A woodcut from 1512 of an attacking werewolf by the German painter and printmaker Lucas Cranach the Elder. Image: Gotha, Herzogliches Museum (Landesmuseum).
Our demons have their origins in our dread of death and the unknown.
Halloween, is a time for costuming ourselves and confronting those fears (and, most importantly, for outsized consumption of sweets).
For those of us celebrating Halloween disguised as vampires, werewolves and zombies, we owe a great debt to one of the world’s deadliest and most feared zoonotic viruses, rabies.
I have written about the fascinating microbial origins of some of our most enduring humanoid monsters in “The Bestial Virus: The Infectious Origins of Werewolves, Zombies & Vampires.”
An unrecognizable family member demonically possessed by some unfathomable but instantly recognizable animal instinct.
The frothing at the mouth, the lucid madness, the lost humanity: it’s all here and stems from our ancient, tragic history with rabies and canines.
To be human is a sacred and inviolable thing; rabies infection breaches that principal.
The animal bite and the transmission of disease represent a moment of transgressive contact between animal mouth and human flesh, the possibility of losing one’s humanity and regressing to an animal state.
Our horror stories capitalise on this lurid fear.
Rabies, that bestial virus, that grand transmogrifier, has terrified generations with its guarantee of “a slow warping of the mind and a pained, gruesome demise.”
Its inescapable death sentence and dreadful, transformative effects in the infected have seared itself in our public imaginations while infiltrating our literature and cinemas.