8

C&C: Vampires

https://jenibrown.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/quick-get-buffy-its-a-vampire-pumpkin/

Through mere glimpses of him, however, demonic accuracy is achieved: Dracula is an Antichrist. He cannot attack unless willingly engaged. He baptizes his victims in his blood even as he drinks theirs in a sacrifice that gives eternal “life” in animated death. He unites captive souls to his existence, thriving on the unhallowed. He twists scripture to his purpose, lusts for worship … and fears Christ. Crisis Magazine, Oct 2013

Over at Father Z’s blog (several years  back) he made a (joking) post about how sad he was that he didn’t get a vampire hunting kit for Christmas; one comment pointed out that we can’t sell blessed objects. (Technically false; blessed objects can be sold for their intrinsic value, without added price for the blessing, but accurate in terms of buying a Vampire hunting kit which would be pretty worthless without blessing.) This got me thinking about the various legends related to vampires, and Catholicism, especially with how often it is gotten wrong.

The most famous example of really bad theology would probably be from Dracula; at one point, Van Helsing makes a putty out of consecrated Hosts and uses it vampire-proof a room.

Needless to say, this isn’t respectful of the Body of Christ, and if the vampire is reacting to the Body of Christ then it probably wouldn’t be effective, either:

With respect to the presence of Christ, most theologians would hold that, although the host externally remains intact for several days, the real presence would cease as soon as the host is fully soaked with water as from that moment the species is no longer exclusively that of bread.

Dracula is rather well researched on the folklore of vampires. For example, the crucifix has power in and of itself, since it has a representation of Christ on it, while crosses depend more on the person holding the cross invoking God directly. In various times and places the cross (or other objects, such as holy medals) being formally blessed was held to be enough to invoke God – those objects are called sacramentals, things that recall the sacraments. (Dracula’s mistaken abuse of the Host is in keeping with someone who didn’t recognize transubstantiation, but viewed it as a sort of super-stong symbol.) The most obvious sacramental, which is also used in popular pieties and commonly available for the asking, would be holy water– many parishes even have dispensers. It should be kept in mind that the people who really believed in vampires weren’t trying to use holy water or any other sacramental for some kind of a magical effect, but to invoke God’s protection from forces of evil.

Some of the things vampires fear are symbolic instead of sacramental– running water calls to mind baptism and the washing away of sins, silver is “white” metal and thus pure, garlic and various plants were believed to be medicines against corruption. Even salt, because of its powers of preservation, was thought in some places to ward off evil– including vampires.

Now, for someone wanting to do a Catholic friendly Dracula type vampire?  You might consider using an unconsecrated host– if the image of the body of Christ on the Cross works, then the object originally intended to become His body would work better. (Credit to Vathara, an author who poked at things long enough to get that spark moving.  If you like urban fantasy along the lines of Harry Dresden, but wish they had a little more theology, she’s got an awesome series started– first book is A Net of Dawn and Bones. It’s not exactly Catholic, but it’s not hostile, and it takes theology seriously, which is a nice change.)

Vampires not having a reflection probably grew out of the folklore of the soulless not having a shadow and the way that mirrors were once backed with silver. Some more folklore savvy stories have had digital cameras work to record vampires, but not silver-based movie cameras, and at least one used silver nitrate in the blood to kill off a vampire.

Speaking of souls, this is probably the biggest problem with vampire stories: all too often, authors write “vampires” that by all evidence possess rational souls. To shamelessly steal–er, borrow– from Jimmy Akin’s highly enjoyable Theology of the Living Dead, there are four basic options for any flavor of living dead:

animal soul- this is the most traditional, but has more in common with modern zombies as far as behavior goes; modern vampires are generally more intelligent than the average human.

non-human rational soul – Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s vampires– they are evil, but the “demons” animating vampires aren’t Satanic, and a lot of the other “demons” shown are know to just be multidimensional travelers. The theology of that show makes my head hurt….

human souls – the ‘vampire’ subculture would be an example of this, or if a story had vampirism as a sort of disease

No soul – the body is remote-controlled, either by technology (nanobot vampires) or perhaps demonic possession. (As I understand it, demons are spirits, rather than souls, and couldn’t inhabit a body the way a human soul would. I’d highly advise a lot of mythology research before anybody tried to write this!)

Most vampire stories these days are either humans with a disease or non-human souls animating a body; some of them aren’t “allergic” to blessed objects, even. Obviously, if they have rational souls, we have to treat them as people rather than monsters…but it doesn’t make any sense why holy objects would harm them, then. On practical levels, anything that smokes on contact with a holy object is not to be considered a good neighbor!

I hope this struck your fancy as much as it struck mine!

2

C&C: Witchcraft

From Card Captor Sakura, Japanese anime and manga

A reprint for the season. 

Let me see if I can sum up the archetypal belief:

All through the middle ages, single women– especially if they lived alone or practiced some sort of medicine– were randomly being accused of witchcraft and burnt alive for it. The Inquisition was the main group killing women, and hundreds of thousands were killed by the Catholic Church. Millions died, many of them Pagans.

Look about right?

Well, here’s a thumbnail that I promise I really didn’t model that off of:

For example, historians have now realized that witch-hunting was not primarily a medieval phenomenon. It peaked in the 17th century, during the rationalist age of Descartes, Newton, and St. Vincent de Paul. Persecuting suspected witches was not an elite plot against the poor; not was practicing witchcraft a mode of peasant resistance. Catholics and Protestants hunted witches with comparable vigor. Church and state alike tried and executed them. It took more than pure Reason to end the witch craze.

Nor were witches secret pagans serving an ancient Triple Goddess and Horned God, as the neopagans claim. In fact, no witch was ever executed for worshipping a pagan deity. Matilda Gage’s estimate of nine million women burned is more than 200 times the best current estimate of 30,000 to 50,000 killed during the 400 years from 1400 to 1800 — a large number but no Holocaust. And it wasn’t all a burning time. Witches were hanged, strangled, and beheaded as well. Witch-hunting was not woman-hunting: At least 20 percent of all suspected witches were male. Midwives were not especially targeted; nor were witches liquidated as obstacles to professionalized medicine and mechanistic science.

Sandra Miesel, Medieval historian writing for Crisis Magazine

On a side note, it seems Germany was utterly nuts for a while; a huge portion of the numbers for her defensible claim of “comparable vigor” comes from a couple of folks there; it might be worthwhile for someone really interested in the subject to find out what all was going on at those times and places– the phrase “prince bishop” worries me a bit, as a purely emotional reaction. I poked around enough to find this history wikia with enough details for someone who’s really curious and has the mind for German history. Apparently Germany had a big criminal law collection called the Carolina which required death for those believed to have harmed someone using magic. Good luck trying to tell what area was Catholic or Protestant, and how solidly so; I’ve seen long running anime that were easier to follow. In Japanese. No wonder even experts acting in good will can argue for decades about stuff.

Speaking of Germany, there’s another question: Alright, so a lady with a master’s on the subject says that, broadly speaking, the standard cliches are bunk. How do you explain that Catholic witch hunting manual from Germany?

Well:

The Malleus maleficarum was written by two Dominicans about 1486. The principal author, Heinrich Kramer, was widely recognized as a “demented imbecile” by contemporaries. The bishop of Innsbruck thwarted his attempt to convict women there of witchcraft and forced him out of town. The Malleus competed with the Carmelite Jan van Beetz’s Expositio decem catalogie praeceptum, “an icily skeptical treatment of tales of black magic. Of course, exposés never get the circulation of the lurid originals.

Michael Flynn, author and historical hobbyist

Mr. Flynn is one of my favorites, because he finds things like the fellow from the Spanish Inquisition who was brought a self-professed “witch” to try, and he insisted that she prove she could perform the claimed witchy powers; that Inquisitor may have been copying Vincent of Beavius, who is reported to have chased a supposed witch around the room with a stick when she insisted that she was able to pass through keyholes. Needless to say, both were proven innocent of sorcery.

Mr. Flynn’s mention of some of the Pagan activities against witches that had to be outlawed suggests that Germany may have just had some really, really brutal traditions. Another well read though vague on names scholar, who goes by SuburbanBanshee, observes the pattern that when you go way back, witchcraft was only seen as a problem far from the population centers. Christians ended up saving the supposed witches from those who blamed them for whatever horrible thing was going on at the time. Places where folk tradition was not stronger than formal teaching recognized that “witchcraft” and false gods could not possibly be more powerful than God!

 

Note: the image at the top isn’t really magical. It’s from a really fun anime called Card Captor Sakura; the Japanese are addicted to pretty stuff, I swear, and there’s a good chance it’s got crypto-Catholic symbols worked into the very weft. 

4

C&C: Demons

You do not know the power of the dark side

Slightly updated reprint for the season; C&C stands for Conspiracies and Catholicism, and means Foxfier is geeking out over something.

It’s a staple of horror movies– there is some invisible thing that will get you, destroy your life, take over your loved ones and drag you to hell.  A demon haunts this house!

First, we should probably back up a little– demon and devil are frequently used interchangeably, with devil more frequently used for specifically religious uses and demon for “scary and kind of hopeless.” Religiously, the devil is the chief of the demons, (Diabolus enim et alii daemones, as kept popping up while I was trying to find any decent information on this topic.) and it’s usually capitalized to indicate the Devil. Originally, demon was more like “supernatural being”– think kami, for those who are into anime and manga, or various location-gods and demigods for those who know their classic mythology. If you’d like to see how you get from δαίμων to “demon,” Dictionary.com is your friend., especially in special uses for various spellings. I’m going to save any further “other powers” geekery for a later article– on to demons!

What are demons?

So, when we talk about a demon, what are we talking about? Besides being the Devil’s henchmen, demons are fallen angels; this means that they are definitely not metaphors, symbols, impulses, or any other way of saying “there are not really demons.” They also are not a synonym for mental illness– any good exorcist is going to check for mental illness as a first step; it doesn’t do anyone any good to avoid treatment in hopes that a ritual will help someone, rather than trying to accurately identify the problem. (I have no idea how frequently mentally ill people are also afflicted by demons–especially when there are so many ways to qualify demonic involvement.) Here’s a longish quote from the Catechism to explain how that works:

II. THE FALL OF THE ANGELS

391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”

392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies”.

393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”

So: demons are definitionally evil, having chosen to throw in against God, and they cannot change now. That throws out a pretty good chunk of the more dramatic “can the fallen angel un-fall” type movies– now for the horror.  I am going to draw heavily from this interview with Fr. Gary Thomas, who you may know from the book pictured above– The Rite.

 What can demons do?

Infestation:

Think like Paranormal Activity or any other “house has a demon” story. No, you don’t try to fix it by putting a video camera in your bedroom and taunting it, you see about getting your house blessed; talk to your local parish. Get some holy water. See about getting your hands on a book of prayers, linked below. My mind keeps giving me the image of demonic fleas, but it’s not really funny–here is a quote of signs, from  The Rite:

The various kinds of phenomena that can occur in this situation are vast and include unexplained sounds or noises like mysterious footsteps, loud bangs, laughter, screams; the temperature of a room dropping or the feelings of a cold wind with no discernible source; objects disappearing suddenly and materializing in other parts of the house; strange presences felt’ the presence of offensive odors’ interruption of the electric current or the malfunction of electronic devices; pictures that mysteriously bang or fall off the wall; doors and windows that open and close on their own; dishes or other objects levitating and flying about the room.

This cursed activity can be caused by something horrible having happened on the site– crimes, suicides, satanic rituals (yes, including wicca-of-the-month, and probably turn-of-last-century seances, too– it’s a bad idea to invite in ungodly powers, go figure)– or because an infested object is there, or because the demon is there with a human.

That leads me to the next level of demonic involvement:

Oppression or Obsession

Two sides of a coin, the former pushed down and the latter wound up; your thoughts are warped in a bad direction; this is when an individual is being attacked by a demon. You can see why an exorcist would need to know a lot about psychology– it would be hard to tell mental or emotional attacks. You might think of this as the demon version of a monkey on your back, or maybe being stalked. I don’t want to belittle this– having a demon attack you is obviously bad, even if it’s not as cinematically iconic as the final type of demonic assault, possession.

Possession:

When a demon can move the victim’s body against their will. (Willingly accepting a demonic possession is integration.) Their soul isn’t controlled by the demon, but everything else…. This is when the exorcist goes to work, although this is incredibly rare and unlikely to involve green pea soup. Some exorcists have reported physical changes that are not scientifically possible. (A note on the limit of science– you’ve got to be there and set up to get really good data, and somehow I don’t think demons would be willing to cooperate.)

Don’t invite demons in, either actively or by sin, and try to soak your life in spiritually suited everything. The good news is– our Boss is incredibly stronger than theirs, He will win.https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001UMCA1O

5

C&C: Angels

You’ve probably heard about that baby girl who survived a car accident that killed her mother, hanging in her car seat for 14 hours until emergency personnel showed up. The first responders say they heard someone– not the baby, but either a woman or a child– yelling for help, which gave them the strength to flip the car over; they were shocked to find her mother had been dead since the accident. You may even have seen the video. I know some folks have suggested that her mom came back as an Angel to save her child.

For shock value, I really should write something like “that’s nonsense,” to get your attention with a nasty splash of cold water. All the style guides I’ve read support it– but it’s not nonsense, it’s a minor misunderstanding or miscommunication in the course of grasping for something wonderful in the middle of a tragedy that could have been so much worse. It’s also rather rude to manipulate folks to get a reaction, rather than trying to convey information. I don’t know what the folks at the rescue heard, but I definitely get chills thinking about it, and I think it’s interesting enough to stand on its own just fine.

The Misunderstanding

When someone says “angel,” they’re usually picturing something like the classic painting, “Guiding Angel”– a guardian angel with robes and wings, hovering protectively behind two children that are crossing a bridge. Depending on the context, harps may be involved. They might think of popular movies and shows, like the entire genera of “Archangel Michael on earth and probably falling in love” movies. Maybe images of a warrior of God with a flaming sword, smiting the devil. For gamers, they might picture Tyrael of the Diablo games. On a more personal level, they may think back to a lost loved one they were told is an angel, now. Continue Reading

9

Saints (a C&C reprint)

There was a little discussion about when someone is called a saint, so I thought I’d dust off the article I did about this a while back– in honor of Father Jaques Hamel; please pray for us. -Foxfier

What is a saint?

Someone who is united with God; a holy one. English is actually a bit odd– we’ve got a lot of ways of saying things, and “saint” is a good example. Most languages, there’s no difference between how you say “holy one” and how you say “saint.” This can result in things that sound very strange to modern ears, like talking about “Saint Jesus.” Jimmy Akin has a great FAQ if you want to know more, but I’m going to steal from it shamelessly for a lot of this article so you might want to wait on that to avoid boredom. (Not that his writing is boring, but because reading more detail about something you’ve already read is more interesting than reading a little information about something you just absorbed a huge amount on.)

Continue Reading