This week at the bible study, we happened across a discussion of vampires. We were talking about being ‘driven by the Spirit.’ This means that our lives are determined by our relationship with God, first and foremost. So from there it is a short step to think about the nature of other relationships, like that with a vampire, whose relationship to us one of ‘blood sucking.’ (life draining). In the mythology it is possible to bring other powers to bear upon vampires. The traditional methods are sunlight, the cross, fresh water, silver garlic, a wooden stake through the heart and cutting off the head. You can see that in the face of a ‘parasitic’ person, the antidote is, in part, to bring Christian powers to bear: light, the cross, and baptismal water.
There exist vampire bats that do the same to cattle. So the idea of vampire bats is translated onto people and becomes a symbol of a certain type of relationship, and the antidote to it. To understand about ‘vampires’ is to gain some understanding of genuine human relationships. Although there do not ‘exist’ vampires, the mythology of them is helpful. Remember, a myth is s story that never was true, but always is true.
The same kind of symbolism occurs in the Greek myth of Psyche and Cupid. Cupid promises her that she will be happy, so long as she never looks at him or asks him any questions. Psyche inevitably brings a light into the room, and does ‘look at him.’ Clearly ‘bringing light to bear’ on a subject ( thinking about it, talking about it) is a way of dealing with ‘darkness’ in various forms. The Christian faith is full of ‘light’ symbolism. This is a powerful incentive. As we are determined by the Spirit of Christ, we are encouraged to bring ‘light’ to bear on the world. So although, like my conversation partner, I don’t ‘believe’ in vampires, investigating the mythology of vampires helps me to get a ‘handle’ on things.
In fact, this is what Sigmund Freud did in trying to understand people. Famously, he took the Oedipus myth and applied it to the relationships between young boys and their mothers and fathers, giving us the idea of the ‘Unresolved Oedipus complex.’
The same kinds of thought processes can be applied to other ‘realities’ that we ‘don’t believe in’. I have heard for example, a lovely definition of a zombie: something that cannot be integrated, or rejected. I know about many of those situations. They are not life giving, but I have to ‘put up with them’ because it is out of my power to either ‘integrate’ them or ‘reject’ them. The same might be said of ‘ghosts’. People who have ‘died’ in such a way as to prevent us from ‘letting go’ or ‘getting them back.’ So they hang around and ‘haunt’ us.
I could talk about daemon possession, and angels, and other ‘realities’ that are ‘unseen’ but to approach some of the figures in popular culture by asking about ‘how they function’ in human life is to begin to think ‘symbolically.’ This is really what I wanted to say something about. The Christian faith is full of ‘symbols’ and to use them and to let them have their influence on us, to be surrounded by them, and to use symbolic thinking to understand the world is one way of letting ourselves participate in the life of God.
Just yesterday I was talking to someone as part of the sermon during the Eucharist. We were talking about the idea of being ‘filled with the Spirit’, and how human beings are ‘vessels’ that can be filled with one thing or another. Then it came to me: I had recently investigated the origin of the term ‘chasuble’ (Priest’s outer garment like a poncho). It comes from the Latin ‘casula’ or ‘little house’. So then when a priest puts on his or her ‘little house’ it is as though they are then filling the house with Christ (white robe). My prayer at that time is that as I ‘fill’ the ‘casula’ so my ‘house’ will be filled with Christ. It’s a lovely image, and I wish that my imperfections did not spoil it as much as they do. None the less, something ‘clicked’ then, and will stay with me. This is just a small example of symbolic thinking, and how the symbols enrich thee life of a Christian.
The Church of England has replaced the idea of ‘the devil’ in the Baptism service. For the sake of ‘unchurched’ people, instead of saying “Do you reject the Devil and all rebellion against God?” the parents are asked “Do you turn away from sin?”, “Do you reject evil?”.
There is a great line in the Movie ‘The Usual Suspects’. “That’s his power…The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.”
Thinking that there are these realities don’t exist is a way of disabling ourselves, because the symbols and myths that we get about them, are the tools to shine light onto them, and so to disable them in part as ‘children of the light’.
So for me, it is a bit limiting that at the Reformation, all the imagery of the Church was removed, except the imagery of light and words. Maybe it was necessary to do this, but now that we have had the Reformation, and learned its lessons, I’m glad that there is in the Church a rich symbolism that we can apply to life.
I am reminded here of Frank’s funeral. At the grave side, we censed the grave with ‘holy smoke’, purifying it. We put holy water into the grave, as we did at the funeral, reminding us that death is the last ‘baptismal’ act that we will perform. We put earth into the ground to remind us that we are all ‘burying’ our friend, and that we all will return to the dust. We lit the paschal candle to remind us that the light of Christ prevails over darkness. All these symbols are a powerful combination of action, sensation and thought which come together in a complex to put is into the right place (that is, before God) in our grief.
So although it is possible to have an adult understanding of the realities of vampires, zombies ghosts, angels, daemon possession and the devil, these realities being ‘unseen’ and I do not ‘believe’ in them, because I ‘believe’ in God, Father Son and Spirit, I find it helpful to reflect on these unseen realities as a way of understanding the world and myself, and as a way of putting myself ‘before God who gives me life’ rather than ‘before someone who will suck the life out of me.’