Tuesday 25 September 2007

Not the ultimate vampire book

"At the outset it appeared helpful to begin any analysis of the vampire not with its earliest appearances in (pre-)Romantic literature, but rather to go back into the folkloristic sources of vampire lore. Some obvious questions to pursue, then, were: Why and where did the idea of modern vampirism (as opposed to the belief in the lamiae and succubi of classical antiquity) spring up? And why has it had such a grip on the public consciousness since the fifteenth century? The outcome of my research yielded the following results: outbreaks of the plague, cannibalism, ancestor worship and human/blood sacrifice, necrophilia, catalepsy, premature burials, body snatching, and the discovery of vampire bats in South and Central America - all these occurrences in one way or another contributed to the belief in and to manefestations of vampirism.

However, I did not see myself in a position to write the ultimate, all-inclusive vampire encyclopedia, and thus I was forced to restrict myself to a more narrowly defined enterprise."

These are parts of the first chapter in a book called Blood Obsession: Vampires, Serial Murder, and the Popular Imagination by Jörg Waltje who is Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Director of the Language Resource Center at Ohio University. The book was published by Peter Lang Publishing in 2005.

And this certainly is a more narrowly defined enterprise: 157 pages attempting to answer the question: What is it about vampires that fascinates the human imagination?. Well, the author has obviously studied both Freud and Todorov, and he mainly focuses on the fictional vampire, so this is not a book of particular interest for those who are interested in folklore and the history of Magia Posthuma.

"The most important findings of" his inquiry is summarised this way (p. 142):

"1. the vampire functions as a perfect model for generic fiction in general;
2. generic fiction is successful since it caters to the underlying mechanisms of our psyche; and
3. if we can trust Freud at all, human behavior in general is compulsive."

So if this is your thing, and you are intrigued to understand these findings, get the book. Otherwise you will be better off buying another book.

In the meantime we are still looking forward to the ultimate, all-inclusive vampire encyclopedia ...

Monday 24 September 2007

Von Gottes Gnaden

Interestingly, you have to turn to page 667 in Ottenfeld and Teuber's book on Austrian military between 1700 and 1867, Die Österreichischeer Armee von 1700 bis 1867, to read this on the medical aspect of military life in the early 18th century:

"Es ist in diesen Blättern beinahe noch gar nicht über die Pflege der Verwundeten und erkrankten Soldaten geschrieben worden; sehr erklärlich, weil eine solche organisatorisch gar nicht bestand; zwar waren jedem Truppenkörper Aerzte zugewiesen und wurden auch Spitäler errichtet, auch seit Alters her für Invaliden schlecht und recht gesorgt, hiemit war aber Alles geschehen. Stand die Armee im Lager, so konnten in den benachbarten Ortschaften Marodenhäuser errichtet werden, wenn man es nicht vorzog, Schwererkrankte und Verwundete den zunächstliegenden Gemeinden einfach zu überlassen; im Gefechte standen hinter dem ersten und zweiten Treffen requirite Bauernwagen, welche die Verwundeten abschoben; die Soldatenweiber, leichter Verwundete, Marschmarode und Officiersdiener bildeten sodann die Sanitätsmannschaft, der man allenfalls einige Unterofficiere und Soldaten der Truppe unter einem Invaliden-Officier vorsetzte, und so fungierte ein Feldspital – wie man sieht – von Gottes Gnaden."

So, obviously the medical standards of the Feldscherer, no doubt including those who examined the corpses of suspected vampires in Serbia, did not impress Teuber.

Dom Calmet et les vampires

In an earlier post I mentioned the conference in Senones commemorating the 250th year of the death of Augustin Calmet. It seems that the programme may have been extended since my post, because I now notice that there will actually be a talk on Calmet and vampires: Dom Calmet et les vampires by Philippe Martin.

Saturday 22 September 2007


I happened to find this short video from Kisiljevo which must be the Kisiljevo in the area that in the early 18th century was known as the Rahmer-District taking its name from the fortress Ram. So in these lovely surroundings the well-known Serbian vampire case concerning a certain Peter Plogojowitz was investigated in 1725!

Sunday 16 September 2007


It seems that in Denmark as late as 200 years ago educated and enlightened people were worried about the belief in ghosts and revenants. According to a Danish book on the subject, the first performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni was postponed until 1807 because the directors of the Danish Royal Opera were concerned that this opera might give new life to the belief in revenants. By then 20 years had passed since the initial performance of the opera in Prague in 1787!

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.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Vampire books keep coming

Here are just two new titles which some may enjoy and some may avoid: The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum and Celluloid Vampires by Stacey Abbott.

Sunday 9 September 2007

Top 5

It is interesting to see that the countries in the top 5 of visitors to this blog are:

1. Denmark (my own country)
2. United States (particularly the states of Michigan and Illinois)
3. Serbia and Montenegro
4. Australia
5. United Kingdom

I suppose that Leptirica and various Serbian names are the reasons why relatively many Serbs visit this blog.

Danish passage grave

For those interested in burial practices here are a few photos from a 5.000 year old burial mound in Øm in Zealand (Sjælland), Denmark. This is one of the largest passage graves (in Danish jættestue) of its kind in Denmark (7 meters long and 1.8 meters wide and so spacious that a man of about 1.8 meters like myself can stand up inside). Various objects were found inside the grave after it was discovered in 1832 (see the description in English and German below).

The Danish name, jættestue, refers to the notion that these mounds or hills were thought to be the residence of giants or other supernatural beings. In the area where this burial mound is located there are many other burial mounds of various sizes, and some of the names of the locations in the area reflect the presence of these mounds. Some have been excavated whereas others have not. There are about 2.400 of these mounds and barrows in Denmark.

Above the opening is seen from the inside, and below is a photo of the interior of one end of the chamber. Initially it is very dark inside the chamber, but within a few minutes your eyes get used to the darkness and you can relatively easily see the inside features of the chamber.

The above photos are from a visit I and my wife made to the grave today. Other photos are available on this web site dedicated to this particular burial mound.

Vampire bibliographies

Elsewhere on this blog there has been a reference to a list of vampire books compiled by Anthony Hogg on Amazon: The Complete Vampirologist's Library. I have myself a couple of times considered compiling an annotated list of books, but the problem is that some books will be in German, some in English, and maybe a couple of books will be in other languages, and that might make it hard to compile an Amazon list of all the books. However, the most comprehensive and useful bibliography online is probably Clemens Ruthner's Forschungslitteratur: Vampirismus - Kommentierte interdisziplinäre Auswahlbibliografie, i.e. research litterature on vampirism - an annotated, interdisciplinary, selected bibliography. It also includes literature on Dracula etc., and you may disagree on some of the comments, but I found it very useful when I first found it. It's from 2003, so obviously newer books are not included.

Note: An updated edition of Ruthner's bibliography can be found in Bertschik and Tuczay's Poetische Wiedergänger (Francke Verlag, 2005).

Thursday 6 September 2007

Vampire francais

Here is a curious web site on Satirical coins, which includes some interesting coins or medals with inscriptions like Vampire francais and Les vampires de la mort. I haven't found an explanation of why precisely this image was used, but these coins can also be found for sale on ebay.

Wednesday 5 September 2007


As yet there have been very few comments on this blog. I do receive a bit of feedback by e-mail, but few readers take the opportunity to comment, and the few who have done so, have commented on some old posts. Consequently, I will point you to these two comments on early posts: One on Leptirica, and one on Magia Posthuma.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Bulgarian vampires

I have in my possession a Danish booklet from 1855 by B. Kneazjeskij called Bolgarernes Skikke og Overtro (The customs and superstition of the Bulgarians), translated from the Russian by E. M. Thorson. It is just 39 pages on weddings, births, funerary customs, and superstition. The latter chapter is of particular interest here as it describes various beings: Talasam, Samovid, Karakóndzjal, Vampire, Varkolak, Magésnitsa, Murá, Úrisnitsa, Tsjûma and Sípanitsa!

Vampires are described this way (in my translation):

In the bodies of those persons who have led a life full of sin, as e.g. robbers and the like, an unclean spirit finds an abode after their death, viz. they are transformed into vampires. The same is the case with the one over whose corpse, while it is still in the house of mourning, a cat jumps. To prevent this misfortune, the relatives of the deceased must keep a watch by turns by the body, until it is taken out of the house. After the course of forty days a vampire begins to walk about in the houses and suck the blood of children and at times even from the grown ups through their ears. As soon as it rumours that a vampire haunts, the Bulgarians stay the night several families together in one and the same room. Throughout the whole night two of the men alternately stand guard with a lit candle or dip in each hand, and if one of those asleep start snoring somewhat heavily or to moan while asleep, the guard immediately awakens everybody, and they set off to look for the vampire. In case there is the least suspicion that a deceased has been transformed into a vampire, the authorities and his relatives go to the cemetery, exhume the body, pour sour wine over it and drive a stake through it in the belief that they will thereby drive away the evil spirit that has taken its abode in it.

A footnote (written by the translator, one presumes) is added to the last sentence: According to other authors, such a corpse is finally cremated.

Monday 3 September 2007

'Queen Gunhild'

Earlier this summer, Danish news reported, that 103.000 Danish kroner (approximately 20.000 dollars) have been allocated to preserve the bog body of a woman found in 1835 in Haraldskær bog near Vejle in Jutland, Denmark. The body which is popularly known as Queen Gunhild, because she was initially identified as this legendary Norwegian queen, will on this occasion be moved from the church in Vejle, Skt. Nicolai Kirke, where she has been on display since 1835, to a new museum building.

She is about 2.500 years old, as she has been dated to go back to about 490 BC, and I mention her here, because her body was found fastened to the ground by several twigs. There have been a few theories on how this was done, including that of a kind of impalement by a stake, but medical examinations has shown that she was only fastened around the knees and the arms. Of course, there is no conclusive evidence of why she was firmly fastened to the ground, but one explanation could be fear of the dead.

The illustration above, taken from a book published in 1929, suggests that something like a stake was used. However appealing this notion would be to the historian of vampires and Magia Posthuma, as mentioned above, forensic evidence has ruled out this possibility in the case of the Haraldskær woman.

English Wikipedia has an entry on the bog body from Haraldskær: Haraldskær Woman.

The illustration is from J. S. Møller: Fester og Højtider i gamle Dage I Fødsel - Bryllup - Død (P. Haase & søn, 1929).

Sunday 2 September 2007

Theories and Myths of Evil and Vampires

"This is a book about evil. More precisely, it is a book about human evil, and its central question is whether there can be a secular conception of evil, whether that idea can tell us anything about the human condition, explain anything about what human beings do, in the absence of its more familiar territory of the supernatural and the demonic. In seeking to understand human evil it asks the question whether evil exists at all, and one possible answer I take very seriously is that it does not."

Thus Phillip Cole of Middlesex University opens the first chapter of his 2006 book The Myth of Evil (Edinburg Univ. Press), and interestingly one of many themes in the book is vampirism, which is particularly dealt with (along with witchcraft) in the fourth chapter on Communities of Fear (pp. 77-94). As he writes, "The point of studying these historical events is to develop a political philosophy of evil, an awareness of how it has been used to marginalise and oppress. If we can make no philosophical or psychological sense of evil, it may be that this political sense is all there is." (p. 77)

Cole is inspired by what Rousseau wrote about vampires, or rather by what Christopher Frayling writes about Rousseau:

"The point he [Rousseau] made about them [vampires] was that however little so-called 'attested histories' instructed us about the status of vampires, they revealed much about the nature of authority in civilized society." (Vampires: Lord Byron to Count Dracula, p. 33)

Cole writes of the witch hunts and the vampire cases:

"I will suggest that we can draw general patterns about the nature of power in 'civilised' society from these two great panics in European history, and the most important element is the centrality of fear in constituting the identity of political communities. Rather than political communities forming themselves around shared identities, they are formed through the exploitation by political authorities of social fears and insecurities, by focusing those fears upon some threatening 'evil' figure - the vampire, the witch, the Jew, the migrant, the asylum seeker, the Gypsy, the 'Islamicist' terrorist - and claiming to protect the 'genuine' members from these deviant and dangerous threats. Political communities are constituted by an irrational horror of imaginary monsters. In this process, those who seek to hold or gain power do not only create the threatening figure, they also create the community itself, or a particular form of it, with themselves at its centre. The witch craze, the vampire epidemics, and, I will argue in the final chapter of this book, our present panics over such phenomena as immigration and terrorism are exactly parallel. What is especially terrifying about the vampire and the witch is their ambiguity - their ability to be among us without detection, and, in the case of the vampire, their ability to pass across borders undetected. They are the enemy within, and therefore, a source of intense fear and panic, which can be exploited in the pursuit of political power." (p. 81)

Whereas it is quite obvious that those fearing vampires usually went to the authorities to deal with actual cases of vampires and Magia Posthuma, the authorities generally neither instigated nor approved of the belief in vampires. This was the case with the Habsburg military surgeons, and this seems to have been the case with many cases of Magia Posthuma in e.g. Moravia and Silesia. That is, the notion that the authorities themselves deliberately sought to control or even suppress the populace by the belief in vampires and Magia Posthuma, is based on little or no historical evidence.

One proponent of this theory is Gabriel Ronay who in a chapter called Vampire Trials in his 1972 book The Dracula Myth wrote:

"The Inquistion, the Roman Church's instrument for dealing with schismatics and the like, was already in decline, the witch-hunt in the Protestant territories was slowly abating and heresy had lost much of the social dread attached to it. A vigorously pursued and dogmatically justified campaign against the widely feared vampires, however, offered a useful lever with which to re-establish the Catholic Church's dominant position and reassert its spiritual influence in the mixed border areas. With the motive clearly established, there can be little doubt as to whom the hunting down and prosecution of alleged un-dead vampires benefited. The psychological weapon furnished by the nature of the accusations was exploited to the maximum effect to belabour the Orthodox rite Church. The trials also provided a legal forum to discredit the fellow congregationalists of alleged vampires who, in the recorded cases in Hungary's southern border areas, were Slovenes, Serbs or other aliens." (p. 27)

Certainly, revenants played an important role in debates in e.g. the 17th century, but I find it hard to recognize Ronay's description of "a vigorously pursued and dogmatically justified campaign against the widely feared vampires" when reading material from e.g. the original vampire cases. The authorities generally regarded vampires as superstition and generally had no reason to encourage the belief, in fact, they tried to discourage it. Ronay's idea of a "campaign" is probably very appealing to the modern reader, because it is easy to grasp, but a theory should also be based on source material, and in my opinion it is hard to find documentation for Ronay's "campaign".

Cole is perhaps slightly more sophisticated and his analysis in some ways more interesting, but it is based on very little source material and even includes material on the fictional vampire! Regarding "the vampire phenomenon", he mentions that "historical scholarship here is much inferior to the work on the witch trials."(p. 86) And this lack of knowledge of the historical background is probably why his analysis of the vampire cases is not quite convincing.

Saturday 1 September 2007


I recently posted about the book Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil. The papers in that book were compiled from the contributions to a conference on vampires arranged in Budapest in May 2003. Since that annual conferences on a theme called Monsters and the Monstrous have been arranged. More information is available at the web site of this academic project, wickedness.net. Looking at the archives from the conferences it is obvious that not much has been said on the subject of this blog since the first conference in 2003. Later this month, on September 17-20, it is time for the 2007 conference, and at some time the program will probably be available on the web site. Peter Mario Kreuter, author of Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa, is a member of the steering group.
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