Vampires and Religion: Vampires used as Religious Icons

[written by writer, columnist and reviewer, Bertena Varney]

Introduction

The word “vampire” evokes pictures of reanimated corpses that are covered in dirt and wreak havoc on the living by draining them of blood. They are thought to be condemned to this earth because they are part of the damned; they are the undead, unholy created by Satan. (Melton J. G., 1998, p. 707) The established idea of the vampire is very unchristian. Both the church as well as laymen views the vampire as evil in nature. The vampire has a need of human blood in order to survive and this taboo is spelled out in the Christian Bible.

But popular culture has taken this idea of a vampire and used religious icons to represent society’s search for empowerment, acceptance, and redemption. They have used Lilith, Cain, and Judas the most often.

Lilith (1892) by John Collier in Southport Atkinson Art Gallery

The Story of Lilith and the Search for Empowerment

The first religious icon to be used in vampire lore is Lilith. According to the Talmud and Hebrew lore, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. Adam and Lilith were the first couple made by God as complete equals from dust. One day while having sex Lilith refused to “lie on the bottom” and wanted a more dominant role. When Adam would not allow it, she cursed God and flew from Eden. The story continues with Lilith procreating with demons and multiplying at a rate of 100 children a day. As a result of her populating the world with half demons, God sent three angels to bring Lilith back to Eden. Lilith cursed the angels and refused their requests. As a result the angels began to kill one hundred of Lilith’s children for each day that she refused to return. This angered Lilith that once again she was being forced to submit to men that she refused and began to kill human children by biting and drinking their blood. (Rappaport, 1989) From here the legend of Lilith travelled through the Hebrew oral traditions where she was blamed for miscarriages as well as sudden infant death syndrome. As protection from Lilith, Hebrew mothers would sing lullabies and would hang an amulet over the baby’s crib that pictured the three angels that attempted to return Lilith to the Garden of Eden. (Melton J. , 1999, pp. 421-423) As a result of superstition, she became a tool of fear among women rather than a role model for female empowerment.

However, as time went on, Lilith has been molded into more ancient Jewish mythology that portrayed her in a more positive light. She has been credited as being the famed Queen of Sheba and as one of the two mothers who went to King Solomon to decide which one was the true mother of the surviving baby boy. The legend of Lilith has been found in cultures ranging from Iranian, Babylonian, Arabic, Oriental and Native American legends. Each character became a true icon of female strength and sacrifice that evolved into legends of her being a demon, and succubae. She has even been credited for being the beginning of the vampire blood lines.

Lilith’s choice for independence over male companionship has been a theme that has survived until modern time. Today she has been reborn into many forms that have retold her story. She has been the daughter of Dracula in Marvel Comics, an ancient demon in the Sci Fi Movie, Darklight, and as a strong feminist vampire in The Gardella Vampire Chronicle Series by Colleen Gleason. Lilith’s story in each evolved into female characters that were created by the male counterpart and is evil in nature but in each role became the most powerful creature in their story.  She overcame the negative male belief and took up the fight for empowerment for females. For example, her name and symbol is used by Lilith Fair, a concert of all female performers. This event was in response to the outcry of enraged female performers and fans over radio stations refusing to feature two female artists in a row or to book both in the same tour. The success of the fair in breaking these barriers is felt even today.

Lilith may have began as a night creature with wings and talons that drank babies blood but today she is seen as a symbol of woman’s refusal to be submissive to man not just intimately but in all walks of life. She gives strength to the women in society to choose independence and free thinking over doing what one is told they should do or be. Her popularity in today’s society is shown by the increase of her character being reborn and changed in modern science fiction. Each time her story is told she allows society to see her not just as the angry female who is vengeful but as shown in Darklight as the strong female who has the power to seek empowerment over her past and to lead her male counterparts to the destruction of evil in their world. Lilith has fortified her role as the icon of female empowerment for today’s society but does not end there. Her role continues with her role of assisting Cain to find acceptance in a world that seems to view him as less than acceptable.

Cain the Dark Warrior from White Wolf's Vampire the Masquerade

The Story of Cain and the Search for Acceptance

Cain’s story is one that is more familiar than Lilith’s. Cain was the first son to be born of this new earth. He was the first born son of Adam and Eve and therefore expected to be the continuation of the family line. In early Jewish tradition, the first born was held in highest regard in the family and would be the one to inherit the property as well as the responsibility to carry on the family name. They were regarded with the highest respect.

Cain was the overseer and protector of the fruits and vegetables of the earth. His youngest brother Abel was the overseer of the animals of the earth. As most people know, Cain killed Abel in a fit of jealousy and became the first murderer on this earth. As the first blood of man spilled onto the earth, Yahweh cast him from the land and turned him into a creature of darkness. But as a protection for Cain he placed a mark on him that would keep him from harm from others. This Mark of Cain would protect him from harm and give him strength but at the same time would isolate Cain from acceptance of man. He was left to wander the earth and search for acceptance from others.

What happened to Cain in the darkness is where popular culture has taken liberty with the story. Cain’s largest role in pop culture has been in the role playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. The game has Cain wandering in eternal damnation upon the earth where he eventually came across a lovely creature named Lilith. Lilith helped him to embrace this curse by sharing her life essence that released his power from within. By sharing her blood with Cain he became her son in blood. This blood unleashed his power over darkness and he began wandering the darkness alone and strengthening his power. But as time went on his power was not enough and he needed acceptance from both Yahweh and the people of earth. One evening he came upon a city. There he shared his power with three gentlemen who became known as the second generation. This embrace consisted of exchanging blood and forming his children with whom would accept and love him unconditionally. Cain was happy because he found his acceptance and friendship with these men and forbade them to share their power with anyone else. But these men became greedy and wanted more power over the humans of earth so they shared this great power with hundreds who in turn shared with hundreds more. This third generation ignored Cain’s strict orders not to pass on the power to humans who may not be able to handle it. They then created a fourth generation that turned on the disobedient third generation and slew them. Because of the chaos on earth Yahweh created a great flood that destroyed much of the land and people of the world. After the flood, Cain was once again alone and left to wander around the earth looking for a place where he could belong and be accepted. In legend and in the game the crimson headed Cain can be seen wandering the earth sometimes alone or with another red haired demon rumored to be Lilith.

Gerard Butler as Judas in Dracula 2000

The Story of Judas and the Search for Redemption

Another wandering Jew that has been used as a vampire, is a third crimson haired icon named Judas Iscariot. Judas was a disciple of Christ and the one responsible for His arrest by Pontius Pilate’s guards. He betrayed Christ by a single kiss on the cheek for which his reward was 30 pieces of silver.

Judas’ story as a vampire begins with his hanging. In vampire lore anyone who commits suicide becomes a vampire because the soul is not allowed to enter heaven. That plus the fact that Judas had red hair (which was another sign of vampirism) sealed him as the most popular of all the religious icons that are portrayed as a vampire in pop culture. According to the movie Dracula 2000, Judas is the Dracula that we have come to know throughout history. The story begins in present day with Van Helsing guarding the drained body of Dracula until he can find a way to finally kill the evil creature. In order to stay alive Van Helsing injects Dracula’s blood into him in order to maintain immortality. While married his wife becomes pregnant and a child bearing the blood of Dracula is born. Dracula awakens and searches for this child named Lucy. He finally captures her and is on the rooftop discussing why he is so angry with God. At that time he reveals that he is actually Judas Iscariot, the disciple and betrayer of Jesus Christ. He says that he is angry because God used him as a pawn and would not allow him into heaven while Lucifer saw him as assisting God with His mighty plan and would allow him in hell. Thus he is cursed to roam the earth for eternity. By the end of the movie, Judas asks for redemption and ironically is hung from a sign showing Christ hanging on the cross. The movie ends and allows the viewer to believe that his redemption was finally found and he was allowed to die. This movie was so popular that it continued with a second and third sequel.

Judas’s story in pop culture is responsible for many of the beliefs that we have in vampire lore today. For example, vampires have a repulsion of silver due to the fact that Judas sold his soul for 30 pieces of silver. They fear crucifixes, holy water, and other Christian symbols because it reminds Judas of his betrayal. And the most famous of the lore is that one can kill a vampire with a wooden stake made from the aspen tree, the tree in which the wood was used for Jesus’ crucifixion as well as the tree in which Judas attempted to hang him. All of these items have a central theme, Judas’ repulsion of the symbols of his actions and his search for the answer of whether he acted of free will, of divine intervention, or of possession by Lucifer in regards to his role in the betrayal of Christ.

TNT’s television series The Librarian completed the series with the movie, The Librarian: the Curse of the Judas Chalice. In the series, the original vampire, Vlad the Impaler, is looking for the famed Judas chalice which was used by Judas while consuming Jesus’ “blood” at The Last Supper. The chalice was to heal the drinker and grant power over all other vampires. Flynn Carson, the Librarian goes through the movies spewing random information about vampires, their fear of crucifixes, holy water etc. When he is engaged in the final battle with Vlad he notices the aspen tree and realizes that his weapon is at his disposal. He explains the history of Judas’ search for redemption as he kills Vlad and returns the chalice to the library.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of how vampires have been used as religious icons. As a result of this there has been a small increase in the writing of Christian Vampire Romance. For example, the Christian female character falls for a vampire and wants to be his redeemer and provide him not with eternal life on earth but in heaven with her. Another story tells of the Christian woman as a vampire who falls in love with an agnostic mortal man and after an eternal struggle they both save each other spiritually because overall the power of the cross is restored and Christianity triumphed. If this small increase continues then we may soon explore how vampires made a jump to Christian fiction.

Works Cited

Fox, R. (2008, August 6). The next big thing; Christian vampire romance. Retrieved March 7, 2009, from Publisher’s Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/blog/400000640/post/1360031136.html

Hefner, A. G. (2003, March 9). Lilith. Retrieved February 14, 2009, from The Encyclopedia Mythica: http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/demons/emlilith.htm

Melton, J. (1999). The Vampire Encyclopedia. Farminghills, MI: Visible Ink Press.

Rappaport, A. (1989). Ancient Israel myths and legends. New York: Bonanza Books.

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About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site, Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

5 responses to “Vampires and Religion: Vampires used as Religious Icons

  • Joleene Naylor

    Well written and well researched! I enjoyed this immensely!

    Using biblical references as historical milestones in a vampire mythos lends a creditability to that mythology and makes it not only more believable, but easier to accept as fact (which the reader/watcher must do in any speculative work).

    I’ve always found Lilith and her duel personality – one moment an empowering female, and the next an evil, murdering entity – rather interesting. I think it does an interesting job of duplicating the duality of humans, and of women. Lilith becomes a vengeful, evil figure after her children are killed by the angels, and what mother wouldn’t strike out if her children were killed/ in any war, it is always the women sitting back at home who are the blood thirstiest because it is the enemy or their husbands/sons, and the woman’s ultimate psychology is to protect their home and thus their offspring/spouse. This may mean that some unnamed person has to die, but if it is that or “their baby”, then so be it.

    Great post!

  • Lynda Hilburn

    Bertena: Another great article. I learned so much! Thanks for the great job.
    Lynda Hilburn

  • Vampire Awareness Month: The Posts « Vampire Awareness Month

    […] Bertena Varney weighed in with articles about The Lure of the Dead Boyfriend and Vampires and Religion. Thought provoking […]

  • bertena varney- lexington vampire examiner

    Joleene- I feel so honored that you commented on my post. I was looking at your site and am so intrigued with the book 101 Tips to Travel with a Vampire.
    hope to hear more from you soon as well as yoru books

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