The Virtue Of Those Common Flowers

[A pendant to this post.]

Dracula

“That night we were just in time. One more so small child was missing, and we find it, thank God, unharmed amongst the graves. Yesterday I came here before sundown, for at sundown the Un-Dead can move. I waited here all the night till the sun rose, but I saw nothing. It was most probable that it was because I had laid over the clamps of those doors garlic, which the Un-Dead cannot bear, and other things which they shun.1

We resumed our places, and Dr. Van Helsing went on with a sort of cheerfulness which showed that the serious work had begun. It was to be taken as gravely, and in as businesslike a way, as any other transaction of life:—

“Well, you know what we have to contend against; but we, too, are not without strength. We have on our side power of combination—a power denied to the vampire kind; we have sources of science; we are free to act and think; and the hours of the day and the night are ours equally. In fact, so far as our powers extend, they are unfettered, and we are free to use them. We have self-devotion in a cause, and an end to achieve which is not a selfish one. These things are much.

“Now let us see how far the general powers arrayed against us are restrict, and how the individual cannot. In fine, let us consider the limitations of the vampire in general, and of this one in particular.

“All we have to go upon are traditions and superstitions. These do not at the first appear much, when the matter is one of life and death—nay of more than either life or death. Yet must we be satisfied; in the first place because we have to be—no other means is at our control—and secondly, because, after all, these things—tradition and superstition—are everything. Does not the belief in vampires rest for others—though not, alas! for us—on them? A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility, in the midst of our scientific, sceptical, matter-of-fact nineteenth century? We even scouted a belief that we saw justified under our very eyes. Take it, then, that the vampire, and the belief in his limitations and his cure, rest for the moment on the same base. For, let me tell you, he is known everywhere that men have been. In old Greece, in old Rome; he flourish in Germany all over, in France, in India, even in the Chernosese; and in China, so far from us in all ways, there even is he, and the peoples fear him at this day. He have follow the wake of the berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar. So far, then, we have all we may act upon; and let me tell you that very much of the beliefs are justified by what we have seen in our own so unhappy experience. The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time; he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living. Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty. But he cannot flourish without this diet; he eat not as others. … It is said, too, that he can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide. Then there are things which so afflict him that he has no power, as the garlic that we know of; and as for things sacred, as this symbol, my crucifix, that was amongst us even now when we resolve, to them he is nothing, but in their presence he take his place far off and silent with respect. There are others, too, which I shall tell you of, lest in our seeking we may need them. The branch of wild rose on his coffin keep him that he move not from it; a sacred bullet fired into the coffin kill him so that he be true dead; and as for the stake through him, we know already of its peace; or the cut-off head that giveth rest. We have seen it with our eyes.2

“My friends, we are going into a terrible danger, and we need arms of many kinds. Our enemy is not merely spiritual. Remember that he has the strength of twenty men, and that, though our necks or our windpipes are of the common kind—and therefore breakable or crushable—his are not amenable to mere strength. A stronger man, or a body of men more strong in all than him, can at certain times hold him; but they cannot hurt him as we can be hurt by him. We must, therefore, guard ourselves from his touch. Keep this near your heart”—as he spoke he lifted a little silver crucifix and held it out to me, I being nearest to him—“put these flowers round your neck”—here he handed to me a wreath of withered garlic blossoms—“for other enemies more mundane, this revolver and this knife; …3

NetHack

Undead and garlic

All undead dislike garlic, not only V vampires . Garlic has the following effects:

  • If you polymorph into an undead monster, then eating garlic will make you “feel incredibly sick” and cause you to vomit.
  • If you wield a clove of garlic, and use it to attack undead, it will cause them to flee for a moment. The same should happen if you throw garlic at them, but it must hit.
  • No undead except ghosts and shades will enter a square with a clove of garlic on it.
  • Undead pets will not eat garlic. Currently there are no herbivorous or omnivorous undead who might have eaten garlic in any case.4

Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening – Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association

Vampires are feared everywhere, but the Balkan region has been especially haunted. Garlic has been regarded as an effective prophylactic against vampires. We wanted to explore this alleged effect experimentally. Owing to the lack of vampires, we used leeches instead. In strictly standardized research surroundings, the leeches were to attach themselves to either a hand smeared with garlic or to a clean hand. The garlic-smeared hand was preferred in two out of three cases (95% confidence interval 50.4% to 80.4%). When they preferred the garlic the leeches used only 14.9 seconds to attach themselves, compared with 44.9 seconds when going to the non-garlic hand (p < 0.05). The traditional belief that garlic has prophylactic properties is probably wrong. The reverse may in fact be true. This study indicates that garlic possibly attracts vampires. Therefore to avoid a Balkan-like development in Norway, restrictions on the use of garlic should be considered.5)

On the morning of this past Isru Hag Tishah Be’Av, my friend M.W. and I exchanged queries that had been posed to us on the nexus between prayer and the learning of Torah on Tishah Be’Av. He had been asked the fairly well discussed question of Psalms,6 while I had gotten the more obscure one of the שש זכירות.‎7 I showed him the relevant discussions in the נטעי גבריאל, and this, along with my prior references to the work in the context of other Nine Days’ discussions (including the shaving of legs and eyebrows8), prompted his observation of my apparent fondness for the work.

“Well,” I responded, “while the truth is that there are certainly other works that one can turn to for these sorts of questions, the נטעי גבריאל is likely unique in being a reliable resource for potentially valuable and useful information on questions such as Judaism’s stance on the power of garlic to ward off the undead.9

The primary Jewish reference to the belief appears in the eighteenth century Kabbalistic-ethical work שער המלך:

והנה מנהג ישראל שיהיה אצל כל אחד שום כשהולכין לבית הקברות ומשליכין שם על הקברים כל מנהג ישראל תורה היא

ויש ליתן טעם כי האריז”ל כתב שאין לילך על הקברות מחמת שמתלווים ומתדבקים אליו החיצונים: בשאר ימות השנה אין אדם הולך בלא מצוה ובלא תורה אם אינו לומד תורה מהרהר בדברי תורה בזה מבריח החיצונים שלא יתלוו אליו ובתשעה באב שהוא הולך ערום ויחף בלי מצות ובלי תורה מחמת האבילות שאסור להרהר בדברי תורה ויש חשש שלא יתלוו אליו ח”ו וסגולה היא ומרגלא בפומי דאנשי שהשום דהיינו ריח השום הוא גם כן מבריח החיצונים לכן נוהגין מנהג זה

והא שמשליכין שם על הקברים שיהא לסימן להנפשות המרחפים על הקברים ולפעמים המה בפמליא של מעלה כמו שמצינו במסכת ברכות במעשה דשמואל שאזל לחצר מות ואבוהו דשמואל היה נפשו בעת הזאת בפמליא של מעלה לכן משליכין שם השום כדי שיהא לסימן שיכירו הנפשות שהיו שם החיים לבקש לבל יהיו כמתים וכאשר יראו המתים שום היתומים שפחתו והותירו מעט מהרבה יבקשו רחמים עליהם

וגם שום הוא לשון שום ושממון ועד מתי יהיה השום והשמ[מ]ון בארצינו10

A century later, R. Avraham Bik tell us that throwing garlic on the graves was customary in Poland. We have seen that the שער המלך is moderately defensive about the custom (feeling it necessary to remind us that “every custom of Israel is Torah”); R. Bik admits that “gedolim mocked it”, although he, too, defends it, albeit without reference to its alleged proof against the undead:

וזה דרכי בספרי הזה. לרמוז בכתובים דברי חכמים במדרש והלכה וגם מנהגי ישראל כי המה תורה ואין להלעיג עליהם …

וגם מנהג של מדינות פולין שזורקים שומים על הקברות בימים שמקיפים אותם אשר גדולים שחקו עליו לפי דעתי נבנה על דברי חז”ל בשבת קנ”ב שמי שאין לו קנאה אין עצמותיו מרקיבים ובשום אמרו בבבא קמא פב. שמכניס אהבה ומוציא קנאה כי כן ירמזו שהתופס במדה זו בקבר יצליח:11

R. Bik was sufficiently proud of his justification that he reportedly presented it to Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson when they visited a cemetery together one Tishah Be’Av. [Unfortunately, we are not told of R. Nathanson’s reaction, or his opinion on the custom in general.]:

ואמר לי [ר’ ביק] .. בחורף תרנ”ה, שאמר זאת להגאון ר’ יוסף שאול ז”ל בעת הלך עמו בתשעה באב על בית הקברות.12

  1. Dracula, Chapter XVI – link. []
  2. Ibid., Chapter XVIII – link. []
  3. Ibid., Chapter XIX – link. []
  4. Nethack Wiki contributors, ‘Clove of garlic’, Nethack Wiki, [accessed 30 September 2013]. []
  5. Sandvik H, Baerheim A, Does garlic protect against vampires? An experimental study, in Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen, 1994 Dec 10;114(30):3583-6 – link (h/t: io9). []
  6. נטעי גבריאל, הלכות בין המצרים, חלק ב’ פרק ע”ה סעיף כ”ב – קשר []
  7. שם פרק ס”ב סעיף ד’ – קשר []
  8. שם פרק י”ט סעיף ו’ והערה י’ – קשר []
  9. שם פרק פ’ הערה א’ ד”ה ובספר שער המלך – קשר []
  10. שער המלך (ר’ מרדכי בן שמואל, אב”ד ווייעלקאטש: גרודנו ה’תקע”ו) שער ד’ ראש חודש ותשעה באב פרק י’ שער המלך עמוד קיב: ד”ה הרי לפי זה – קשר []
  11. בכורי אביב (ביק: לבוב ה’תרל”ג) הקדמת המחבר – קשר []
  12. שו”ת שיח יצחק או”ח סימן קמ”ט []
This entry was posted in folklore, literature, theology and philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Virtue Of Those Common Flowers

  1. Love the nethack reference!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *