogaroo. A negro woke one morning, feeling weak and languid, and noticed two or three drops of blood on his clothes. This was sufficient proof to him that he had been the victim of a Loogaroo. His suspicions at once pointed to this old woman. He and his wife determined, therefore, to keep a strict watch the following night, and each agreed to keep the other awake. Not a sound was heard until cock-crow, when both husband and wife noticed a noise as of scratching on the thatch of the roof over their heads. This was evidently the ill-omened Loogaroo preparing for a descent through the ceiling. The man noiselessly armed himself with a cutlass, and as the scratching and rustling became more distinct, he thrust his knife through the thatch just at the spot whence the sounds proceeded. A dismal moan sounded through the air, and rushing outside, both the negro and his wife heard the groans dying away in the distance whilst they noticed a bluish Loogaroo light vanish into the house of the suspected woman. Next day, this woman was found lying in her bed, half blind from some injury to one of her eyes. She said this had been caused during the night by falling over the stump of a tree whilst searching for some chickens that had strayed.’ Thanks Chris!

20 Nov 2012: The Count writes in with this Tour de Force: Concerning vampires: you recently discussed a most peculiar Native American myth about somebody called the Bad Thing. I have a suggestion as to what’s going on here, and it doesn’t involve vampires. Firstly, what is a vampire? Leaving aside idiot goth wannabes and real creatures that suck blood for perfectly natural reasons – Count Dracula clearly doesn’t belong in the same category as a horsefly, or indeed Marilyn Manson – the broad definitions is any malign supernatural creature that drains blood (or any other body fluid or abstract essence which in that particular culture represents life-force that you can’t afford to lose – hence some rather naughty examples from the Near and Far East, though sadly no Victorian masturbation vampires) in order to sustain or strengthen it. It isn’t necessarily the case that this type of vampire will actually starve to death if it doesn’t get enough blood, but it always steals life-force for others for its own benefit. Thus any supernatural being which simply weakens, injures, or murders people from sheer spite, but doesn’t actually gain anything by it, apart from the satisfaction of a job well done, is not a vampire. What does the Bad Thing do? Well, apparently he cuts people open, rips their guts out, removes a certain part, then magically makes them all better with no after-effects other than a healed scar. He doesn’t actually do any real harm to anybody, and he doesn’t seem to have any use for the part he removes, since he throws it away immediately (always into the fire, thus explaining why there’s never any physical evidence that this actually happened, apart from an old and not necessarily very big scar that could have been from anything). What else do we know about the Bad Thing? Amongst other details, he lives underground, presumably in the Land of the Dead, he sometimes wears women’s clothing but not always, and he has a beard.I submit that the Bad Thing is Jesus Christ! Beards are very uncommon indeed amount Native Americans, but Jesus is always depicted with one. When he’s on the cross, he wears a loincloth – typical Native American attire for most men. When he isn’t, he wears what these people could only have interpreted as a big girl’s blouse. And when he’s on the cross, he has a very prominent wound on his upper abdomen. The central fact about Jesus is that he rose from the dead, and this is so simple a concept that even a missionary who was having a problem getting his message across for linguistic reasons could surely make them understand that much. Who in Native American mythology rose from the dead? The trickster god Coyote. How did he do this? Well, in many, many primitive belief-systems, from places such as, for example, Finland, you get this same archetypal myth of the trickster whose ultimate prank was to put one over on death itself. Coyote’s method, which was fairly typical, was to cut himself open and remove several bits and pieces representing his life-force, which he buried in a secret location. Then, having died, gone to the underworld, and done whatever it was he wanted to do – probably stealing something – he dug out his cache of vital organs from underneath with a sharp flint he’d thoughtfully had about his person when he died and put everything back where it belonged. Simple!Now, in many primitive cultures, the shaman is basically a lesser version of the trickster god, since he has to alter the will of frequently unreasonable gods or natural forces by means such as trickery, flattery, or basically anything except a direct confrontation which he would of course lose. To gain these powers, once his training is complete, he goes into a trance of some kind (this happens in a secluded place so nobody is watching, but the received wisdom is that the following is literally what occurs, rather a culturally-influenced subjective experience), where he dies, goes to the underworld, and is horrifically mutilated in ways that usually involve him being disemboweled, and one of his internal organs – usually his heart – thrown away. Then of course he’s put together again, with a mystical (but undetectable) object replacing the missing bit, and now he’s got shamanistic powers.The point is that the shaman, who is chosen by various esoteric means rather than volunteering, has an interesting but not necessarily easy life he didn’t ask for. But everyone accepts this because the tribe needs a shaman, so if the gods arbitrarily choose you, you take your lumps. To someone with that cultural background, a muddled half-understood explanation of Christianity given by an over-zealous Jesuit could easily give them the notion that Jesus is a` Coyote-style trickster god who chooses his followers by visiting them on his own initiative with no warning at all, and does this by inflicting a “revelation” upon them which, in his cultural context, must be mystical disembowelment. Indeed, since a prime part of the Christian message is that Christ wants everyone on the team, his agenda might be to wander around inflicting a traumatic shaman’s initiation upon random people with no training or talent for it, who are in any case never going to be the medicine man because the tribe already has one. It’s just a theory, but the details fit rather well – especially the beard! And of course the women’s clothing. Though in many places, such as Siberia, that would also apply to the shaman, who was always male, but officially of both genders, and thus wore feminine clothes. The fact that the dwelling shakes violently when the Bad Thing appears is a standard detail of the shamanistic experience. He typically communes with spirits in a fairly flimsy tent or hut which is violently shaken from the inside by supernatural activity. It is of course taken as read that the shaman is not doing this himself. There’s also the odd detail that the Bad Thing is in some way associated with a mysterious flying phantom torch. Well, Jesus has a halo. If you look at a picture of him and you don’t know what one of those is, it looks as though a small levitating light-source is, depending on the artist, either behind his head or hovering above it. A couple of final details. Two things which even a badly-translated missionary could get across because they’re pretty simple to grasp. Jesus lives in Heaven, where good people go when they die. Well, in just about every primitive belief-system, the underworld caters for all ex-humans, both good and bad, though the standard of the accommodation may vary. So the Bad Thing’s underground home could equally well be Heaven or Hell. And Christians attach vast importance to a symbolic meal which they regularly have, and which Jesus apparently attends in person. The Indians in this tale regularly leave food out for the Bad Thing, which, sadly, he never eats. This suggests that they assume that logically, he might be expected to eat it. My interpretation of this is that if, for whatever reason, they think the Bad Thing is about, they basically say: “Look, here’s the meal you’re expecting. See? We know the rules! So we’re in the club already – no disembowellings required around here, thanks very much! Bye now!” Why not? People much better-informed than this lot still got the notion, back in the very early days, that Christians practiced cannibalism. And by the way, although the Bad Thing is in no sense a vampire, Coyote is simultaneously an actual coyote, and a deity with all the qualities of human being plus superpowers. So you may have discovered the hitherto unknown fact that Jesus was a werewolf.’ Thanks Count!