Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A Swedish study of the vampire tale

Swedish Anna Höglund this December defended her thesis on Vampyrer. En kulturkritisk studie av den västerländska vampyrberättelsen från 1700-tallet till 2000-tallet: Vampires: A cultural critical study of the Western vampire tale from the 18th to the 21st century at the university of Växjö. As far as I can tell from a Swedish news story, she probably mostly deals with fictional vampires, analyzing them in connection with their cultural and political context, and finding that the vampire character is used to express political points of view. Her thesis consists of two parts: one detailing the evolution of the vampire from folklore to modern fiction, and the other explaining this development in terms of the ongoing changes in politics and ideologies.

Anna Höglund apparently plans to teach a course on vampires and horror at the new Swedish Linnæus University.

A paper in Swedish by Höglund on 'The impotent vampire: Vampires and sexuality in the contemporary vampire novel' is available online: 'The vampire's hunger and his bloodsucking have by researchers mostly been interpreted as an expression of the violation of tabooed sexual acts. I think it is time to add more nuances to the image of the vampire's hunger, and I wish to claim that the contemporary vampire rather hungers for food than for sex. Food, the hunt for food is what takes up all of his existence. Blood is what gives him pleasure and sensations of lust, not the intercourse. The sexual desire belongs to the victim. The human interpretation that the vampire finds sexual gratification when he violates her is a projection of the victim's own emotions. This is not to say that the vampire has lost his role as a revolutionary breaker of taboos. In the contemporary vampire novel the genuine taboo of our times is dealt with: the food trauma of Western civilization.'

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Season's greetings!

My best wishes to everybody. I hope you will all have a merry christmas!

After a busy December I wish that I will find more time to post here on Magia Posthuma.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Forensic science

The examination of corpses and their consitution is an essential part of 'vampirology', so it is appropriate to find Mark Benecke on a list of the 25 Most Influential People in Forensic Science. Author of several books, including the one mentioned here, Benecke is also known for his appearances in TV documentaries on vampires where he explains how e.g. the apparent vampire state of corpses in the Visum et Repertum can be explained from the point of view of forensic science. Benecke has done a lot to explain the field to lay people, including children.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Imperial Provisor Frombald

I am not sure what to make of this, but it seems that good old Imperial Provisor Frombald may inspire some kind of animated short?

Monday, 30 November 2009

"Time has no respect for beauty"

Being 38 and worried about wrinkles and age setting in is hardly uncommon, but in the case of Erzebet Bathory it becomes an obsession when she finds out that her skin looks and feels smoother when touched by virgin blood.

The Bathory character has become immensely popular in works of fiction, turning up in e.g. the 'official sequel' to Dracula that I recently mentioned. She also serves as inspiration for a novel that also fictionalizes von Schertz's Magia Posthuma: Blood Legacy by Prudence Foster which I wrote about on another blog.

Bathory also turns up in regular vampire movies as well as in more regular historical dramas. I have yet to find a copy of the Czech Bathory (2008), but the German-French The Countess (2009) starring Julie Delpy was recently released on DVD here in Denmark. Curiously, the first nearly 40 years of Bathory's life are told in the opening minutes, so the movie focuses on her years as a widow, falling in love with a young man and becoming obsessed with using blood to retain her looks, before finally being punished.

Although there are some pretty unpleasant scenes, The Countess never turns into out and out horror. It even attempts to be somewhat ambigous as to how much of the charges against Bathory were based in reality or in a plot to gain her wealth and power. So it is definitely very much unlike e.g. the Hammer Horror of Countess Dracula, but perhaps not quite as entertaining :-)

In general it touches on many of the themes of the strange mixture of fact and fiction about Bathory that has made her a household name in books on horror and mass murder, but in my opinion it does not really attempt to answer any of the questions. Still, it is interesting to see a more 'realistic' and relatively sympathetic portrayal of Bathory that at least appears to be closer to history than e.g. Hammer's effort.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Isle of the Dead

Boris Karloff Blogathon: Like Fuseli’s Nightmare has become an iconic image, so the famous Die Toteninsel (Isle of the Dead) painting by Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) has inspired music, literature and popular culture, most notably in the symphonic work by Rachmaninov. Itself inspired by the images of Hades from classical mythology, it clearly lends itself perfectly to imagery of an otherworld of the dead.

American film producer Val Lewton minutely recreated Böcklin’s island in his 1945 movie Isle of the Dead. Set in Greece in 1912 during the First Balkan War, the Greeks have just conquered the Ottomans in a battle, but also have to work hard to avoid suffering plague and typhus. Boston journalist Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) follows the Greek general Pherides (Boris Karloff) on a visit to a cemetery on an island just off the coast. The general, a tough and rational patriot with the nickname The Watchdog, wishes to visit the grave of his wife, but finds that her grave as well as all other graves are empty. Although guarded by a statue of Cerberus, the island is apparently not a peaceful resting place for the dead.

Pherides and Davis are greeted by a Swiss archaeologist who has settled on the island at the house of a Greek lady, Madame Kyra. The archaeologist tells them that his archaeological excavations on the island had inspired locals to rob the graves, and that is why the graves are now empty. Kyra on the other hand informs the general that one of the corpses was an ‘evil one’, a vorvolaka, and she suggests that evil is still going on. At the house a handful of foreigners have sought refuge from the war, and one of them, Mrs. St. Aubyn, is ill and grows paler and weaker, while the young Thea is ‘rosy and red and full of blood’. The general tells her that it is nonsense, but when one of the people in the company dies from septicemic plague and they have to quarantine the island, fear and superstition begins nagging even the general Pherides.

Isle of the Dead then pits science and medicine against religion and superstition. As the plague takes it toll on doctor Drossor and even on the general himself, they accept that there may be higher powers at large, and the old Watchdog finds himself begins to believe that Thea is indeed a vorvolaka. He almost succeeds in convincing Thea herself that she may be the cause of the plague and illness.

When Mrs. St. Aubyn suffers a cataleptic trance, everybody assumes that she is dead, and she is placed in one of the burial rooms of the cemetery. She, however, awakens and finds herself prematurely buried, screams and scratches at the coffin, and eventually succeeds in getting out and avenging herself - almost like a vorvolaka. Kyra and the general both are certain that she has indeed become a vorvolaka: 'Who dies by a Vorvolaka, becomes a Vorvolaka.'

Ancient mythological images of Hades, Charon and Cerberus mix with the Greek folk belief in the vorvolaka and plague, catalepsy, premature burial as well as what some term ‘psychic vampirism’. All of that told within just 71 minutes: They certainly knew that ‘less is more’ back then. The acting, not least by Karloff himself, is impeccable and as always in Lewton’s movies, the horrors are done rather by suggestion than by effect, and they work very well.

‘Vorvolaka’ is one of the variants of what is usually called ‘vrykolakas’. Karen Hartnup in On the Beliefs of the Greeks: Leo Allatios and Popular Orthodoxy (Brill, 2004), mentions it in the form ‘vourvourlakas’:

‘It may be misleading to use the term vampire in the context of the Greek revenant. The vampire with which we in the West are most familiar is the Dracula of Bram Stoker and ‘B’ movie fame, with his long flowing cape, fangs, and thirst for blood. Although both the Greek vampire and its so-called Transylvanian cousin are revenants, that is, resurrected dead bodies, they differ greatly in style and in their relationships with members of society. It is not helpful to call this creature a vampire as the word carries with it connotations alien to the phenomenon. What should be used in its stead? A plethora of terms for the revenant existed, with each area having its own variation of the species. It was called among other things, vrykolakas, vourvoulakas and katachtonios. Vrykolakas, however, is the most common Greek word for the creature and so seems to most suitable.

Although the
vrykolakas exhibited non of the traditional behaviour of the ‘Transylvanian’ vampire, nonetheless it had the ability to cause great terror within a community. The creature was so frightening that could drive whole villages to decamp. Tournefort described the reaction of a village in Mykonos which discovered a vrykolakas in its midst:

Whole families quitted their Hourses, and brought their Tent-Beds from the farthest parts of the Town into the publick Place, there to spend the night. They were every instant complaining of some new Insult; nothing was to be heard but Sighs and Groans at the approach of Night: the better Sort of People retired into the Country. (p. 173-4)

Some of the most famous sources on the vrykolakas are the De quorundam Graecorum Opinationibus by Allatios (1645), Relation de l’isle de Santerini (1657) by father Francois Richard and the Relation d'une voyage du Levant by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1717), all of them well-known in the literature on vampires. A careful analysis of Allatios with the evidence on vrykolakas found in Greek texts of ecclesiastical law, nomokanones, in comparison to popular beliefs, is found in Hartnup’s book, which is highly recommended.

This blog post is part of the so-called Boris Karloff Blogathon, commemorating Karloff's 122nd birthday on November 23 2009!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Romancing the Vampire

I was quite surprised when I went to the post office earlier today to fetch a new vampire book I had ordered, because I received a large parcel. However, when I had unpacked it, it really was no surprise because Romancing the Vampire: From Past to Present by David J. Skal is quite an unusual book about vampires.

Mind you, it's mostly about fictional vampires as one might expect, but it's a large format book illustrated throughout and it has extra 'goodies' added: post cards, reproductions of book covers, poems, posters, even a vampire mask and a fake tattoo that you can use to 'impress your friends' :-)

Skal is well-known as an author of numerous books on fictional vampires as well as the horror genre in general, and he is also a prominent commentator and documentarist on various DVD editions of e.g. Universal's horror movies from the 1930's and 1940's. He is in particular the author of Hollywood Gothic, one of the best and carefully researched books on Dracula's transition from novel to motion picture.

In Romancing the Vampire, he traces the vampire in its various guises in fiction and popular culture over the past more than 200 years. In that respect, it is an excellent introduction to the subject as well as a delightful treasure trove for anyone interested in the subject. It should amuse both young and mature readers and will probably be a welcome gift under many a christmas tree this year.

For those of us who are particularly interested in the vampires and vampire debate of the 17th and 18th century, it is as weak as one would sadly expect. Which is a bit sad, because the format would lend itself nicely to include a translation of the Visum et Repertum and other texts from that period. 'Arnold Paole', however, does get a mention, and the cover of Dom Calmet's Dissertation is included.

But there are still many things to explore in the book, and as it is reasonably priced (just $49.95), this is an ideal christmas present to any Twilight or horror fan you may know, and I am sure a lot of you will have fun getting a copy for yourself at the same time.

Click on the photos to have a closer look.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Haralde ou Hrappe

Rob Brautigam has recently added quite a number of new cases to his Shroudeater web site, one of them listed as coming from my native country, Denmark. He is referring to a paragraph in the second volume of Augustin Calmet's Dissertation, which is shown above, the story of 'Haralde ou Hrappe, Danois'. Here in the English translation of Henry Christmas:

'Haralde, or Harappe, a Dane, who caused himself to be buried at the entrance of his kitchen, appeared after his death, and was wounded by one Olaüs Pa, who left the iron of his lance in the wound.'

Calmet refers to this story because he discusses the nature of the apparition or revenant: 'This Dane, then, appeared bodily. Was it his soul which moved the body, or a demon which made use of this corpse to disturb and frighten the living? Did he do this by his own strength, or by the permission of God? And what glory to God, what advantage to men, could accrue from these apparitions? Shall we deny all these facts, related in so circumstantial a manner by enlightened authors, who have no interest in deceiving us, nor any wish to do so?'

Calmet does not mention the source of the story of Hrappe, but it can be found in one of the Icelandic Sagas: Laxdæla Saga. Written in the 13th century, the Saga covers the story of seven generations of settlers in the Laxdæla region of Iceland from the 9th to the early 11th century, Hrappe or Hrapp being introduced in chapter X:

'Hrapp was the name of a man who lived in Salmon-river-Dale, on the north bank of the river on the opposite side to Hoskuldstead, at the place that was called later on Hrappstead, where there is now waste land. Hrapp was the son of Sumarlid, and was called Fight-Hrapp. He was Scotch on his father's side, and his mother's kin came from Sodor, where he was brought up. He was a very big, strong man, and one not willing to give in even in face of some odds; and for the reason that he was most overbearing, and would never make good what he had misdone, he had had to fly from West-over-the-sea, and had bought the land on which he afterwards lived. His wife was named Vigdis, and was Hallstein's daughter; and their son was named Sumarlid.'

The death and return of Hrapp is dealt with in the Saga's chapter XVII:

'It is said of Hrapp that be became most violent in his behaviour, and did his neighbours such harm that they could hardly hold their own against him ... but his power waned, in that old age was fast coming upon him, so that he had to lie in bed. Hrapp called his wife Vigdis to him and said, "I have never been of ailing health in my life, and it is therefore most likely that this illness will put an end to our life together. Now, when I am dead, I wish my grave to be dug in the doorway of my fire hall, and I want to be placed in it, standing there in the doorway. In that way I shall be able to keep a more searching eye on my dwelling."

After that Hrapp died, and all was done as he said, for Vigdis did dnot dare do otherwise. And evil as he had been to deal with in his lifetime, he was even more so when he was dead, for he walked again a great deal after his death. People say he killed most of his servants in his ghostly appearances. He caused a great deal of trouble to those who lived near, and the house of Hrappstead became deserted, since Vigdis, Hrapp's wife, had taken herself west to her brother's house and settled there with all her goods. Things went on like this, until men went to find Hoskuld and told him all the things Hrapp was doing to them, and asked him to do something to put and end to this. Hoskuld said something should be done, and he went with some men to Hrappstead, and had Hrapp dug up, and taken away to a place where cattle were unlikely to roam and men unlikely to venture. After that Hrapp's walking-about abated somewhat...'

The ghost of Hrapp returns in chapter XXIV where he is confronted by Olaf the Peacock whom we are introduced to in chapter XVI. This is the character Calmet calls Olaüs Pa, 'Pa' being the nickname 'peacock':

'One evening the man who looked after the dry cattle came to Olaf and asked him to make some other man look after the neat and "set apart for me some other work."

Olaf answered, "I wish you to go on with this same work of yours."

The man said he would sooner go away. "Then you think there is something wrong," said Olaf. "I will go this evening with you when you do up the cattle, and if I think there is any excuse for you in this I will say nothing about it, but otherwise you will find that your lot will take some turn for the worse."

Olaf took his gold-set spear, the king's gift, in his hand, and left home, and with him the house-carle. There was some snow on the ground. They came to the fold, which was open, and Olaf bade the house-carle go in. "I will drive up the cattle and you tie them up as they come in."

The house-carle went to the fold-door. And all unawares Olaf finds him leaping into his open arms. Olaf asked why he went on so terrified?

He replied, "Hrapp stands in the doorway of the fold, and felt after me, but I have had my fill of wrestling with him."

Olaf went to the fold-door and struck at him with his spear. Hrapp took the socket of the spear in both hands and wrenched it aside, so that forthwith the spear shaft broke. Olaf was about to run at Hrapp but he disappeared there where he stood, and there they parted, Olaf having the shaft and Hrapp the spearhead. After that Olaf and the house-carle tied up the cattle and went home. Olaf saw the house-carle was not to blame for his grumbling. The next morning Olaf went to where Hrapp was buried and had him dug up. Hrapp was found undecayed, and there Olaf also found his spearhead. After that he had a pyre made and had Hrapp burnt on it, and his ashes were flung out to sea. After that no one had any more trouble with Hrapp's ghost.'

Although Iceland was once under Danish rule (and many people in Iceland still speak and read Danish), I think it is a bit misleading to talk of Hrapp as a Dane.

Witchcraft, werewolves and masculinity

'Men and masculinities are still incorporated inadequately into the history of early modern witch-trials, despite the fact that 20-25% of all the people accused of witchcraft across early modern Europe were male. This book redresses this imbalance by making men the main focus of analysis. What sort of men risked being accused of witchcraft in early modern Europe, and why did some regions persecute more men as witches than others? Did the numbers of male victims increase during large-scale witch-panics? What ideas about masculinity underpinned the zeal of the men who acted as witch-hunters? To what extent were beliefs about the practice of magic gendered, and how did gender shape the ways in which werewolves were imagined and demonic possession was experienced? In this groundbreaking collection of essays, leading historians of early modern European witchcraft offer answers to these questions through original case-studies from England, Germany, Scotland, Italy and France.'

This is the description of a new anthology, Witchcraft and Masculinities in Early Modern Europe edited by Alison Rowland and published on November 20.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A vampire in Serbia in 2009

A vampire recently haunted a Serbian village, if we are to believe Serbian newspapers and national TV. I have a reader of this blog, Predrag Djordevic, to thank for kindly informing me.

According to a news story from September 17 in PressOnline, a vampire has terrified the inhabitants of a village called Gornje Stopanje located by the river Jablanica near Leskovac in Southern Serbia!

Show large map

The vampire apparently haunted one of the village streets (seen in the photo below), causing the people to stay indoors from dusk till dawn. There was unexplained knocking at the gates, windors and doors, scratching on walls, and breaking of glass. The animals were disturbed, and dogs kept barking all night.

A woman called Ljiljana Stefanovic saw the vampire or spirit and describes it as a shadow in the form of a man. Some young men were brave enough to try to take photos of the spirit and claim to have photos that show the shadow like spirit or vampire.

The villagers asked two priests to help them against the vampire, and their prayers seem to have made the vampire calm down. The villagers also carry grass in their belts to keep the evil away.

Senior villagers are not surprised of the incident, because they are familiar with stories of vampires and spirits.

A professor called Sreten Petrovic says that there are still many people in Serbia who believe in vampires, particularly in Eastern Serbia. He refers to a legal case in Nis in which people were accused of being vampires.

Unfortunately, as I do not read the language, this is as best as I am able to understand the story. There are quite a number of web sites referring to this news story, most of them more or less identical. Below is a video about the vampire, but I am unable to tell you what they say (click on the screen icon to view it fullscreen). If anyone can enlighten me on the details of the story, I will post more information here.

P.S. Serbian Wikipedia page on Gornje Stopanje.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Comic book Calmet

According to the seller of this ebay item, this Mexican comic book (Aventuras de la vida real no 203) is based on Dom Calmet! For that reason one might assume that the hooded person on the cover should be Calmet himself. He is clearly surrounded by images that he may not have found particularly relevant to the subject of vampires, but then he himself looks much more sinister than in contemporary portraits like the one on the cover of Une itinéraire intellectuel.

Saturday, 31 October 2009


Apropos of horror fiction, some may have noticed that some time ago I added a banner concerning the Boris Karloff Blogathon, a collective effort to commemorate the 122th birthday of the well-known actor.

I have previously written about Karloff's contributions to vampire cinema, but I intend to return to this subject as part of the 'blogathon' that involves more than 50 blogs. If you have a weakness for this actor and his roles in horror cinema, do have a look at the other blogs participating. The 'blogathon' will haunt the blogosphere in late November.

No pumpkin head

No pumpkin head this year apart from plastic ones and a few candle lights. Still, Halloween is a good occasion to indulge in vampire or horror fiction, so I would like to mention that I was tempted by the relation to Bram Stoker and consequently am reading 'the official sequel' to Dracula: Dracula the Un-dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt. It is quite an entertaining romp, bringing back the characters from Stoker's original and some from his notes to once again fight vampires, this time in 1912. At one point, Bram Stoker himself and Hamilton Deane turn up at the Lyceum where they meet the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker, Quincey Harker! You can imagine that Stoker is surprised to meet a character from his novel, and that Quincey is equally surprised to find a novel about his parents opposing a vampire! It reminds me a bit of Kim Newman's entertaining Dracula novel Anno Dracula and its sequels - these are highly entertaining and riveting page-turners, I particularly enjoyed The Blood Red Baron when I read them some ten years ago.

Monday, 26 October 2009

La fascination des vampires

Jean Marigny, probably best known for the excellent little book known in English as Vampires: The World of the Undead (Thames and Hudson, 1994), has recently published a new book on vampires titled La fascination des vampires (Klincksieck, € 16.00).

It apparently is fashioned on answering 50 elementary - or perhaps not so elementary? - questions about vampires:

1. Pourquoi les vampires sont-ils omniprésents dans la littérature et le cinéma contemporains ?

Les vampires dans la tradition légendaire
2. Qu'est-ce qu'un vampire ?
3. Y a-t-il un terme unique pour désigner les vampires ?
4. Quels sont les différents sens donnés au mot vampire ?
5. À quelle époque les vampires ont-ils fait leur apparition ?
6. A-t-on cru à des êtres suceurs de sang avant le XVIIe siècle ?
7. Existe-t-il un rapport quelconque entre les légendes concernant les vampires et l’Histoire ?
8. Pourquoi les pays d’Europe centrale et orientale ont-ils été plus affectés par le vampirisme que les pays d’Europe occidentale ?
9. Comment reconnaît-on un vampire ?
10. Comment devient-on vampire dans la tradition légendaire européenne ?
11. Quels sont les moyens de lutter contre les vampires ?
12. La croyance aux vampires se limite-t-elle à l’Europe ?
13. Croit-on encore aux vampires aujourd’hui ?
14. Pourquoi le vampire fascine-t-il toujours dans un monde devenu rationaliste ?
15. Existe-t-il aujourd’hui un ésotérisme lié au vampirisme ?

Les vampires dans la littérature
16. Quand les vampires ont-ils fait leur apparition dans la littérature narrative ?
17. Comment le vampire est-il représenté dans la littérature ?
18. Le personnage du vampire a-t-il inspiré les poètes ?
19. Y a-t-il eu un théâtre des vampires ?
20. Pourquoi la publication de Dracula a-t-elle marqué un tournant dans l’histoire du vampire en littérature ?
21. Quels sont les rapports possibles entre la littérature vampirique et l’Histoire ?
22. Dans quels pays d’Europe le vampire littéraire a-t-il eu le plus de succès ?
23. Pourquoi les vampires ont-ils un tel succès aux États-Unis ?
24. Y a-t-il des vampires dans la science-fiction et la fantasy ?
25. Dans quels autres genres littéraires rencontre-t-on des vampires ?
26. Le vampire est-il toujours pris au sérieux dans la littérature ?
27. Comment raconte-t-on les histoires de vampires ?
28. Pourquoi le vampire fascine-t-il aujourd’hui de très jeunes lecteurs ?
29. Peut-on établir un palmarès des histoires de vampires ?
30. Le thème du vampire est-il destiné à perdurer en littérature ?

Les vampires au cinéma et dans les arts
31. Quand et comment le vampire a-t-il fait son apparition au cinéma ?
32. Quels sont les différents visages de Dracula au cinéma ?
33. Quels sont les rapports entre la littérature vampiresque et le cinéma ?
34. La télévision a-t-elle une spécificité par rapport aux films de vampires ?
35. Les films de vampires sont-ils fidèles aux romans et nouvelles dont ils sont adaptés ?
36. Quels sont les films de vampires les plus réussis ?
37. Comment le cinéma utilise-t-il le personnage du vampire ?
38. Le vampire a-t-il eu toujours le même impact au cinéma ?
39. En dehors du cinéma, quels arts le vampire a-t-il inspirés ?
40. Y a-t-il des vampires dans la bande dessinée ?

Le mythe moderne du vampire
41. Le vampire peut-il avoir une signification sociopolitique ?
42. Le vampire a-t-il une dimension religieuse ?
43. Le vampire est-il nécessairement l’incarnation du mal ?
44. L’attrait qu'exercent les vampires peut-il avoir une influence quelconque sur le comportement de certaines personnes ?
45. Le vampire représente-t-il nécessairement l’altérité absolue ?
46. En quoi le thème du vampirisme est-il érotique ?
47. Comment la mort est-elle perçue dans les histoires de vampires ?
48. Comment la psychanalyse voit-elle les vampires ?
49. Quel a été l’apport des jeux de rôle dans le mythe moderne du vampire ?

50. Comment peut-on en finir avec les vampires ?

Bibliographie critique
Filmographie sélective

A review in French is available here.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

In search of Rohr

I have been asked for the whereabouts of a copy of Philipp Rohr's famous Dissertatio historico-philosophica de Masticatione Mortuorum from 1679. I actually do not have the original text, but I do know that a copy of the original book exists at the University Library in Leipzig. However, someone out there may know of a digital edition available online? If so, do send me a link to it and I will post it here.

Day of the Dead

The British Museum celebrates the Mexican Day of the Dead on November 1st this year in conjunction with its current exhibition on the Aztec culture. So if you happen to be in that city on that day, you can explore Mexican culture and the day of the dead, including a Danza Antigua: a romantic danse macabre from the underworld.

Afterwards you might stroll by Jarndyce in Great Russell Street. When I was there a couple of weeks ago they had a number of Penny Dreadfuls on display, including a reprint of Varney the Vampyre, and they are selling a catalogue of books in that genre.

The Atlantis Bookshop in Museum Street probably has a couple of books on vampires, but mostly deals with various 'occult' subjects, so I find it hard to find much more than a handful of interesting books there. That is actually where I bought Lecouteux' book mentioned in my previous post.

The Return of the Dead

In London I found an English translation of Claude Lecouteux' Fantômes et revenans au Moyen Age titled: The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind. It is published by Inner Traditions which should make one a bit cautious, as this publisher tends to publish books on the secrets of the Masons, secret societies, yoga, UFOs, 'forbidden history' and that kind of thing. Still, it is the first translation into English of the book, and the publisher is following it up next year with a translation of Lecouteux' book on vampires: The Secret History of Vampires: Their Multiple Forms and Hidden Purposes (apparently, books about the 'secret' or 'forbidden' history of something sells).

An initial look at the book and a comparison with the German translation (I, unfortunately, do not own the original French edition) indicates that the English translation is slightly abbreviated and less academical. It does contain the notes, but the quotes in original languages (including my native language, Danish) are omitted. Chapter three in the German edition, Totenbräuche, appears to be missing from the English edition, whereas the afterword by Régis Boyer from the original French edition is retained in the English translation.

All in all, these differences make me a bit cautious in approaching the English translations of Lecouteux' work presented by Inner Traditions. Hopefully, a closer examination will prove my worries unwarranted.

'How the ghost stories of pagan times reveal the seamless union existing between the world of the living and the afterlife. The impermeable border the modern world sees existing between the world of the living and the afterlife was not visible to our ancestors. The dead could - and did - cross back and forth at will. The pagan mind had no fear of death, but some of the dead were definitely to be dreaded: those who failed to go peacefully into the afterlife but remained on this side in order to right a wrong that had befallen them personally or to ensure that the law promoted by the ancestors was being respected. But these dead individuals were a far cry from the amorphous ectoplasm that is featured in modern ghost stories. These earlier visitors from beyond the grave - known as revenants - slept, ate and fought like men, even when, like Klaufi of the Svarfdaela Saga, they carried their heads in their arms. Revenants were part of the ancestor worship prevalent in the pagan world and still practiced in indigenous cultures such as the Fang and Kota of equatorial Africa, among others. The Church, eager to supplant this familial faith with its own, engineered the transformation of the corporeal revenant into the disembodied ghost of modern times, which could then be easily discounted as a figment of the imagination or the work of the devil. The sanctified grounds of the church cemetery replaced the burial mounds on the family farm, where the ancestors remained as an integral part of the living community. This exile to the formal graveyard, ironically enough, has contributed to the great loss of the sacred that characterizes the modern world.'

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Belgrade Vampire

I bought a couple of books while in London. One of them being Theresa Cheung's volumionus The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires: An A-Z of the Undead (Harper Element, 2009) 'dedicated to the memory of Montague Summers'.

Curiously it refers to a number of books in German, including those by Peter Mario Kreuter and Peter Kremer, but I doubt that Cheung has actually read them, as she, unfortunately, makes a number of errors in writing the history of vampires. She e.g. refers to 'The Belgrade Vampire', 'a vampire case that took place in Belgrade, Serbia in 1732,' that 'was recorded by Dr. Herbert Mayo in his esteemed 1821 work: On the Truths Contained in Popular Superstition.' A comparison with Mayo's book shows that this 'Belgrade vampire' is in fact the Medvedja vampire case recounted in the Visum et Repertum, that Cheung writes about in an entry on 'Arnold Paole'.

She also claims that Augustin Calmet triggered 'an outbreak of panic in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This infuriated the Empress Maria Theresa, who sent her personal physician to investigate.'. We learn that 'In 1755 the town of Olmutz in Austria was also the scene of several vampire reports, and in the region of Styria there were also two cases of reported vampire killings,' of which the last one was mentioned 'in a 1909 edition of the Occult Review.'

Obviously, the book is an inaccurate mix of information taken from various sources, blending fact and fiction and presenting the most fantastic subjects like 'Ethics, among Vampires':

'By any system of law every single vampire is a multiple-murderer without ethics. But if there is such a thing as a real vampire it is for all intents and purposes a different species to humans; a species that requires fresh blood, preferably human, in order to survive, and as such, a species that should perhaps be judged by its own standards. The ethics for real vampires are therefore a matter for them. However, when it comes to sanguinarians, people who have a need to drink blood, psychic vampires, people who feed on the energy or life force of others, and modern vampires, people who simply like to model their lives on the vampire lifestyle, there is without doubt a place for a code of vampire ethics.'

The book also includes a list of 'Vampire Organizations, Societies, Fan Clubs, and Websites'. This blog is not included.

Theresa Cheung apparently 'has been involved in the serious study of the psychic arts for over twenty-five years. She writes full time and is the author of a variety of books, including The Element Encyclopedia of 20,000 Dreams.' I hope that her other books are more consistent in dealing with their topics than the mix of fact and fiction that is The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

No pint

I have just returned from a trip to London. Staying in South Kensington, I went looking for the Bram Stoker Tavern on Old Brompton Road, but found that it no longer existed. So no pint in Stoker's 'own' public house...

But then I went to see 18 St. Leonard's Terrace in Chelsea where Stoker lived. A plaque commemorating Stoker and Dracula was placed there in 1977. It overlooks a members only park and the Royal Hospital in a very nice and quiet area. If anyone should want to move to London, a few houses around the corner (on Royal Avenue just off Kings Road) are for sale or to let, but I suppose the price is a bit steep.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

31 Days of Halloween

If you check out this blog, Reading with a Bite, you will find that I am today's guest blogger, contributing to 31 Days of Halloween. As many web sites and blogs are counting down to Halloween, you will probably find a lot of writings related to fictional vampires this October. If you are male and going to a Halloween party, you can even get some tips on how to dress the part :-)

If you happen to be someone visiting this blog for the first time in search of information on Magia Posthuma, I recommend that you read my paper on the subject of this blog and von Schertz's book! Otherwise, do look at some of the selected posts that I link to on the right hand side.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


'We are resurrected as vampires,' it is said in a Swedish documentary on blood and horror. Mostly in Swedish, but also with some interviews in English, this is mainly about fictinal vampires and the use of copious amounts of blood in Grand Guignol and movies. I mention it here, as I think some of you may find this of interest. The documentary is part of a current series on horror (episode 3 is about Frankenstein a.o.). One thing is for sure, this is not for the squeamish!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Vampires among us

With vampires being remarkably popular, new web sites like this one on vampire books, keep appearing, and a number of new books are published. Most of them are, unfortunately, probably mostly old wine in new bottles. Amazon caters for those inclined to read vampire novels with a Vampire Store, and Twilight paraphernalia is everywhere.

I still haven't watched the Twilight movie, but it seems to be one of the biggest hits on DVD this year. Another popular vampire act, the musical based on Polanski's vampire comedy, Tanz der Vampire I also have not had the chance to catch, but I have noticed that it is now (again) on in Vienna, this time at a venue called Ronacher. I am no fan of modern musicals (I got so bored with the movie version of the Phantom of the Opera musical, that I had to fast forward through most of it), but I suppose it could be worth attending a performance.

To listen to some music and see photos from a 2007 performance, click on the image here. Videos from various performances, some including English subtitles, are available on youtube.

P.S. I hope I don't frighten you by showing the two book covers at the top - they are not exactly in the best taste!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Reading for autumn evenings

A little bat has been prowling outside my window lately, perhaps trying to inspire me to put other matters aside and blog more on posthumous magic.

I should at least mention - as hinted at in my previous post - a few more papers that are available online, and I would like to write a bit more about them, but that will have to wait until some other day. The first of the two online papers that I have not mentioned before is Bernhard Unterholzner's Vampire im Habsburgerreich, Schlagzeilen in Preussen: Zum Nutzen des Vampirs für politische Schmähungen which focuses on the 1755 vampire case in Hermersdorf which led to Maria Theresa prohibiting destroying corpses suspected of Magia Posthuma, and how it was treated in contemporary media. The second is Christian Reiter's analysis of the Visum et Repertum, Der Vampyr-Aberglaube und die Militärärzte, that I wrote a bit about in my original post on the conference.

If you do read German, the papers are well worth seeking out. If you only read English, the abstracts are available in that language as well.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A weblog approach

Further papers from the conference in Vienna this summer are now available, including my own contribution, which is actually in English. Apart from an insight into this blog, it contains some information on the contents of the enigmatic Magia posthuma by Karl Ferdinand von Schertz...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Revolution Embodied

The iconic Nightmare of Johann Fuseli has had a great impact, spawning various copies and pastiches and providing cover material for many books on vampires and related subjects as noted here. As mentioned in that post, it inspired Danish painter Nicolai Abildgaard. A current retrospective exhibion of his art in Copenhagen focuses on the recurring themes of his opus, including his depiction of 'the body in pieces', and his interest in apparitions from e.g. Shakespeare and Ossian, 'the ghost of tradition'.

His Nightmare painting, however, is exhibited under the theme 'Eroticism, Love and Relief'. Studying the painting in the context of other of his works, it looks slightly more crude, as if Abildgaard did not pay as much attention to finish and detail when painting it, and that probably explains the red outlines of the female bodies that puzzled me in my original post.

In the accompanying catalogue, an art historian theorizes that the painting itself alludes to Abildgaard himself and his two wives. According to this theory, the nightmarish troll should be the artist himself sitting on top of his second and much younger wife, with whom he spent a happy time during the last years of his life. The other woman who has turned her back on him then should be his first wife who left him for another man. Whether you find this interpretation pertinent or not, the painting is as evocative as some of the other variants of this popular motif. And once you have grown aware of it, you will notice that the motif crops up inmovies now and then.

For the exhibition a number of vides have been produced, like on this page where you will find some of the more ghostly painting accompanied by music.

The exhibition by the way includes an interesting sample from Abildgaard's own library, as well as a time line of most of the 18th century and the early 19th century, allowing one to follow Danish and international politics, art and science contemporary to the development of the vampire from the Visum et Repertum and the early vampire debate into a theme of art and literature.

The seductive powers of bloodsuckers

The current fascination with vampires has now made it to the cover of Playboy. According to Fangoria magazine the issue 'offers historical insight into the sexualization of the vampire, beginning with Bela Lugosi's compelling portrayal of Dracula, but it is the eight pages of accompanying photos that truly demonstrate the seductive powers of bloodsuckers.'

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Nosferatu in Serbia

‘It was during the winter of the war year 1916, in Serbia.’

Although other business has kept me occupied most of my time lately, I do spend some time on e.g. updating my collection of material relevant to the history of posthumous magic. So I have e.g. finally gotten around to replacing my old VHS edition of Murnau’s Nosferatu with the magnificent restored edition that has been available for a couple of years now. Apart from the movie itself, this edition contains a booklet that includes a 1921 article written by Albin Grau in which he claims to have heard about vampires while serving in the German army.

’Wißt ihr, eigentlich werden wir alle mehr oder weniger von Vampiren geplagt.’: ’Do you know that we’re all more or less tormented by vampires?’ asks one of his comrades, to which an old peasant says: ‘Before this wretched war, I was over in Romania. You can laugh about this superstition, but I swear on the mother of God, that I myself knew that horrible thing of seeing an undead,’ and he goes on to explain: ’Ja, einen Untoten oder Nosferatu, wie man einen Vampir dort unten nennt.’: ‘Yes, an undead or a Nosferatu, as vampires are called over there. Only in books have you heard those strange and disturbing creatures spoken about, and you smile at these old wives’ tales; but it’s here, where we’re at in the Balkans, that one findes the cradle of those vampires. We’ve been pursued and tormented by those monsters forever.’

Albin Grau then claims to have been shown an official report from the spring of 1844 regarding ‘a blood-sucking dead man or vampiric phantom, in Progatza (Romania)’.

All this, Grau says, inspired him when he was involved in the production of Nosferatu a few years later.

Rob Brautigam presents ‘the vampire of Progatza’ as a potential vampire case, but unfortunately has not identified any place with a name similar to Progatza. He does, however, write: 'Although it could be based on facts, there is the distinct possibility that this is no more than a bit of fiction, thought up to get extra publicity for Nosferatu which had just then been released.'

In any case, Nosferatu has, of course, had an impact on the modern conception of vampires that cannot be underrated. The name of Albin Grau today is probably mostly associated with Udo Kier’s portrayal of him in Shadow of the Vampire.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

First two papers from Vienna conference

The first two papers from the Vienna conference on vampirism and magia posthuma have been available for a couple of weeks now: Von Messbechern, Klöstern und Waisenhäusern oder Vampire, Galizien und langes 19. Jahrhundert by Christoph Augustynowicz, and Er steht sogar im Merian oder: Über die Karriere vampiresken Verwaltungsschriftguts des 18. Jahrhunderts aus dem Hofkammerarchiv by Peter Mario Kreuter. More papers will follow.

The Dracula Phenomenon

Two books on Dracula recently arrived. One is a classic biography of Vlad Tepes published and reprinted in Germany several times since 1980: Ralf-Peter Märtin's Dracula: Das Leben des Fürsten Vlad Tepes (Verlag Klaus Wagenbach), and the other is the quite new Bram Stoker's Dracula: A Documentary Journey into Vampire Country and the Dracula Phenomenon edited by Elizabeth Miller (Pegasus Books). As things have been in my life during the past weeks I have found little time to look at these two books, so here I will merely state my immediate notions.

Märtin's book is, I think, the current standard popular biography in German on Vlad Tepes, and it may in fact be the most reprinted volume on this medieval ruler. It looks very inviting and seems to be an easily read presentation of his life and the historical context, including a chapter on cruelty in the late medieval period. It is nicely illustrated and contains an updated bibliography (as of 2008) on the topic, including books on vampires.

The focus of Miller's book is, of course, Bram Stoker's novel, its genesis and its legacy. It is described as a 'documentary journey' because it is sort of an anthology or scrapbook of material that sets the background for Stoker's novel, describes in detail Stoker's work on the novel, and follows its publication history and way into popular media like theatre and movies. The portions on the historical vampire are symptomatically weak, as there are only a few pages on the Visum et Repertum, Calmet, van Swieten etc. But as Stoker himself did not have access to a lot of information on the vampires of the 18th century, and mostly knew about vampires from 19th century books in English, it is probably sufficient to the scholar or reader mainly interested in Stoker's vampire count. And there is certainly a wealth of interesting material on Stoker, his book, and fictional vampires, so this is definitely a must for anyone with an interest in 'the Dracula phenomenon', no doubt providing many hours of interesting study!

One slight let down is the quality of the reproduction of the illustrations. Some of them are slightly blurred, which is a shame because there are so many unique illustrations here, like e.g. a reproduction of Stoker's death certificate as shown in the photo below.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Going Underground

It is quite amazing how popular vampires - fictional vampires - seem to be at the moment. I just learned that a Bram Stoker Film Festival is on in Whitby in mid-October, including a 'vampire walk' of the town known from Stoker's Dracula. Well-known writer Neil Gaiman recently commented that he thought that the popularity of vampires had reached a saturation point and wished that they would go underground for a couple of decades, only to return in another and different shape.

The Vampyre in Rome

This summer I spent a few days in hot and sunny Rome. Perhaps not a place with so many connections to the subject of this blog apart from more general subjects like the way the ancient Romans treated their dead etc. This blogger, however, endeavoured to seek out a few places to report about.

Pope Benedict XIV (Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini), was interested in the significance of post mortem signs of saints, and consequently commented on vampires in his De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et de Beatorum Canonizatione (1743) and the later addition De vanitate Vampyrorum (1752). His statue can be seen in Saint Peter's basilica, cf. the photos above and below. His name can be found in various places in Rome, e.g. at the Musei Capitolini because he purchased a number of works which are exhibited there.

Just next to the Spanish steps you can find an 1819 copy of John William Polidori's The Vampyre! It is on display along with a well-known portrait of Polidori in a room on Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley in The Keats-Shelley House, where John Keats spent the last months of his life in a room facing the famous steps. Suffering from tuberculosis he arrived in November 1820 and died on 23rd February 1821. His grave can be seen in the non-Catholic cemetery in Rome. On display in the Keats-Shelly house is also a first edition of his Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems which had been published in July 1820. Lamia, of course, plays a role in the history of vampire fiction, cf. e.g. Twitchell's The Living Dead.

The Keats-Shelley House is seen in the photo above to the left and in the photo below to the right and it is easily recognizable because of the plaque on the facade facing the steps. Shelley actually never visited the house, but the founders of the museum wished to recognise the importance of Italy in Shelley's life and work. On display is also a portrait of Mary Shelley, and there is a bit of information on the 'haunted summer' at Villa Diodati and Frankenstein as well. There is even a portrait of Matthew 'Monk' Lewis. You can also see a library of thousands of volumes by and on Keats, Byron, Shelley and other English Romantics.
Apropos of Romantics and Gothic fiction, I once wrote about the popularity of Fuseli's nightmare paintings on e.g. book covers, and below you can see another example seen at the bookshop at the Colloseum: an Italian translation of Artemidorus' 2nd century book on dream interpretation, Oneirocritica.
Finally, speaking of dreams and nightmares, fans of director Dario Argento's movies will go to the Profondo Rosso store and spend all their money on DVDs, books, Goblin CDs and souvenirs. The shop puslishes a few books, including one (in Italian) on Dracula and vampire movies which looked very traditional, so I refrained from buying it. I found one on Mario Bava in English, which I bought. Curiously, it is relatively easy to find Argento's movies on DVD in Rome, whereas Bava's works (which I personally find more interesting than Argento's) are hard to come by, even in the Profondo Rosso store. When I asked, I was shown but a handful of titles.

Vampire fiction is as popular in Rome as everywhere else. Stacks of Italian translations of the Twilight books, as well as dozens of other paranormal romances and vampire novels can be found in every bookshop. Non-fictional books about vampires, however, was nowhere to be found, at least I could not find any.
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