Saturday, March 11, 2006

Vampires and the Cross Part One

or The Part Holy Symbols have to Play in the Vampire Genre

It is an iconic image the vampire, resplendent in his formal evening wear, lifts his heavy cloak as shield to his reddened eyes. The brave hunter steps forward, cross held high. The holy symbol seems to glow with the very power of the God it represents as the vampire, angry hisses escaping his pale lips and sharp teeth, is pushed back… back… back…

Perhaps the hunter actually reaches his prey. Then the heavy metal cross is thrust against the pallid undead flesh. A scream, primal and furious yet underpinned with abject terror, rips from the vampire’s throat and resonates through the dusty air of the crypt. Beneath the scream is another sound, subtler, a sizzling as flesh burns and sloughs from the face and the image of the cross is embossed in the vampire’s features.

Yet, as the world has moved forward has the vampire’s reaction to all things holy evolved?

We start, as always, with “Dracula”. Bram Stoker’s novel was very much a product of its time. The power of the novel comes from the fact that despite this, rather than because of it, the bare bones of the story still resonate with us today.

Despite a distinct lack of clergy, “Dracula” places a lot of faith (if you’ll excuse the pun) in holy symbols. Often, however, it is the host – rather than the cross – that is used by Van Helsing. The Count’s boxes of earth are purified with fragments of the host. Further, when Mina’s blood is corrupted by Dracula, a host placed upon her forehead burns her flesh.

“On your forehead I touch this piece of Sacred Wafer in the name of the Father, the Son, and …’ There was a fearful scream which almost froze our hearts to hear. As he had placed the Wafer on Mina’s forehead, it had seared it … had burned into the flesh as though it had been a piece of white-hot metal.”

Bram Stoker - Dracula

This burn is livid and will not fade until Dracula is destroyed and his stain removed. It is interesting, perhaps, that this shows the power of Christ’s flesh against flesh corrupted by the undead.

Van Helsing places the holy wafer at the door of Lucy’s crypt in order to prevent her re-entering her resting place until such time as he is ready.

“He crumbled the wafer up fine and worked it into the mass between his hands. This he then took, and rolling it into thin strips, began to lay them into the crevices between the door and its setting in the tomb. I was somewhat puzzled at this, and being close, asked him what it was that he was doing. Arthur and Quincey drew near also, as they too were curious.

“He answered, ‘I am closing the tomb so that the UnDead may not enter.’”

Bram Stoker - Dracula

Of course he does, in this same scene, hold Lucy at bay with a golden crucifix and Stoker was quite happy to make use of the cross in his story.

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