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Posted By Michael Bell

[continued  from last entry, below]

“After the ascent of untold areas a mighty doorway loomed before me. Easily, without any feeling of motion, I drifted through and found myself on the top of a round ball, brightly yet imperfectly lighted by a single green comet. All around were strange plants swaying as though trying to dispose of their purple cup-shaped flowers in which ignited grotesque spiritual beings, resembling the writhing, attenuated bodies of snakes, yet with the eyes of humans.

“Now, when they perceived me standing in their midst they began to chant in weird, guttural tones, so that I thought they were pleased that I had come amongst them; but as I listened more intently I heard the true import of their words.

“‘O man of the earth!’ they cried. ‘Thou hast driven us from our bodies and left our earthly homes to be occupied by other souls, thou hast experimented upon us, and we can never progress in the spiritual realm until we return to the earth and finish our existence there. Thy pride hast caused thee to seek out things that men should never know! But light has dawned! The long, long night of ignorance is fading before the dawn of inspiration. The kingdom of justice is at hand. No longer shall men waste their lives trying to seek out the mysteries of God.’

“I looked. Lo! everything about me was undergoing a transformation.

“A great change came over me. I grew dimmer, thinner, weaker, smaller; and other transformations took place that no human being can describe. I longed to be back on earth, and tried to shut out the Babel of voices, but all effort was useless. It was like the shrill of a flute with the thunder of great guns. At length I resolved to remain perfectly still and with my silence every sound was hushed.

“‘What would you have me do, O spirits of other worlds?’ I whispered. Then many voices cried:

“‘Let our bodies go free! Let our bodies go free!’”

“‘But who are you? And how can I help you now?’ I pleaded desperately. The myriad voices continued with increasing clamor.

“‘We are spirits who have been driven from their bodies by the foolish work of man. Among us are those whom you claim to love, your wife and both your sons. We wish our earthly bodies freed, as God originally intended.’

“‘I am willing to aid you,’ I replied. ‘Never before did I realize the extent of my sins. Tell me what to do.’

“Then gradually three wraithlike objects took form before me. They appeared as far away as a mirage on a lonely desert and yet they stretched over an endless abyss by which I stood. They were so vast, so weird, and yet by a subtle sixth sense I recognized them as the spirits of my wife and sons.

“The first one spoke, ‘O man of the earth,’ it breathed, ‘return thou and free my body. I am thy wife. Fail not my bidding, else thou shalt be turned into a poisonous vampire plant, remaining in the plant kingdom ten thousand years.’

“I trembled with cold terror. Then in the distance I saw streaks of pale purple light and had a nebulous presentiment that the spirit of my first-born child would speak to me next.

“Before me out of ether appeared two gliding phantoms to which I can give neither name nor description. ‘Return thou to earth and free my body,’ commanded the one threateningly, yet speaking as from a great distance.

“‘I never dreamed of the extent of my sin,’ I murmured to myself, as I wiped the black snow from my thin, flimsy body, which was already taking on the shape of an immense green pitcher plant, with hideous purple flowers.

“Another phantom appeared before me. ‘When thou hast free [sic] our bodies * * * .”

 
Posted By Michael Bell

In June of 1914, the New York Sun ran a headline, “A Poe Story from the Grave,” with the subhead, “Convict buried in Texas may have been Annabel Lee’s brother.” The account of how this lost manuscript was discovered is as weird as Edgar Allan Poe’s tales, themselves.

Before I attempt to untangle that web of mystery, however, I want to give you the story of the “poisonous vampire plant” as it was presented in the newspaper article so that you can read it with a relatively open mind.

Introducing the tale, the authors wrote: “The paper was stained and partly eaten by insects. Evidently the part preserved is not the entire manuscript, although presumably a large portion of it is there.”

Here it is:

“And it came to pass after 30 long years of experimenting that I at last discovered a drug by means of which the body could live on after the soul had departed. No one knew of my success except Dr. Hansel, my physician, and even he was not aware that the curse of my discovery was already upon me. For my wife and both my sons had passed away, and their bodies were still living, inhabited by alien spirits! I was then old, very old, and had little to live for except my discovery; and yet, notwithstanding my many years of toil, I could not—I could not—give my secret to the critical eyes of the whole world.

“One day a great illness came upon me. I realized that I was very near death’s door. I had grown too weak to speak, when, motioning to the doctor, I pointed to the small purple bottle near me. He understood. With trembling hands he gently raised me and poured a spoonful of the dreadful stuff down my throat. Inexplicable forebodings came over me at once. I knew that something dreadful was going to happen—something so strange and wonderful that I was overwhelmed with fear.

“A stupefying atmosphere of dullness enveloped the room. I felt something pulling me upward—upward. My body was still on the bed, but I was gone. Horrors! I saw it move. Then I realized some other soul had taken possession of it. My spirit had floated into a strange chimerical realm. I could hear strange words, but could not understand.

“Out into the untold space I drifted, upward, upward and upward. Days, months and even years passed like seconds. To me there was no pain, no joy, no fear; only the consciousness of a vague, undefinable feeling which was new to me—the mysterious sense of the supernatural.

“All kinds of unspeakable things passed by me, through me, over me, for I had no form and my old feelings were all gone. I was surrounded by new sensations that no one could realize except by experience. I was literally sieved through space as water runs through sand. There were millions of pieces, and they clung together like a swarm of bees migrating. The terrible figures took the form of fluttering bats and gaping toads. The air was full of a mighty Babel; shouts and screams, groans and moans, weeping and wailing, and therewith the continuous flashing of purple lights as an incalculable host of strange forms flashed by.”


[continued in next entry, above]

 
Posted By Michael Bell

[continued from last entry, below]

 

Ancient Europeans regarded trees as the dwelling places, not only of demonic spirits, but also of souls. Indeed, the wood nymphs, or dryads, of classical mythology had their lives linked to a certain tree. If the tree withered and died, they themselves pined away. Any injury to bough or twig was felt as a wound, and cutting down the tree put an end to them at once.  In many Teutonic legends, the souls of the departed passed into trees, or continued to live in the trees that grew upon their graves. These indwelling spirits were supposed to have the power to both cause and cure disease. A related belief was that “the soul of the family-ancestor had passed into the tree growing in or before the homestead, and this tree accordingly became associated with the tutelary [i.e., protecting or guardian] spirit of the family.” Nineteenth-century anthropologist James Frazer wrote: “A tree that grows on a grave is regarded by the South Slavonian peasant as a sort of fetish. Whoever breaks a twig from it hurts the soul of the dead, but gains thereby a magic wand, since the soul embodied in the twig will be at his service.”

The shared concepts that underlie such seemingly different expressions as the eternal embrace of deceased lovers and a desperate attempt to terminate a consumption epidemic take us deep into our past. Perhaps they are even the bedrock of belief that informs the vampire theory. If the vine growing from coffin to coffin was, indeed, a life token, the fate of the spirit within the grave would be bound up with the well-being of the vine. If the spirit was believed to be benevolent, we would want to nurture the plant; but if it was seen as harmful, we would be wise to destroy it.

 
Posted By Michael Bell

I find this thing with the vines fascinating. For starters, vines are, well, creepy. I wonder if the word ‘creepy’ originated from the way vines move? Vines do creep in the literal sense of moving slowly and deliberately. But they are also creepy in the dictionary sense of  being “strangely repulsive” and “producing an uneasy fearful sensation, as of things crawling over one’s skin.” The term ‘creepy’ seems to have appeared first in the record in 1794, and by 1831 it was being used to characterize “having a creeping feeling in the flesh.” ‘Creepy-crawly’ debuted in 1858.

The  folklore about vines that appears in vampire accounts, especially the one from Chazy, New York, adds another frightening dimension to their creepiness: vines give you more than just a creepy feeling as they grow around things, covering and choking them; they actually are disease carriers, spreading consumption from one family member to the next. So the repulsion one might experience on opening a grave and finding a weird vine growing from the corpse or the coffin might not be so strange. As I wrote in Food for the Dead, the vine or root that was growing from coffin to coffin was an entirely new addition to my records of the vampire belief, and I wondered what it meant. Most of what I knew about the lore of grave plants did not extend to such ghastly connections. You don’t have to study folksongs to recognize the familiar motif of lovers who, being prevented from embracing in life, intertwine in death through plants. In some American versions of the ballad “Barbara Allen,” for example, a rose grew out of Sweet William’s grave and a briar from Barbara Ellen’s, and “they linked and tied in a true lover’s knot and the rose grew round the briar.” This favorite theme in folk narrative is found not only throughout Europe (in the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult, for instance), but also in traditions from Northern Africa through the Middle East and into China.

The kind of plant growing from a grave may tell us something about the character of the deceased. In the folklore of southern France, thorns or nettles growing on a grave are a sign that its occupant is damned; if other plants grow, he is at peace; if a mixture, he is in purgatory. In German folksong, a blackthorn grows from the bodies of slain heathens while a white flower grows near the heads of fallen Christians; white lilies grow out of the graves of innocents who are put to death. Underlying  this folklore is the worldwide belief that, at death, the soul or spirit of a corpse may enter into a plant, especially one that grows from its grave.

 

[continued in next entry, above]