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Uncanny Archaeology of Halloween

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Author Topic: Uncanny Archaeology of Halloween  (Read 1872 times)
Vlad the Impaler
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Posts: 1791

« Reply #150 on: October 31, 2009, 01:37:36 am »

How do we know about what the people believed when they saw what appeared to be corpses gnawing through their shrouds? Are there textual sources?
Yes. The vampires thought to be chewing through their shrouds were sometimes referred to as the nachtzehrer (a German term meaning "night-waster"). The superstition was born among the Kashubes of north-central Poland and goes back to the 13th century in Bohemia and Moravia. It then spread around all Europe during the seventeenth century. The nachtzehrer is a dead body kept in a kind of liminal life by supernatural forces or Satan. A "scientific" overview of them was offered by Protestant theologian Philippus Rohr at the University of Lipsia in 1679, under the title Dissertatio historico-philosophica de masticatione mortuorum. The text describes some distinctive habits of this revenant: the nachtzehrer usually eats the cloth or funerary shroud in which it is wrapped, and its chewing causes noises similar to a pig while it is eating. As it chews through the shroud, it is just in a larval stage. When it becomes stronger, it can even leave its grave to become a real, "traditional" vampire.

Epidemic diseases, generally plague, were believed to be a result of the nachtzehrer's chewing. In a sort of inverse food chain, plague both decimated the population and supported the growth of vampires.
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