Fearsome Fish

It must be October. As I was looking up a word on Dictionary.com, I noted one of their “the hot word” features entitled, “Scientists discover a fish they name ‘dracula.’” The fish, which is native to the eastern part of Asia, was discovered in 2009 but is just now starting to draw attention. The name apparently derives from its fangs. Vampires, however, have their ancient origins in creatures that draw the life force from humans. In the ancient world the “life force” could take different forms: blood, breath, and even semen. Soon a whole array of life snatchers populated the ancient mind – incubi, succubae, Lilith, demons, and any of a number of other contenders for the human essence. The fear of being drained is a very ancient one indeed.

While in my adjunct office at Montclair yesterday I met a colleague. We discussed the visit of the exorcist to campus that I missed but he attended, and while discussing the mythology class we both teach he mentioned how vampire movies make use of mythic themes. I have been using this information from the beginning for my class, but I was fascinated that another part-time instructor would latch onto the same film motif as I did to illustrate modern myth. The vampire is such a part of our culture that people often forget its religious origins.

I attended a public performance of a two-man play at a local library this week. The play was a conversation between Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker. Naturally, vampirism played a strong element in the single-act show. While Poe and Stoker were not contemporaries, they did both share an awareness of how religion tied in with the macabre. The Frank Ford Coppola movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula makes this connection explicit as an enraged Vlad Tepes stabs a cross in his chapel with his sword, starting a flow of blood that he greedily drinks.

Vlad Tepes on a good day

We’ve just crossed into mid-October and I already find myself surrounded with vampires. It is characteristic of religion to deal with our deepest anxieties, and the more we reflect on vampires the deeper we find they reside in the religious sensibilities of both fish and phantom.

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