Friday, March 13, 2009

Medieval "vampires"

Religion often leads to beliefs in other supernatural absurdities, like witches, demons, ghosts, flaming dragons, etc. And in medieval times, the Church was instrumental in perpetuating the vampire myths, and often performed "exorcisms" of exhumed bodies of dead people. During times of plague, when they would open mass graves to bury more bodies, the sight of the decomposing bodies were horrifying and the people back then didn't understand the whole decompression process. So what did they do when they didn't know what was happening? They do like they do today and make up an explanation, and a quite scary one at that. The god of Abraham believers are very good at doing that, making stuff up to scare their followers into submission.

This is a pretty interesting find:

LINK: Italy dig unearths female "vampire" in Venice

ROME – An archaeological dig near Venice has unearthed the 16th-century remains of a woman with a brick stuck between her jaws — evidence, experts say, that she was believed to be a vampire.

The unusual burial is thought to be the result of an ancient vampire-slaying ritual. It suggests the legend of the mythical bloodsucking creatures was tied to medieval ignorance of how diseases spread and what happens to bodies after death, experts said.

The well-preserved skeleton was found in 2006 on the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, north of the lagoon city, amid other corpses buried in a mass grave during an epidemic of plague that hit Venice in 1576.

"Vampires don't exist, but studies show people at the time believed they did," said Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist at Florence University who studied the case over the last two years. "For the first time we have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire."


During epidemics, mass graves were often reopened to bury fresh corpses and diggers would chance upon older bodies that were bloated, with blood seeping out of their mouth and with an inexplicable hole in the shroud used to cover their face.

"These characteristics are all tied to the decomposition of bodies," Borrini said. "But they saw a fat, dead person, full of blood and with a hole in the shroud, so they would say: 'This guy is alive, he's drinking blood and eating his shroud.'"

Modern forensic science shows the bloating is caused by a buildup of gases, while fluid seeping from the mouth is pushed up by decomposing organs, Borrini said. The shroud would have been consumed by bacteria found in the mouth area, he said.

At the time however, what passed for scientific texts taught that "shroud-eaters" were vampires who fed on the cloth and cast a spell that would spread the plague in order to increase their ranks.

To kill the undead creatures, the stake-in-the-heart method popularized by later literature was not enough: A stone or brick had to be forced into the vampire's mouth so that it would starve to death, Borrini said.

Ignorance proves once again to be at the core of superstitious beliefs. While we cannot say that folks who hold religious beliefs are ignorant in modern western society, some have used the phrase "willfully ignorant" to those who cling to ancient superstitious beliefs in imaginary gods, goddesses, elves, aliens that live in volcanoes, magic underwear, etc. While we atheists find it all silly, it is rather interesting.

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