Wednesday 31 October 2007


A home grown pumpkin head sends his Halloween greetings to all visitors of this blog. An evening suitable for the more entertaining aspects of Magia posthuma! For some recent information and discussion concerning the book Magia Posthuma, look here!

Sunday 28 October 2007

Non dantur Vampyri

I have found less time for writing posts recently. However, as you will no doubt have noticed, I have added some elements to the blog layout, including a short introduction to the subject of the blog. Accompanying this text is a scan of a portion of the title page of the dissertation on vampires written by Pohl and Hertel and published in Leipzig in 1732, Dissertatio de hominibus post mortem sangvisvgis, vulgo sic dictis Vampyren. As is common in some texts, the word sanguisuga is used as the Latin equivalent of "vampire". "Sanguisuga" is a contraction of "sanguis" and "sugo", meaning "blood-sucker", usually in the sense leech, like e.g. in Proverbs 30, 15 in the Vulgate: "sanguisugae duae sunt filiae dicentes adfer adfer" (King James Bible: The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give.).

Pohl and Hertel find that the "vampyres" should be explained by natural causes:

"Non dantur Vampyri, sed mortis genuina causa potius morbo epidemico est adscribenda."

That is: There are no vampires, but the genuine cause of death should rather be ascribed to an epidemical disease.

The horseleach or haemopis sanguisuga however certainly exists, and pictures of it can e.g. be seen here.

Thursday 25 October 2007

Dom Calmet In Memoriam

Today it is 250 years since Augustin Calmet (1662-1757) died. Had he not written a book on revenants and vampires, this blog would probably not have existed.

Saturday 20 October 2007

The Vampire and the Devil

According to the September newsletter of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, the theme of their conference in 2008 will be "The Vampire and the Devil":

"The Transylvanian Society of Dracula holds its next annual conference in Romania between May 23-25, 2008, on "THE VAMPIRE and THE DEVIL" - a debate involving compared folklore, religions, literature and cultural anthropology, tracing the destiny, the evolution of the vampire in the Age of Christianity, Enlightment, Cartesianism and post-industrialism.

A tiny scene in the grand fresco of "The Last Judgment" on the outer wall of Voronet monastery (Bucovina, Romania), made almost 500 years a, shows an Angel and a Devil cooperating in punishing an evil man, upon his death - a rare instance in which the contraries agree, for once, on a joint course of action Has our perception of the role of Evil changed ever since? Did the devil manage to replace the Vampire, or has the vampire prevailed, acquiring devilish qualities?"

I don't quite understand how vampires got involved with that The Last Judgment fresco, but the theme probably allows speakers to choose suitable topics concerning both vampires and the devil.

A photo of the Voronet monastery from a Romanian tourist leaflet.

Saturday 13 October 2007

A haunted cemetery

Assistens Cemetery, Copenhagen, 1802A friend of mine asked me to join him for a special walk in one of Copenhagen's cemeteries yesterday evening. As part of an annual cultural event called in Danish Kulturnatten (The culture night), the old Assistens Kirkegård was open to the public, and on this particular evening a few eerie ghosts were haunting the cemetery! So we walked around in the dark and came pretty close to some female 'apparitions' dressed in white garments, one of them even being very tall with her shroud floating around her.

One may take the opportunity to reflect upon why a the people in charge of the cemetery arrange this kind of event. I suppose that some would even find it disrespectful of those who are buried there to make their graves the site of entertainment. I do, however, think it was done in a relatively respectful way, and the few people who were actually going around the cemetery seemed to act responsibly. For this reason I myself have no particular qualms about it, and of course, historically cemeteries have been used for various purposes, so why not a bit of 'haunting'?

First and foremost the event to me indicates that most of us are not really so afraid of meeting a revenant or ghost to avoid the opportunity to enter a cemetery by night. On the other hand, the question of 'what if' probably 'tickles' our imagination so much that it is attractive to go and see what happens.

The cemetery in question is the burial site of many well-known Danes, e.g. the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the author Hans Christian Andersen, and the physicists Hans Christian Ørsted and Niels Bohr. For those interested in vampires and magia posthuma, this is also the burial site of the Danish author Dan Turèll, who has written a book on vampires, and of the painter Nicolai Abildgaard whom I wrote about in an earlier post.

It is also the cemetery where an interesting incident concerning premature burial occurred in the late 18th century. Tradition has had it that when grave robbers came to steal from the corpse of a young woman called Giertrud Birgitte Bodenhoff, they found her alive and killed her. This tale had been retold for about 150 years when it was decided to exhume the remains of the corpse and examine it to ascertain whether there was any truth in the stories of grave robbers and premature burial.

Viggo Starcke who was in charge of the examination, concluded that the tradition was true, and wrote a book on the mystery of Giertrud Birgitte Bodenhoff that was published in 1954.

Monday 8 October 2007

Calmet on ebay

A nice copy of the third edition of Calmet's Traite from 1759 was recently sold on ebay. The winning bid was 555 €.

Sunday 7 October 2007

The spectre Mævia

For those of you who may be wondering about that otherwise so elusive Magia Posthuma by Karl Ferdinand von Schertz that I now have at hand, here are just a couple of facts.

As those of you who are familiar with Calmet may remember, he relates that von Schertz (here in the English translation of Henry Christmas)

relates, that in a certain village, a woman being just dead, who had taken all her sacraments, she was buried in the usual way in the cemetery. Four days after her decease, the inhabitants of this village heard a great noise and extraordinary uproar, and saw a spectre, which appeared sometimes in the shape of a dog, sometimes in the form of a man, not to one person only, but to several, and caused them great pain, grasping their throats, and compressing their stomachs, so as to suffocate them. It bruised almost the whole body, and reduced them to extreme weakness, so that they became pale, lean and attenuated.

The spectre attacked even animals, and some cows were found debilitated and half-dead. Sometimes it tied them together by their tails. These animals gave sufficient evidence by their bellowing of the pain they suffered. The horses seemed overcome with fatigue, perspired profusely, principally on the back; were heated, out of breath, covered with foam, as after a long and rough journey. These calamities lasted several months.

Von Schertz actually mentions the name of this Spectrum: Mævia. Unfortunately, he does not identify the village (he only says: in Pago N., in the village N.), and neither does he date the events. Curiously, he writes that the spectre is seen as a cat (cattus), and not as a dog (Calmet has chien), so somehow Calmet got it wrong.

Otherwise, this is, as Calmet says, the incident that von Schertz relates at the beginning of his book before going on to refer to the case of the shepherd from Blov.

Like I have said before, it would be very interesting to have a critical and annotated edition of Calmet's book on revenants and vampires based on a reading of Calmet's source material.

Saturday 6 October 2007

Magic and Superstition in Europe

On a trip to London last weekend I picked up a book called Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present by Michael D. Bailey, assistant professor of history at Iowa State University.

I have not read the book yet, but in about 250 pages Bailey attempts to survey the history of concepts like magic, superstition and witchcraft, even including a few references to vampires like this one:

After 1736, officials in the English government and church were effectively enjoined against expresing any credence in the new superstitious belief in witchcraft. Needless to say, widespread belief in witchcraft and other forms of magic did not vanish in England in this year, nor in France in 1862, nor anywhere else in Europe as witch hunting came to an end. In some areas, other beliefs that might explain unexpected death or misfortune arose or took on renewed strength. For example, in the Hungarian region of Transylvania, belief in vampires may well have taken on new life even as central authorities became increasingly skeptical about witchcraft. Debates about vampires circulated around the Habsburg court in Vienna and may have influenced Maria Theresa's mid-eighteenth-century legislation effectively ending witch trials. Mostly, though, belief in witchcraft and magic simply endured, and continued to be expressed in local communities as it always had been. For despite all the sound and fury attached to the great witch hunts of Europe, witch hunts and witch trials were never the way most common people dealt with witchcraft. (p. 174)

The painting on the book cover is The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse (1886).

Tuesday 2 October 2007


So now I have it, the Magia Posthuma by Karl Ferdinand von Schertz, or at least a micro film of it. On the left I have placed a portion of the title page, the full title being MAGIA POSTHUMA PER JURIDICUM ILLUD PRO & CONTRA Suspenso Nonnullibi JUDICIO Investigata à CAROLO FERDINANDO DE SCHERTZ, ÆRÆ SALUTIFERÆ UBI PACISCENDVM.

One thing I have discovered, is that the book was in fact probably published in 1704 and not in 1706 as is usually stated (although 1704 has been pointed out by some, see e.g. here). At least at the end of the book it says:

IMprimatur. Decretum Olomucij in Curia Episcopali II. Julij, 1704.

And I have not noticed the year 1706 being mentioned anywhere.

So now I have to translate the (mostly) Latin text and look more into the references etc. in the book.
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