They’re the blood-sucking, flesh-rending, soul-destroying creatures of the night. And, boy, do they have issues.
I am holding in my hand the book, Vampires, Werewolves & Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature, by Richard Noll, a clinical psychologist and historian of medicine.
I originally found this book on the shelves of the Grand Army Plaza hub of the Brooklyn Public Library in the mid 1990’s. I was intrigued by the title, but downright fascinated with the contents.
The compiled reports furnish chapter headings like, “Clinical Vampirism: a presentation of three cases and a reevaluation of Haigh, the ‘Acid-Bath Murderer.’”
All of it is engrossing—stories of people who believed, and behaved as if, they were mythological monsters or possessed by demons. Yet two things in particular stood out, and for very different reasons.
First, while it is subtitled “Twentieth Century Reports, etc.” the book also contains studies from the 19th century. I’d just finished reading Caleb Carr’s, The Alienist, so I immediately sat up when I came across an 1845 essay by French alienist, J.E.D. Esquirol, detailing patients who believed themselves the victims of demonic possession:
“They believe that they are transported to the midnight assemblies of wizards, where they are witnesses of the strangest extravagances. They have intimate communications with the devil or his subordinates; after which, a collapse bringing an end to the attack, they find themselves again in the same place from whence they believed they had been taken. Who does not see in this, the last stage of an attack of hysteria? Amidst the obscenities of these meetings—which we shall be cautious about describing—who does not recognize the turpitude of an imagination, polluted by the vilest, most obscene and disgusting debauchery? Who does not recognize a description of the most extravagant, shameful and ribald dreams?”
Vampires and the People Who Love Them
The second thing that drew me to this book, like a roadside accident causes rubbernecking, was that at least one person had made curious communion with the volume before me. Certain passages about vampires had been underscored in blue ink so vigorously the pages had torn through.
Have you ever read something historical that set you off into more research, or inspired you to write? You know you have, you scamp. What was it? Please share your story by commenting below.