On several occasions, particularly on the periphery of the Habsburg Empire during the 17th and 18th centuries, dead people were suspected of being revenants or vampires, and consequently dug up and destroyed. Some contemporary authors named this phenomenon Magia Posthuma. This blog is dedicated to understanding what happened and why.
Tuesday, 31 July 2007
Das grosse Handbuch der Dämonen
In his foreword the author describes the book's themes:
"In über 1.200 Stichworten bietet dieses Nachslagewerk für den Laien und den Fachmann eine übersicthliche und umfassende Übersicht nach dem neuesten Forschungsbestand zu folgenden Themen: Monster (Luft, Land, Wasser), monströse Dämonen und Geister, Mischwesen, Fabeltiere, rätselhafte Tiere, Missgeburten (Mensch und Tier), rätselhafte Menschen und menschliche Ungeheuer wie die Blutgräfin Bathory, Kürten etc., Vampire, vampirartige Dämonen, Werwölfe, Biografien bedeutender Gelehrter, die sich mit dieser Thematik beschäftigten, und die zentralen Begriffe dieser Themen."
As for these creatures being demons or not, the first page of the Handbuch actually contains this entry:
Bez. für Anhänger einer Vampirtheorie, welche davon ausgeht, dass der Teufel, böse Dämonen, unkörperliche Substanzen wie Astralkörper (→Unverweslichkeit) und →Incubus nicht zur Erklärung des →Vampirismus herangezogen werden dürfen. Im Gegensatz zu ihren Gegnern, den Dämoniaken, glauben sie zwar an die Existenz des Teufels, sie lehnen aber seine Leiblichkeit ab. Der Teufel untersteht Gott und seine Fähigkeit, mit Erlaubnis Gottes in die Schöpfung einzugreifen, ist nur begrenzt."
So, obviously, it is debatable whether this is really an encyclopedia of demons or not, and it is probably a matter of taste whether you like the mix of themes. Personally, I would have preferred it done differently, e.g. making it easier to find the sources behind each entry, but I still find the encyclopedia both useful and enjoyable. Certainly, this book made the trip from Germany to Denmark by train feel shorter.
Unfortunately, errors can be found, and I can't help wondering why there is no entry about Peter Plogojowitz, when there is one about Arnont Paole?! I certainly don't understand how Werner has come to rename Karl Ferdinand von Schertz "Karl-Friedrich Schertz"?!
So some caution is required when using Hemut Werner's Handbuch, but I am sure that this book will be enjoyed by others interested in Magia Posthuma, and it will probably also attract some new attention to the old vampire cases and the 18th century vampire debate. The bibliography is also worth studying, so at the price of €9.95, there is no need to hesitate in ordering this 316 page Handbuch.
Friday, 27 July 2007
Thursday, 26 July 2007
As the covers of the four books below show, the Nightmare paintings of Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1741-1825) are particularly popular. Their imagery is definitely striking, and I doubt that anyone can be quite unaffected by it. Fuseli painted two different paintings on this theme, the first of which was exhibited in 1782. Three of the covers shown are based on the early painting whereas the one on the cover of Die Geschichte der Vampire is from the later version. The paintings have also inspired movie makers, in particular Eric Rohmer (Die Marquise von O... , 1976) and Ken Russell (Gothic, 1986).
However, Fuseli had a close friend, the Danish painter Nicolai Abildgaard (1743-1809), whom Fuseli met in Italy in the 1770'ies. Both painted themes from e.g. mythology, Homer and Shakespeare, and somehow Abildgaard got inspired by Fuseli's Nightmare, because he painted his own version in 1800.
Abildgaard's Mareridt (Nightmare) can be seen at Vestsjællands Kunstmuseum which is located in a small town in central Zealand (Sjælland) in Denmark, Sorø. It's a small painting (approximately 35 cm x 42 cm) and can best be seen on the internet on the museum's own web site. You will notice that Abildgaard's version is probably more daring. There are two women on the bed, one naked and the other only partially covered. There is no horse in Abildgaard's version, only a moonlit night and the shadow of the creature (the mare) in the background.
One interesting detail, which I have attempted to make more clear by enhacing the contrast in the above excerpt, is that it looks like the woman at the back has blood trickling down her leg and foot. I can't remember noticing this when I visited the museum sometime last year, so it may be the reproduction that is playing a trick on me!
It is not clear precisely how Abildgaard was inspired by Fuseli's Nightmare. He probably never saw any of the original paintings, but they inspired numerous variations and pastiches (an example can be seen here), including a political satire published in Denmark in 1797, so the theme was well known. A print similar to Fuseli's second painting is known from 1794, so Abildgaard could have seen it.
Interestingly, there is a drawing by Abildgaard from 1805 in which Odysseus (Ulysses) and Calypso are drawn on a bed in postures very similar to those of the two women in the Mareridt painting.
James B. Twitchell reproduces a few examples of other works that have been inspired by Fuseli's paintings in The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (Duke Univ. Press, 1981), which by the way has a very nice jacket design in which Fuseli's lady gets two punctures in her neck revealing the red colour of the bookbinding. Twitchell's book is shown in the lower left corner of the photo above. The other three books are: Markman Ellis: The History of Gothic Fiction (Edinburg Univ. Press, 2005), Claude Lecouteux: Die Geschichte der Vampire (Artemis & Winkler, 2001), and John William Polidori: 'The Vampyre' and other writings (Carcanet Press, 2005).
Addendum: Here is a very interesting drawing by Fuseli titled The Nightmare Leaving Two Sleeping Women dated 1810. The (night)mare leaves the two women on the horse (mare). Obviously, the idea of the (night)mare visiting more than one woman at a time was known to Fuseli. Certainly, the women are no longer sleeping, but they are naked like in Abildgaard's painting.
On the back flap it says that Keyworth has 'extensively revised' his thesis for this book, 'making it accessible to both an academic and a lay audience.' As for the contents, Keyworth summarises it briefly this way:
"Broadly speaking, in the initial chapters of this book, I present a historical survey of the undead-corpses that supposedly existed in Western Europe from antiquity to the eighteenth century and explore the evolving typology, phenomenology and comparative folklore of such revenants, so too the burial customs and prophylactic practices associated with the undead. The remaining chapters delve into the supposed aetiology and metaphysical mechanics of revenants and the theological explanations cited for their existence, the socio-religious history of the vampire infestations of the eighteenth century and the declining belief in revenants thereafter, and the increasingly popular notion of astral vampirism in the nineteenth century, noting that occasional reports of flesh-and-blood vampires continue to emerge in the twentieth century."
The paper on the uniqueness of the eighteenth century vampire I mentioned in a recent post is a summary of the first four chapters.
I have added an update to the post on 'Illustrating Keyworth'. Incidentally, there are no illustrations in Keyworth's book.
Monday, 23 July 2007
Utile dulci miscere
The book is Peter Adolph Boysen's Neue und vermehrte acerra philologica: Oder Grundliche Nachrichten aus der Philologie, und den romischen und griechischen Antiquitasten, darinn die schwersten Stellen aller Autorum classicorum der studirenden Jugend zum besten in einer angenehmen Erzehlung kurtzlich und grundlich erklaret werden which in the Swedish translation is: Ny och Förmehrad ACERRA PHILOLOGICA, Det är: Siuhundrade Utwalde, Nyttige/ Lustige och Märkwärdige Historier och DISCOURSER, Utur De Berömligaste Grekiske och Latinske Scribenter sammendragne; Deribland Poeternas fläste Dichter om Gudar og Gudinnor; De fordna Romares och Grekers förnämste Handlingar; Någre brukelige Ord-Språk, samt åtskillige naturlige Saker finnas månde: Allom Historie-Älskarom til Nöije; Men i synnerhet den studerande Swenska Ungdomen til Tienst och Nytto, från Tyskan på wårt Modersmåhl öfwersatte Af P. B. The Swedish translation is from 1737.
I mention this book because, although this blog is not dedicated to the study of Dracula, the book seller thinks that this book could be the first book in Swedish to mention the Wallachian ruler Vlad Tepes Dracula. It seems that apart from the Roman and Greek classical tales mentioned in the title, the book contains a few stories from a later period, including one about a ghost from Stockholm. As the Acerra philologica was intended to educate children and youngsters, we can conclude that more terrifying stories were considered both useful and entertaining for children. I suppose that the title itself refers to the twin purposes, as Acerra philologica means "philological censer".
Sunday, 22 July 2007
Before the internet
"What is the world coming to when something called the Journal of Vampirism hits the scene? A publication about vampires and other grisly creatures!?! We must plead guilty, for that is exactly what we've created. Furthermore, we've accepted our task as a grave responsibility, in all honesty. We recognize that it is an unusual subject, to say the least, but still one that deserves serious investigation. For example, the large number of old accounts about vampire attacks in eastern Europe and elsewhere fit a consistent pattern -- someone dies, a specter or revenant of the deceased is seen which attacks the living, those attacked become pale, weak and anxious (and may die), the body of the revenant is unearthed and found to be in a fresh, ruddy condition even when buried for a long period of time (with blood sometimes on the mouth or in the coffin), and when the corpse is staked or burned the vampire visitations cease. What does it all mean? Was it pure hysterical superstition, or are there other possibilities that go beyond most rational explanations? That's one of the things we hope to explore in the Journal of Vampirism, which will provide an outlet for many ideas related to various unearthly predators of the dark."
The first issue contains a few articles on superstitions concerning cats, an extract from Varney the Vampyre, a couple of photos from Highgate cemetery in London and various other short texts. In further issues there were a few papers by Jan L. Perkowski.
The other magazine shown is the Journal of Vampirology published by John L. Vellutini in the Eighties, which e.g. dedicated a whole issue to 'The African Origins of Vampirism'.
Saturday, 21 July 2007
Update: Rob Brautigam has kindly told me that the captions got interchanged at the editors. He also mentions that the Albert Decaris etching has no title or caption in the book where it was originally printed, Jean Mistler's novel Le Vampire (Editions du Rocher, 1944). The other illustration is from L'Echo des Feuilletons (ca. 1866-7).
Keyworth and the Uniqueness of the Vampire
Augustin Calmet in his Dissertation on revenants and vampires claimed that “in no history do we read anything similar, so common, or so decided, as what is related to us of the vampires of Poland, Hungary, and Moravia.” ("Mais en nulle Histoire on ne lit rien d'aussi commun ni aussi marqué que ce qu'on nous raconte des Vampires de Pologne, de Hongrie & de Moravie." II, vii). In his paper Keyworth aims to “test the validity of Calmet’s notion that eighteenth-century vampires were a unique type of revenant.” Consequently, Keyworth compares and contrasts the vampires of the 18th century with tales and cases of revenants and other 'troublesome corpses' from the 12th century and onwards.
Some of his examples will be well known, e.g. those from William of Newburgh and Henry More, whereas others are more obscure. The older sources are mainly from England, Iceland and parts of northern Europe, and Keyworth seems to be fascinated by the old Norse draugrs. He refers to various writings on the Greek vrykolakas (e.g. Allatius and Tournefourt) before coming to the oupire and vampire of the 18th century, which are described via quotes from Harleian Miscellany, Mercure Argent, the Lettres Juives, and the reports from Kisiljevo and Medvedja.
Further on he refers to writers on theosophy and spiritualism, who had notions of 'astral' and 'posthumous' vampirism. He also mentions von Görres' mystical views in Die Christliche Mystik (1836-42), and finally compares the New England 19th century 'vampires cases' with those of the 18th century.
All in all this makes for an interesting peek into the historical development of notions about revenants.
As for Keyworth's question: 'Were the Vampires of the Eighteenth Century Unique?', he concludes that:
“The Slavic vampire of the eighteenth century remains a unique type of revenant, given its supposed thirst for human blood.” (p. 256)
I feel that the paper is much too biased towards England and northern Europe, whereas in my opinion it is particularly interesting to know if the same trend can be found if you incorporate material from various continental European countries. Quite a few books have been written about the revenants and apparitions of the medieval period, so material should be readily available.
Furthermore, I am a bit wary of the use of e.g. the Harleian Miscellany as evidence, because this text is mainly based on other sources. In general I prefer to try to go to the most original sources, in particular those written by people who were present when examining cases of purported vampirism. Keyworth mentions two examples (and his source is obviously Paul Barber's Vampires, Burial, and Death), but there are others. In particular the military physician Georg Tallar's examination of 'vampire victims' is important.
These sources are also important when considering the 'blood sucking' of 18th century vampires. Were they really supposed to suck blood and how? In many cases the victims complained of other symptoms than losing blood, e.g. suffocation.
Keyworth does however note that the notion of blood sucking could be inferred from the post mortem effects on the human body:
“Slavic culture, however, as we have seen emphasised the apparent accumulation of blood within the organs and bodily cavities of such corpses, this being taken as supposed evidence that the deceased had been sucking the blood of the living.” (p. 257)
But is this enough evidence to claim the uniqueness of the 18th century vampires?
In my opinion there are still unanswered questions. Keyworth touches upon important aspects of the history of vampires and revenants, but I do not feel convinced by his conclusion, or perhaps I just view things from a different perspective? However, now I have even more reason to look forward to reading Keyworth's book!
Friday, 20 July 2007
In search of von Schertz
Below is the short 'biography' of von Schertz in Johann Heinrich Zedler's Grosses vollständiges Universallexicon aller Wissenschaften und Künste published between 1732 and 1754.
Monday, 16 July 2007
Von Born's Curious account
The online edition of the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek contains a review by P. D. Giseke of the Briefe from 1777, in which Giseke notes that:
"So klein auch die Zahl der Seiten ist (und auf Einer Reise drey und zwanzig solche Briefe zu schreiben, ist in der That genug:) so voll Merkwürdigkeiten sind sie." (As small as the number of pages is (and to write twenty three letters like these on one journey should suffice), as full of curiosities they are).
Giseke mainly discusses the mineralogical content of the book, but briefly comments on the wildness of the customs of the people living in Banat:
"Sollten die Stubenphilosophen es wohl glauben, daß in Europa Leute gefunden würden, die so malabarisch dächten, daß sie Sonnenfinsternisse für Streite des hollischen Drachen mit der Sonne halten? - Hr. v. B. hat sie im Temeswarer Bannat gefunden." (Should the parlour philosophers really believe that in Europe people could be found, whose thinking is so wild, that they believe that the solar eclipse is caused by a hellish dragon fighting the sun? Mr. von Born has found them in the Banat of Temeswar).
A very nice paper has been written on Born and his Briefe by Alex Drace-Francis: A Provincial Imperialist and a Curious Account of Wallachia in European History Quarterly vol. 36 (2006), p. 61-89. Drace-Francis is particularly interested in how 'East European' areas, in particular those of present day Romania, were represented by Born and other writes. From the above quote, it is quite obvious that some of them were considered as wild, superstititious, and uneducated. He traces von Born's journey, and the various editions of his Briefe and finds that:
"The Habsburgs' conquest, colonization, exploitation and representation of their south-eastern frontier is, I argue, best understood not as part of a process of defining Eastern Europe, nor as a 'semi-' or 'para' imperial enterprise, but one that bears legitimate comparison with colonial experiences elsewhere."
It is, I hope, obvious that this is interesting for us who wish to understand the context of the Magia Posthuma. The cases of vampirism reported to the Vienna court of Charles VI and Maria Theresa usually took place on the borders of the empire, in the military buffer zones occupied by Austrian military forces or in mining towns, so in most cases we have encounters between representatives of the empire and the locals and their beliefs. The curiosity about these parts of Europe was increasing in these years, travelogues were avidly read. This included an anonymous and abridged version of Born's Briefe published in London in 1779 under the title A very entertaining, comical and curious account of the manners and customs of the inhabitants of Wallachia, with a particular description of that country.
The word 'entertaining' is telling, because entertainment and amusement were very important to the people of that day. Even many of the more learned periodicals of the 17th and 18th centuries aimed to entertain, and it is to some extent in that context that we should see the printing of news on vampires and other curiosities in a number of these journals. In fact, a reviewer of von Born's Briefe even reminds his readers of the old Horatian dictum "Omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci." (He gets every vote, who mixes the useful with the pleasant).
Anyway, Drace-Francis finds that Born's representation of the people of Banat should be seen in the light of a tension between province and empire. He finds that there are some similarities between Born's work and that of contemporary German scholars who define Jews and Gypsies in what we term as a racist way, but he ensures us that "it would be reductive to identify him with any movement towards theories of immutable ethnic distinction."
Although Austria considered taking over more areas of present day Romania, it seems that Maria Theresa decided not to. Drace-Francis quotes her for this view:
"Unhealthy provinces, without culture, depopulated or inhabited by perfidious and ill-intentioned Greeks, would be more likely to exhaust than to augment the forces of the monarchy."
One would, in fact, also think that she had plenty to do with reforming the empire than to expand it with further "malabarisch" people and their outlandish beliefs in e.g. vampires and revenants.
Sunday, 15 July 2007
Shroudeater and other troublesome corpses
The Fantastic Vampire
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
Abhandlung des Daseyns der Gespenster
Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld. The reviews are from 1770 and 1771 and have very little to say about van Swieten's commentaries, but are worth reading for their general thoughts on the subjects of "Gespenster".
Monday, 9 July 2007
An der Türckischen Granitz III
However, a map of the area can be found on German Wikipedia in an entry concerning the treaty of Passarowitz (Požarevac). Below I have linked to the map, which is from a 1900 German historical atlas, and you will notice that in this map the Turkish border is drawn somewhat south of the Zapadna Morava river, where Medvedja is situated.
As a curiosity here is an extract from a ca. 1720 map of Serbia and the surrounding areas attributed to J. B. Homann which is currently for sale on ebay at the price of € 320.
Previous posts on the subject: Granitz I & Granitz II.
The Phantom World
Sunday, 8 July 2007
An der Türckischen Granitz II
Van Swieten's Vampyrismus (almost) on line
Mozart related trivia
Anyway, here is a bit of trivia that can relate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) to persons who are somehow relevant to the history of Magia Posthuma.
Viewers of Amadeus may have noticed a sensible character at the court of Emperor Joseph II called Baron van Swieten who is played by Jonathan Moore in the film version. This van Swieten was the son of Gerard van Swieten whose name should be well known to readers of this blog because he played a key role in establishing the Austrian law against Magia Posthuma put forth by Maria Theresa. Joseph II himself was, of course, the son of Maria Theresa.
The baron van Swieten was a patron of many composers in Vienna of that day, including Haydn and Mozart. His full name was Gottfried van Swieten, and he lived from 1733 to 1803. His name and legacy is commemorated today by e.g. The Van Swieten Society. The photo above is from Amadeus with van Swieten in the background and F. Murray Abraham as Salieri in the foreground.
Another link between Magia Posthuma and Mozart is Ignaz von Born (1742-1791) who was an Austrian mineralogist. He traveled through Banat, parts of present day south western Romania, researching mining and mineralogy, and wrote letters about his findings in 1770. The letters were published in 1774 as Briefe über Mineralogische Gegenstände. Some of the letters describe the habits and culture of the people living in the area. Here von Born includes a short description of burial practices carried out to prevent the dead from returning as vampires:
"Man scharrt ihn [den Todten] ein, setzt ihm ein Kreutz und einen großen Stein zum Kopfe, damit er kein Blutsäuger (Vampyr) werde, gießet Wein und räuchert um das Grab, um die Unholden und Zauberer zu vertreiben, und dann geht man nach Hause." (They scratch the corpse and put a cross on him and a big stone on his head to prevent him from becoming a bloodsucker (vampire), pour wine and burn incense around the grave to drive away witches and sorcerers, and then they go home.)
Like Mozart, von Born was a freemason and is usually considered to be the inspiration for the character Sarastro in Mozart's famous opera The Magic Flute.
On his travels Mozart also visited places that play a role in the history of the Magia Posthuma, e.g. Olomouc (Olmütz), where 11 year old Mozart got infected with smallpox in 1767, just 12 years after Viennese court physicians investigated a case of Magia Posthuma in the vicinity. It was also at Olomouc that Karl Ferdinand von Schertz published his Magia Posthuma.
So Mozart obviously lived an age when vampires were not quite a terror from the past. In fact, it seems that an author of popular fiction even has imagined Mozart as a vampire. In I, Vampire by Michael Romkey, not only Mozart turns out to be a vampire, the same goes for Cesare Borgia and Hitler!