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January 25, 2003

Blood culture: The heretic, vampire and the Jew

A lucid article that develops the connection between vampire myths, blood, and anti-semitism throughout the ages.
The vampire is now an archetypal figure, shrouded in cliché, but as a folk-belief one of its earliest incarnations was within Hebrew tales of Lilith and other demons. Ironically, it was an image which was to be turned against Judaism by the Christians of the middle ages, and used as a cipher for many monstrous desires and fears ever since.

"If any man whosoever of the house of Israel... eat blood, I will set my face against his soul, and will cut him off from among his people.
Because the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you, that you may make atonement with it upon the altar of your souls."
"Only beware of this, that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is for the soul. And therefore thou must not eat the soul with the flesh:
But thou shalt pour it on the earth as water." [1]

Long before the workings of the circulatory system were discovered, many of the world's cultures accorded blood mystical properties, implying a special status, and an association with ritual states of pollution or defilement. The quotation from Leviticus and Deuteronomy is part of the long series of regulatory laws given out to the nomadic Jews by Moses. With the inclusion of the Torah in the Christian Bible and as a result of the Jewish Diaspora, such ideas passed into the popular imagination and thus the cultural products of Europe.

Blood in Leviticus is sacred to God, humanity may not touch it and remain unpolluted; in Christian ritual, all the Church partakes of God's own sacred blood: it is seen by both as a holy substance imbued with miraculous power, forming the highest and best sacrificial offering. In tales of the saints, this power is reiterated ceaselessly. Blood, simply by issuing from and thus transgressing the margins of the body, demonstrates a disturbing fluidity.