Monday, 31 March 2008

What happens to a dead mouse?

Mark Benecke, the forensic pathologist known for his interest in vampires, has written a book for young children about what happens to the cadaver of a mice. It was recently translated into Danish, and is actually a very illustrative way to introduce young children to some of the processes that dead bodies undergo. As this is a subject that is a bit tabu, I think it is in fact brave of both Benecke and the Danish publisher to present this book.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Vampir Prinzessin DVD Bonus Features

I am working on a more detailed review of the Die Vampir Prinzessin DVD that I mentioned in a recent post, but I might just mention a couple of things about the bonus features on this DVD.

Some of the bonus features are related to the making of the documentary, and some are mainly about the main topic of the documentary, Eleonore von Schwarzenberg, but there are in fact two features relevant to the study of Magia Posthuma and vampires: Some excerpts in German from Calmet's book, and most importantly a photographic reproduction of the German translation of Gerard van Swieten's remarks on vampirism. I believe this is the first reproduction of this translation, which means that this DVD is a reasonably easy and cheap way to get to read van Swieten's text in German.

The DVD is only in German, and there are no subtitles, so you have to be able to understand German to appreciate the contents. However, viewers of the British History Channel will get a chance to see the documentary itself later this spring.

The exact contents of the documentary require a bit more research and an extra viewing before I will comment on it in more detail here.

Monday, 24 March 2008


One of the most curious sources for information on the historical witchcraft cases and to some extent to the Magia Posthuma is the archive created by the H-Sonderauftrag or H-Sonderkommando of the SS Sicherheitsdienst (SD) between 1935 and 1944. H is an abbreviation for Hexen, witches. Created by Heinrich Himmler, the researchers of this special and secret part of the SS studied source material in more than 260 archives and libraries throughout German territory and systematically detailed cases of people prosecuted and punished for witchcraft.

The archive consisting of about 33.000 A4-sized entries was found at the end of the war and is now located in an archive in Poznan in Poland. A copy of the archive is also stored in Frankfurt in Germany. In Poznan, the archive also comprises a library of books and pictorial material.

Himmler hasn't left any clear statement on his motives for initiating this large scale research into the witch hunt cases. However, it seems that he wasn't motivated by studying the witch hunters, but rather by sympathy for the Germans persecuted by one nationalsocialism's enemies, the Church.

In 1986, the archive was brought to the attention of historians by Gerhard Schormann in a work on the witchcraft cases in Germany, and since then researchers have studied the archives. In 1999, a collection of papers on the arhive was published, Himmlers Hexenkartothek: Das Interesse des Nationalsozialismus an der Hexenverfolgung (Verlag für Regionalgeschichte).

The verdict on the use of the archive for modern historical research is not unanimous. Some find it useful, whereas others are less positive. For instance, Wolfgang Behringer, known for his research into Bavarian witchcraft cases, is adamant in his critique of the quality of the research. It also seems that the methods and insistence of the various H-Sonderauftrag researchers varied a lot, allowing for some parts of the archive to be more useful than others.

Karen Lambrecht who has studied Silesian witchcraft cases, including a few cases of Magia Posthuma, however, found the archive useful for her research. This probably particularly goes for the cases where the original source material that the SS researchers studied, unfortunately no longer exists.

The archive and the H-Sonderauftrag was dealt with in a German three part TV documentary on witches, Hexen - Magie, Mythen und die Wahrheit which is released on DVD this April. It was shown on Danish television last summer, and I include a couple of shots from it here.

Finally, here is a Polish web page in English concerning the H-Sonderauftrag with four examples of archival material: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

In Search of... Documentaries

Continuing on the theme of documentaries, I think the first documentary on the subject was the 1975 Swedish Vem var Dracula?, better known as In Search of Dracula. The Swedish title means Who was Dracula? and was the title of the Swedish translation of Radu Florescu and Raymond T. McNally's bestselling book In Search of Dracula which was the inspiration for the documentary.

I saw it on Swedish television back then and I'd say that I almost grew up on the mythology of that book. Well, you couldn't avoid being affected by it if you were into the subject back then. Much later on it's been pretty stimulating to see how it has been debunked by Elisabeth Miller in Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (2000/2006).

The documentary is probably most memorable for its sequences featuring Christopher Lee as Vlad Tepes, but it also contains a bit of information on folkloric vampires, although not particularly useful to anyone seriously interested in Magia Posthuma. I can't find any clips on youtube to link to, but it should be pretty easy to obtain on DVD (my own copy is American and contains a commemorative booklet on the making of the documentary).

I have, however, found this nicely produced mixture of various folkloric bits and pieces that various authors have somehow connected with vampires. It's more entertaining than enlightening, and delightfully short...

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Vampire: His Kith and Kin

Back in the Eighties and into the Nineties it was almost impossible to obtain a copy of Montague Summers's The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. For some reason, the follow up volume, The Vampire in Europe, was reissued a couple of times, but Summers's first book on the subject was extremely hard to find. Not so now, as it has been reissued and even first editions are available on ebay, but you can also read it online courtesy of Forgotten Books. OK, the Greek quotes look strange, but most modern day readers will probably skip them on their initial reading anyway.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Dracula Restored

Although this blog is not dedicated to fictional vampires, I must confess that I am eagerly looking forward to watching the newly restored and uncut version of Hammer's 1958 Dracula. In the British Film Institute trailer below, you will hear Peter Cushing as Abraham van Helsing say:

The study of these creatures has been my life's work. I've carried out research for some of the greatest authorities of Europe, and yet we've only just scratched the surface.

Another docudrama

Speaking of documentaries about vampires and Magia Posthuma, below you will find a clip from the History Channel documentary Vampire Secrets that dramatizes chapter 8 of Calmet's volume on revenants and vampires, Morts de Hongrie qui sucent le sang des vivants (Dead persons in Hungary who suck the blood of the living).

The original source in the translation of Henry Christmas:

About fifteen years ago, a soldier who was billeted at the house of a Haidamaque peasant, on the frontiers of Hungary, as he was one day sitting at table near his host, the master of the house saw a person he did not know come in and sit down to table also with them. The master of the house was strangely frightened at this, as were the rest of the company. The soldier knew not what to think of it, being ignorant of the matter in question. But the master of the house being dead the very next day, the soldier inquired what it meant. They told him that it was the body of the father of his host, who had been dead and buried for ten years, which had thus come to sit down next to him, and had announced and caused his death.

The soldier informed the regiment of it in the first place, and the regiment gave notice of it to the general officers, who commissioned the Count de Cabreras, captain of the regiment of Alandetti infantry, to make information concerning this circumstance. Having gone to the place, with some other officers, a surgeon and an auditor, they heard the depositions of alle the people belonging to the house, who attested unanimously that the ghost was the father of the master of the house, and that all the soldier had said and reported was the exact truth, which was confirmed by all the inabitants of the village.

In consequence of this, the corpse of this spectre was exhumed, and found to be like that of a man who has just expired, and his blood like that of a living man. The Count de Cabreras had his head cut off, and caused him to be laid again in his tomb. He also took information concerning other similar ghosts, amongst others, of a man dead more than thirty years, who had come back three times to his house at mealtime. The first time he had sucked the blood from the neck of his own brother, the second time from one of his sons, and the third from one of the servants in the house; and all three died of it instantly and on the spot. Upon this deposition the commissary had this man taken out of his grave, and finding that, like the first, his blood was in a fluid state, like that of a living person, he ordered them to run a large nail into his temple, and then to lay him again in the grave.

He caused a third to be burnt, who had been buried more than sixteen years, and had sucked the blood and caused the death of two of his sons. The commissary having made his report to the general officers, was deputed to the court of the emperor, who commanded that some officers, both of war and justice, some physicians and surgeons, and some learned men, should be sent to examine the causes of these extraordinary events. The person who related these particulars to us had heard them from the Count de Cabreras, at Fribourg in Brigau, in 1730.

Notice that in the documentary it is claimed that the event occurred at a place in Hungary called Haidamaque, whereas Calmet says that the soldier stayed with a Haydamaque peasant on the frontiers of Hungary (chez un paysan Haidamaque, frontière de Hongrie). Haydamaque denoting haidamakas, 18th Century Ukrainian paramilitary bands similar to the haiduks known from the Serbian vampire cases.

There is also a small error in the Christmas translation: Fribourg in Brigau is actually Fribourg en Brisgau, Freiburg im Breisgau situated in South Western Germany.

It is in fact quite curious to read Montague Summers's version in The Vampire in Europe (p. 147-9): Count de Cabreras becomes Count de Cadreras, and the events are said to occur in Haidam (!) around 1720. He even finishes his account by claiming:

The papers dealing with the case are still extant and the whole story was related in 1730 by the Count de Cadreras himself to a responsible official of the University of Fribourg who took down the details from the Count's own lips. It is hard to see how more reliable evidence is to be obtained of any happening or event.

Vampire Secrets is available on DVD.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Die Vampir Prinzessin

A DVD documentary which is somehow concerned with our subject of Magia Posthuma was released late in 2007: Die Vampir Prinzessin (The Vampire Princess) is, it seems, inspired by archeological excavations of three corpses showing signs of being treated as if suspected of posthumous magic, but tells the tale of a Bohemian countess Eleonore von Schwarzenberg (1682-1741). I expect to review it here within the next couple of weeks...

Modern day superstition

According to a poll published today in a Danish newspaper, 21 % of Danish women and 15 % of Danish men believe in ghosts and spirits. Only 36 % of Danish women say they don't believe in ghosts, because 43 % say they don't know! For Danish men the same figures are 54 % and 31 % respectively.

I find it hard to believe that Danes in general are very concerned with supernatural entities like ghosts, but on the other hand it seems that many Danes, although living in a highly secular society, do not rule out the potential existence of such phenomena!

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Symposium in May

Last year I mentioned this upcoming symposium on The Vampire and the Devil. A bit more information is now available here. Well, the information is more of a practical nature than explanatory of the subject.

Els vampirs de Medveda

Jordi Ardanuy has published a paper on the Medvedja vampire case. Unfortunately, it is only available in Catalan. It contains translations of the source material, as well as background information. Some may notice that this blogger's entry on Medvedja is referred to in the references and notes.
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