Saturday, 31 January 2009

Ranft - then and now

As mentioned in an earlier post, I have a couple of times been contacted by descendants of some of the people who have played a role in the history of magia posthuma and vampires. Most notably, I was recently contacted by Richard Ranft who informed me that Michael Ranft was his 5th great-grandfather. Richard Ranft lives in England and informs me that 'one of Michael Ranft's great-great grandsons, Michael Walter George Ranft (1854-1893) was born in Leipzig but later on emigrated from Geneva to London, which is why I am English.'

He has also directed me to a genealogical web site, RootsWeb, where you can follow the Ranft family from the 1500's. If you take a look at the entry on Michael Ranft, you will probably be amazed to learn that not only was he a very productive author, he was also the father of no less than twelve (12) children! Apparently, his first wife, Johanne Sophie Vogt, died at the age of 26, so Ranft married Konstantia Maria Birkholz. (Actually, according to a contemporary biography, Johanne Sophie gave birth to five children, but one of them was still born. Two of Ranft's other children died very young, and another died in his youth).

Born on December 9th 1700 in Güldengossa, Michael Ranft was the son of the local pastor also named Michael Ranft (1670-1743). Obviously an intelligent child, Michael Ranft went to school at Chemnitz from 1712-19 before going to Leipzig where he became a Baccalareus in 1723 and a Magister in 1724. In 1725 he was inspired by the Kisiljevo (Peter Plogojowitz) vampire case to write his dissertation on the mastication of the dead.

Joining his father who had in the meantime become a pastor in Droysig for a short while in 1726, Ranft became a deacon in Nebra the following year. Here he was an industrious writer of biographies and genealogical works. During this period he wrote an expanded edition of his work on the mastication of the dead, which no one seemed to take serious until the advent of the 1732 Medvedja vampire case. The ensuing vampire debate prompted Ranft to write a third edition in 1734, translating the former editions to German, and commenting on the vast vampire literature of 1732-3.

In 1739 Ranft returned to Droysig to aid his ageing father, whom he followed in office upon the father's death in 1743. In 1749 he became pastor in Groß Stechau where he died in 1774.

Obviously, Ranft was an extremely productive author, and one biographer mentions 38 books in his Ranft bibliography. A couple of his books are available online like this one, but most of them will today mostly be of interest to specialists. Somehow, he got obsessed with the matter of the masticating dead, revenants and vampires, writing three editions of his dissertation on the subject, and even later on referred to it in his writings. Certainly, it is this obsession that has made his name known today, although for many years his books on the subject were only read by those who could find a copy at a library. Recent editions in German and French, and now an online edition, have, however, made his thoughts on the subject more accessible to a modern audience.

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