Sunday, 16 September 2007

Dracula's Vettern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PeKaDe-Verlag can be contacted at pekade3@aol.com.

1 comment:

Anthony Hogg said...

Wow, fascinating.

When you previewed that book earlier, I was under the presumption that it was an anthology of German vampire fiction, due to the Dracula reference in the title!

I guess the old adage about never judging a book by it's cover, has proven itself true once again!

It certainly sounds like a very interesting study into the undead.

I personally subscribe to the belief that the vampire is a local Slavic manifestation of the ambulatory dead. As a result, I don't employ the term, "vampire", in the same generalist way that many authors do.

I believe it has its own unique traditions and attributes. There is a reason the lore and title of these beings, variate from place to place.

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