Ex Opere Operato, or, On Repelling Vampires

A reader with the Celtic name of Deiseach writes:

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with that [nb: the concept that faith-based weapons depend on the faith of the wielder], possibly because I seem to incline to the Orthodox view on this, rather than the formal Catholic view (but I yield in filial obedience to Holy Mother Church and accept her teachings).

My problem with this is that it is too easily turned around to “Any symbol, if believed in fervently enough, will do” – as in an episode of Doctor Who with the Seventh Doctor and the Haemovores (that series’ version of vampires) who were repulsed by a Soviet soldier’s Red Star cap badge (he being a fervent believer in the ideals of the USSR and Mother Russia). Now, that was a very touching scene, but it (and similar ones in novels and movies and TV shows) enables the reduction of the crucifix or the Host (and often they have not the faintest clue what the Host is or means) to merely ‘it works because you believe in it and it just as well be a baseball trading card if you believed in it’. That is, it makes the faith, and not what is believed in, the important element. So I would prefer (and this is only personal preference) that a crucifix would turn aside a vampire or demon no matter who grabs it up, and that a copy of “The Origin of Species” would not do the same. And that a crucifix will work on a vampire out of any tradition, Christian or pagan. YMMV on whether you are writing a world where Buddhist red threads, or Taoist spells, are equally effective in their traditions.

The kind of attitude that is dismissive about “Pshaw, Christianity was only invented three hundred years ago but our Mystic Native Pagan Traditions have been around since the creation of the world and actually really work because they’re true”.

On the other hand, I would fully expect sacramental to work regardless of who used them. The most Dawkinsesque atheist who grabbed a bottle of holy water and splashed it on an attacking vampire should have it reduce the monster to a bubbling, shrieking, melting mess without any beating around the bush about “Ah, but do you really believe in it?”

And when it comes to the sacraments themselves, e.g. the Blessed Sacrament, I think even P.Z. Myers could flee for protection to the tabernacle even after all his shenanigans.

My comment: this is an issue on which I have spent far too much time meditating, rather doing things like going outside and getting some exercise doing something useful for mankind. Allow me to quote myself.

“Foster, Carry Ilya’s crucifix to protect yourself and those with you. You will be safe. Abanshaddi, go with them so the headless giant can talk and listen. The Nosferatu cannot approach you.”

Foster said, “Abanshaddi might be safe, but I won’t be! What good will the crucifix do me? I do not worship the White Christ.”

I said, “Hold up. And you call yourself a Boy Scout? What about being reverent?”

“I am reverent!” he said. “Toward Odin.” Then he turned back to Parthenope and said, “The crucifix will not repel vampires for me: you have to have faith for that to work.”

Parthenope raised an eyebrow. “Indeed? Where did you learn this faulty lore?”

“Um… a movie called Fright Night.” he said.

“The moviemakers were in the pay of the blood-quaffers, then.” She said.

Foster looked offended. “But it starred Roddy McDowall!”

“Only if the one you call the White Christ had never lived on earth nor died on the cross would that foolish idea be so. Or do you think it is your own name, your own power, that commands the unclean spirits? If so, then baptisms and marriages and all sacraments blessed by sinful bishops would be invalid: which is absurd.”

I said, “But in D&D, clerics of any alignment can turn undead, with a holy symbol of their god or goddess. It’s pretty generic.”

Foster and Parthenope both looked at me like I was an idiot.

“Sorry,” I said, shrugging. “Me Technomancer. Show me a gun. I know the difference between a clip and a magazine.”

Let me explain this word-salad. This is a scene from my book SOMEWHITHER. Let me say a word so you can follow who is who.


Our hero is young Ilya (who, despite the name, is Roman Catholic, not Russian Orthodox) who has been kept in ignorance his whole life about his father’s real job as an inter-dimensional silver-bullet-uzis-in-both-fists-and-knife-in-teeth style vampire-slayer and werewolf-hunter, crusader, high-tech knight, warrior-missionary with kung-fu action grip, and all-around holy badass for the Templar Knights, who still exist in secret, and reports to the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in the Vatican.

Backstory: The Templars found and used the Ark of the Covenant not just to melt Nazi faces but to open up inter-dimensional portals to parallel timelines, only to find an older and stronger organization discovered the secret of paratime travel since the bronze age. Oops.

Ilya is attempting to protect the Mad Scientist’s beautiful daughter when he accidentally falls through a portal in the continuum and into an evil parallel timeline. Hilarity ensues.

(Yes, I made the Inquisition the good guys in my novel. If Anne Rice can make vampires her good guys, why not?)

And, no, the Ark in my version is not locked in an American warehouse. That would be absurd and unbelievable, whereas this story is utterly realistic.

And by ‘utterly realistic’, I mean is utterly and really just like what would happen if truck full of pro-Catholic apologetic tracts, rammed into a warehouse full of pulp magazines, Batman comics, and old episodes of MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., and a novel was flung from the resulting explosion into low Earth orbit, was exposed to space radiation, mutated, and fell to earth in the Arctic, only to be unearthed by unwary scientists who are murdered one by one.

Or if the poet and magician Virgil saw the movie VAN HELSING, went mad, and decided to write an episode of the Highlander-meets-Buffy TV show. That is what I mean by utterly realistic. It is as realistic as a Dan Brown novel, in other words.

Foster Hidden is the best friend and bowhunting partner of Ilya. Both are Boy Scouts in Troop Two from Tillimook, Oregon: and in the scene just before this, stumbling across Foster in the Darkest Tower of the land of Ur, Ilya only then learned Foster is not the American boy he always thought he was: Foster is actually a student of the Dark Elves from the world where Albrecht never lost the One Ring nor the Tarnhelm, and Foster has learned the art of clouding men’s minds to walk unseen among them. Foster had been living on earth in disguise, spying on our hero.

The mermaid Parthenope is speaking. She is from a world where the flood waters of the Deluge have not yet receded. Although young, she is a Mara Hari the sub-aquatic espionage service, and knows more than the rest of the character what the heck is going on. She had been living on Earth, disguised by magic as a surface dweller, spying on our hero.

Abanshaddi is from a parallel time line where the miracle of the fall of the tower of Babel never happened, so she has the power to speak and understand all languages, and acts as the translator for the group.

Our world is one in which the miracles and ministry of Saint Peter and Saint Paul founded a Church in Rome, the city of sin, as unlikely as that sounds, and eventually converted an emperor named Constantine. In this timeline, exorcism was practiced by the Catholics in sufficient number to overthrow the diabolical Gods of Olympus, and quell witchcraft and magic to the point where, odd as that sounds, there are actually people alive on Earth who do not think such things exist! Crazy, huh? The absence of magic allowed for the development of technology, which people from other timelines think is the particular form of magic studied and practiced on our world: and the word they use for someone with firearms and electric flashlights, low-light goggles and all that jazz is ‘technomancer.’

In the scene above,  Parthenope is telling Foster Hidden to take Ilya’s crucifix (which contains the fingerbone of Saint Demetrius of Sermium) and protect the party during a short side-mission.

My personal opinion on the matter? Glad you asked:

The Catholic teaching is that the efficacy of the sacrament is a result, not of the holiness of a priest or minister, but rather of Christ Himself, who is the Author of each sacrament.

With regard to sacramentals (not the same thing as a sacrament: Christ instituted the sacraments and the church instituted and can abolish sacramentals) their efficacy is derived from the prayer and good deeds of the Church as well as the disposition of the beleiver.

The difference is: A sacrament imparts grace in the virtue of the rite itself, while the grace of sacramentals depends on the dispositions of the recipient and the intercession of the church. Some sacramentals are objects such as holy water, scapulars, medals, rosaries. Others are actions such as blessings and exorcisms.

I leave it as an open question to the reader whether driving back a vampire with a crucifix is a sacramental or a sacrament.

I do not believe there has been an official word from the Vatican on that point, but I believe Saint Ozymandias of Blatherskate holds that while crucifixes repel vampires, it is the Jewish star, also called the Seal of Solomon, which can imprison Genii, but that a golem can be deactivated by anyone who strikes out the proper letter on its brow, not just a Cohen or Rabbi.

Werewolf? Silver bullets. They are servants of the great wolf Monogarm, and silver is apotropaic to them, being a lunar metal.

Mummies? You need to read the BOOK OF COMING FORTH BY DAY, which the vulgar call THE BOOK OF THE DEAD, particularly the Greater Invocation of Isis in the Descending Node. Also, your beautiful daughter will fall in love with him, because she is the reincarnation of Ankh-es-en-amon.  You should have thought of that before you became a meddling British archeologist.

Boris Karloff and Zita Johann in 'The Mummy'

Phantom of the Opera? Good luck with that. He might not have any preternatural powers, but he is nearly impossible to kill. It is like fighting Batman. Hold your forearm always near your neck so that he cannot drop a loop of strangle-wire around it. Also, your hot girlfriend with the great singing voice is in love with him.


Creature of the Black Lagoon? Like Black Manta, everyone thinks this is the weak link in the Legion of Doom, and that you can take care of this Bad Boy with some scuba gear and a speargun. Actually, the Gill-man is a Deep One, and serves some dank Howardian or Lovecraftian creature. He survived being shot with all those bullets, surface dweller. Your hot girlfriend might not be in love with him, but he sure likes her.

june adams

Aliens? It depends: but the general rule is that only science can beat science. The smart kind of alien, the ones with big heads from dying planets, you just sneeze on, they catch a headcold and die. Or you throw a glass of water on them, which is frankly kind of stupid. The dumb kind with molecular acid for blood? Nuke the site from orbit. It is the only way to be sure.