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The Religious Connotations of The Novel Dracula: Vlad Tepes, Antichrist, Vampire

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Bram Stoker´s Dracula holds several messages and symbols; the fear of the unknown and to the many destabilizing changes occurring in Great Britain, including the New Women. However, the religious language and symbology are quite relevant and impossible to omit. The antagonist is seen as a menace coming from an atavistic and mysterious region, yet he might be more. According to Stanko Jambrek:

The Antichrist is the name for a person, or group of persons, who are opposed to God and His purposes. The phrase can mean both “against Christ” and “instead of Christ.” The idea of the Antichrist as the greatest enemy of God and Messiah is present in the Bible in the OT and NT eras, in between them, and was often emphasized in church history.  Keeping this in mind, this essay will argue how Dracula might be the representation of an Antichrist, ready to subvert, oppose and corrupt Christianity.

Firstly, it is important to analyze the roots of our “Antichrist”. The name Dracula is not random. The first and most relevant source relates the character to Vlad Tepes (or Vlad Dracula). Dracula derives from his father´s nickname Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon), after joining the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order intended to protect Christianity from Ottoman Turks and other foes to the faith. Thus, Dracula would mean in Romanian “Vlad, Son of the Dragon”. However, the word changed its meaning in modern Romanian, and Dracul ended up becoming ‘devil’, which tainted the reputation of the already cruel prince of Walachia.

Furthermore, the reference to the dragon might be more than a simple translation. In chapter 18, Doctor Van Helsing points out how Dracula was an assistant to the Scholomance:

“The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due. In the records are such words as ‘stregoica’—witch, ‘ordog,’ and ‘pokol’—Satan and hell; and in one manuscript this very Dracula is spoken of as ‘wampyr,’ which we all understand too well.”

It is known that Bram Stoker researched on Emily Gerard’s The land before the forest, a book that deals with Transylvanian superstitions. About the Scholomance, Gerard writes: As I am on the subject of thunder-storms, I may as well here mention the schoolmate, or school, supposed to exist somewhere in the heart of the mountains, and where the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all magic spells are taught by the devil in person. Only ten scholars are admitted at a time, and when the course of learning has expired, and nine of them are released to return to their homes, the tenth scholar is detained by the devil as payment, and, mounted upon an ismeju, or dragon, becomes henceforward the devil’s aide-de-camp and assists him in “making the weather”—that is, preparing the thunder-bolts. 

One way or another, the word Dracula is overshadowed by unholy connotations, just as the character itself. Another link with the Count and the Antichrist can be found in the Bible:

And I heard a loud voice out of the sanctuary say to the seven angels: “Go and pour out the seven bowls of the anger of God on the earth.”  The first one went off and poured out his bowl on the earth. And a hurtful and malignant ulcer afflicted the people who had the mark of the wild beast and who were worshipping its image. 

In the book of Revelations, two beasts are mentioned: one from the abyss, which would be the Antichrist, and one from the sea. As it is said, the beast left a mark over its followers (the number of the beast: 666). Dracula may not leave a number, but he does leave a mark over those afflicted by his venom: two punctures on their necks, which only disappear once they become undead. Once they become vampires, they gain some independence and power to respond— as it is seen when the vampire women act with despondence towards the Count— opposite to when they have the punctures or are mortals under Dracula´s will (the control over Lucy or Renfield, for example).

The Eucharist is one of the central pillars of Christianity: it is the communion with Jesus Christ by eating the wafer (and in some cases drinking wine as well), symbolizing his body and blood. When Dracula enters Mina´s room and bites her, he also makes her drink his blood, infecting her with the curse of the vampire; this scene could be seen as an inverse communion. Just as after communing a Catholic is clear of sin, after Mina´s drinking of Dracula´s blood she becomes “unclean”, as the mark left by the wafer on her forehead proves. The blood bond created unwillingly between them disgraces Mina to the eyes of God as those spoiled with the mark of the beast.

Christianity becomes the most effective barrier against darkness; a darkness that could be interpreted as the changes that were menacing the empire and the values held up to that moment. Indeed, all dangerous deviations from the faith are associated to Dracula, as Elizabeth Sanders points out: For example, Mina’s occasional references to the “new woman” point to her consciousness of the changing Religion & Literature moral landscape for her gender, while Dr. Seward faces a violent patient (Renfield) who uses biblical phrases to justify his actions, making Seward reflect on the dangerous possibilities of religion when distorted by “human vanity”. 

Vampire´s disgust for holy symbols becomes evident in how they are weapons against them; from a crucifix to the wafer, all catholic emblems ward them off and can even hurt them. The vampire´s facade of sensuality and coldness fades completely within proximity to any of these objects. Ironically enough, it is in the end the stake—a pagan superstition—that fully destroys this modern Antichrist. Despite prayers and religious language, most of the characters are not catholic, yet they are ready to embrace Catholic symbols, once aware of their effectiveness, as Sanders mentions: “Stoker’s text presents these objects as instruments or tools for human endeavors instead of vehicles for a deeper connection with God”. Actually, even this conveying of superstition, religion and science could be associated with the Antichrist, since these elements reveal Dracula as a foe with weak points, just as the Bible declares the Antichrist corrupts faith by tricks (therefore, he is not omnipotent).

Finally, the biblical Antichrist will be defeated by Jesus Christ in His second coming. The end of the novel has a biblical echo in Van Helsing´s words: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”. It is interesting how in Dracula the paraphrasis of this passage refers to Mina: she does sacrifice to save the patriarchy and society from the menace of the New Woman, yet she cannot be the one who slays the Antichrist. The men surrounding her, protect her and act as the Christ from the second coming, the one who defeats the Antichrist—in this version, revealing his weaknesses and vanquishing him with faith, superstition, and knowledge—, while Mina would be closer to the passive, pure image of the Lamb of God, willing to die and face a hellish experience to save them all.

To conclude, the figure of Dracula could be associated to the Antichrist, from his demonic origins and his Undead habits to the elements that menace him. The mixture between faith, superstition, and science sets the novel in a climate of doubt and anxiety; what is more, Catholicism is not treated with complete reverence, but its symbols become tools as valid as garlic flowers or a wooden stake.

Dracula represents much more than religious changes occurring in the Nineteenth century: it is the incarnation of loss values, of the “disease” called the New Woman and the imminent twilight of the British Empire. Therefore, the religious connotations of the novel are a plea to return to traditional values, without disregarding scientific knowledge and things unknown to us, simple mortals.

Bibliography

  1. Stoker, B. Dracula. Seattle: Amazon Classics, 2017.
  2. Gerard, E. The land before the forest: facts, figures and fancies from Transylvannia. Project Gutenberg, 16 May 2018. URL: www.gutenberg.org/files/57168/57168-h/57168-h.htm. (accessed December 28, 2018).
  3. Starrs, B. “Keeping the faith: Catholicism in Dracula and its adaptations”. Journal of Dracula studies, 6 (2004): 1-4. URL: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/5244/1/5244_1.pdf (accessed December 26, 2018).
  4. Jambrek, S. “The teaching of Christ and the Antichrist in the thought of Matthias Flacius Illyricus”. Evangelical Journal of Theology, Vol. IX, no. 2 (2015): 221-240. URL: https://hrcak.srce.hr/index.php?show=clanak&id_clanak_jezik=219696. (accessed December 26, 2018).
  5. Pallardy, R. “Vlad the Impaler.” Encyclopædia Britannica. URL: www.britannica.com/biography/Vlad-the-Impaler. (accessed January 2, 2019).
  6. Sanders, E. “An up-to-date religion: the challenges and constructions of belief in Dracula”. Religion and Literature, Vol. 47, no. 3, 7 (2015): 77-98.

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The Religious Connotations of the Novel Dracula: Vlad Tepes, Antichrist, Vampire. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-religious-connotations-of-the-novel-dracula-vlad-tepes-antichrist-vampire/
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The Religious Connotations of the Novel Dracula: Vlad Tepes, Antichrist, Vampire. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-religious-connotations-of-the-novel-dracula-vlad-tepes-antichrist-vampire/> [Accessed 16 Aug. 2022].
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