Monday, 31 December 2007

A New Year

My sincerest and best wishes for the new year to anyone visiting this blog!

It has been interesting and fruitful to start blogging about the subject of magia posthuma and vampires. It has taken time from my primary work on the subject, but it has allowed me to get in touch with a small number of people around the globe sharing my interest, and they all seem to have their own perspective on the subject. This feedback has mostly been via private e-mail,

In that respect the blog has been a success, but hopefully this is only the beginning of establishing some more contact between those of us who are seriously interested in putting the early modern tales and books on vampires and other revenants in their historical and folkloric context. There are, I believe, surprisingly few people who wish to understand “wie es eigentlich geschehen ist” when corpses were disinterred and destroyed out of fear of the dead in e.g. Moravia, Banat or Serbia in the 17th and 18th centuries. And fewer who go to the trouble of excavating contemporary source material, and if you excuse the pun, try to dig deeper than your average “vampirologist”.

So apart from hoping that I will find ample time to work on both my studies of the subject and this blog, it is my sincere wish that we can build some kind of network of people interested in this strange and morbid, yet somehow very giving subject. Although we are all, I suppose, hoping to give our individual and original contribution to the field, I believe that we can benefit from communicating our results and thoughts. At least, it would be useful just to know what is going on. So I hope to hear your comments, either through this blog or privately by e-mail, so it will be possible to assess the possibilities.

This year has seen the publishing of David Keyworth's Troublesome Corpses that is broader in its scope than what has previously been written in English, compiling a wealth of material on vampires and other "undead corpses". The only other new book that I can think of that was published this year, is Helmut Werner's Das Grosse Handbuch der Dämonen which is an enjoyable, but unfortunately unreliable attempt to collect a lot of information about vampires, werewolves, demons and "monsters".

Hopefully, 2008 will see more books and papers published on our subject. In fact, in 2006 several books of note were published (Peter Kremer's Draculas Vettern, Bruce McClelland's Slayers and their Vampires, the anthology Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil, a new German annotated translation of Calmet's Gelehrte Verhandlung, and modern editions of Ranft's Traktat and a couple of other books), so it will be interesting to see if more are on their way.

In any case, the game is afoot, and you have my best wishes for 2008!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Worth longing for?

When looking at ebay, one German book keeps popping up numerous times. I have so far resisted buying it, but it keeps turning up so I have considered buying it: Norbert Borrmann's Vampirismus oder die Sehnsucht nacht Unsterblichkeit (Vampirism or the longing for immortality). So why have I resisted? Well, Peter Mario Kreuter in his Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa calls it "einfach nur eine literarische Gemischtwarenhandlung" (simply just a literary mixed bag), and adds: "Bei der Lektüre dieses Buches muß man sich manchmal sogar fragen, ob Borrmann überhaupt verstanden hat, über was er da schreibt." (While reading this book one must often ask if Borrmann has at all understood what it is he is writing about). On the other hand, Rob Brautigam writes of the book on his Shroudeater web site: "This nice hardbound book was published at such a ridiculously low price that I was afraid that the quality of its contents would be of the same low level. I was wrong. Norbert Borrmann presents us with an interesting overview of Vampirism in which most vampire aspects seem to get a mention.". So, perhaps, it is not as bad as Kreuter would have us believe? Comments are welcome.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Observing, understanding and participating

Montague Summers obviously had a firm belief in witches and vampires, whereas modern scholars take on a more phenomenological approach, like e.g. David Keyworth who writes in the introduction to his Troublesome Corpses:

“And while it can be argued that perceived reality is no more than a shared consensus, a social construct that results from a collective belief in a particular world-view, authenticated and maintained by the participants involved and the world-view that was prevalent at the time, I do not personally believe that corpses can arise from their coffins to feed upon the blood of the living.” (p. 9)

Keyworth refers to Berger and Luckmann’s famous (or infamous, if you like) and highly influential The Social Construction of Reality (1966) which is e.g. known for its view that Haitian voodoo beliefs are as “real” as the Western belief in neuroses and “libidinal energy”. Unfortunately, I only own the book in a Danish translation, so I can’t quote the relevant part of the book.

Darren Oldridge, whom I have quoted and referred to before – on vampire beliefs and observations, and on the rationality of our ancestors in general - on the other hand finds that it is essential that we try to understand the rationality of the strange histories of the past.

A marriage between the phenomenological approach and the attempt to understand is in my view beautifully described by Michael E. Bell in the prologue to Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England’s Vampires. Describing a class he attended during his education, he writes of folklorist Wayland Hand:

“My epiphany came the day Wayland told us about the disappearance of giants from Europe. This was not a rapid, catastrophic event like the extinction of the dinosaurs. It was, rather, a more lengthy demise with the final death blow administered by the Industrial Revolution. As Wayland talked about the giants, I noticed that he stopped looking at us, and his eyes seemed to focus somewhere beyond the windowless walls of our Bunche Hall classroom. His voice, naturally soft, grew softer. He spoke about how Christians stigmatized the giants as devils, in league with Satan. He described how industry’s widening circle of smoke and clamor finally pushed the giants from their homes. His voice dropped to a near whisper, and I’m sure I saw tears well up, as he described how the giants shrank, deeper and deeper into the forests and caves. Demonized, and no longer able to find refuge, the giants vanished. When Wayland concluded, it dawned on me that he wasn’t talking only about giants no longer appearing in the folklore record. He was describing the extinction of a species. I thought, this is incredible: Wayland Hand, a meticulous, reasoning scholar – a professional folklorist – actually believes in giants.” (p. XI-XII)

Bell himself feels compelled to divide himself into two identities: The rational, observing scholar, and the guy who can suspend his disbelief to “participate wholeheartedly, without reservation”. (p. XIII)

Personally, I would be careful in stating my own approach to understanding the background of magia posthuma in such terms, but I suppose that a true understanding requires that you attempt to come as close as possible to viewing the investigated phenomena through the eyes of the observers, in casu peasants, Austrian military personnel, Catholic priests, medical scholars etc.

In fact, this is also what Keyworth attempts to do: “Indeed, I will follow what Robert Darnton in The Great Cat Massacre (1984) called ‘cultural’ or ‘ethnographic’ history, and try to understand the situation from the participant’s point of view, not just cite the official version of events as evidenced by the historiographical sources, and take a non-judgmental, empathetic attitude towards the experiences and intentions of participants involved in the events described, given the cultural context of such traditions.” (p. 9)

No doubt, it can be hard and also very unpleasant to try to intellectually “participate” in events involving revenants, diseases, and the exhumation, examination and destruction of corpses, but as Oldridge has pointed out, “it is the very strangeness of these ideas – from a modern perspective – that makes them worth looking at.” (Strange Histories, p. ix)

Papers on Calmet to be published in 2008

The papers presented at the Année Dom Calmet conference at Senones commemorating the 250th anniversary of Dom Calmet's death earlier this year, including Philippe Martin's paper on Calmet and vampires that I mentioned in an earlier post, will be published in the spring of 2008 according to this web site: "Les actes de ces journées seront publiés au printemps 2008."

So where are you from?

The above figure shows the locations of those who have visited this blog during the past month. Taking into consideration that I have not been so active at posting during the past couple of months, quite a number of people seem to take a look at this blog, and obviously visitors come from various parts of the globe. Currently, USA is the region with most visits. And some of the visitors who get here via google or other search engines, are looking for subjects like magia posthuma, dom calmet, kauen und schmatzen der todten, or vampire quiz, to name some of the most popular keywords.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Horrors from the past

Apropos of the Danish tale of an uncorrupted corpse, I would like to mention this interesting web site, Gys og gru fra fortiden (Horrors from the past), on Danish revenants and other horrifying creatures. Unfortunately, it is only available in Danish, so most of you will probably only be able to appreciate the pictures. However, I might add that those familiar with e.g. German revenants will probably not be surprised to find that many of the ghosts and revenants of Denmark are similar to those of our neighbouring countries. Particularly interesting are the tales of people who conjure ("maner") revenants to abstain from harassing the living and return to their graves.

The illustration is by Paul Høyrup and is from an old book on Danish ghosts.

The story of a corpse in Egtved

As it is christmas time, this short tale told by the mother of a man called Kristen Kabel in the Danish town of Egtved to Evald Tang Kristensen (1843-1929) may be appropriate:

Once when they had dug a grave in the cemetery in Egtved, they found a complete corpse. The coffin had rotted until it crumbled, but the corpse looked as if it had only been a few days since it was put in the ground. It was a man from Torsted, who had been buried for some years, and he had had a girlfriend who lived in a house in Egtved. It was close to christmas, so the corpse was but on a bier up in the church and should lie there during the christmas days, and of course they told the priest of it. But then on christmas eve when the people at the rectory had dined, they began to talk about the corpse, and they promised a crazy old cowherd who wanted a drink, that if he went to the church and gave the corpse a spoonful of porridge, then he would get half a pint of brandy. When he got there and bended over the corpse, it locked its arms around his neck and told him that he should carry it down to a house in Egtved town (the one in which his girlfriend had lived). So when they got there, the dead man knocked on the window, and a woman came and opened for him. Then he asks her if she will stretch out her right hand to him as she had done once before. 'You have sworn by that hand that you would have me, but you didn't keep your promise.' So now she should give him the hand again, but she dared not, and then she ran to the vicar and asked him what to do. He said that she shouldn't give him her hand, but her right glove on a stick. In the meantime, the cowherd was standing with the dead man on his back. So she acted on the vicar's advice, and when she withdrew the stick, the glove was pressed into dust. Then she told the cowherd that he should take the dead man and put him back to where he had taken him. He did, and on christmas day, when people went to church, they were curious to see the corpse, but when they got there, only a bit of dust was left. Now he had found peace.

The story is no. 902 in volume 5 (concerned with stories of ghosts and haunting) of Evald Tang Kristensen's famous collection of Danish folklore, Danske Sagn som de har lydt i Folkemunde. The volume was originally published in 1897. The translation is mine.

Egtved is a town in Jutland in Denmark which is famous for the find of a Bronze age woman, the so-called Egtved girl. Pictures and information (in Danish) on the church and cemetery in Egtved is available here.

Metallic Magia Posthuma

According to this short text on Rohr's 1679 De masticatione mortuorum,

"De Masticatione Mortuorum (or to use its full title Dissertatio Historico-Philosophica de Masticatione Mortuorum) is now cult among the modern 'vampire' community, and a favourite name for death metal bands."

As one easily notices when searching the net for information about "magia posthuma", there also was a Belgian heavy metal band called Magia Posthuma. According to various web sites they released one album and have now split up.

Personally I find it pretty hard to relate to this association between the topic of this blog and a musical genre which I find myself unable to appreciate. Aesthetically and musically it is quite adverse to what I identify with. I remember many years ago buying a LP titled Nosferatu by a band called Helstar because both the title and cover illustration referred to Murnau's 1922 movie Nosferatu. Well, it was very hard to just listen to once, so I have steered clear of that kind of records ever since.

But it seems to be a curious fact that people can have very different approaches to our subject of vampires and magia posthuma.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry christmas!

After weeks of silence I have considered how to wish visitors of this blog a merry christmas. Unfortunately, I have not had time to write a longer essay, so I will present you with the gift of a scan of the front page of one the seminal works on vampirism, VISUM REPERTUM ANATOMICO-CHIRURGICUM oder Gründlicher Bericht von den sogenannten Blutsäugern, VAMPIER, oder in der wallachischen Sprache Morie by the well-educated physician Georg Tallar published in Vienna and Leipzig in 1784.

I found this book at The Royal Library in Copenhagen in the mid Eighties, when the book was virtually unknown. At least, it was not mentioned in any bibliography that I knew of, including Dieter Sturm and Klaus Völker's Von denen Vampiren oder Menschensaugern. Later on I noticed that Aribert Schroeder knew of it, when he wrote Vampirismus: Seine Entwicklung vom Thema zum Motiv in 1973, but Schroeder's book was and is for some reason unfortunately very scarce.

Then, in 1988, Tallar turned up a few times in Paul Barber's Vampires, Burial, and Death, and later on he has been quoted by a few other authors, so his investigations are getting their proper place in the history of magia posthuma. Investigations that include interviewing and examining people who claim to be the victims of vampires (or moroi) and the examination of corpses suspected of being vampires.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The price of Calmet

I have tracked auctions of Calmet's book on revenants and vampires for some time, e.g. here and here. Now a German translation from 1751 has just been sold on ebay at the top bid of € 817,12! It seems that one may have to pay several hundreds of euros to obtain an early edition in various languages. There are no doubt a number of collectors looking for this famous book out there.

Saturday, 8 December 2007


I am aware that I have been unusually silent lately. The end of the year is usually a pretty busy time in my life (I suppose it is the same for a lot of those who visit this blog), and consequently I have found it hard to give this blog as much time and attention as I would have preferred. However, I hope to find more time to post when all the time consuming tasks of December have been attended to. So keep coming back once in a while.

And a big thank you to those who comment or send me an e-mail.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Vampire theses

A few people have written an academical thesis on vampires and related topics over the past years. In the above photo Stefan Grothe's Ph.D. thesis Der Einfluß der Seuchen auf die Entstehung des Vampirmythos im Spiegel der Leipziger Vampirdebatte 1725-1734 (The Influence of Epidemics on the Rise of the Vampire Myth as reflected in the Leipzig Vampire Debate of 1725-1734, 2001) is placed on top of Peter Mario Kreuter's Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa (The Vampire Belief in South East Europe, 2001). Some theses have been reworked into books: Bruce A. McClelland's Slayers and their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead (2006) and David Keyworth's Troublesome Corpses: Vampires & Revenants From Antiquity to the Present (2007). More will no doubt follow in the years to come.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Baron Vordenburg's library

At the end of Sheridan Le Fanu's famous story Carmilla a few works from the library of the vampire hunter Baron Vordenburg are mentioned, among them Magia Posthuma:

Let me add a word or two about that quaint Baron Vordenburg, to whose curious lore we were indebted for the discovery of the Countess Mircalla’s grave.
He had taken up his abode in Gratz, where, living upon a mere pittance, which was all that remained to him of the once princely estates of his family, in Upper Styria, he devoted himself to the minute and laborious investigation of the marvellously authenticated tradition of Vampirism. He had at his fingers’ ends all the great and little works upon the subject. “Magia Posthuma,” “Phlegon de Mirabilibus,” “Augustinus de cura pro Mortuis,” “Philosophicae et Christianae Cogitationes de Vampiris,” by John Christofer Herenberg; and a thousand others, among which I remember only a few of those which he lent to my father. He had a voluminous digest of all the judicial cases, from which he had extracted a system of principles that appear to govern—some always, and others occasionally only— the condition of the vampire. I may mention, in passing, that the deadly pallor attributed to that sort of revenants, is a mere melodramatic fiction. They present, in the grave, and when they show themselves in human society, the appearance of healthy life. When disclosed to light in their coffins, they exhibit all the symptoms that are enumeranted as those which proved the vampire-life of the long-dead Countess Karnstein.

How they escape from their graves and return to them for certain hours every day, without displacing the clay or leaving any trace of disturbance in the state of the coffin or the cerements, has always been admitted to be utterly inexplicable. The amphibious existence of the vampire is sustained by daily renewed slumber in the grave. Its horrible lust for living blood supplies the vigour of its waking existence. The vampire is prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons. In pursuit of these it will exercise inexhaustible patience and stratagem, for access to a particular object may be obstructed in a hundred ways. It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victim. But it will, in these cases, husband and protract its murderous enjoyment with the refinement of an epicure, and heighten it by the gradual approaches of an artful courtship. In these cases it seems to yearn for something like sympathy and consent. In ordinary ones it goes direct to its object, overpowers with violence, and strangles and exhausts often at a single feast.

Harenberg's 1733 book was published in German (see the accompanying illustration), but somehow got a Latin title in Calmet's book, and this must be the reason why Le Fanu uses a Latin title and spells Harenberg's name 'Herenberg' like Calmet did. Phlegon's De Mirabilius will be well-known to readers of books on vampires, and Augustin's De cura pro mortuis gerenda is a key Catholic text on the care for the dead.

Regular visitors of this blog probably would like to have at their fingers' ends all these and other books on the subject.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The Rhetoric of Exorcism

Although peripheral to the traditional field of vampirology, it should be apparent from this blog that historically vampires and magia posthuma can not be disconnected from other beliefs and practices, including demonology, so some might find this extract from a paper entitled The Rhetoric of Exorcism by Hilaire Kallendorf interesting or even fascinating:

'No one has ever tried to write a rhetoric of exorcism. In fact scholars of previous generations have posted caveat emptor signs along the pathway we are about to take. One encounters warnings such as, "The actual scripts or texts of exorcisms are difficult to characterize... [M]any exorcisms are hybrid compositions." While it is certainly true that these texts are a synthesis compiled from Biblical, liturgical, and other sources, they also bear distinctive features that can and should be analyzed by rhetoricians. It is also true that exorcism manuals are not redacted carefully (for example, they are rife with errors of Latin grammar). After all, exorcism manuals are pragmatic collections of utilitarian documents (scholars speak of the "applied" nature of demonology). Their pages are meant to be aspersed with holy water, singed by the fire of the baptismal candle, clouded with the smoke of incense, and spat upon by seething demoniacs. But it is the case that most exorcism rituals are performed by reading aloud these texts of highly codified, formulaic discourse - many of which resemble each other or quote from each other extensively. So in theory it should be possible to analyze the language of these texts in a way that is general or all-encompassing enough to formulate some tentative conclusions about how exorcism "works" as a rhetorical phenomenon in the early modern period. Scholars in the field of demonology who are the most familiar with these texts make these generalizations routinely; rhetoricians may be permitted the same latitude. Establishing the classical foundation of Catholic exoristic rhetoric will then be seen to supply an important brush stroke for our emerging scholarly portrait of Christian humanism in the early modern period.'

The paper can be found in Rhetorica, Vol. XXIII, 3, pp. 209-237 (2005). Kallendorf is also the author of a book on the subject, Exorcism and Its Texts: Subjectivity in Early Modern Literature of England and Spain (Univ. of Toronto Press, 2003).

Magia Posthuma revisited

It seems that now and then more information on von Schertz's Magia Posthuma is added by visitors of this blog. Unfortunately, some of these visitors remain anonymous, but their input is fascinating and most welcome. So, what can I say: Keep coming back to this blog, you never know what turns up.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank those who send me an e-mail. It is very nice and inspiring to hear from people who share an interest in vampires and magia posthuma!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Peter Mario Kreuter talks about vampires

Peter Mario Kreuter, author of Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa (Weidler Buchverlag, 2001), can be seen lecturing about vampires (in German, of course) here. You can e.g. hear how he got into researching vampires and he also discusses the question of blood drinking/blood sucking. So if you understand German, this is an interesting opportunity to experience Kreuter "live".

The video is from 2004, so this is "old news", but still interesting.

Vampirism from a colonial pespective

According to the web site of the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität in Munich, Prof. Dr. Thomas Bohn is currently teaching a seminar on the cultural history of the vampire. The seminar started on October 17th and continues to February 5th 2008. The description of the seminar e.g. says that vampires

"were stylized as an expression of a barbarous world from which civilised Europe could be demarcated. At the same time the phrase 'vampirism' worked as an imperial category. It was primarily aimed at the border areas of the empires that stood up against each other in Central Europe. While the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries proceeded from the West to the East of the continent, the posthumous staking and burning of vampires on the contrary spread from the East to the West. From a colonial perspective vampirism could be interpreted as an invasion of primitive forces and connected with slavophobic thoughts. On this background the home of the vampire displaced itself from Serbia and Hungary over Moravia and Silesia to Poland and Lithuania."

I find it a bit difficult to understand the localities mentioned in this displacement, because quite a number of Moravian and Silesian cases of Magia Posthuma antedate the Serbian vampire cases of the 18th Century. However, here is the original description of the seminar:

"Prof. Dr. Thomas Bohn

Kulturgeschichte der Vampire 3-stündig, Di 15-18 Uhr, Amalienstr. 52, R. 507 5.OG

Der Glaube an den „lebenden Leichnam“ ist ein universales Phänomen. Während in der mitteleuropäischen Variante sogenannte Nachzehrer ihre Angehörigen durch Sympathie ins Grab locken, werden in der südosteuropäischen Version Verwandte vermeintlicher Blutsauger der ewigen Verdammnis ausgesetzt. Die Vampire verdanken ihre Popularität der Aufklärung. Sie wurden zum Ausdruck einer barbarischen Welt stilisiert, von der sich das zivilisierte Europa abgrenzen konnte. Gleichzeitig fungierte das Schlagwort „Vampirismus“ als imperiale Kategorie. Es wurde bevorzugt auf die Grenzgebiete der Vielvölkerreiche bezogen, die sich in der Mitte Europas gegenüberstanden. Hatte sich die Hexenverfolgung im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert allmählich vom Westen in den Osten des Kontinents ausgedehnt, so schien sich im Gegenzug die posthume Pfählung und Verbrennung von Vampiren im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert von Osten nach Westen zu verbreiten. Aus kolonialer Perspektive ließ sich der Vampirismus daher als Invasion primitiver Kräfte deuten und mit slavophoben Sentenzen verbinden. Vor diesem Hintergrund verschob sich die Heimat der Vampire in westlichen Diskursen allmählich von Serbien und Ungarn über Mähren und Schlesien nach Polen und Litauen.

Literatur: Hamberger, Klaus (Hrsg.): Mortuus non mordet. Dokumente zum Vampirismus, 1689-1791. Wien 1992; Sturm, Dieter/Klaus Völker (Hrsg.): Von denen Vampiren und Menschensaugern. Dichtungen und Dokumente. 4. Aufl. Frankfurt am Main 2003; Thomas Schürmann: Nachzehrerglauben in Mitteleuropa. Marburg 1990; Peter Mario Kreuter: Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa. Studien zur Genese, Bedeutung und Funktion. Rumänien und der Balkanraum. Berlin 2001.

Bohn recently talked about "Der Dracula-Mythos" - Osteuropäischer Volksglaube und westeuropäische Klischees ("The Dracula Myth" - East European Folklore and West European Clichés) as an introduction to the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula that was shown as part of a series of symposia, workshops and conferences on Romania called donumenta in Regensburg

Bohn has also taught on the subject of Dracula - Mythos oder Wirklichkeit? (Dracula - Myth or Reality?) at the Friedrich Schiller Universität in Jena, and in 2008 he will be in charge of a seminar on Vlad Tepes „Dracula“ - Tyrann oder Volkstribun? (Vlad Tepes "Dracula" - Tyrant or tribune of the people?)

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Femme fantôme

Dr. Katrin Schumacher from the Gießener Graduiertenzentrum Kulturwissenschaften has written a thesis that was published by Francke earlier this year as Femme fantôme: Poetologien und Szenen der Wiedergängerin um 1800/1900. As far as I can gather this is a study of female fictional revenants, but may be of interest to some visitors of this blog:

"Die Rückkehr der an den Tod verlorenen Geliebten: Die Studie betrachtet erstmals das Phänomen der femme fantôme als eine kulturgeschichtliche und literarische Abbildung dieses Phantasmas der Wiedergängerin. Ausgehend von der Beobachtung, dass die Jahrhundertschwellen um 1800 und um 1900 signifikante Denkfiguren der Endlichkeit und der Wiederholung produzieren, setzt die Arbeit an jenen Umbruchzeiten des Wissens an. In den diskursanalytischen Fokus geraten zunächst die Labore der Lebenswissenschaften um 1800, deren spektakuläre Daten zu Tod und Leben, Scheintod und Geistererscheinungen in der Literatur wiederum zu Experimenten mit Signalen und Zeichen aus dem Jenseits führen. Bei Goethe, Novalis, Schelling und in Bonaventuras Nachtwachen wird die Wiedergängerin als eine solche Phantastik des Wissens literarisiert. Im Fin de siècle, bei Poe, Rodenbach, den englischen Präraffaeliten, schließlich bei Schnitzler, H. Mann und Autoren der österreichischen Phantastik erscheint die femme fantôme als theatrales Wesen, das einem irritierten Raum-Zeit-Gefüge erwächst.
Die Geschichte der femme fantôme ist eine Spurensuche in den Dispositionen des Wissens und den Figuren der Wiederholung. Der Kanon philosophischer Fragen nach dem Jenseits wird letztlich auf eine Kultur- und Wissensgeschichte des Todes beziehbar."

Francke in 2005 published a very interesting anthology on vampires: Poetische Wiedergänger edited by Julia Bertschik and Christa Tuczay.

Apropos Ranft online

A few other relevant books are also available on the internet, and I have for a long time have intended to write more extensively about these resources, but I simply haven't got round to do so. Particularly, I have wanted to comment on the modern versions of some texts that have surfaced during the later years, i.e. the Ubooks edition of Ranft's Traktat, and the Hexenmond-Verlag edition of two 1732 books, but this will have to await some other occasion.

Ranft's Traktat online!

I have an old photocopy of Michael Ranft's 1734 Traktat von dem Kauen und Schmatzen der Todten in Gräbern which I have studied over the years. Before Calmet's Dissertations this was the only book that attempted to collect more or less all available knowledge on vampires and comment on the authors who had themselves commented on Ranft's Latin first edition.

I also have a modernized edition that was published in 2006 by Ubooks in Germany.

Now, however, the original has been scanned and made available to the public on the internet by Klassik Stiftung Weimar here, so everyone interested in our subject of magia posthuma and vampires can get to read - or at least take a look at - this important book!

Friday, 2 November 2007

Calmet's Dissertations on ebay

A fine first edition of Calmet's Dissertations sur les apparitions is currently on auction on ebay. Seller estimates the book to be worth at least 1700 euro, so if you do not have that kind of money, you will probably have to be content with studying the nice photos of the book.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007


A home grown pumpkin head sends his Halloween greetings to all visitors of this blog. An evening suitable for the more entertaining aspects of Magia posthuma! For some recent information and discussion concerning the book Magia Posthuma, look here!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Non dantur Vampyri

I have found less time for writing posts recently. However, as you will no doubt have noticed, I have added some elements to the blog layout, including a short introduction to the subject of the blog. Accompanying this text is a scan of a portion of the title page of the dissertation on vampires written by Pohl and Hertel and published in Leipzig in 1732, Dissertatio de hominibus post mortem sangvisvgis, vulgo sic dictis Vampyren. As is common in some texts, the word sanguisuga is used as the Latin equivalent of "vampire". "Sanguisuga" is a contraction of "sanguis" and "sugo", meaning "blood-sucker", usually in the sense leech, like e.g. in Proverbs 30, 15 in the Vulgate: "sanguisugae duae sunt filiae dicentes adfer adfer" (King James Bible: The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give.).

Pohl and Hertel find that the "vampyres" should be explained by natural causes:

"Non dantur Vampyri, sed mortis genuina causa potius morbo epidemico est adscribenda."

That is: There are no vampires, but the genuine cause of death should rather be ascribed to an epidemical disease.

The horseleach or haemopis sanguisuga however certainly exists, and pictures of it can e.g. be seen here.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Dom Calmet In Memoriam

Today it is 250 years since Augustin Calmet (1662-1757) died. Had he not written a book on revenants and vampires, this blog would probably not have existed.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Vampire and the Devil

According to the September newsletter of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, the theme of their conference in 2008 will be "The Vampire and the Devil":

"The Transylvanian Society of Dracula holds its next annual conference in Romania between May 23-25, 2008, on "THE VAMPIRE and THE DEVIL" - a debate involving compared folklore, religions, literature and cultural anthropology, tracing the destiny, the evolution of the vampire in the Age of Christianity, Enlightment, Cartesianism and post-industrialism.

A tiny scene in the grand fresco of "The Last Judgment" on the outer wall of Voronet monastery (Bucovina, Romania), made almost 500 years a, shows an Angel and a Devil cooperating in punishing an evil man, upon his death - a rare instance in which the contraries agree, for once, on a joint course of action Has our perception of the role of Evil changed ever since? Did the devil manage to replace the Vampire, or has the vampire prevailed, acquiring devilish qualities?"

I don't quite understand how vampires got involved with that The Last Judgment fresco, but the theme probably allows speakers to choose suitable topics concerning both vampires and the devil.

A photo of the Voronet monastery from a Romanian tourist leaflet.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

A haunted cemetery

Assistens Cemetery, Copenhagen, 1802A friend of mine asked me to join him for a special walk in one of Copenhagen's cemeteries yesterday evening. As part of an annual cultural event called in Danish Kulturnatten (The culture night), the old Assistens Kirkegård was open to the public, and on this particular evening a few eerie ghosts were haunting the cemetery! So we walked around in the dark and came pretty close to some female 'apparitions' dressed in white garments, one of them even being very tall with her shroud floating around her.

One may take the opportunity to reflect upon why a the people in charge of the cemetery arrange this kind of event. I suppose that some would even find it disrespectful of those who are buried there to make their graves the site of entertainment. I do, however, think it was done in a relatively respectful way, and the few people who were actually going around the cemetery seemed to act responsibly. For this reason I myself have no particular qualms about it, and of course, historically cemeteries have been used for various purposes, so why not a bit of 'haunting'?

First and foremost the event to me indicates that most of us are not really so afraid of meeting a revenant or ghost to avoid the opportunity to enter a cemetery by night. On the other hand, the question of 'what if' probably 'tickles' our imagination so much that it is attractive to go and see what happens.

The cemetery in question is the burial site of many well-known Danes, e.g. the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the author Hans Christian Andersen, and the physicists Hans Christian Ørsted and Niels Bohr. For those interested in vampires and magia posthuma, this is also the burial site of the Danish author Dan Turèll, who has written a book on vampires, and of the painter Nicolai Abildgaard whom I wrote about in an earlier post.

It is also the cemetery where an interesting incident concerning premature burial occurred in the late 18th century. Tradition has had it that when grave robbers came to steal from the corpse of a young woman called Giertrud Birgitte Bodenhoff, they found her alive and killed her. This tale had been retold for about 150 years when it was decided to exhume the remains of the corpse and examine it to ascertain whether there was any truth in the stories of grave robbers and premature burial.

Viggo Starcke who was in charge of the examination, concluded that the tradition was true, and wrote a book on the mystery of Giertrud Birgitte Bodenhoff that was published in 1954.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Calmet on ebay

A nice copy of the third edition of Calmet's Traite from 1759 was recently sold on ebay. The winning bid was 555 €.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

The spectre Mævia

For those of you who may be wondering about that otherwise so elusive Magia Posthuma by Karl Ferdinand von Schertz that I now have at hand, here are just a couple of facts.

As those of you who are familiar with Calmet may remember, he relates that von Schertz (here in the English translation of Henry Christmas)

relates, that in a certain village, a woman being just dead, who had taken all her sacraments, she was buried in the usual way in the cemetery. Four days after her decease, the inhabitants of this village heard a great noise and extraordinary uproar, and saw a spectre, which appeared sometimes in the shape of a dog, sometimes in the form of a man, not to one person only, but to several, and caused them great pain, grasping their throats, and compressing their stomachs, so as to suffocate them. It bruised almost the whole body, and reduced them to extreme weakness, so that they became pale, lean and attenuated.

The spectre attacked even animals, and some cows were found debilitated and half-dead. Sometimes it tied them together by their tails. These animals gave sufficient evidence by their bellowing of the pain they suffered. The horses seemed overcome with fatigue, perspired profusely, principally on the back; were heated, out of breath, covered with foam, as after a long and rough journey. These calamities lasted several months.

Von Schertz actually mentions the name of this Spectrum: Mævia. Unfortunately, he does not identify the village (he only says: in Pago N., in the village N.), and neither does he date the events. Curiously, he writes that the spectre is seen as a cat (cattus), and not as a dog (Calmet has chien), so somehow Calmet got it wrong.

Otherwise, this is, as Calmet says, the incident that von Schertz relates at the beginning of his book before going on to refer to the case of the shepherd from Blov.

Like I have said before, it would be very interesting to have a critical and annotated edition of Calmet's book on revenants and vampires based on a reading of Calmet's source material.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Magic and Superstition in Europe

On a trip to London last weekend I picked up a book called Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present by Michael D. Bailey, assistant professor of history at Iowa State University.

I have not read the book yet, but in about 250 pages Bailey attempts to survey the history of concepts like magic, superstition and witchcraft, even including a few references to vampires like this one:

After 1736, officials in the English government and church were effectively enjoined against expresing any credence in the new superstitious belief in witchcraft. Needless to say, widespread belief in witchcraft and other forms of magic did not vanish in England in this year, nor in France in 1862, nor anywhere else in Europe as witch hunting came to an end. In some areas, other beliefs that might explain unexpected death or misfortune arose or took on renewed strength. For example, in the Hungarian region of Transylvania, belief in vampires may well have taken on new life even as central authorities became increasingly skeptical about witchcraft. Debates about vampires circulated around the Habsburg court in Vienna and may have influenced Maria Theresa's mid-eighteenth-century legislation effectively ending witch trials. Mostly, though, belief in witchcraft and magic simply endured, and continued to be expressed in local communities as it always had been. For despite all the sound and fury attached to the great witch hunts of Europe, witch hunts and witch trials were never the way most common people dealt with witchcraft. (p. 174)

The painting on the book cover is The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse (1886).

Tuesday, 2 October 2007


So now I have it, the Magia Posthuma by Karl Ferdinand von Schertz, or at least a micro film of it. On the left I have placed a portion of the title page, the full title being MAGIA POSTHUMA PER JURIDICUM ILLUD PRO & CONTRA Suspenso Nonnullibi JUDICIO Investigata à CAROLO FERDINANDO DE SCHERTZ, ÆRÆ SALUTIFERÆ UBI PACISCENDVM.

One thing I have discovered, is that the book was in fact probably published in 1704 and not in 1706 as is usually stated (although 1704 has been pointed out by some, see e.g. here). At least at the end of the book it says:

IMprimatur. Decretum Olomucij in Curia Episcopali II. Julij, 1704.

And I have not noticed the year 1706 being mentioned anywhere.

So now I have to translate the (mostly) Latin text and look more into the references etc. in the book.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Not the ultimate vampire book

"At the outset it appeared helpful to begin any analysis of the vampire not with its earliest appearances in (pre-)Romantic literature, but rather to go back into the folkloristic sources of vampire lore. Some obvious questions to pursue, then, were: Why and where did the idea of modern vampirism (as opposed to the belief in the lamiae and succubi of classical antiquity) spring up? And why has it had such a grip on the public consciousness since the fifteenth century? The outcome of my research yielded the following results: outbreaks of the plague, cannibalism, ancestor worship and human/blood sacrifice, necrophilia, catalepsy, premature burials, body snatching, and the discovery of vampire bats in South and Central America - all these occurrences in one way or another contributed to the belief in and to manefestations of vampirism.

However, I did not see myself in a position to write the ultimate, all-inclusive vampire encyclopedia, and thus I was forced to restrict myself to a more narrowly defined enterprise."

These are parts of the first chapter in a book called Blood Obsession: Vampires, Serial Murder, and the Popular Imagination by Jörg Waltje who is Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Director of the Language Resource Center at Ohio University. The book was published by Peter Lang Publishing in 2005.

And this certainly is a more narrowly defined enterprise: 157 pages attempting to answer the question: What is it about vampires that fascinates the human imagination?. Well, the author has obviously studied both Freud and Todorov, and he mainly focuses on the fictional vampire, so this is not a book of particular interest for those who are interested in folklore and the history of Magia Posthuma.

"The most important findings of" his inquiry is summarised this way (p. 142):

"1. the vampire functions as a perfect model for generic fiction in general;
2. generic fiction is successful since it caters to the underlying mechanisms of our psyche; and
3. if we can trust Freud at all, human behavior in general is compulsive."

So if this is your thing, and you are intrigued to understand these findings, get the book. Otherwise you will be better off buying another book.

In the meantime we are still looking forward to the ultimate, all-inclusive vampire encyclopedia ...

Monday, 24 September 2007

Von Gottes Gnaden

Interestingly, you have to turn to page 667 in Ottenfeld and Teuber's book on Austrian military between 1700 and 1867, Die Österreichischeer Armee von 1700 bis 1867, to read this on the medical aspect of military life in the early 18th century:

"Es ist in diesen Blättern beinahe noch gar nicht über die Pflege der Verwundeten und erkrankten Soldaten geschrieben worden; sehr erklärlich, weil eine solche organisatorisch gar nicht bestand; zwar waren jedem Truppenkörper Aerzte zugewiesen und wurden auch Spitäler errichtet, auch seit Alters her für Invaliden schlecht und recht gesorgt, hiemit war aber Alles geschehen. Stand die Armee im Lager, so konnten in den benachbarten Ortschaften Marodenhäuser errichtet werden, wenn man es nicht vorzog, Schwererkrankte und Verwundete den zunächstliegenden Gemeinden einfach zu überlassen; im Gefechte standen hinter dem ersten und zweiten Treffen requirite Bauernwagen, welche die Verwundeten abschoben; die Soldatenweiber, leichter Verwundete, Marschmarode und Officiersdiener bildeten sodann die Sanitätsmannschaft, der man allenfalls einige Unterofficiere und Soldaten der Truppe unter einem Invaliden-Officier vorsetzte, und so fungierte ein Feldspital – wie man sieht – von Gottes Gnaden."

So, obviously the medical standards of the Feldscherer, no doubt including those who examined the corpses of suspected vampires in Serbia, did not impress Teuber.

Dom Calmet et les vampires

In an earlier post I mentioned the conference in Senones commemorating the 250th year of the death of Augustin Calmet. It seems that the programme may have been extended since my post, because I now notice that there will actually be a talk on Calmet and vampires: Dom Calmet et les vampires by Philippe Martin.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


I happened to find this short video from Kisiljevo which must be the Kisiljevo in the area that in the early 18th century was known as the Rahmer-District taking its name from the fortress Ram. So in these lovely surroundings the well-known Serbian vampire case concerning a certain Peter Plogojowitz was investigated in 1725!

Sunday, 16 September 2007


It seems that in Denmark as late as 200 years ago educated and enlightened people were worried about the belief in ghosts and revenants. According to a Danish book on the subject, the first performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni was postponed until 1807 because the directors of the Danish Royal Opera were concerned that this opera might give new life to the belief in revenants. By then 20 years had passed since the initial performance of the opera in Prague in 1787!

Dracula's Vettern

In an earlier post I stated my doubts concerning the uniqueness of the vampire. Peter Kremer’s book Draculas Vettern: Deutschlands vergessene Vampire (Dracula’s cousins: The forgotten vampires of Germany; PeKaDe-Verlag, 2006, 14.99 €) is very much concerned with this question: Is the vampire a Slavic concept which influenced the folklore of other parts of Europe, or is the Slavic vampire only one manifestation of the concept of a revenant or living corpse that has been known throughout Europe?

Peter Kremer convincingly documents that the latter is the correct answer, and that folkloric entities known in e.g. Western parts of Germany share all the basic characteristics of the Slavic vampire. This may surprise those who have not been able to study the material available on revenants of various sorts throughout Europe, but Kremer certainly has done his home work and is familiar with not only the usual literature on vampires, but also the literature on other types of revenants, as well as folklore in general, witchcraft cases, werewolves, anthropology and more.

His reading of various authors and sources is both critical and analytical. He appropriately critisises Montage Summers and the great number of authors and ‘vampirologists’ whose works are more or less derivative of Summers, but he also presents a very interesting analysis of the background of German folklore research, which sheds light on its leanings towards finding or constructing a Germanic origin and in its extreme: national socialist ideological ideas. To some scholars the belief in revenants and vampires was so primitive that it had to be seen as non-Germanic, and consequently they had reason to insist on the South East European Slavic roots of the belief.

Kremer expertly reviews the literature and details the various German kinds of revenants, including the masticating dead, and explains the ideas behind these beliefs. He even goes back into prehistory to explore the origins of the fear of the dead and the apotropaic means to defend oneself against the harm of revenants.

He shows how many popular myths stem from fiction and have very little to do with the original folkloric vampires and revenants, and administers what ought to be the final rites to various ‘scientific’ explanations of vampires (porphyria and rabies to name the most popular), showing that they are more based in fiction than in fact.

He is even able to propose hypotheses on how the various revenants can be seen as various evolutionary stages of revenant beliefs, incorporating the role of the Christian churches in the evolution of the corporeal revenant into the 'ethereal' spectre of later ghost stories.

There are 733 footnotes in this 205 page book, and they are a very rich source of information, both concerning the source material and the richness and care of Kremer’s research. Many hours of further reading and consideration can be based on the footnotes alone.

The title’s reference to Dracula seems a bit too popular, considering that this book will probably not appeal to the casual reader. He or she may actually find that their own concepts of vampirism will shatter upon realising that there is nothing desirable about becoming a vampire, no “eternal life” in the company of other vampires, only the state of a living corpse that brings harm to its kith and kin.

Peter Kremer’s Draculas Vettern is a miracle of a contribution to the field and should be read and studied by anyone seriously interested in understanding the origin and nature of vampires and Magia posthuma.

PeKaDe-Verlag can be contacted at

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Vampire books keep coming

Here are just two new titles which some may enjoy and some may avoid: The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum and Celluloid Vampires by Stacey Abbott.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Top 5

It is interesting to see that the countries in the top 5 of visitors to this blog are:

1. Denmark (my own country)
2. United States (particularly the states of Michigan and Illinois)
3. Serbia and Montenegro
4. Australia
5. United Kingdom

I suppose that Leptirica and various Serbian names are the reasons why relatively many Serbs visit this blog.

Danish passage grave

For those interested in burial practices here are a few photos from a 5.000 year old burial mound in Øm in Zealand (Sjælland), Denmark. This is one of the largest passage graves (in Danish jættestue) of its kind in Denmark (7 meters long and 1.8 meters wide and so spacious that a man of about 1.8 meters like myself can stand up inside). Various objects were found inside the grave after it was discovered in 1832 (see the description in English and German below).

The Danish name, jættestue, refers to the notion that these mounds or hills were thought to be the residence of giants or other supernatural beings. In the area where this burial mound is located there are many other burial mounds of various sizes, and some of the names of the locations in the area reflect the presence of these mounds. Some have been excavated whereas others have not. There are about 2.400 of these mounds and barrows in Denmark.

Above the opening is seen from the inside, and below is a photo of the interior of one end of the chamber. Initially it is very dark inside the chamber, but within a few minutes your eyes get used to the darkness and you can relatively easily see the inside features of the chamber.

The above photos are from a visit I and my wife made to the grave today. Other photos are available on this web site dedicated to this particular burial mound.

Vampire bibliographies

Elsewhere on this blog there has been a reference to a list of vampire books compiled by Anthony Hogg on Amazon: The Complete Vampirologist's Library. I have myself a couple of times considered compiling an annotated list of books, but the problem is that some books will be in German, some in English, and maybe a couple of books will be in other languages, and that might make it hard to compile an Amazon list of all the books. However, the most comprehensive and useful bibliography online is probably Clemens Ruthner's Forschungslitteratur: Vampirismus - Kommentierte interdisziplinäre Auswahlbibliografie, i.e. research litterature on vampirism - an annotated, interdisciplinary, selected bibliography. It also includes literature on Dracula etc., and you may disagree on some of the comments, but I found it very useful when I first found it. It's from 2003, so obviously newer books are not included.

Note: An updated edition of Ruthner's bibliography can be found in Bertschik and Tuczay's Poetische Wiedergänger (Francke Verlag, 2005).

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Vampire francais

Here is a curious web site on Satirical coins, which includes some interesting coins or medals with inscriptions like Vampire francais and Les vampires de la mort. I haven't found an explanation of why precisely this image was used, but these coins can also be found for sale on ebay.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007


As yet there have been very few comments on this blog. I do receive a bit of feedback by e-mail, but few readers take the opportunity to comment, and the few who have done so, have commented on some old posts. Consequently, I will point you to these two comments on early posts: One on Leptirica, and one on Magia Posthuma.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Bulgarian vampires

I have in my possession a Danish booklet from 1855 by B. Kneazjeskij called Bolgarernes Skikke og Overtro (The customs and superstition of the Bulgarians), translated from the Russian by E. M. Thorson. It is just 39 pages on weddings, births, funerary customs, and superstition. The latter chapter is of particular interest here as it describes various beings: Talasam, Samovid, Karakóndzjal, Vampire, Varkolak, Magésnitsa, Murá, Úrisnitsa, Tsjûma and Sípanitsa!

Vampires are described this way (in my translation):

In the bodies of those persons who have led a life full of sin, as e.g. robbers and the like, an unclean spirit finds an abode after their death, viz. they are transformed into vampires. The same is the case with the one over whose corpse, while it is still in the house of mourning, a cat jumps. To prevent this misfortune, the relatives of the deceased must keep a watch by turns by the body, until it is taken out of the house. After the course of forty days a vampire begins to walk about in the houses and suck the blood of children and at times even from the grown ups through their ears. As soon as it rumours that a vampire haunts, the Bulgarians stay the night several families together in one and the same room. Throughout the whole night two of the men alternately stand guard with a lit candle or dip in each hand, and if one of those asleep start snoring somewhat heavily or to moan while asleep, the guard immediately awakens everybody, and they set off to look for the vampire. In case there is the least suspicion that a deceased has been transformed into a vampire, the authorities and his relatives go to the cemetery, exhume the body, pour sour wine over it and drive a stake through it in the belief that they will thereby drive away the evil spirit that has taken its abode in it.

A footnote (written by the translator, one presumes) is added to the last sentence: According to other authors, such a corpse is finally cremated.

Monday, 3 September 2007

'Queen Gunhild'

Earlier this summer, Danish news reported, that 103.000 Danish kroner (approximately 20.000 dollars) have been allocated to preserve the bog body of a woman found in 1835 in Haraldskær bog near Vejle in Jutland, Denmark. The body which is popularly known as Queen Gunhild, because she was initially identified as this legendary Norwegian queen, will on this occasion be moved from the church in Vejle, Skt. Nicolai Kirke, where she has been on display since 1835, to a new museum building.

She is about 2.500 years old, as she has been dated to go back to about 490 BC, and I mention her here, because her body was found fastened to the ground by several twigs. There have been a few theories on how this was done, including that of a kind of impalement by a stake, but medical examinations has shown that she was only fastened around the knees and the arms. Of course, there is no conclusive evidence of why she was firmly fastened to the ground, but one explanation could be fear of the dead.

The illustration above, taken from a book published in 1929, suggests that something like a stake was used. However appealing this notion would be to the historian of vampires and Magia Posthuma, as mentioned above, forensic evidence has ruled out this possibility in the case of the Haraldskær woman.

English Wikipedia has an entry on the bog body from Haraldskær: Haraldskær Woman.

The illustration is from J. S. Møller: Fester og Højtider i gamle Dage I Fødsel - Bryllup - Død (P. Haase & søn, 1929).

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Theories and Myths of Evil and Vampires

"This is a book about evil. More precisely, it is a book about human evil, and its central question is whether there can be a secular conception of evil, whether that idea can tell us anything about the human condition, explain anything about what human beings do, in the absence of its more familiar territory of the supernatural and the demonic. In seeking to understand human evil it asks the question whether evil exists at all, and one possible answer I take very seriously is that it does not."

Thus Phillip Cole of Middlesex University opens the first chapter of his 2006 book The Myth of Evil (Edinburg Univ. Press), and interestingly one of many themes in the book is vampirism, which is particularly dealt with (along with witchcraft) in the fourth chapter on Communities of Fear (pp. 77-94). As he writes, "The point of studying these historical events is to develop a political philosophy of evil, an awareness of how it has been used to marginalise and oppress. If we can make no philosophical or psychological sense of evil, it may be that this political sense is all there is." (p. 77)

Cole is inspired by what Rousseau wrote about vampires, or rather by what Christopher Frayling writes about Rousseau:

"The point he [Rousseau] made about them [vampires] was that however little so-called 'attested histories' instructed us about the status of vampires, they revealed much about the nature of authority in civilized society." (Vampires: Lord Byron to Count Dracula, p. 33)

Cole writes of the witch hunts and the vampire cases:

"I will suggest that we can draw general patterns about the nature of power in 'civilised' society from these two great panics in European history, and the most important element is the centrality of fear in constituting the identity of political communities. Rather than political communities forming themselves around shared identities, they are formed through the exploitation by political authorities of social fears and insecurities, by focusing those fears upon some threatening 'evil' figure - the vampire, the witch, the Jew, the migrant, the asylum seeker, the Gypsy, the 'Islamicist' terrorist - and claiming to protect the 'genuine' members from these deviant and dangerous threats. Political communities are constituted by an irrational horror of imaginary monsters. In this process, those who seek to hold or gain power do not only create the threatening figure, they also create the community itself, or a particular form of it, with themselves at its centre. The witch craze, the vampire epidemics, and, I will argue in the final chapter of this book, our present panics over such phenomena as immigration and terrorism are exactly parallel. What is especially terrifying about the vampire and the witch is their ambiguity - their ability to be among us without detection, and, in the case of the vampire, their ability to pass across borders undetected. They are the enemy within, and therefore, a source of intense fear and panic, which can be exploited in the pursuit of political power." (p. 81)

Whereas it is quite obvious that those fearing vampires usually went to the authorities to deal with actual cases of vampires and Magia Posthuma, the authorities generally neither instigated nor approved of the belief in vampires. This was the case with the Habsburg military surgeons, and this seems to have been the case with many cases of Magia Posthuma in e.g. Moravia and Silesia. That is, the notion that the authorities themselves deliberately sought to control or even suppress the populace by the belief in vampires and Magia Posthuma, is based on little or no historical evidence.

One proponent of this theory is Gabriel Ronay who in a chapter called Vampire Trials in his 1972 book The Dracula Myth wrote:

"The Inquistion, the Roman Church's instrument for dealing with schismatics and the like, was already in decline, the witch-hunt in the Protestant territories was slowly abating and heresy had lost much of the social dread attached to it. A vigorously pursued and dogmatically justified campaign against the widely feared vampires, however, offered a useful lever with which to re-establish the Catholic Church's dominant position and reassert its spiritual influence in the mixed border areas. With the motive clearly established, there can be little doubt as to whom the hunting down and prosecution of alleged un-dead vampires benefited. The psychological weapon furnished by the nature of the accusations was exploited to the maximum effect to belabour the Orthodox rite Church. The trials also provided a legal forum to discredit the fellow congregationalists of alleged vampires who, in the recorded cases in Hungary's southern border areas, were Slovenes, Serbs or other aliens." (p. 27)

Certainly, revenants played an important role in debates in e.g. the 17th century, but I find it hard to recognize Ronay's description of "a vigorously pursued and dogmatically justified campaign against the widely feared vampires" when reading material from e.g. the original vampire cases. The authorities generally regarded vampires as superstition and generally had no reason to encourage the belief, in fact, they tried to discourage it. Ronay's idea of a "campaign" is probably very appealing to the modern reader, because it is easy to grasp, but a theory should also be based on source material, and in my opinion it is hard to find documentation for Ronay's "campaign".

Cole is perhaps slightly more sophisticated and his analysis in some ways more interesting, but it is based on very little source material and even includes material on the fictional vampire! Regarding "the vampire phenomenon", he mentions that "historical scholarship here is much inferior to the work on the witch trials."(p. 86) And this lack of knowledge of the historical background is probably why his analysis of the vampire cases is not quite convincing.

Saturday, 1 September 2007


I recently posted about the book Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil. The papers in that book were compiled from the contributions to a conference on vampires arranged in Budapest in May 2003. Since that annual conferences on a theme called Monsters and the Monstrous have been arranged. More information is available at the web site of this academic project, Looking at the archives from the conferences it is obvious that not much has been said on the subject of this blog since the first conference in 2003. Later this month, on September 17-20, it is time for the 2007 conference, and at some time the program will probably be available on the web site. Peter Mario Kreuter, author of Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa, is a member of the steering group.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Coming attractions

I should perhaps mention that I have not forgotten that I have promised to write about David Keyworth's Troublesome Corpses, I just need to find an adequate amount of time to do so. Furthermore, I would like to mention that I hope to soon write a little about Peter Kremer's Dracula's Vettern: Deutschlands vergessene Vampire (Dracula's cousins: Germany's forgotten vampires), which is a miracle of a work that I have not yet finished digesting! And finally, I hope to be able to post more on von Schertz's Magia posthuma, so these are but some of the 'coming attractions' that should keep you visiting this blog every now and then!

Monday, 27 August 2007

A.D. 1344 according to Neplach

I recently posted the famous tale of the shepherd from Blov as it appeared in the Kronika Neplachova, but there is another well-known case of a revenant referred to in the same chronicle under the year 1344:

"A. d. MCCCXLIV Quedam mulier in Lewin mortua fuit et sepulta. Post sepulturam autem surgebat et multos iugulabat et post quemlibet saltabat. Et cum fuisset transfixa, fluebat sanguis sicud de animali vivo et devoraverat slogerium proprium plus quam medium, et cum extraheretur, totum fuit in sanguine. Et cum deberet cremari, non poterant ligna aliqualiter accendi nisi de tegulis ecclesie ad informacionem aliquarum vetularum. Postquam autem fuisset transfixa, adhuc semper surgebat; sed cum fuisset cremata, tunc totum malum conquievit."

In my translation this goes something like:

A.D. 1344 a certain woman died in Lewin and was buried. But after her burial she rose, killed many and ran after whomever she pleased. And when she was impaled, blood flowed as from a living animal. She had devoured more than half of her veil, and when it was pulled out, it was full of blood. When she was to be cremated, the wood could not be set afire unless it according to the belief of some old women was made of thatch from the church. But after she had been impaled, she once again rose at all times; but when she was cremated, then all evil ceased.

Like the story of the shepherd from Blov, the tale of of the woman from Lewin was retold by Wenceslaus Hagecius in his 16th century Böhmische Chronica with many interesting details somehow added (and again he also added a year to the date, see e.g. Claude Lecouteux: Die Geschichte der Vampire, p. 96-8). This version has been retold by various other authors, e.g. as here quoted by Dudley Wright in his Vampires and Vampirism (first published 1914):

"Again, in 1345, in the town of Lewin, a potter's wife, who was reputed to be a witch, died and owing to suspicions of her pact with Satan, was refused burial in consecrated ground and dumped into a ditch like a dog. The after-events proved that she was not a good Christian, for, instead of remaining quietly in her grave, such as it was, she roamed about in the form of divers unclean beasts, causing much terror and slaying sundry persons. Thereupon her body was exhumed, and it was found that she had chewed and swallowed one-half of her face-cloth, which on being pulled out of her throat showed stains of blood. A stake was driven through her breast, but this only seemed to make matters worse. She now walked abroad with the stake in her hand and killed quite a number of people with this formidable weapon. Her body was then taken up a second time and burned, whereupon she ceased from troubling. The efficacy of this post-mortem auto-da-fé was accepted as conclusive proof that her neighbours had neglected to perform their whole religious duty in not having burned her when she was alive, and they had been thus punished for their remissness." (p. 167-8)

I have unfortunately not had the opportunity to read Ernst Boehlich's 1928 paper on Die Hexe von Lewin, but I can mention that Karen Lambrecht in her 1994 paper on revenants and vampires identifies Lewin as Lewin Kłodzki which is situated in Southwestern Poland. I find this a bit surprising, as Lewin is otherwise referred to as being in Bohemia, and there is in fact a Lewin (Levin) in that part of the Czech Republic. Furthermore, if you read about Levin in the German Wikipedia, it is mentioned that it was well-known for its pottery in the 14th and 15th centuries, and in this connection the potter's wife who became a "vampire" is mentioned:

"Die Einwohner lebten von der Landwirtschaft und dem Handwerk. Besondere traditionen hatte die Lewiner Töpferei, deren erste Zunftprivilegien aus dem Jahre 1402 stammen sollen und deren Produkte als Lewiner Geschirr weit verbreitet waren. Von einer Töpfersfrau, die in der Mitte des 14. Jahrhunderts gelebt und bösen Zauber ausgeübt haben soll und zur Strafe zu einem Vampir wurde, berichtet eine alte Sage." (The inhabitants supported themselves by farming and craftmanship. The Lewin Pottery had particular traditions, which are supposed to originate from their first guild privileges from the year 1402, and there products where widely distributed as Lewin tableware. An old legend tells of a potter's wife, who lived in the middle of the 14th century and is claimed to have practised evil sorcery and as a punishment became a vampire.)

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Année Dom Calmet 2007

Continuing from my last post, on October 25th this year it is actually 250 years since the death of Calmet. At Senones this is commemorated by a few activities, including a colloquium, which however seems to have very little emphasis on his interest in apparitions and revenants.

Wouldn't it be nice ...

... if someone published a critical and annotated edition of Augustin Calmet's Dissertations sur les apparitions? I mean, not only annotated like the otherwise remarkable recent German translation of the whole book published by Edition Roter Drache, which includes explanatory notes to the text, but annotated critically in the sense that Calmet's sources are pointed out, analyzed and discussed. Considering the influence this book has had, it would be very helpful for the future study of the text, and of course it would be even more useful if that someone also did some research into Calmet's work with the text. Does the correspondence that Calmet refers to still exist? How did Calmet carry out his search for material on revenants? Well, now I have mentioned what I think could be an interesting research and publishing project, and, of course, if I am just unaware of papers and books that cover some of the above ground, please let me know.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Vampire quiz

Here is a curious vampire quiz on Eighteenth century vampires that will test your knowledge on vampires. In fact, the questions are not as precise and correct as one would like them to be, but go and see how well you are versed in vampire history.

Internet resources II: Zedler's Universal-Lexicon

To finally continue pointing out interesting internet resources on Magia Posthuma and related subjects (here is my first post on the subject), I would like to mention the online edition of Johann Heinrich Zedler's famous Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon which was published in 64 volumes in Leipzig between 1732 and 1750. The encyclopedia gives an interesting insight into many things that have a bearing on our subject of Magia Posthuma, vampires and other revenants. In fact, there is no entry on Magia posthuma, but there are several other kinds of Magia listed and explained: Magia Adamica, Magia artificialis, Magia dæmonica, Magia diabolica, Magia directa etc. Evidently this makes it possible to get some understanding of what was understand by Magia.

We can also read about the geography of Hungary (Ungarn), where the (changing) borders are listed along with the a list of areas that were originally ('in the days of old') part of Hungary: 'Siebenbürgen, Wallachey, Bulgarien, Thracien und Romanien, Servien, Bosnien, Dalmatien, Croatien und Sclavonien' (Transylvania, Wallachia, Bulgaria, Thracia, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Dalmatia, Croatia and Slavonia). In this 'old' sense of the name Hungary, the Serbian vampire cases can be attributed to Hungary, whereas it has often been pointed out that some of the vampires referred to as 'Hungarian' were not located in contemporary or modern Hungary.

And, of course, there are the long entries on vampires (Vampyren) and the mastication of the dead (Schmatzen der Toden), which according to the Zedler are closely related, although of Greek origin. Vampires are defined as ‘Todte menschliche Cörper, welche aus den Gräbern hervor spazieren, den Lebendigen das Blut aussaugen, und sie dadurch umbringen sollen.’ (Dead human bodies, which walk out of the graves and suck the blood of the living, thereby killing them). Both vampire cases from Serbia (Kisiljevo 1725 and Medvedja 1731-2) are described in detail, and various aspects of Greek Orthodox faith, Valvasor's mention of vampires/revenants etc. are related and discussed. There is even a rather detailed list of many of the 18th century works on vampires, so it is really a rather nice review that sums up a lot of what one might say about vampires in Leipzig some 10-15 years after the great vampire debate of 1732.

Furthermore, one can read a detailed bibliography of Michael Ranft (here called Ranfft), and there is the short entry on von Schertz which was shown in a previous post. In short, this is a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in the knowledge of 18th century.

Connoisseuers of the gothic will probably find it intriguing that the editor of the two first volumes of the Universal-Lexicon was Jacob August Franckenstein (1689-1733), and may consequently be interested in reading the entry about the ancient family Franckenstein or Frankenstein in volume 9.

On a more modern note, Jutta Nowosadtko who was mentioned in my previous post, has been involved in a project researching and writing about the Zedler lexicon, Zedleriana.

Prof. Nowosadtko on vampires

It is possible to hear Prof. Jutta Nowosadtko of the Helmut Schmidt Universität in Hamburg talking (in German!) about the origin of vampires and the development of the vampire theme here: Vampire! Ein südosteuropäischer Beitrag zur internationalen Kulturgeschichte (Vampires! A South East European contribution to the international cultural history). Of her writings on vampires, Der „Vampyrus Serviensis“ und sein Habitat: Impressionen von der österreichischen Militärgrenze, is available online in a collection of papers on Militär und Gesellschaft in der Frühen Neuzeit.

Sunday, 19 August 2007


I just happened to notice that Christa Tuczay, who has previously written about medieval magic, vampires and related subjects, is publishing a book this month that might interest some.

The subject is "Demonic Crimes in the Donau Monarchy", but as the publisher actually has a web page in English describing the book, I will refer you to that for a description of this - at least at first sight - rather outlandish subject. One example of a "demonic criminal" seems to be the infamous "blood countess", Elisabeth Bathory, who is frequently dealt with in books on vampires and Dracula, although she has nothing particularly to do with revenants.

According to the web site of the Vienna University, Tuczay is lecturing on 'Der Dichter als Aufklärer. Kritische Stimmen zum Aberglauben' this fall, and has previously lectured on 'Unheimliche Begegnungen: Geister, Vampire und Dämonen in der mhd. Literatur'.


August has been busy in other areas than blogging, so there has been a pause in my postings recently. As a 'filler', here is a photo from the cemetery that is just next to my home. Spending so much time reading about corpses that cannot find rest in their graves, it is somewhat reassurring to see how cosy cats and other animals can make themselves around the graves. Incidentally, the head-stone in the photo is placed in memory of a stone cutter.

Magia posthuma and the shepherd from Blov

Frequently Karl Ferdinand von Schertz's 1706 book Magia Posthuma is referred to as the first book on vampires, or as the first 'widely read' book on vampires. It often seems unclear what is the background for these statement, but as far as we can judge from Calmet's description of von Schertz's book, Magia Posthuma was mainly concerned with the revenants of Moravia and neighbouring areas. In fact, von Schertz apparently wrote the book to give a juridical evaluation of the legal proceedings of the authorities in contemporary cases where bodies were exhumed, examined and in some cases destroyed because they were suspected of Magia Posthuma.

Many of these cases are documented - although often briefly - in contemporary sources, and the dead bodies not always appear as revenants, but are at times suspected of posthumous magic simply because they lack the expected signs of corruption. In other cases, they do actually disturb people, although not necessarily in the shape of the dead person, and usually they are not recorded to suck blood! In fact, one researcher rather considers these revenants as poltergeists than as vampires, whereas others relate them to other kinds of revenants known by other characteristics than blood sucking.

Von Schertz probably didn't know the word 'vampire', which first became well-known throughout Europe after the 1732 Medvedja vampire case, but he was aware of earlier tales of revenants. One tale was that of the shepherd from Blov in Bohemia (situated northwest of Prague at approximately latitude 56.324 N and longitude 13.295 E), which was also related by Johann Weichard Valvasor (1641-1693) in Die Ehre des Herzogthums Krain (1689). The story can be traced to the 16th century Böhmische Chronica written by Wenceslaus Hagecius (Wenzel Hajek von Libotschan/Václav Hájek z Libočan; died 1553) and further back to the Kronika Neplachova, i.e. Neplach's Chronicle, which is also known by the Latin title Summula Chronicae tam Romanae quam Bohemicae written by the Benedictine abbot Jan Neplach (1322-1371).

In the chronicle, the year 1336 A.D. is described this way:

"A. d. MCCCXXXVI Philippus, filius regis Maiorikarum, cum XII nobilibus regni ordinem fratrum Minorum in vigilia Nativitatis Christi ingreditur et in Boemia circa Cadanum ad milliare unum in villa dicta Blow quidam pastor nomine Myslata moritur. Hic omni nocte surgens circuibat omnes villas in circuitu hominus terrendo et iugulando et loquebatur. Et cum fuisset cum palo transfixus: dicebat, multum nocuerunt michi, nam dederunt michi baculum, ut me a canibus defendam ; et cum cremandus efoderetur, tumebat sicut bos et terribiliter rugiebat. Et cum poneretur in ignem, quidam arripiens fustem fixit in eum et continuo eupit cruor sicut de vase. Insuper cum fuisset effossus et in currum positus, collegit pedes ad se sicut vivus, et cum fuisset crematus totum malum conquievit, et antequam cremaretur, quemcumque ex nomine in nocte vocabat, infra octo dies moriebatur. Eodem eciam anno Johannes papa XXI moritur et Benedictus XII in papam eligitur.'

In my rudimentary translation this means:

''A.D. 1336 Philip, son of the king of Majorca, entered the [Franciscan] Order of Friars Minor along with 12 nobles of the kingdom on Christmas Eve Day. In Bohemia about one mile from Cadan in a village called Blow a certain shepherd called Myslata died. Every night he rose and went about every farm in the area and spoke to frighten and kill people. When he had been impaled with a stake, he said: They hurt me much, as they gave me a staff to defend me from the dogs; and when he was exhumed for cremation, he swelled up like an ox and roared terribly. When he was placed in the fire, someone grabbed a stick and put it into him, and immediately blood poured out from him as from a vessel. Furthermore, when he had been dug up and was being put on a cart, he drew his feet to himself as if alive, and before he was cremated, anyone whom he called by name at night, died within eight days. Also the same year the pope John XXI died and Benedict XII was elected as pope."

It is quite obvious that there is no mention of bloodsucking, and that blood ('cruor') is only mentioned in connection with the state of the dead body. His malice seems to be confined to haunting the neighbourhood and naming people who consequently die within eight days. The means that are used to destroy him are very similar to those used against vampires - stakes and fire - so, obviously, there are similarities, but would we call the shepherd a vampire or just a revenant?

Valvasor on the shepherd from Blow
Claude Lecouteux mentions the shepherd from Blov under the classification 'Rufer' (someone who yells or calls out) in the German translation of his book on vampires, as the deaths of his victims are caused by him saying aloud their names (and thereby probably calling them to him).

So it would be more appropriate to use the term Magia Posthuma in this case, as this term seems to cover both vampires and other revenants that haunt and molest the living, whose corpses exhibit no signs of ordinary corruption and must be destroyed by various means to stop the threat from the dead. I admit that I know of no use of the term prior to Von Schertz's book, but I find the term fitting for a subject that cannot be restricted to the Serbian vampire of the 18th century, but must take into account prior cases of 'living corpses' from other parts of Europe.

Finally, I like the term because it includes the word Magia and consequently can be linked to both the witch hunt and various 'systems of belief' that involved the concept of 'Magia', which incidentally is usually translated as 'Zauberei' in German. 'Magia Posthuma' thereby presents us with a link to the history and concepts of theology, demonology and witchcraft cases that can help us better understand the context of the famous cases of vampires and revenants of the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, certain scholars claim that in some areas the witch hunt was succeeded by the cases of vampires and other forms of Magia Posthuma.

By the way, according to The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, pope John XII died on December 4th 1334 and was succeeded by Benedict XII on December 20th that year, so obviously Neplach's dates are not precise! As the above excerpt from Valvasor's book shows, he sets the incident in 1337, so here is a good example of how a story has evolved over the years.

The Latin text of Neplach's chronicle is actually available on the internet.
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