NovelsThe Flames of Prague
The Cultural Origins and Evolution of the Canichmehah
The Canichmehah tend to put a high emphasis on study and education. Like modern people, they are curious about how their bodies function, where they came from, and how their culture evolved. Doctors and scientists among them have studied their DNA and the exact process by which they become vampires. Others, like historians/anthropologists Isolda Warwick and Byron Tidwell, look at their people's history and cultural traditions to figure out where vampire came from in the context of human evolution.
The Cultural Origins and Evolution of the Canichmehah
Our people’s culture bears a strong resemblance to the culture of the ancient Israelites, but it’s clear that we are not direct descendants of the Hebrew people, but rather a later attachment to their culture. But when and how did this attachment take place, and can it point to our own cultural origins? And can we see, by studying our past, where our future lies?
It is the prevailing theory that homo sapiens originated in Africa and migrated out some 55,000-60,000 years ago. There is no evidence that our people existed as a separate species prior to this time, so, in all likelihood, we evolved after homo sapiens left Africa.
Historically, our people have not had any presence in Asia, North or South America, or Africa. Our migration into Europe was fairly late, and the bulk of it occurred simultaneously with the Diaspora (later, we followed other Europeans to the New World). This would seem to indicate that our evolution occurred well after the dispersal of humans to those parts of the world—otherwise, we would have dispersed with them. It also indicates that we originated somewhere in the Middle East.
It is my theory that we evolved somewhere in the Mesopotamia area. This area contained a large number of humans, and was the first place in the world to develop cities as we know them—creating the perfect breeding ground for viruses, one of which ultimately lead to us.
Further evidence supports this hypothesis. Firstly, and most obviously, is our written language. Our writing is very similar, stylistically, to cuneiform, which is the oldest-known form of writing, and originates in the Fertile Crescent. That it bears no resemblance to Hebrew—and appears to be older than Hebrew—indicates that we had a written language well before we became attached to the Israelites. Our spoken language, likewise, bears little resemblance to Hebrew. Wherever we actually developed, it was not within close proximity to the Israelites.
We also have certain cultural differences which markedly set us apart from the Hebrew people. One of the most obvious is the fact that we cremate our dead, which was, and still is, forbidden to Jews. We may have adopted this habit from the culture in which we were originally enmeshed, but it is also possible that we developed it independently, as a way to hide our true identity from the humans we dwelled amongst; certainly that would seem to be the reason why the practice continued, even after we attached ourselves closely with the Israelites, and assumed a large number of their people into our ranks. Blood-drinking creatures have been feared in human society since time immemorial, and we have always run the risk that we will be discovered by a group of humans large enough to destroy us completely.
Another discrepancy between our culture and that of the Jews is the use of the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the Jewish calendar, these ten days are used for personal reflection, atonement, and general religious activities. Among us, however, this is used as a gathering time, with the opening of our Convening traditionally occurring on Rosh Hashanah, and closing before sunset prior to Yom Kippur.
There have been many theories for why we have group meetings and activities—which sets a tone almost exactly the opposite of the Jewish observance—during this period. Some have said we set the Convening to coincide with the new year to allow us to set the tone for our year, and to implement laws which go into effect immediately—although this may indicate an original lack of understanding, on our part, of the purpose of the Days of Awe. Some have even taken this a step further, and have said it’s a subtle reminder to us that we are not truly religiously observant people, and at the time when the Jewish people are being the most religiously observant, we turn to practical matters. But if this were true, we would not end the Convening on or before the afternoon of the 9th of Tishri; this implies that the Convening is ended so that people may observe the religious holiday. And since the Diaspora, the Convening has opened late in the evening, after Rosh Hashanah services are generally over—again, allowing the observant Jews among us to celebrate the holiday.
Others have theorized that, because our culture emphasizes our people as a whole, not the individual, it only follows that, on days which are about the actions of individuals in Jewish society, we would put the emphasis on our people. Some have even said that the Convening reflects a group atonement, because what is more righteous than attempting to correct social problems with laws, and bringing the guilty to justice? (Note: prior to 1922, all criminal trials were held at the Convening—unlike today, when they take place shortly after the crime is committed.)
It must be remembered that many of our people lived a nomadic lifestyle until about the time of the Roman occupation of Judea. A Convening at the time of the High Holidays was convenient, because Jews among us would want to come to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the Temple; it killed two birds with one stone. Not to mention, one of the major functions of the Days of Awe was to make apologies and correct any wrongs that had committed against others; holding the Convening during this period allowed all of our people—who had limited contact with others outside their tribal-family groups—to gather in one place, making atonement easier.
My favorite theory, however, is the idea that the Convening is set just before Yom Kippur because only most people’s respect for, and observance of, Yom Kippur could cause the Convening to end; otherwise, an excuse might be found to keep it going indefinitely. The corollary theory is that we hold Convenings just prior to Yom Kippur so we can leave the Convening, and immediately go atone for all the sins we committed during the Convening. Both of these theories obviously originated after the Convening was already a well-established fact, but they are amusing (and accurate!) nonetheless.
Another historical difference was the treatment of slaves. According to Israelite law, male slaves were freed (at least in theory) after six years of service. We, on the other hand, never freed any of our human slaves. In fact, once a human was bitten, he or she became Yaechahre (literally, “ours”) and was, legally, considered the property of the entire Canichmeh people. Because humans were such a precious commodity for us, it became law that no Yaechahre could be freed, sold, or traded outside of our people; they could be passed from group to group, but never taken out of slavery. The only exception to this rule was that the slave could be turned, thus completely absorbing him or her into our number—strengthening, rather than weakening, our people.
A curious and little-known fact from this period, is that we marked our slaves with a seal (usually as a necklace), which they were to wear at all times. This evolved, with little alteration, into the tokens Yaechahre still wear to this day. Among other peoples in the Middle East, slaves were frequently marked by tattoos, scars, brandings, piercings, or even outright body mutilation. Even in ancient Jewish law, any male slave who accepted a lifetime of servitude, was pierced through the ear as a mark of his slavery. That we bucked the trend, and did not permanently mark our Yaechahre in any way, indicates that we were against the idea of physically harming humans well before it became law. It is also possible that we did not physically mark our slaves because all had the potential to become Canichmeh, and as no Canichmeh could ever be held as a slave, it would have been wrong to mark a human in a way which might have carried into their Canichmeh life; we would never want to imply that one of ours was a slave.
Besides aligning our calendar with the Jewish calendar, there are a number of similarities between our people and the Jewish people. The most notable is the fact that we are a monotheistic people. While we have no laws governing the religious beliefs of our people—no code of faith which we have to swear to or live by—all of our writings indicate that we are a monotheistic people. There is only one God mentioned—which is clearly the God of the Israelites—and our propensity, in ancient times, to increase our numbers (both Yaechahre and Canichmeh) through the addition of Israelite people, indicates that we were very interested in maintaining that religious identity.
Also, prior to our moving into Europe during the Diaspora, it is said that almost no male among us—either human or Canichmeh—was uncircumcised, and the Archives record that non-Jewish men, who were taken as slaves, were almost always circumcised as part of their inclusion into the Yaechahre. For a people who otherwise never marked the body of a slave, this indicates that most felt a religious need to do so (it being Jewish law that slaves should also live as Jews, including being circumcised).
As circumcision cannot be performed on us, our ancient male population must have been made up primarily of born-Jewish men and turned Yaechahre—although it’s also possible that, prior to turning anyone who was not already circumcised, circumcision was performed and allowed to heal.
Our clear adoption of the stories in Genesis to explain the origin of our people also indicates a close affinity with the Jewish people. Our system of laws, organization into tribes linked by a common ancestry, and our council/group ruling structure all indicate Jewish influence. Even the fact that it is against the law to take blood from animals has a direct parallel to the Jewish laws of kashrut.
The Merging of Two Cultures
Given the evidence that we seem to have originated somewhere in Mesopotamia, and that it was only well after the establishment of ourselves as a separate species (as indicated by the highly developed oral and written language) that we attached ourselves to the Israelites, it would seem to me that our first encounter with the Hebrew people might have been during their Babylonian Exile. The Babylonian Exile occurred in three waves, from 605 to 586 B.C., with the final wave resulting in the exile of nearly all the Jews in Judea.
Prior to harsh Roman—and later Christian and Muslim—law, which prohibited conversion to Judaism, Jews were very active proselytizers. Just prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, it is said that upwards of ten percent of the population in the Roman Empire was Jewish. That certainly wasn’t because Judea was a large country, full of Jews!
It seems only logical that, once in Babylonian society, Jews would have introduced others to their religion—including our people. We cannot be sure how many of our people originally adopted the Jewish God, but our formation into four “High” and ten “Low” tribes offers some indication. It is possible that four groups immigrated to Judea sometime after the official end of the Babylonian captivity (a mere forty-eight years after the bulk of the Jews were exiled), and that they were later joined by ten more groups—who were given political privileges, but at a reduced status.
It may be that the ten groups, which joined the first four, represented the entirety of our people. While it’s certainly possible that some remained behind in Babylon, there is no historical reference to people living outside the laws of the Council, and even today there is only one set of laws and one government for all of our people; no one lives outside it. If any of our kind remained in Babylon after the establishment of the Council in Jerusalem, they must have either immigrated at a later time, or died off.
It is unclear when our people immigrated to Judea. Many more Jews stayed in Babylon (which became part of the Persian Empire in 539 B.C.) than returned to Judea, so it seems unlikely that all of our people would have migrated with the small initial wave that returned to their homeland, although I theorize that the four High tribes moved during that time.
In the time of the prophet Ezra (around 428 B.C.), there was a very strict enforcement of Jewish law. One of the strictest laws was that all Jewish men had to divorce their foreign-born wives, for fear that the unconverted women would induce idolatry into the new Jewish state. Due to the hostility towards outsiders, it is unlikely that our people immigrated to Judea during this period. In fact, this offers one possible explanation for the difference between the four High tribes and the ten Low tribes: if the first four tribes immigrated early, and managed to keep a toehold in Judea during Ezra’s rule, it stands to reason that they would look down on latecomers who only migrated after the laws were less strenuously applied. This theory, however, has no evidence to support it, as there is actually no record of our having ever lived outside of the general area of Judea since our creation.
Which brings up a curious question: if we have an ancient written language—one that existed well before we became attached to the Jewish people—why do we not have any written records which predate that attachment? It is possible that earlier written documents were lost because of, or during, the migration out of Babylon. But if this was the case, there should have been records among the four High tribes which tell of the loss of the older records, and the coming of the ten Low tribes. But instead, our history has been rewritten to blend smoothly into that of the Jewish people, and there is no tradition that we ever existed prior to that time (despite evidence to the contrary).
It is my hypothesis that someone (or some people) made a concerted effort to erase our non-Jewish past, and that our earlier documents were purposefully destroyed and a new history purposefully created. This is actually in keeping with the idea of conversion, in that a convert is reborn into the Jewish people and has (in theory, but certainly not in reality) no attachment or loyalty to the people of his birth. It is also possible that if some of our people lived through the strict application of law during the time of Ezra, documents which pointed to a non-Jewish origin (or worse, a belief in a non-Jewish God), were destroyed—either out of fear of being discovered, or out of a sincere shame of that past.
Master Joshua is able to lend some credence to this theory. When he was turned, in the year 103 A.D., there was no vampire alive who was older than about 600, and no one knew any history other than what was written. He once met his grandsire, but when he asked about the details of his great-grandsire's life, the man was evasive and gave only vague details. Master Joshua felt (and still feels) that his grandsire was not being completely honest, and he wonders if there are really five generations between himself and Naamah, or if his great-grandsire was Naamah, and the other generations were invented to make our history seem longer.
My fellow historian, Byron Tidwell, has one additional theory regarding our people at this period of time. He thinks our account of the Flood--and the survival of just fourteen Canichmehah--is not simply a matter of plagiarizing the Biblical story, but that it does reflect some catastrophe which struck our people (other than the story of Cain and his descendants, the only other story we borrowed from the Jewish scriptures was the story of the Flood), and we not only lost our records at that time, but we were actually reduced to just fourteen survivors. Why we organized into two groups (High and Low tribes) is not apparent, but we may have attached ourselves to the Israelites to try to survive.
And what might this catastrophe have been? That is also not apparent, but Byron has two theories. His first is that we were hunted nearly to extinction, and that when the Israelites came into Babylon, the survivors saw in them a compassionate people, where they could take refuge. The second theory is found in our version of the Flood story, where many died of hunger, and as a result of going into blood lust, others attacked (and presumably killed) their brethren. Byron feels this might be a hint of what truly happened to our people. While it's hard to imagine that great numbers of us would starve to death (although, it is possible, if we were being vigorously hunted and people were afraid to show themselves), it is not impossible (however repugnant) to think that we may have made war on each other and reduced our numbers significantly.
Survival in the Diaspora
In light of our attachment to the Jewish nation, and the fact that, for the most part, we were a circumcised people, it seems strange that we should have absorbed non-Jewish peoples after the Diaspora. There are a number of possible explanations for this. One, is that we were culturally, but not religiously, tied to the Jewish people. Cultural Jews today are almost always circumcised, and they usually participate in the High Holiday services, but they have little other religious observance—which has been blamed for their high rates of intermarriage and assimilation.
All indications are that religious observance likewise rested lightly upon our ancestors, which may account for their later acceptance of Christians. However, it should be pointed out, that this was not the same thing as assimilation, as our culture did not adopt any Christian practices or attempt to get away from its Jewish roots in any way. Our calendar and dates are still calculated according to the Jewish tradition, we do not formally recognize any Christian holidays, and for the purposes of Covenings, trials, and other work by our people, for our people, we keep the Sabbath on Saturday (although, where possible, we also refrain from working on Sunday, out of respect for our Christian number).
It should also be noted that, although we took Christians into our fold, we almost never took in pagans (either before or after the Diaspora). Again, this indicates that, although we were not a fully-observant, Jewish people, we did have standards when it came to the religious beliefs of our people.
The second possible reason why our people adopted Christians is that it was simply necessary to our survival. After the Diaspora, Jewish communities became increasingly insulated, to the point there was little movement of people or ideas in or out of the Jewish community. The establishment of ghettos in many cities during the middle ages contributed to this heavily.
Despite our clear attachment to the Jewish people, our adoption of their monotheistic religion, and the fact that a large percentage of our people—both Yaechahre and Canichmeh—were born-Jews, we have never been, as a people, true Jews. This is one reason why it was possible for us, but not for Jews, to accept Christians into our number. We are, first and foremost, our own people—which is why, if our cultural traditions come into conflict with the cultural traditions of someone’s birth (e.g. the fact that we cremate our dead, when Jews do not), our traditions prevail. And as our people have no laws regarding the observance of one religion, we are free to add people of different religious backgrounds. This, then, is the main difference between us and the Jewish people: they are ultimately tied together through their religious faith, but we are tied together through our species. This is why we can accept people of other faiths into our number, where Jews cannot, and why Jews can accept into their numbers people who are of different races, but we cannot count anyone who is not of our species.
As a people, we are, at best, an ally of the Jewish people. This status as a friendly, but separate tribe, probably accounts for our remaining nomadic until the time of the Romans, when their occupation of Judea drove us closer to the Jews. However close we may have become, however, we never fully integrated (our physical difference, including drinking blood to survive, would have never allowed that), so it was, during the Diaspora, that we faced difficulties in replenishing and growing our numbers. Unlike the Jews of Europe, who perpetuated themselves through traditional procreation, we had no way to increase our numbers without turning humans. While some of our number continued to come from the ranks of our Yaechahre, a larger portion always came from outside the Yaechahre. (It is said that outsiders see only the positive qualities of our lives, while the Yaechahre are fully aware of the negatives, and that, for most, the negatives outweigh the positives, thus why many don’t turn.)
Needing to bring humans into our numbers creates an obvious problem: where do you get the humans? As Jews became increasingly isolated from the societies in which they lived, we undoubtedly found it much harder to “intermarry” (an ancient term indicating that we went through the motions publicly of acquiring a Jewish son or daughter to marry into our people, although no marriage actually took place). Worried about their own population numbers, now that they were without a homeland, and also without the ability to convert others, Jews were suddenly very hesitant to “marry” children off to unknown people. So, no doubt, it became imperative that we turn Christians in order to keep up our numbers.
Because of this, during the middle ages, our European population—both Canichmeh and Yaechahre—became almost exclusively Christian, while our Middle Eastern population remained almost wholly Jewish. Although one would think that this would have lead to great conflict, none ever arose. It is possible that, by adopting the Jewish habit of living as a culture within a culture—living and working within a society, while remaining apart from it—we were able to retain a sense of identity with our brethren worldwide, which was stronger than our individual identities as Christians or Jews. This plays out almost in direct parallel between the Sephardim and Ashkenazi Jews today; they have noticeable cultural differences, yet each recognize the other as Jews.
Another element which worked in our favor is the fact that Canichmeh are naturally attracted to the scent of others of our kind. This makes strife between us difficult, as it takes a lot of negative emotion to override the natural attraction. The Yaechahre, on the other hand, lack this instinct, but they have adapted their own coping mechanism: for the most part, they marry only other Yaechahre, thus preserving a genetic and cultural link which cross religious boundaries. And while it took lengthy, sometimes tense negotiations, there were marriages between Jewish and Christian Yaechahre, in numbers out of all proportion to the rates of intermarriage of regular Jews and Christians before the late 19th century.
The yearly Convening also helped strengthen our ties to one another by giving us a central authority. Regardless of your birth-race or birth-religion, when you join our people, you become one of us, subject to our laws and governance. Russians are a good example of a people who are united through their national identity, although the Russian Empire, at one time, was some 5,000 miles long. Distance is no object for them, nor for us.
Oddly enough, modern technology—which is accused by so many people of ruining human relationships—has only served to strengthen our people. Before modern transportation, attendance at the Convening was mainly limited to those people who lived in the Holy Land, simply because it was too difficult for others to travel so far (although most Canichmehah did make it a point to attend a Convening once in their lives). Now, however, travel to the Convening is so easy, we can no longer accommodate everyone who wants to come; instead, we have to rotate our numbers yearly, so that everyone—including the Yaechahre—gets to have several chances, in their lifetime, of attending a Convening in person.
And could anything have been a better boon for us than the internet? Thanks to it, our Archives are now digitized and available to Canichmeh and Yaechahre around the world. Likewise e-mail and online forums allow us to stay in contact with our friends around the world, and an enterprising group of young Yaechahre have even used the internet to set up an online matchmaker site so Yaechahre can find mates outside their group.
In 2000, the entirety of the Convening was recorded and made available for download, and beginning in 2007, it was also streamed live. Plans are currently in the works to allow real-time commenting and voting by internet teleconference, meaning people who are not physically at the Convening can still watch and participate in it, with all the same rights and privileges as people in actual attendance. This will actually allow us to once again have an open Convening which all people may attend.
The future of our people in the 21st century looks increasingly bright, and as Western society grows increasingly tolerant to all people—to say nothing of a growing interest in “vampires”—our next great cultural adaptation may be living openly among all humans.
© 2012 by Keri Peardon. All rights reserved.
Web design by Keri Peardon.
Background for the website and the header is from Lilium medicinae by Bernardus de Gordonio, translated into Hebrew by Moses ben Shmaya de Castro in Escalona, Spain, January 11, 1466. The original manuscript is housed at the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The female figure in the header is from the Manesse Codex, which is housed at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany.