Creatures of the Night: In Search of Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves and Demons
Author: Gregory L. Reese
Publisher: I.B. Tauris & Co.
Price: $17.00 (Paper)
The author of this volume, Dr. Gregory Reese, is an old hand at explaining the unusual and the paranormal. Reese, who has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, is the author, previously, of “Weird Science and Bizarre Beliefs,” “UFO Religion: Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Cultures” and, perhaps most intriguing of all, “Elvis Religion: The Cult of the King.”
By comparison, much of the material in this book seems downright familiar. In five chapters, Reese discusses ghosts, vampires, wolves and werewolves, demons and exorcism and finally, the devil and Satan worship.
In each chapter Reese gives a history of the subject, discusses its various manifestations in books, movies, television shows and so on, and offers some thoughts on what it all might mean, at a psycho-sociological level.
He begins by explaining that terror, the best kind, not regular human fear, comes from the unknown, the awesome and unknowable. This terror may be related to faith, and these terrifying creatures may have symbolic religious significance.
He treats ghosts first and doesn’t have to go far. In his home town of Montevallo there are several, most famously the ghost of Condie Cunningham who in 1908 burned to death in her dormitory, and still haunts it. Reese discusses Swedenborg and the many attempts to contact the other world, ghosts stories, like “The Turn of the Screw,” and movies, like “The Haunting of Hill House.”
He concludes our enduring fascination with ghosts may just represent our awe and fear of own mortality. There must be more.
These days we see a lot of vampires; no longer isolated and musty, these are young, sexy, well-dressed attractive vampires, so many Americans are steeped in vampire lore. Reese does a history, Count Dracula, etc., but also some taxonomy. The most interesting category was psychic vampires, those that suck not blood, but energy from their victims. I thought about those I have known.
Vampires now, largely thanks to Anne Rice, actually have clubs, meetings,rules.
“Feeding should occur between consenting adults” is one. A good one, I’d say.
With vampires as with ghosts the emotional hook seems our unwillingness as mortals ever to call it a day.
Werewolves and other transformations like Jekyll and Hyde pose a different issue. Here Reese suggests, very sensibly, that what we fear is not so much our end, but the potential for evil we think might be already in us, what we are capable of. Are we all secret predators? As Pogo would agree, we have met the monsters and they are us.
A sidenote: an elder statesman of the werewolf community, Wolf VanZandt, Reese tells us, lives in Selma, and although wolves are known for being “lone” there is an annual Southeastern Howl.
The chapter on demons and exorcism is different. The previous three, ghosts, vampires and werewolves, all may be thought of in psychological terms as perhaps already being in us. Demons are OTHER, a pure evil, and those are truly terrifying.
Reese ends with a section on Satan, black magic devil worship. He discusses the charges brought against Masonry and the Knights Templar as Satanic, talks about “Rosemary’s Baby” and other popular depictions of devils among us, and attends a quasi-serious Black Mass at the end of which, playfully, the Host is devil’s food cake.