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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

A companion to the form of cultural evolution endorsed by Stetson is the notion of “survivals,” which are the leftovers from previous stages of evolution that are carried into a higher level of culture, but, lacking their original context, are devoid of meaningful connections to their current culture; they are merely the unconnected behaviors—beliefs, practices, texts, symbols, etc.—from an irrational past. Quoting Conway (obviously, Moncure Daniel Conway), Stetson writes “Mr Conway remarks of this vampire belief that ‘it is, perhaps, the most formidable survival of demonic superstition now existing in the world.’”  The evolutionary theory implicitly endorsed by Stetson  provided a rationale—a “scientific” basis—for the establishment medical doctors, historians, and popular press to belittle the vampire practice. Most of these individuals practiced the establishment religion, Christianity, that was founded on the belief that a virgin gave birth to the son of a deity who subsequently was killed but returned to life. To commemorate his existence and enter into communion with him, adherents regularly consume portions of his body and blood, at least symbolically. One may wonder how, if held to the same standards of rationality, those beliefs would withstand the same sort of “scientific” scrutiny as the “primitive survivals” that included vampire practices. The issue, of course, is “civilization” not granting to “others” the same ability to contextualize their behaviors in relation to the various cultural systems available in every human culture. Depending on the situation, people may choose to be spiritual as well as scientific or empirical, to be literal or symbolic, to work or play, and so on.

Regarding the definition of a vampire, Stetson is a “lumper.” Others, such as Alan Dundes, are “splitters,” viewing the vampire as strictly an Eastern-European phenomenon. Stetson seems to embrace “the general belief that the vampire is a spirit which leaves its dead body in the grave to visit and torment the living,” a view that gives this type of malignant revenant a universal existence. His discussion of its universality is a meandering hodgepodge of narratives, some well-known, from around the world,  that finally settles on the following vague statement: “The character, purpose, and manner of the vampire manifestations depend, like its designation, upon environment and the plane of culture.”

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