Wednesday 31 December 2008

Happy New Year

Another year is coming to an end, and looking back through the numerous blog posts from this year it's obvious that a few things have happened in 2008.

Personally I have had the opportunity to visit a couple of cities that play important roles in the history of magia posthuma: Leipzig and Vienna. I have also had opportunity to meet a few people who share an interest in the subject and to correspond with others.

A couple of other blogs have surfaced. Most notably the blog of Nicolaus Equiamicus whose web site has become an important internet resource for material on vampires and werewolves.

A few books have been published on vampires: Blutspuren by Hagen Schaub and Vampire! Vampire! by Markus Heitz are two of the most important in German, and to my knowledge only one really relevant book has been published in English: From Demons to Dracula by Matthew Beresford. On the subject of (the fictional) Dracula Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula finally provided us with the full insight into the genesis of this novel, and Leslie Fiedler was able to shed more light on the genesis, as he was able to peruse the original manuscript for his New Annotated Dracula.

On a more disappointing note, I looked at a number of documentaries on vampires, including the curious Der Vampir Prinzessin. For some reason, all these documentaries tend to mix fact and fiction, consequently blurring the boundaries between the historical and the fictional vampires.

Hopefully, 2009 will see a new edition of Peter Kremer's book on revenants, Draculas Vettern, but otherwise I'm not sure what to expect of new books. A conference on vampirism, however, is planned for July in Vienna!

I am unable to say if I will be able to post as frequently in 2009 as I have done throughout a number of months this year. Other parts of my life will definitely require some more time in the new year, but despite the recent decline in blog activity, I intend to keep the blog alive with news and general information on magia posthuma throughout the new year.

So I will just end the long list of 2008 blog entries by wishing you all a happy new year!

Sunday 28 December 2008

The Cultural History of Revenants

’Three main problems are considered in the following pages: how the dead have been perceived in Western European traditions; what changes have occurred in these perceptions through the centuries; and why these perceptions have altered. We shall examine descriptions of apparitions – their form as well as their function – from classical times, from the Middle Ages and then from each succeeding century down to the present day.’

R. C. Finucane’s Appearances of the Dead: A Cultural History of Ghosts (Junction Books, 1982) certainly came in handy when I was looking for an overview of the historical development of revenant beliefs from the Middle Ages and onwards. Actually, I don’t recall seeing any other study focusing on the development of the perceptions of the dead over such a long period, as the above quote from the introduction outlines. Unfortunately, Finucane’s book also has some serious shortcomings, the major of which is described in the lines that follow the above quote:

’In a probably vain attempt to impose some sort of order upon so vast a subject, from the sixteenth century onwards the survey is limited to England and English reports of apparitions, though examples will be drawn from Continental material (especially French) from time to time.’

Consequently the period that is of particular interest to the history of vampires is viewed only from an Anglocentric point of view, leaving only room for just a couple of non-English authors, including Augustin Calmet, in the chapter on the era of Enlightenment.

Furthermore, Finucane appears to be relatively unfamiliar with many of the perceptions about the dead that were common throughout Europe like e.g. sounds of mastication coming from graves, in fact he doesn’t attempt to trace their origins beyond standard literary texts like those of classical authors.

Originally published in 1982 and reprinted a number of times, it obviously does not contain any of the insights provided by later research on e.g. the medieval perceptions of the dead. Still, Finucane does outline a lot of the literature as seen from an English point of view, and consequently provides us with a ’first approximation’ to a cultural history of ghosts.

Thursday 25 December 2008

Season's greetings!

It's christmas day and I'll just wish you all a merry christmas! As noted before, December has been a busy time, and consequently very few posts. However, I plan to write a couple of posts over the next few days.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Bitten by vampires

Now you can find (and if you read Danish, you can read it as well) the newspaper article online that I referred to recently.

Wednesday 17 December 2008


December is always a busy month, so I have found little time for posting, alas, even very little time for the subject of magia posthuma itself. Anyway, here you will find an interview (in German) with Nicolaus Equiamicus about his books and work. The interview even reveals a couple of facts about the person behind the pseudonym :-) Furthermore, I myself was interviewed for a major Danish newspaper the other day, so a few words on the history of vampires will hopefully find their way to an article that otherwise concentrates on cinematic vampires. On a smaller scale, I recently helped out a youngster on the other side of the globe with an interview on vampires for a school project...

Sunday 7 December 2008


Although this blog only incidentally - although more so lately than otherwise - touches upon the more fictional aspects of the subject of posthumous magic, I find it appropriate to mention the recent death of Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008). Anyone who got interested in the cinematic vampire at some time during the period from the late 1950's to the 1980's will probably have read at least one issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland edited by 'Forry', who also liked to use various pseudonyms like 'the Ackermonster' and 'Dr. Acula'. He was particularly known for his huge collection of more or less anything related to those genres, including a certain ring!

It felt like Ackerman had more or less been there always in the world of science fiction, fantasy and horror 'fandom', as he contributed to fanzines from the early 1930's, but now we know that Dr. Acula was in fact mortal like the rest of us. R.I.P.

Thursday 4 December 2008

The Illustrated Dracula

In a comment to my recent post on the origins of Van Helsing, Leon asks about the comic book that I used for an illustration. Well, it's a comic book adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula that I first read in a Danish translation, but the English languaged edition I own is a paperback with an introduction by Christopher Lee called The Illustrated Dracula 'now in blood-curdling comic form!' drawn by Alden McWilliams and written by Otto Binder and Craig Tennis. It was published by Manor Books Inc. in 1975, but the copyright year is 1966, so it was probably published elsewhere back then.

In the foreword, Lee writes:

'Whether or not there is a living Dracula in our midst, it is an accepted historical and medical fact that vampirism has existed throughout the centuries. There is abundant evidence in all corners of the world of the power of blood; savage tribes still practice blood cults, and the drinking of blood is believed to endow the recipient with great power and virility. Psychiatrists tell us of the strong sexual impulses involved, and there have been countless documented cases of rites and crimes carried out as symbols of fertility. Even a blood transfusion is the giving of life and strength from one to another. It is no wonder, therefore, that superstition endows the vampire with the power to live forever. Even though dead, he is still very much alive.'

Wednesday 3 December 2008


I saw this book in a bookshop today: Book of the Vampire by Nigel Suckling (it almost sounds like a pseudonym chosen for the subject, but I don't think it is). It does contain some nice, original illustrations, but otherwise it looks like a rehash of the usual old stuff about Vlad, Bathory, mass murderers, Montague Summers and various folkloric vampires. According to various reviews like this one, it's probably a pleasant read and a nice introduction for those with a casual interest, but I refrained from spending 210 DKK on it (nearly € 30). I did however buy Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. After my recent brief foray into the subject of paranormal romance, I am intrigued to find out a little more about this bestseller...

Sunday 30 November 2008


Cannibalism isn't exactly a topic that I find particularly relevant to this blog, but it has been touched upon slightly, and there will no doubt be a few out there who might be interested to see these posts, Cannibalism: Terminology and A note on Androphagoi, from a blog on Antiquity. Both are related to a paper in progress on the subject of cannibalism.

Accompanying this post is a photo of a 1975 book on that topic which contains chapters on 'The Red Elixir' and 'Werewolves and Vampires'. I think it was among the first dozen or so books I found when I was beginning to look for books on vampires as a teenager. The author, Reay Tannahill, writes:

'Closely associated with the idea of the werewolf in Europe was that of the vampire, one of the most lurid horror comics ever dreamed up by man and yet, oddly enough, one of the least harmful. Though the forces of church and state burned vampires, decapitated them, tore them limb from limb, or transfixed them with stakes through the heart, the vampire was in most cases dead already and knew nothing about it. There were none of those appalling holocausts that purged the countryside of living 'witches' and 'werewolves', schismatics and other sinners in the sight of the Lord. Nevertheless, the psychological effects of the vampire myth were unpleasant enough at a time when the human mind was under constant assault.' (p. 120-1)

The origins of Van Helsing

My last post made me look up what is said about the origins of Stoker's character Abraham Van Helsing in Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula.

Abraham was the name of both Stoker himself and his father, as Bram is but a diminutive of that name, hence it has been suggested that Van Helsing should be 'an idealized self-portrait', but Stoker actually claimed that he was 'based on a real character', a 'highly respected scientist, who ... will also be too famous all over the educated world for his real name ... to be hidden from people'. Two possible candidates are Stoker's brother William Thornley and Max Müller, a German professor at Oxford.

The origin of the name Helsing is apparently unknown. Theories suggest that it may have been inspired by the fictional Dr. Hesselius of Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly, the anthology that contained the influential vampire novella Carmilla, or by an alchemist called Van Helmont mentioned in one of Stoker's other sources.

Obviously, the personal characteristics of Van Helsing differ a lot from Gerard van Swieten. Whereas van Swieten was an enlightened man of science trying to end superstitious practices, Van Helsing talks of occult forces and believes in all sorts of posthumous magic.

For some reason, some years ago Van Helsing became sort of a superhero vampire hunter in a dreadful movie that was certainly full of sound and fury but had nothing to say or contribute to the genre.

Fictional and mythological characters can turn up in various guises in surprising places. While writing this post, I saw Santa Claus walking by on the other side of the street from my house :-)

Saturday 29 November 2008

Van Swieten and Van Helsing

I just looked at the German Wikipedia entry on Gerard van Swieten, and someone has added this sentence:

'Van Swieten war eine Vorlage für Bram Stokers Romanfigur des Vampirjägers „Van Helsing“ in seinem berühmten Roman „Dracula“.' (Van Swieten was a model for Bram Stoker's fictional character of the vampire hunter Van Helsing in his famous novel Dracula).

The source is probably the Vampire Princess documentary, but as stated before, there is hardly any evidence that Bram Stoker had ever come across the name of Gerard van Swieten!

Hortus Medicus

I am not botanically inclined, but botanical gardens can be pleasant to visit. In Vienna I had even more reason to go to the Botanical Garden of the Vienna University, as it was Gerard van Swieten who as Direktor of the Medical Faculty suggested to Empress Maria Theresa to found a 'Hortus Medicus', a medical garden. This was in 1754, i.e. the year before both the Empress and van Swieten became involved in the matter of Magia Posthuma and vampirism.

To be honest, I wasn't impressed with the Botanische Garten, but that is probably because of my lack of personal interest in botanics, and because I had spent hours at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum and at the Upper and Lower Belvedere before I went to visit it.

Actually, I had more pleasure from visiting the Botanischer Garten in Halle earlier this year. I don't know if it has any particular connection with some of the learned men related to the 18th century 'secret capital of vampire theory'. This garden predates the one in Vienna, as it was founded in 1698. It contains several greenhouses that are open to the public, whereas most of the greenhouses in Vienna are only open to researchers. It's a very pleasant and relatively quiet place, at least when I visited it this summer.

The first two photos above are from Vienna, whereas the photos just above and below are from Halle.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Magic Cube

This is a cubic presentation of links found on the internet when searching for magia posthuma on search-cube.

Monday 24 November 2008

Paranormal Romance

The other day I was contacted by a journalist who wanted to ask me about paranormal romances. It seems that a friend of mine had referred him to me claiming that I would be an expert, but I honestly felt quite uncertain about the subject, because I rarely read vampire novels (I think, the last two I have read were Rikke Schubart's Danish novel Bid and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian). Of course, I have noticed that so many vampire romances are published, but I haven't really taken the trouble to look at them more closely, although I recall at one time considering doing a blog post on the subject.

So now I have spent a little time looking at web sites on the subject of paranormal romances, and I did e.g. notice this blog that records the thoughts of an English Major at a college who is studying romances, and particularly Vampire Romance Novels.

It seems that these novels are sort of the logical next step in the evolution of the fictional vampire from a revenant and fiend to an ally, friend, and lover. An evolution that has been apparent in its earlier stages in e.g. Dracula movies from the frightening creature of Nosferatu to the 1979 Dracula where the emancipated woman prefers Frank Langella's Count to her mortal boyfriend, and so forth.

Instead of waiting for the good doctor to notice her or for the knight in shining armour to take her away, the modern female of these novels seems to yearn for a vampire or some other paranormal creature. Well, at least that's what I gather from the blurb on some of these novels that are apparently pretty explicit in their romantic (and erotic) content.

It is actually pretty fascinating that vampires, werewolves, demons and other supernatural - and 'evil' creatures - so explicitly have become the romantic subjects and objects of these novels. The fascination with these creatures have of course been implicit in earlier fiction, but with time the readers seem to have given up being 'saved' from these nightmares, and rather seem to indulge in them, or at least in what on the face appears to be a nightmare.

I am reminded of the enthusiastic dedication in the copy of the abovementioned Bid presented to me by the author: 'More vampire! More blood! More sex and lust and death!'

Sunday 23 November 2008

Gender and magia posthuma?!

According to this web site, an analysis of the text on this blog reveals that it is probably (74%) written by a man!

I have no idea what that analysis consists of, but there is one easy way to find out: Go to my blogger profile and see for yourself.

Anyway, I think the topic of vampires and magia posthuma itself will probably appeal to both men and women, so I don't think the topic of this blog should give away the blogger's gender.

From Demons to Dracula

One of the problems with a lot of literature on vampires is the frequently diffuse definitions of a vampire. In From Demons to Dracula, Matthew Beresford uses the term in various ways, and says at the end of his book:

‘There is no typical vampire. Perhaps a ‘true’ vampire would be an amalgamation of all the forms we have seen worldwide as well as reflecting attributes of all the historical examples. In essence, the vampire reflects an ever-changing being that bears relevance to the culture it exits in. The modern vampire is a being born of demons, burned as a heretic and reviled as a fiend; the Devil’s own creation. What the future may hold for him is uncertain, yet it is undeniable that the image immortalized by Dracula, encapsulating over six thousand years of history, can never be undone.’ (p. 200-1)

So without really defining a vampire, Beresford traces various concepts and beliefs that have at some time (i.e. more or less within the last 300 years, because very few knew the East European vampire before that time) been linked with vampires - from burial sites in prehistory to the Goth scene of the 21st century. He doesn’t attempt to provide an all encompassing history of vampires, but looks at a number of cases to describe and analyze ‘the creation of the modern vampire myth’ to quote the book’s subtitle.

Unfortunately, he often relies on some less than reliable sources: Dudley Wright, Montague Summers, and - believe it or not - even Sean Manchester, and frequently he just refers to them without any critical discussion. This also goes for the porphyria theory, notions on ‘psychic vampirism’ based on LaVey’s Satanic Bible, and various other speculations that, ahem, seem less than convincing.

This becomes a particular problem when he describes the Medvedja vampire case and mixes the fictional version with the original documents, although he seems to have had Hamberger’s collection of source texts at hand. Furthermore, his description of the 17th-18th century vampire cases and debate is very short, whereas he spends a lot of space on speculations on e.g. Judas Escariot in a discussion of the Church’s role in connection with revenant belief that seems ahistorical.

So from the point of view of someone who is interested in putting the vampire cases, the magia posthuma and revenant beliefs and customs into a historical context, From Demons to Dracula is quite problematic. On the other hand, read as an introductory analysis of the modern concept of ‘vampire’, the book does present some interesting thoughts and ideas, and it is easily read. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter on the so-called ‘Historical Dracula’, because it digs deeper than the usual rehash of Florescu and McNally.

It’s just a shame that he didn’t do more of the same with regards to the early modern vampire cases. Also, I had hoped that as an archaeologist he might have considered some of the skeletons found in e.g. the Czech republic that may have been treated in ways to prevent the dead from returning.

The appendix contains excerpts from William of Newburgh's Historia Rerum Anglicarum.


From Demons to Dracula finally arrived, so I'll take a closer look at it and let you know what I think within a couple of days.

Addendum: Amazon has a 'Look inside' sample from the book.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

It all began with a lesbian love?!

Another of the books mentioned recently, Das Vampirbuch by Ditte and Giovanni Bandini, has now been published, and a PDF excerpt is available. Judging by this insight into the contents, it looks like an entertaining primer in vampires from Dracula to the Goth scene. Bloodstained pages and chapters titled 'It all began with a lesbian love' and 'Are vampires happy?' signify a less than serious approach, so I doubt that the book will appeal to those with a more serious or advanced interest in the subject of vampires and magia posthuma.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Dracula Unbound

I recently referred to a new book: Dracula Unbound. Kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüren des Vampirs edited by Christian Begemann, Britta Herrmann and Harald Neumeyer (Rombach Buchverlag). It has now been published, and the cover can be seen below.

I'm not quite sure of the contents, but I have quoted the publisher's description below. Perhaps it contains some of the papers from a 2006 meeting in Bayreuth?

'Der Vampirismus gehört zu den wenigen genuinen Mythen, die die Moderne hervorgebracht hat. Vampirgeschichten sind keineswegs nur Produkte einer anspruchslosen Unterhaltungsindustrie, sondern Schauplatz komplexer kultureller Verhandlungen zwischen den Künsten, der Medizin, Psychologie, Theologie und Philosophie, sozialen und politischen Diskursen. Als Ausdruck eines ›wilden Denkens‹ geben sie daher in vielerlei Hinsicht Aufschluß über das Selbstverständnis der Moderne, ihre Problemstellungen, Faszinationspotentiale und Ängste.

Christian Begemann, Professor für Neuere deutsche Literaturwissenschaft an der Universität München. Veröffentlichungen u.a. zum Verhältnis von Aufklärung, Furcht und Angst, zu Adalbert Stifter, zur Metaphorik der Zeugung und Geburt von Kunst sowie zum Realismus und zur deutschen Literatur des 18. bis 20. Jahrhunderts.

Britta Herrmann, wissenschaftliche Assistentin im Fach Neuere deutsche Literaturwissenschaft an der Universität Bayreuth. Veröffentlichungen zum Verhältnis von ›Familienroman‹, Geschlecht und Erzählmodellen im 20. Jahrhundert, zur Geschichte der Männlichkeit, zu Ilse Aichinger, zur Moderne um 1800. Weitere Forschungsschwerpunkte u.a.: Wechselbeziehung zwischen Wissenschaften, Technik und Literatur, Literaturtheorie und Kulturwissenschaft(en), gender studies.

Harald Neumeyer, Akademischer Rat im Fach Neuere deutsche Literaturwissenschaft an der Universität Bayreuth. Veröffentlichungen u.a. zur Gestalt des Flaneurs, zum Verhältnis von Kunst und Wissenschaft um 1800 und zum Selbstmord in Literatur und Wissenschaft zwischen Aufklärung und Romantik, zu Literatur- als Kulturwissenschaft, zur Geschichte der Beziehung von Literatur und Psychoanalyse und zur Literatur des 20. Jahrhunderts.'

Unfortunately, the price is pretty steep: €68!

Ranft the biographer

Those who have studied the bibliography of Michael Ranft will have noticed how many biographical works he published. It is quite a curious experience to browse through his books, because he must have spent an incredible amount of time compiling biographical information. Above is one of the earlier examples, a collection of biographies - or necrologues - of deceased dukes of Saxony, including the life of Christiane Eberhardine, queen of Poland (1671-1727). The original includes print in colour, but unfortunately I only have a black and white scan.

This book was published in the same year as Ranft's second edition of his De masticatione mortuorum, 1728, when he was just 27 years old. Note that he is only credited as 'M. M. R.'!

Saturday 15 November 2008

The Middle Ages

In the above photo this blogger as a very young man is handed a copy of the late Dan Turèll's book about vampires Alverdens vampyrer (All the world's vampires) by the author himself. Turell (1946-93) was a popular Danish author of essays, crime novels and more who happened to be fascinated by vampires. In a characteristic oratorical manner he talked on this and other subjects, at times dressed in the miniature Dracula cape that he is also seen wearing in the photo. I remember attending a couple of his talks on vampires, but I only chatted and corresponded with him on the subject a couple of times.

Unfortunately, his book on vampires - the first full length book written in Danish on the subject - is far from satisfactory. It is clearly written in his entertaining style, but that is no excuse for not caring about important details. My favourite example is his indiscriminate use of the term 'the Middle Ages', in particular when it is applied to the 18th century!

No doubt, the book has been studied by numerous people interested in the subject, and by pupils writing essays on vampires at school, so it's unfortunate that the book propagates the view that the Middle Ages extended until around 1800!

This year, incidentally, it is 30 years since the first edition of Alverdens vampyrer was published. The photo is not that old, it's from 1983. A second edition was published in 1993.

Friday 14 November 2008

Homo defunctus

I have just read an article about Latin becoming a popular language for students in countries like e.g. Germany. I myself enjoyed reading the language when I was much younger and could find time for that pastime, and my rudimentary knowledge of Latin has proved helpful for my interest in magia posthuma. The above text is an example. A definition of vampires as a 'homo defunctus' returning from its sepulchre after death and sucking the blood of humans as well as animals.

The author also tells us that the origin of the word 'vampire' is not certain, and that opinions differ on the matter. Unfortunately, this is more or less still the case.

The text is from the Dissertatio de hominibus post mortem sanguisugis, vulgo sic dictis Vampyren by Christopher Pohl (Leipzig, 1732).

For some examples of Latin in earlier posts see Non dantur Vampyri, Joh. Frid. Glaser's tale of horror, Obsolescit nempe vivus omnis inter mortuos, A.D. 1344 according to Neplach and The shepherd from Blov.

Thursday 13 November 2008

The Evil Dead

I recently mentioned poltergeists as one manifestation of revenants. Here is a description of the 'evil dead' from a paper on Possession phenomena, possession-systems. Some East-Central European examples by Éva Pócs published in Communicating with the Spirits edited by Gábor Klaniczay and Éva Pócs (Central European University Press, Budapest, 2005):

'When we talk about the aggression of the dead against humans naturally we are talking about the "evil" dead: the main form of this aggression is that the dead occupy a part of the human world and bring it under their evil influence. In Medieval Europe folk mythologies were still familiar with the dual nature of the dead: good and evil dead protecting (functioning as guardian spirits) and attacking humans, their own family and community. (---) The appearance of "evil dead" or of hostile ghosts as poltergeists, the abduction of the living during the time of the dead to earthly quasi-other-worlds are phenomena present in a rich cultural variety in contemporary Europe too. Possessing evil house-spirits may be for example the domovoi and kikimora known from modern Russian folk beliefs, and the Romanian moroi (we have similar data on the German goblin): these may appear as noisy ghosts, throwing about things or breaking objects, while the hordes of moroi may appear as havoc causing animals or as fighting cats. In general, however, the category of evil dead is a much broader one than that of the attacking house-spirit/ghost: since the Middle Ages all over Europe in the belief systems of most European peoples, the evil dead are repenting souls who have no status (are not baptized) or could not enter the other world or the purgatory. Such beings are the Hungarian gonoszak, rosszak (evil ones), the Eastern Hungarian and Romanian tisztátalanok (impure ones). According to belief legends, they visit the living especially between Christmas and Epiphany. Besides suspicious noises, clinking, other manifestatioins of the deathly condition replacing the earthly one can be observed when they appear: the force of gravitation is defied, furniture rises, objects fly, head-scarves unfold. Furthermore the spirits cause the illness and death of humans and animals, bother new mothers and steal newborn babies. They can appear as dead but in the form of living people (who bodily possess humans) as well as in animal shape.' (p. 94-5; I have omitted references)

Éva Pócs is Professor at the University of Pécs in Hungary specialising in folk religion, magic, verbal charms, witchcraft, European mythologies and shamanism.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Nicolaus and Nicolas

Nicolaus Equiamicus has been a bit quiet lately, but it's probably because he's been working on another one of his books. He's just announced that next year a new edition of Nicolas Rémy's famous Daemonolatria is published by Ubooks. The above links are in German, but here is the English Wikipedia entry on Remy.

Sunday 9 November 2008

On the trail

Although I have had time to start reading Hagen Schaub's book on the history of vampires, I doubt that I will find time to finish it and write about it for a number of days. Suffice it to say, that it definitely explores some of the avenues that are along the lines of this blog and my own interest in 'living corpses'.

It's curious that a book that needs be must debunk the notion of 'vampire fangs' itself is being sold by showing those teeth on the cover :-)

Saturday 8 November 2008


I have in my possession an old Danish comic book on ghosts, which is actually a translation of an original comic book from Classics International that published the well-known Illustrated Classics series. Published in 1961, which is a couple of years before I was born, I must have purchased it in some second hand book shop as a child (as a child I spent a lot of my pocket money on second hand books and comics) and for some reason I have kept it ever since.

The title translates as 'Superstition and Ghosts', and it was, of course, issue number 13 in a series on 'The world in text and pictures'. It contains a number of relatively archetypical examples of stories of ghosts and premonition, like e.g. the story of a man giving a girl a ride only to find that she was the ghost of a girl who was killed in a car accident and is buried in the cemetery where he saw her waiting for a bus.

Another example is poltergeist phenomena, which is also reported in some cases of magia posthuma. Like premonition, it is a subject that was of particular interest to those involved in parapsychology, a subject that was in vogue when the comic book was published, and a lot of the contents are concerned with 'telepathy', 'telechinesis' etc.

It's quite curious to be reminded of how popular 'paranormal research' was back then, as no one seems to care about it today. Well, I suppose it should be obvious that it was a dead end like the 'theories' of Von Däniken and others that were also widely studied when I was a child and a young man. I'm sure there are internet groups that cherish these theories and collect 'Forteana', but I'm not going to look for them. Even the subject of vampirism has its cultists, and I don't care to spend any time on them.

But it is very interesting to study how the conception of revenants and related 'supernatural' phenomena have changed over the years, e.g. from the quite corporeal revenants of earlier times to the rather incorporeal 'grey ladies' and onto the pseudo-scientific concepts of parapsychology. Unfortunately, very few books attempt to describe this evolution and explain it in terms of how our world view has changed over e.g. the past milennium.

The old comic book on ghosts isn't very well drawn, and maybe it's just because I read it as a child, but I think it does say something essential about the subject in a way that makes you say: 'What if?'

Click on the two pages from the comic book to see them in a larger format.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Criminalia and Curiosa

The German publisher Festa Verlag has published a number of volumes of curious and horrific tales and events. One of them, Kirchschlagers Criminal- und Curiositäten-Cabinett 2, contains a few pages on Peter Plogojowitz. An excerpt from the book is available.


In my recent list of new books on vampires, I mentioned Hagen Schaub's Blutspuren: Die Geschichte der Vampire. Auf den Spuren eines Mythos (Leykam Verlag, 272 pages). Today I found time to go to the post office to pick up the copy I had ordered of this book. Never quite knowing what to expect of this kind of book, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that it actually is a book more or less along the lines of my own interest in magia posthuma and vampires. I hope to have more time to look at it sometime this weekend, but I can inform you that Hagen Schaub has studied history, German literary history and geography, and is the co-author of a book on mummies in Austria. But more on the book, when I have had time for a closer look!

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Vampire art

Although purely a matter of art, I suppose that some of you might - also in light of recent ponderings of what to do with a lot of money - be interested in this blog post concerning the recent sale of one of Munch's vampire paintings.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

What a day for a daydream...

Actually, the question asked by Abebooks - before answering it in bibliophiliac fashion - was:

'We're all counting our pennies pretty carefully right now. In these economically uncertain times, it's tempting to daydream. What if you had unlimited funds? A swimming pool filled with champagne? Pillows stuffed with genuine dodo down? What if you won the lottery, or an eccentric, distant and obscenely wealthy relative left you everything?'

And, apart from trying to save children from famine and supporting various struggling artists or whatever, of course, I would probably take a couple of years off - OK, it's quite hard because there are other things that I feel that I have devoted myself to, but... - to devote myself to travelling to sites relevant to magia posthuma and vampires and exploring the history of this subject, publishing source texts in luxury annotated editions etc., and in cooperation with various like minded people trying to write that elusive book to end all books on the subject...


Those of us who are inclined towards bibliophilia will probably be fascinated by this list of rare and expensive books currently for sale on Abebooks. The prices are astronomical - $ 1.800.000 for a book! - so there's no Cosmographia for me.

Those who are inclined towards fictional vampires will be drawn in by this edition of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre with its reference to 'the foul German spectre - the Vampyre', see e.g. James B. Twitchell's The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (Duke University Press, 1981), itself a nice book for bibliophiles because of the dust jacket with the two holes punched out to look like the mark of a vampire's bite on the neck of the woman in one Fuseli's Nightmare paintings.

One may wonder what the price would be of an original copy of von Schertz's Magia Posthuma. I know of at most three (3) copies of this book, so it would probably fetch a high price if set for sale on auction, but who knows.

Fortunately, an increasing number of those early books are now available digitally. That's not quite satisfactory for those who like to have a physical copy of the original book, but we are at least allowed the possibility of reading the text. Anyway, the owner of that edition of Jane Eyre which costs $ 122.107,03 probably wouldn't dare to sit comfortably on the settee reading it. He or she would probably rather buy a cheap paperback edition in order not to damage the expensive investment.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Nosferatu annotated

Following up from my list of annotated editions of Dracula, I always find it interesting to see what they have to say about the origins of the word 'nosferatu' in connection with Abraham Van Helsing's words about the 'Un-Dead':

'Before we do anything, let me tell you this; it is out of the lore and experience of the ancients and of all those who have studied the powers of the Un-Dead. When they become such, there comes with the change the curse of immortality; they cannot die, but must go on age after age adding new victims and multiplying the evils of the world; for all that die from the preying of the Un-Dead becomes themselves Un-Dead, an prey on their kind. And so the circle goes on ever widening, like as the ripples from a stone thrown in the water. Friend Arthur, if you had met that kiss which you know of before poor Lucy die; or again, last night when you open your arms to her, you would in time, when you had died, have become nosferatu, as they call it in Eastern Europe, and would all time make more of those Un-Deads that so have fill us with horror.' (chapter XVI, 29 September)

So here is what the editors of the various annotated editions have to say:

Leonard Wolf (1975, 1993): 'A Romanian word meaning "not dead".'

Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu (1979): 'Stoker got this name from Emily Gerard's book The Land Beyond the Forest; the word may be a distortion of one of the Romanian words for devil, necuratru, which also means 'unclean'.'

Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal (1997): In a note to the appended excerpt from Emily Gerard's Transylvanian Superstitions they say: 'The word nosferatu appears in no Romanian or Hungarian dictionary, nor in any standard text on Eastern European folklore available to Gerard. It is possible she mistook a usage of the Romanian adjective nesuferit ("plaguesome") in connection with vampires and inadvertantly coined the now familiar term.'

Clive Leatherdale (1998, 2006): 'The word comes from 'Transylvanian Superstitions'.' He also comments on Van Helsing's speech by saying that 'to claim that vampirism spreads exponentially cannot be sustained, for otherwise the world would have long been vampirised.'

Leslie S. Klinger (2008): 'The term "nosferatu" is borrowed from Emily Gerard's 1885 "Transylvanian Superstitions," although subsequent scholars believe she misunderstood the actual Transylvanian word. For example, J. Gordon Melton (The Vampire Book) states that the word is a derivative of the Greek word nosophoros, meaning "plague carrier," whereas David Skal (V is for Vampire) contends that Gerard "must have recorded a corrupted or misunderstood version of the Roumanian adjective 'nesuferit' from the Latin 'not to suffer.'" Klinger then adds: 'In Mel Brooks's delicious Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), Van Helsing (played by Brooks) advises the disturbed Jonathan Harker (Steven Weber) about the recently turned Lucy. "She's alive?" Harker asks. Van Helsing replies, "She's Nosferatu." Harker blurts out: "She's Italian?"'

Election time

Inspired by another blog, I find it appropriate to promote the following video:

Saturday 1 November 2008

Modern 'vampirism'

In my recent post on Rita Voltmer's Hexen. Wissen was stimmt, I mentioned that she says that she refers to modern claims of vampirism in Africa. She refers to a book by Wolfgang Behringer which I haven't seen. However, some claims of 'vampirism', which in this case refers to blood drinkers who may not necessarily be dead people, are investigated in a book called Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa by Luise White (University of California Press, 2000). I admit that I haven't read it, and it isn't really about the vampires that this blog is about it, but from what I have noticed it looks like a very interesting book about history writing:

'Historians should, I think, find vampire stories good to write about, just as the people quoted in this book found vampires good to talk about. They make for better, more comprehensive histories. As chapter 1 argues, vampires themselves are revealing beings: a separate race of bloodsucking creatures, living among humans on fluids that they extract from human bodies; vampires mark a way in which relations of race, of bodies, and of tools of extraction can be debated, theorized, and explained. No vampire stands alone. The incorporation of vampire stories in any historical reconstruction allows for a description of these debates. And that description alone should generate a more nuanced reconstruction of the past. The reconstruction does not come from vampire stories alone, but rather from how those stories feed off the other stories through which a past is known. The vampire stories that prostitutes told in colonial Nairobi, for example, did not change the way I thought about the history of that city, but they did allow me to access changing ideas about gender and culture, about menstruation and property and its transmission in colonial times.' (p. 307-8)

If you're intrigued, go to the excerpt available on Amazon to know a bit more about those 'vampires'.

Friday 31 October 2008


So, it's Halloween, and unlike last year I haven't done anything in particular for the occasion. But numerous other blogs and web sites have been warming up for Halloween, and here is apropos of my recent posts on books about the witch hunt a post on another blog that shows numerous examples of representations of witches. Another post from the same blog shows further examples, and here you'll also find a painting of the ghost of Samuel conjured up by the witch of Endor. This Old Testament tale of necromancy (1. Samuel, chapter 28) played a key role in some of the early debates on revenants.

Incidentally, this post is the 250th that I have written during nearly one and a half year since my first post on May 2nd 2007.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Accumulated annotations

Now I have received a copy of Leslie S. Klinger's New Annotated Dracula which has been mentioned a number of times here, and what a beautiful book it is. Nicely bound, printed and illustrated, it is a joy to browse. I'm not sure when I will have time for a more detailed look at it, and as I keep saying, this blog certainly isn't about Dracula, but I think some of you might be interested in a book like this.

As I've admitted to being originally inspired by Stoker's novel to investigate the history of vampires when I was a teenager, I'll take the opportunity to show a photo of a number of annotated editions of Dracula. From top left and clockwise:

1) The first annotated edition, The Annotated Dracula by Leonard Wolf (1975)
2) Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu's The Essential Dracula (1979), that incorporated some of Stoker's own notes for the novel
3) Clive Leatherdale's Dracula Unearthed (2nd edition 2006 - the first edition was published in 1998), probably the most detailed use of Stoker's notes and sources for an annotated edition
4) Norton's Critical edition by Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal (1997), that is only sparsely annotated but includes a lot of further material
5) The New Annotated Dracula by Leslie S. Klinger (2008), which also includes information based on Stoker's manuscript
6) The second edition of Leonard Wolf's annotated edition published as The Essential Dracula (1993) - in my opinion a disappointment compared to the original edition
7) Not an annotated edition, but the shorter edition of Stoker's Dracula originally published in 1901, here published as Dracula: The Definitive Author's Cut (2005)

Sunday 26 October 2008

Black and white myths and the not so clear-cut facts

Unlike the talkative and humorous book on vampires mentioned recently, Rita Voltmer's Hexen. Wissen was stimmt (Herder) is succinct and to the point. It is short - just 128 pages - and practically layouted in two colours to make it easy to find and understand the information you need. In that sense, it's an exemplary example of how to communicate the current knowledge of a historical topic.

A majority of the book focuses on debunking a number of myths, misperceptions and manipulations. Voltmer exposes and confronts each of them with a short overview of current knowledge and explains the practice and thinking of contemporary experts and laymen of the early modern period.

Typically, the myths are very clear-cut, but the facts are not. However, in many cases we are familiar with the myths from comics, novels or movies about witches or from e.g. feminist neopaganist literature. But precisely our familiarity with the more or less fictional constructs about witches and the witch hunters is all the more reason why Voltmer's book is a welcome chance to disseminate a more correct understanding of the subject.

Some of the myths concern the pretty fantastic claims that several millions were accused of witchcraft and executed, that it was a medieval phenomenon, that the persecutions were largely of a misogynistic nature, that a witch was easily identifiable as either an old hag with warts or as a sexy midwife with red hair etc. etc.

Although debunking some of the more ridiculous myths about the torture - as seen in e.g. torture museums - it is quite unpleasant to read about this aspect of the judicial procedures against serious crimes like witchcraft. Voltmer provides a brief explanation of the views that justified the procedures, namely concerning the transcendent aspect of the torment, because the court was not only fighting the witch, but also the Devil by saving the witch's soul from eternal damnation.

Voltmer also questions the simplified explanations that have been provided for the whole phenomenon, yes, she even debunks the construction 'witch hunt'. For the purposes of this blog, it is particularly interesting to note that the Enlightenment (itself a construct) did not expose the witch hunt as a miscarriage of justice, and that it was not disbelief in witchcraft or fear of witches that stopped the witch hunt, but rather other concerns like e.g. considerations concerning the judicial use of torture. She also discards with the simple way of opposing rationalism and belief that is still so common, but not very useful when applied to history, cf. also my posts on the rationality of the past.

Finally, people might think that there is no witch hunt today, but Voltmer reminds us that, although not a witch hunt per se in the Christian sense, around the world, e.g. in some parts of Africa, people are still being persecuted for various sorts of witchcraft or magic, including vampirism!

However, Voltmer is worried that the historians who are researching the history of the early modern witch hunt may suffer the fate of a Don Quijote fighting wind mills in their attempt to put an end to all the popular myths, manipulations and conspiration theories about witches that are prevalent in movies, novels and the media in general. Hopefully, her book will be read and help fight the common myths. I heartily recommend it to anyone who needs a brief, but precise overview of the subject.

Bloody crimes in a magnificent library

As mentioned in my previous post, Gerard van Swieten was head of the court library (Hofbibliohek). The library was built in the 1720s, under Charles VI, and today is known as the Prunksaal, a magnificent baroque library that should make anyone say: Now, this is a library! Van Swieten started systematically obtaining books for the library, and he is commemorated in the huge hall by a bust shown in the photo below.

Until November 2nd this year the Prunksaal houses an exhibition on bloody crimes from Cain's murder of Abel over cannibals to modern mass murderers and the Holocaust: Blutige Geschichte. A gallery of some of the exhibited books and objects is found here.

The photos can't do the baroque hall with its frescos, books etc. justice, so it's obviously a place to visit if you go to Vienna, although you have to hurry if you want to see books on cannibals exhibited next to Van Swieten :-)

Friday 24 October 2008

18th Century Vienna

A friend urged me to watch at least the beginning of The Third Man before going to Vienna. Of course, I've seen this cinematic masterpiece a number of times, but I watched the beginning before going to Vienna and then the whole movie after returning. It really had no impact on my experience of Vienna, and I don't feel that it has provided an extra dimension to my conception of the city, although I did recognize some of the locations when I saw the whole movie.

In Vienna I bought a book called Das blieb vom Wien Maria Theresias by Gabriele Praschl-Bichler (Leopold Stocker Verlag, 2001) which can be found in several book shops around town. In text and pictures the book recreates Vienna of the 18th century and guides one in the direction of buildings and sites that have to some extent survived from that era. Unfortunately, there is no index to guide the reader when searching for e.g. a specific person, but I think the book can be used by the tourist who wishes to get a better understanding of what Vienna was like in the century when documents concerning magia posthuma were sent to Vienna.

The book also contains short biographies of relevant persons, like e.g.

'Gerhard VAN SWIETEN (1700-1772), niederländischer Arzt, medizinischer Reformer. 1745 von Kaiserin Maria Theresia nach Wien berufen, 1749 Rektor der medizinischen Fakultät, 1758 in den Freiherrnstand erhoben, gründete die erste Wiener Schule für Tierärzte, eine Hebammenschule und Findelhäuser. Direktor der Hofbibliothek.'

'Alles über Blutsauger'

'Auch Blutsauger möchten ernst genommen werden, denn sie haben ein Recht darauf. Schließlich gibt es sie schon lange genug als Phänomen, das bis heute erstens nicht verschwunden ist und zweitens seine Anziehungskraft nicht verloren hat.

Und schon sind wir mitten in der Materie: Woher kommen Vampire? Was vermögen sie? Warum faszinieren sie uns Menschen nach wie vor?

Und vor allem: Warum waren zu Beginn der Dreißigerjahre des 18. Jahrhunderts - als Händels Musik Erfolge feierte, Voltaire seinen "Brutus" schrieb, der Sextant erfunden surde und hier und da Kriege geführt wurden - zahlreiche Menschein in Europa überzeugt, dass es Vampire tatscächlich gibt?'

This way Markus Heitz introduces some of the questions he aims to answer or discuss in his new book Vampire! Vampire! Alles über Blutsauger (Piper Verlag, 221 pages, € 7.95).

Heitz, author of several fantasy books, has studied a lot of the literature - Sturm und Völker, Hamberger, Schröder, Hock, Klaniczay, Summers, Barber, Perkowski etc. - and the result of his research is an easily read, humorous and very talkative book about vampires with specific focus on the vampire cases and vampire debates of the 18th century.

As far as I have noted, he doesn't contribute new information or results to the field, but as he is quite exact and faithful in summing up the sources and what others have compiled and found, his book will serve as a good introduction to the subject. Actually, I find it quite impressive that it's possible to tell the story of the 18th century vampires including a short overview of the vampire debate in a format that is so easy to read!

A bibliography containing 42 primary sources and 78 secondary will aid the reader who wishes to know more about the subject, or who will perhaps carry out his or her own research.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Another kind of heart eater

'Step into the world of your grandparents,' a Danish travel agency promises when advertising trips to Romania. Eating the heart of a dead man probably wasn't practised in the days of my grandparents, but that's another example of heart eating mentioned by Christa Tuczay in her book. I have actually posted about the incident she refers to, because it's the case of a suspected vampire in Marotinu de Sus in late 2003, but in my post I wrote that 'they cut up the corpse and removed the heart which they burnt at the cross roads.'

A later report on the incident was published in The Independent in October 2007, when Dr. Timothy Taylor recounted what happened when he visited the village and talked to an elderly villager who claimed to have witnessed the exhumation of other presumed vampires (strigoi). He told Taylor that 'The men took the heart, spiked aloft, to the crossroads outside the village. There they roasted it over a brazier and, as far as I could understand, stuffed glowing coals into the ventricles. Held up in the night sky, the heart shed charred flakes that were caught in a tea towel. These were taken to the niece's house [supposedly a victim of the vampire], ground up and mixed in a glass of water. "The niece drank it," Fifor [an anthropologist] confirmed, "and in the morning she said she felt better... in this way she was cured."'

Tuczay comments that according to Fifor the eating of the heart of a vampire is neither a well-known nor old Romanian remedy against strigoi.

Taylor, unfortunately, seems to subscribe to the improbable theory of Juan Gomez-Alonso that the vampire cases of the 17th and 18th centuries might have been caused by rabies. To quote Peter Mario Kreuter: 'Doch alle diese Versuche erwiesen sich als Fehlschläge, denn die Mediziner bedienten sich des Vampirglaubens als eine Art Steinbruch und pickten sich nur diejenigen Elemente des Volkglaubens heraus, die ihre Theorie zu stützen schienen, wobei sie oft noch nicht einmal zwischen Elementen des Volksglaubens und erfundenen Details der Belletristik sauber unterscheiden konnten.' (Der Vampirglaube in Südosteuropa, p. 12-13)

Below is the last part of the True Blood episode about vampires including footage from Marotinu de Sus as found on youtube. As mentioned in my old post, the series is available on DVD.

Tuesday 21 October 2008


Last year I mentioned a book by Christa A. Tuczay about demonic crimes in the Donau Monarchy: Die Herzesser: Dämonische Verbrechen in der Donaumonarchie (Seifert Verlag, 2007). I bought a copy of it when I was in Vienna, and from the parts that I have read I can say that it is a nice and informative book about subjects like cannibals, werewolves, murderers and vampires from the countries that have been part of the Donau monarchy!

There are about a dozen pages about vampires that provide an overview of some of the 18th century vampire cases, including Georg Tallar's examinations of victims of vampires. Gilles de Rais, Elisabeth Báthory, Vlad Tepes and a few other well-known characters are also briefly described, slightly ironically, as Tuczay says in her afterword: 'obwohl sie sicherlich meist nicht zum Lachen reizen, sich aber mit einer Prise Humor leichter ertragen lassen.'

The 'heart eaters' mentioned in the title refer to various tales of literal and symbolic eaters and stealers of hearts, including Le Livre du cuer d'amours espris by René d'Anjou, which exists in an illuminated manuscript in Vienna (see the above illustration which is shown in black and white in the book). In this poem the poet is in love and dreams that Amor takes out his heart and gives it to Desire, cf. the illustration. In other tales, the heart of a lover is served as food by the cuckolded husband to his wife.

The foreword is by Mark Benecke, and there are useful notes specifying sources and further reading. All in all 160 illustrated pages at €19.90, and once again: it is in German...

Addendum: I notice that Tuczay is also one of the editors of a new anthology entitled Faszination des Okkulten: Diskurse zum Übersinnlichen published by Francke Verlag that also published the Poetische Wiedergänger anthology on vampires.

Monday 20 October 2008

Annotations reviewed

The New Annotated Dracula has been mentioned a couple of times in this blog after the editor notified me of it in a comment to a post. I haven't received it yet, but you can read a review here.

The Josephinum

Next to van Swieten Gasse on Währinger Strasse in Vienna lies the so-called Josephinum. The building was designed to house the Medical-Surgical Academy that opened in 1785 during the regin of Maria Theresa's son, Joseph II, hence the name (today probably best known by many people via Amadeus). Today the building houses the Institute for the history of medicine, the Kurt Gödel Research Center for Mathematical Logic, and - the part that is open to the public: the Museum of the Medical University.

As vampires were of particular interest within the field of medicine in the 18th century it is naturally of some interest to see the parts of the exhibition concerning that century. Actually, the first person one meets in the room concerning the earliest history of Viennese medicine is none other than Gerard van Swieten!

The museum then follows the development of medicine in Vienna. The exhibition is pretty old fashioned, but that suits the subject and surroundings pretty well. In fact, I don't think this is one of the most popular museums, and there was only one other visitor while I was there.

The most spectacular part of the exhibition is a very large collection of anatomical wax models made in Italy in the late 18th century. It's quite incredible to see the meticulous work put into making these remarkable and colourful models of human intestines, veins, tissue, skeleton etc.

As photography is not allowed in the museum, I am unable to show any photos of the van Swieten material exhibited or of the wax models apart from the one below that I have borrowed from the web site of the Josephinum.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...