Friday, 31 October 2008


So, it's Halloween, and unlike last year I haven't done anything in particular for the occasion. But numerous other blogs and web sites have been warming up for Halloween, and here is apropos of my recent posts on books about the witch hunt a post on another blog that shows numerous examples of representations of witches. Another post from the same blog shows further examples, and here you'll also find a painting of the ghost of Samuel conjured up by the witch of Endor. This Old Testament tale of necromancy (1. Samuel, chapter 28) played a key role in some of the early debates on revenants.

Incidentally, this post is the 250th that I have written during nearly one and a half year since my first post on May 2nd 2007.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Accumulated annotations

Now I have received a copy of Leslie S. Klinger's New Annotated Dracula which has been mentioned a number of times here, and what a beautiful book it is. Nicely bound, printed and illustrated, it is a joy to browse. I'm not sure when I will have time for a more detailed look at it, and as I keep saying, this blog certainly isn't about Dracula, but I think some of you might be interested in a book like this.

As I've admitted to being originally inspired by Stoker's novel to investigate the history of vampires when I was a teenager, I'll take the opportunity to show a photo of a number of annotated editions of Dracula. From top left and clockwise:

1) The first annotated edition, The Annotated Dracula by Leonard Wolf (1975)
2) Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu's The Essential Dracula (1979), that incorporated some of Stoker's own notes for the novel
3) Clive Leatherdale's Dracula Unearthed (2nd edition 2006 - the first edition was published in 1998), probably the most detailed use of Stoker's notes and sources for an annotated edition
4) Norton's Critical edition by Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal (1997), that is only sparsely annotated but includes a lot of further material
5) The New Annotated Dracula by Leslie S. Klinger (2008), which also includes information based on Stoker's manuscript
6) The second edition of Leonard Wolf's annotated edition published as The Essential Dracula (1993) - in my opinion a disappointment compared to the original edition
7) Not an annotated edition, but the shorter edition of Stoker's Dracula originally published in 1901, here published as Dracula: The Definitive Author's Cut (2005)

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Black and white myths and the not so clear-cut facts

Unlike the talkative and humorous book on vampires mentioned recently, Rita Voltmer's Hexen. Wissen was stimmt (Herder) is succinct and to the point. It is short - just 128 pages - and practically layouted in two colours to make it easy to find and understand the information you need. In that sense, it's an exemplary example of how to communicate the current knowledge of a historical topic.

A majority of the book focuses on debunking a number of myths, misperceptions and manipulations. Voltmer exposes and confronts each of them with a short overview of current knowledge and explains the practice and thinking of contemporary experts and laymen of the early modern period.

Typically, the myths are very clear-cut, but the facts are not. However, in many cases we are familiar with the myths from comics, novels or movies about witches or from e.g. feminist neopaganist literature. But precisely our familiarity with the more or less fictional constructs about witches and the witch hunters is all the more reason why Voltmer's book is a welcome chance to disseminate a more correct understanding of the subject.

Some of the myths concern the pretty fantastic claims that several millions were accused of witchcraft and executed, that it was a medieval phenomenon, that the persecutions were largely of a misogynistic nature, that a witch was easily identifiable as either an old hag with warts or as a sexy midwife with red hair etc. etc.

Although debunking some of the more ridiculous myths about the torture - as seen in e.g. torture museums - it is quite unpleasant to read about this aspect of the judicial procedures against serious crimes like witchcraft. Voltmer provides a brief explanation of the views that justified the procedures, namely concerning the transcendent aspect of the torment, because the court was not only fighting the witch, but also the Devil by saving the witch's soul from eternal damnation.

Voltmer also questions the simplified explanations that have been provided for the whole phenomenon, yes, she even debunks the construction 'witch hunt'. For the purposes of this blog, it is particularly interesting to note that the Enlightenment (itself a construct) did not expose the witch hunt as a miscarriage of justice, and that it was not disbelief in witchcraft or fear of witches that stopped the witch hunt, but rather other concerns like e.g. considerations concerning the judicial use of torture. She also discards with the simple way of opposing rationalism and belief that is still so common, but not very useful when applied to history, cf. also my posts on the rationality of the past.

Finally, people might think that there is no witch hunt today, but Voltmer reminds us that, although not a witch hunt per se in the Christian sense, around the world, e.g. in some parts of Africa, people are still being persecuted for various sorts of witchcraft or magic, including vampirism!

However, Voltmer is worried that the historians who are researching the history of the early modern witch hunt may suffer the fate of a Don Quijote fighting wind mills in their attempt to put an end to all the popular myths, manipulations and conspiration theories about witches that are prevalent in movies, novels and the media in general. Hopefully, her book will be read and help fight the common myths. I heartily recommend it to anyone who needs a brief, but precise overview of the subject.

Bloody crimes in a magnificent library

As mentioned in my previous post, Gerard van Swieten was head of the court library (Hofbibliohek). The library was built in the 1720s, under Charles VI, and today is known as the Prunksaal, a magnificent baroque library that should make anyone say: Now, this is a library! Van Swieten started systematically obtaining books for the library, and he is commemorated in the huge hall by a bust shown in the photo below.

Until November 2nd this year the Prunksaal houses an exhibition on bloody crimes from Cain's murder of Abel over cannibals to modern mass murderers and the Holocaust: Blutige Geschichte. A gallery of some of the exhibited books and objects is found here.

The photos can't do the baroque hall with its frescos, books etc. justice, so it's obviously a place to visit if you go to Vienna, although you have to hurry if you want to see books on cannibals exhibited next to Van Swieten :-)

Friday, 24 October 2008

18th Century Vienna

A friend urged me to watch at least the beginning of The Third Man before going to Vienna. Of course, I've seen this cinematic masterpiece a number of times, but I watched the beginning before going to Vienna and then the whole movie after returning. It really had no impact on my experience of Vienna, and I don't feel that it has provided an extra dimension to my conception of the city, although I did recognize some of the locations when I saw the whole movie.

In Vienna I bought a book called Das blieb vom Wien Maria Theresias by Gabriele Praschl-Bichler (Leopold Stocker Verlag, 2001) which can be found in several book shops around town. In text and pictures the book recreates Vienna of the 18th century and guides one in the direction of buildings and sites that have to some extent survived from that era. Unfortunately, there is no index to guide the reader when searching for e.g. a specific person, but I think the book can be used by the tourist who wishes to get a better understanding of what Vienna was like in the century when documents concerning magia posthuma were sent to Vienna.

The book also contains short biographies of relevant persons, like e.g.

'Gerhard VAN SWIETEN (1700-1772), niederländischer Arzt, medizinischer Reformer. 1745 von Kaiserin Maria Theresia nach Wien berufen, 1749 Rektor der medizinischen Fakultät, 1758 in den Freiherrnstand erhoben, gründete die erste Wiener Schule für Tierärzte, eine Hebammenschule und Findelhäuser. Direktor der Hofbibliothek.'

'Alles über Blutsauger'

'Auch Blutsauger möchten ernst genommen werden, denn sie haben ein Recht darauf. Schließlich gibt es sie schon lange genug als Phänomen, das bis heute erstens nicht verschwunden ist und zweitens seine Anziehungskraft nicht verloren hat.

Und schon sind wir mitten in der Materie: Woher kommen Vampire? Was vermögen sie? Warum faszinieren sie uns Menschen nach wie vor?

Und vor allem: Warum waren zu Beginn der Dreißigerjahre des 18. Jahrhunderts - als Händels Musik Erfolge feierte, Voltaire seinen "Brutus" schrieb, der Sextant erfunden surde und hier und da Kriege geführt wurden - zahlreiche Menschein in Europa überzeugt, dass es Vampire tatscächlich gibt?'

This way Markus Heitz introduces some of the questions he aims to answer or discuss in his new book Vampire! Vampire! Alles über Blutsauger (Piper Verlag, 221 pages, € 7.95).

Heitz, author of several fantasy books, has studied a lot of the literature - Sturm und Völker, Hamberger, Schröder, Hock, Klaniczay, Summers, Barber, Perkowski etc. - and the result of his research is an easily read, humorous and very talkative book about vampires with specific focus on the vampire cases and vampire debates of the 18th century.

As far as I have noted, he doesn't contribute new information or results to the field, but as he is quite exact and faithful in summing up the sources and what others have compiled and found, his book will serve as a good introduction to the subject. Actually, I find it quite impressive that it's possible to tell the story of the 18th century vampires including a short overview of the vampire debate in a format that is so easy to read!

A bibliography containing 42 primary sources and 78 secondary will aid the reader who wishes to know more about the subject, or who will perhaps carry out his or her own research.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Another kind of heart eater

'Step into the world of your grandparents,' a Danish travel agency promises when advertising trips to Romania. Eating the heart of a dead man probably wasn't practised in the days of my grandparents, but that's another example of heart eating mentioned by Christa Tuczay in her book. I have actually posted about the incident she refers to, because it's the case of a suspected vampire in Marotinu de Sus in late 2003, but in my post I wrote that 'they cut up the corpse and removed the heart which they burnt at the cross roads.'

A later report on the incident was published in The Independent in October 2007, when Dr. Timothy Taylor recounted what happened when he visited the village and talked to an elderly villager who claimed to have witnessed the exhumation of other presumed vampires (strigoi). He told Taylor that 'The men took the heart, spiked aloft, to the crossroads outside the village. There they roasted it over a brazier and, as far as I could understand, stuffed glowing coals into the ventricles. Held up in the night sky, the heart shed charred flakes that were caught in a tea towel. These were taken to the niece's house [supposedly a victim of the vampire], ground up and mixed in a glass of water. "The niece drank it," Fifor [an anthropologist] confirmed, "and in the morning she said she felt better... in this way she was cured."'

Tuczay comments that according to Fifor the eating of the heart of a vampire is neither a well-known nor old Romanian remedy against strigoi.

Taylor, unfortunately, seems to subscribe to the improbable theory of Juan Gomez-Alonso that the vampire cases of the 17th and 18th centuries might have been caused by rabies. To quote Peter Mario Kreuter: 'Doch alle diese Versuche erwiesen sich als Fehlschläge, denn die Mediziner bedienten sich des Vampirglaubens als eine Art Steinbruch und pickten sich nur diejenigen Elemente des Volkglaubens heraus, die ihre Theorie zu stützen schienen, wobei sie oft noch nicht einmal zwischen Elementen des Volksglaubens und erfundenen Details der Belletristik sauber unterscheiden konnten.' (Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa, p. 12-13)

Below is the last part of the True Blood episode about vampires including footage from Marotinu de Sus as found on youtube. As mentioned in my old post, the series is available on DVD.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


Last year I mentioned a book by Christa A. Tuczay about demonic crimes in the Donau Monarchy: Die Herzesser: Dämonische Verbrechen in der Donaumonarchie (Seifert Verlag, 2007). I bought a copy of it when I was in Vienna, and from the parts that I have read I can say that it is a nice and informative book about subjects like cannibals, werewolves, murderers and vampires from the countries that have been part of the Donau monarchy!

There are about a dozen pages about vampires that provide an overview of some of the 18th century vampire cases, including Georg Tallar's examinations of victims of vampires. Gilles de Rais, Elisabeth Báthory, Vlad Tepes and a few other well-known characters are also briefly described, slightly ironically, as Tuczay says in her afterword: 'obwohl sie sicherlich meist nicht zum Lachen reizen, sich aber mit einer Prise Humor leichter ertragen lassen.'

The 'heart eaters' mentioned in the title refer to various tales of literal and symbolic eaters and stealers of hearts, including Le Livre du cuer d'amours espris by René d'Anjou, which exists in an illuminated manuscript in Vienna (see the above illustration which is shown in black and white in the book). In this poem the poet is in love and dreams that Amor takes out his heart and gives it to Desire, cf. the illustration. In other tales, the heart of a lover is served as food by the cuckolded husband to his wife.

The foreword is by Mark Benecke, and there are useful notes specifying sources and further reading. All in all 160 illustrated pages at €19.90, and once again: it is in German...

Addendum: I notice that Tuczay is also one of the editors of a new anthology entitled Faszination des Okkulten: Diskurse zum Übersinnlichen published by Francke Verlag that also published the Poetische Wiedergänger anthology on vampires.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Annotations reviewed

The New Annotated Dracula has been mentioned a couple of times in this blog after the editor notified me of it in a comment to a post. I haven't received it yet, but you can read a review here.

The Josephinum

Next to van Swieten Gasse on Währinger Strasse in Vienna lies the so-called Josephinum. The building was designed to house the Medical-Surgical Academy that opened in 1785 during the regin of Maria Theresa's son, Joseph II, hence the name (today probably best known by many people via Amadeus). Today the building houses the Institute for the history of medicine, the Kurt Gödel Research Center for Mathematical Logic, and - the part that is open to the public: the Museum of the Medical University.

As vampires were of particular interest within the field of medicine in the 18th century it is naturally of some interest to see the parts of the exhibition concerning that century. Actually, the first person one meets in the room concerning the earliest history of Viennese medicine is none other than Gerard van Swieten!

The museum then follows the development of medicine in Vienna. The exhibition is pretty old fashioned, but that suits the subject and surroundings pretty well. In fact, I don't think this is one of the most popular museums, and there was only one other visitor while I was there.

The most spectacular part of the exhibition is a very large collection of anatomical wax models made in Italy in the late 18th century. It's quite incredible to see the meticulous work put into making these remarkable and colourful models of human intestines, veins, tissue, skeleton etc.

As photography is not allowed in the museum, I am unable to show any photos of the van Swieten material exhibited or of the wax models apart from the one below that I have borrowed from the web site of the Josephinum.

Forthcoming books

Here are some books that might prove interesting and that are published in the near future:

Dracula Unbound. Kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüren des Vampirs edited by Christian Begemann, Britta Herrmann and Harald Neumeyer (Rombach Buchverlag): 'Der Vampirismus gehört zu den wenigen genuinen Mythen, die die Moderne hervorgebracht hat. Vampirgeschichten sind keineswegs nur Produkte einer anspruchslosen Unterhaltungsindustrie, sondern Schauplatz komplexer kultureller Verhandlungen zwischen den Künsten, der Medizin, Psychologie, Theologie und Philosophie, sozialen und politischen Diskursen. Als Ausdruck eines ›wilden Denkens‹ geben sie daher in vielerlei Hinsicht Aufschluß über das Selbstverständnis der Moderne, ihre Problemstellungen, Faszinationspotentiale und Ängste.'

Blutspuren: Die Geschichte der Vampire. Auf den Spuren eines Mythos by Hagen Schaub (Leykam Verlag): 'Zahllos sind die Exhumierungen, die man auf den Friedhöfen Mittel- und Osteuropas vornahm, um Vampire aufzuspüren. Und nicht selten fanden sich gut erhaltene Leichen mit „rosiger Haut“, langen Haaren und Fingernägeln sowie Blutspuren um den Mund. Waren es tatsächlich Untote? Ihre Geschichten werden oft überliefert, sind immer die gleichen und haben wenig mit den Klischees aus Romanen und Filmen zu tun: Vampire bissen, würgten und drangsalierten ihre Opfer bis zum Tod. Aber sie verfügten dabei weder über spitze Eckzähne noch fürchteten sie sich vor Knoblauch. Sie trugen keine schwarzen Anzüge und waren nie adeliger Abstammung. Sie waren brutale Untote, die man nur mit außergewöhnlichen Maßnahmen vernichten konnte. „Blutspuren“ zeichnet die Geschichte der Vampire auf der Basis neuer Forschungsergebnisse nach, räumt dabei mit zahllosen Irrtümern und Fehlern auf und zeigt anhand von aktenkundigen Fällen, zahlreichen akademischen Abhandlungen und archäologischen Funden, warum die Menschen glaubten, es wirklich mit einem Wiederkehrer zu tun zu haben. Totenbräuche, Aberglaube und Notzeiten waren der Nährboden für den Vampir, der vor etwas mehr als zweihundert Jahren eine zweite Karriere als Romanfigur startete und damit zur wohl erfolgreichsten Horrorfigur aller Zeiten wurde.'

Vampire! Vampire! Alles über Blutsauger by Markus Heitz (Piper Verlag): 'Im Jahr 1731 kommt es nahe Belgrad zu mysteriösen Todesfällen. Die Behören sprechen von Vampirismus. Doch ist dieser historisch verbürgte Fall wirklich der erste? Woher stammt der Vampirmythos? Gibt es Beweise für ihre Existenz oder ist alles erlogen? Wie sehen Vampire aus, und mit welchen Mitteln kann man sich gegen sie zur Wehr setzen? Mit Spannung, Witz und glänzend recherchierten Anekdoten führt Bestsellerautor Markus Heitz durch die Geschichte der Blutsauger und bietet das unverzichtbare Rüstzeug für alle Fans der spitzen Eckzähne.
Alles, was man über die unheimlichsten Geschöpfe der Menschheitsgeschichte wissen muss.'

Das Vampirbuch by Ditte and Giovanni Bandini (dtv): 'Der Vampir ist nicht lieb und nett - Töten gilt als sein Metier. Er ist mit der Nacht und deren Wesen im Bunde. Dennoch übt er, seit er vor mehr als hundert Jahren als Dracula die literarische Bühne betrat, eine unglaubliche Faszination auf die Menschen aus. Er nimmt Einfluss auf Aussehen, Kleidung und Lebensstil ganzer Gruppen. Doch was sind eigentlich »Psivamps« und was genau »Vampyre«? Müssen Vampire unbedingt Blut trinken? Sind sie mit den Werwölfen verwandt, den Wiedergängern oder den Zombies?'.

Slavic Folklore: Vampires and Werewolves

The internet allows you to get a sneak preview of many things. You can e.g. see the material that is put online from a current course on Slavic Folklore: Vampires and Werewolves by Professor George Gutsche of the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies at The University of Arizona. The goals specified are:

'Desired outcomes of the course include: (1) knowledge about Eastern European cultures, in particular vampire and werewolf lore; (2) development of reading and film-viewing skills (which in turn will enhance appreciation for literary and cinematic works); (3) basic familiarity with the terminology and concepts of folklore, literary study and film study; (4) an increased awareness of the ways in which social problems are reflected in popular culture and art; and (5) a better understanding of how beliefs are acquired.'

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Compact history

One of the books I have brought back with me from Vienna is a 136 page introduction to the history of witches and the witch persecution of the Early Modern Period, Hexen und Hexenverfolgung in der Frühen Neuzeit, by Walter Rummel and Rita Voltmer and published this year by WBG in a series called Geschichte kompakt. It aims at giving a lucid and precise overview of the history based on recent research, which sounds very welcome considering the number of more specialised books on the subject that has published over the last decade or so. Rita Voltmer is also the author of a small paperback, which I didn't purchase, that provides short and clear answers on some of the most popular and important questions concerning this subject: Hexen. Wissen was stimmt (Herder). Both books will hopefully serve to correct some of the myths and misconceptions about this subject that still persist, e.g. concerning the number of witches that were executed.

A matter of language

In Vienna I had the pleasure of meeting the organizers of the forthcoming conference on vampirism and magia posthuma, Dr. Ursula Reber and Dr. Christoph Augustynowicz. They told me about what they had been doing to invite speakers, and what they were planning to do. As soon as I have more information, I will publish it here. But I should mention one important thing, namely that the conference will be in German. There are various reasons for this decision, but it means that it is necessary to understand that language to benefit from attending.

I have earlier written about language barriers, e.g. in one of my earliest posts, Languages and barriers. One visitor to this blog recently mentioned in a private e-mail that it would be a great help in this field to read German, and my answer was that reading Latin would be a great help, but that understanding German is essential. I don't think there is any other way of bridging the gap than by learning enough German to at least read relevant texts.

Military History

One of the places I had been looking foward to visiting in Vienna was the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, the Museum of Military History, located near Belvedere and Südbahnhof. I was in particular interested in the exhibitions related to the wars against the Turks, Eugene of Savoy, and the 18th century.

I was not disappointed and spent quite some time in those parts of the museum. Actually I found it hard to concentrate on the rest of the exhibitions, although they contain many interesting objects from the Napoleonic wars, the first and second World Wars etc.

It is allowed to take photos if you pay a fee of €1.50, but it is unfortunately very dark in some areas of the exhibitions. Furthermore, it is usually hard to take decent photos in a museum because of all the reflections, which is the explanation for the poor quality of my photo below of a detail of a print showing an 18th century Feldscherer (field surgeon) and his assistants treating a wounded soldier.

Friday, 17 October 2008

If I were Brown

If I were Dan Brown or some other author writing a vampire novel in the style of Brown's bestselling novels, I would consider incorporating the Pestsäule (Plague Column) in Vienna in the storyline to be one of those enigmatic clues leading to the solution of some enigma of grand proportions. At least, I feel it would be easy to use the part of the column shown in the above photo as some cryptic symbol of a vampire being slain using cross and stake :-) It's not a stake and the teeth aren't fangs, but if they had been, the 'secret message' would have been too obvious...

The column is a commemoration of the end of the plague that swept Vienna in 1679, the Great Plague of Vienna.

Viennese vampires?!

While in Vienna, I attended one of those tours of Vienna concerning ghosts and vampires that I have mentioned before. Well, it was quite entertaining and informative, although to be taken with at least a pinch of salt. It lasted for over one and a half hour and consisted of three parts, the two first concerning ghosts of either commoners or nobles, and the final one vampires. Our guide was very talkative, humorous and good at starting a dialogue with our little group of 'ghost hunters'. The language was (Austrian) German.

He claimed that about tales of about 800 vampires were known in Vienna, but that most of them were located outside the center. That was certainly news to me :-) Anyhow, one of his tales concerned an 'arch vampire' that should have been seen at Freyung, and one of the others was about Elizabeth Bathory, whose Vienna house he pointed out the location of (see the photo below). This was the place where, according to a contemporary witness, the cries of Bathory's victims were so loud that the monks living in the monastery next door had to protest. We also got a rather curious version of the story of Gerhard Van Swieten who was described as a 'vampire hunter'!

Our guide, however, probably isn't familiar with the archival documents concerning 18th century vampire cases, because we strolled past one of the archives where some of these documents are stored without any comment from him!

But it was quite entertaining and also enlightening on other aspects of Viennese history.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


I received this question by e-mail, but I'll just post the answer here:

I came across your blog while doing research on vampires, and I admire and appreciate your scholarly work -- the accuracy, detail, and depth that you give the subject. I also found your English translation and commentary of the report Visum et Repertum extremely helpful (thank you). You also mentioned that the original manuscript was stored in the archives in Vienna, and my questions are: are these archives available online (I did a search but couldn't find it)? And how did you manage to obtain a photo of the report?

I don't think you can find these manuscripts online. The archives storing some of the most important documents are located in Vienna: The Austrian State Archives which are located at two addresses in Vienna, one of which is shown in the accompanying photo.

The manuscript of the Visum et Repertum that I have shown some excerpts from, is a contemporary copy sent to a foreign government, not the original document.


I have been quiet for a while, but that is only because I have been in Vienna for a few days. Now I'm back and will probably post a few photos from Vienna and more.

Friday, 10 October 2008

News on From Demons to Dracula

Matthew Beresford, author of From Demons to Dracula that I have posted about here and here, informs me that the book is slightly delayed, but should be out within a week or so. In the meantime he has set up a web site with information on the book and his other activities.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Medvedja sources

He's been at it again, fellow blogger Nicolaus Equiamicus, this time compiling a number of sources on the Medvedja vampire case on his blog!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Awaiting Dracula

Someone on youtube has provided the portion of Hammer's Dracula that I recently referred to, so if anyone is unfamiliar with it, take a look at the video below. Do purchase the DVD, if you want to watch the whole movie :-)

The lumbering peasant

I recently quoted from a children's book about Dracula and vampires: 'The original Transilvanian vampires on the contrary were rough creatures with boastful voices and red faces covered with stuble.' The funny thing is that the book never says anything about these peasant revenants, so no explanation is provided why those original vampires look so different from the pale and thin vampires of fiction.

From the Medvedja vampire case we have the vivid description of the amazement with which the villagers observed the corpse of the 60 year old Miliza: 'Es haben sich bey der Secirung die umstehende sämtliche Heyducken über ihre Fette und vollkommenen Leib sehr verwundert, einhellig aussagend, daß sie das Weib von ihrer Jugend auf wohl gekannt, und Zeit ihres Lebens gantz mager und ausgedörrter ausgesehen und gewesen, mit nachdrücklicher Vermeldung, daß sie in dem Grab zu eben dieser Verwunderungs-würdigen Fettigkeit gelanget sey.' (In Paul Barber's translation: During her dissection, all the haiduks who were standing around marveled greatly at her plumpness and perfect body, uniformly stating that they had known the woman well, from her youth, and she had, throughout her life, looked and been very lean and dried up, and they emphasised that she had come to this surprising plumbness in the grave).

These various signs can be attributed to the effects of decomposition: The bloating and discolouring of the corpse, the contraction of skin that makes it look like nails and hair has grown post mortem, i.e. the 'red faces covered with stuble' and the plumb body of the peasant shown in the drawing. That those unfamiliar with the effects of decomposition believe that the discolouring and the fluids in dead bodies arise from blood sucking is quite another matter. The same goes for the sounds that corpses make because of bloating and insects.


I was away for a few days over the weekend going to Brussels, Northern France, and Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I had the pleasure of meeting the web master of the Shroudeater web site, Rob Brautigam. Not much else of relevance to this blog to report from that city, but I strolled past these two guys at Dam square.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Online text on Ranft's Traktat

Fellow blogger Nicolaus Equiamicus again refers to interesting material on vampires. This time it's a text by Bettina Meister on Michael Ranft's Traktat von dem Kauen und Schmatzen der Todten in Gräbern. Meister reviews the contents of the book and adds some comments on it. She says:

'Die große Leistung von Ranft besteht meiner Ansicht nach darin, sich in einer theologischen Welt im Umbruch mit philosophischen und intellektuellen Methoden der grassierenden Angst der Menschen vor dem Vampirismus genähert zu haben und Antworten zu bieten, die sich von Spekulationen und mystischen Annahmen entfernen.' (Ranft's great achievement in my opinion is that he in a theological world in upheaval has approached men's raging fear of vampirism with philosophical and intelluctal methods and has offered answers that are removed from speculation and mystical assumptions).

The article is published in an online magazine called Zauberspiegel.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The peasant and the count

(John Polidori's) '"The Vampyre" transformed the revenant of folklore from a lumbering peasant who returned from the grave to attack family and friends into a nobleman who frequented fashionable clubs and wandered the globe in search of suitable, nubile victims.' (Notes, p. 310).

While browsing Stoker's Notes, it occurred to me that you could say that my own primary interest in this subject is mainly intellectual, whereas the fascination that many people have for the subject is of a more emotional character. In a way, the above description - by the editors of the Notes - of the transformation of the vampire from revenant into fashionable and erotic aristocrat probably illustrates this very well. The fascination with the fictional vampire is more driven by frisson, the almost pleasurable sensation of fright, or perhaps romance - some would simply say: sex.

Some tales of revenants certainly do involve sexual encounters, like in the Kukljin vampire case where a dead haiduk returns to sleep with his wife ('und was noch abscheulicher, so ist ein gestern beerdigter Heyducke folgende Nacht zu seinem Weibe gekommen und solcher ordentlich beygewohnet, welche solches gleich Tages darauff dem Hadnack selbiges Orts angedeutet, mit Vermelden, daß er seine Sache so wohl, als bey Lebzeiten verrichtet, ausser daß der Saamen gantz kalt gewesen.'). The emphasis, however, is not on erotics. We aren't told that the wife hoped that her dead husband would visit her again and again, as would be the case in modern vampire fiction, where e.g. the female victim - if that is the correct word? - looks forward to be visited by the count in Hammer's 1958 Dracula.

So, even though the sexual aspect is apparent from some revenant tales as well as from demonological works, this is not the aspect that is of primary interest or concern. Not so with the vampire of fiction.

Another illustration of this is shown in the above illustration. Taken from a Danish translation of a children's book, In the Footsteps of Dracula by Jim Pipe, this page juxtaposes the revenant of a peasant and the vampire count: 'Stoker's count, however, is very different from traditional vampires. He is an elegant and civilized nobleman with a pale, handsome face. Apart from his moustache he is clean-shaven. The original Transilvanian vampires on the contrary were rough creatures with boastful voices and red faces covered with stuble.' (Click on the image to view it in more detail).

Obviously, this blog is more concerned with those inelegant peasants that don't lend themselves so well to novels and motion pictures. It is, however, fascinating that those peasants somehow inspired the aristocratic vampire that is so popular nowadays.


I once mentioned the Polish artist Boleslas Biegas. There are some examples of his work in an October 2nd post on the Monster Brains blog.
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