Friday 30 December 2011

This year's harvest

On the penultimate day of 2011 it is time to sit down with a glass of wine - in this case a Romanian Rosso di Vallachia - and list some of the books that the year brought.

The scope of the vampire debate requires an investigation on its own, Martin Pott wrote in 1992 in his book on the early German Enlightenment's critique of superstion, Aufklärung und Aberglaube ('Die Breite der damaligen Diskussion würde eine eignene Untersuchung erfordern'), and although Klaus Hamberger's books in some respects provided that investigation, I think it is only in recent years that some researchers have tried to follow up on Pott's suggestion.

Fortunately, Pott's own book was reprinted by De Gruyter this year, and is now available as either a hardcover book (at the bottom in the photo) or a pdf file for € 89.95. A more detailed discussion of the meaning of the superstition and its role in the German intellectual climate in the late 17th and early 18th century you will probably not be able to find elsewhere. Only a few pages are devoted to the vampire debate, hence his comment on the scope of it, but parts of that investigation can be found in other books published this year.

This is certainly the case of Anja Lauper's Die "phantastische Seuche": Episoden des Vampirismus im 18. Jahrhundert, which analyses the discourse of the 18th century debate on vampires, but it can also be said of some papers in the collection from the conference in Vienna in 2009, Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie edited by Christoph Augustynowicz and Ursula Reber, cf. the list of contents.

The Slavic and Greek roots of the vampire are particularly dealt with in both Daniela Soloviova-Horville's Les Vampires: Du folklore slave à la littérature occidentale and the recent Italian Prima di Dracula: Archeologia del vampiro by Tommaso Braccini.

But also some more general works on the topic are worth noting. I have chosen to include the Swedish book, Vampyrernas historia by Katarina Harrison Lindbergh, because it is a commendable example of a more modern and in some, although not all, aspects reasonably up to date study of the subject. I have mentioned it in a post on supposed evidence of revenants and vampires in archaeology, because she includes some considerations on this subject, but I should add that most of the book concerns the fictional vampire.

Finally, Vampyrologie für Bibliothekare: Eine kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüre des Vampirs, by Eric W. Steinhauer, is an enjoyable little book on vampires, books and libraries, acknowledging the vampire as both a historical and cultural phenomenon.

The sad thing about this list is that, unfortunately, apart from my own contribution to Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie, none of these books are written in English. Maybe I have overlooked a book in English, but so far it is still necessary to acquire some skills in other languages, in particular German, to keep up with recent research.

Where English language research, however, is strong, is in the field of the fictional vampire, and some of us are probably curious to see the forthcoming book by Elizabeth Miller and Dacre Stoker: The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker which contains a recently found notebook written by Bram Stoker between 1871 and 1881. It  will no doubt give us some insights into the creative mind that created the vampiric count Dracula, but if you are interested in the historical background, you will profit from acquiring some of the aforementioned books in German, French and Italian.

A shared treasure

A year ago, or perhaps earlier than that, I put this image onto the right hand column of this blog to show my support of Wikipedia. Although one must be cautious in trusting everything on this online dictionary, it has in its various incarnations and languages (Danish, English, German, Czech etc.) over the years been an invaluable source for information for me, and I have frequently referred to it in my blog posts.

Like most of us, I have myself grown used to using various online services for free, although frequently that also involves dealing with annoying ads. In reality, we pay a lot of money to some companies, whereas others we more or less take for granted. However, someone has to pay for the servers and salaries required to keep a service like Wikipedia online, and if it should stay free of commercial content, it is up to some of us users to consider contributing a small amount.

One example of Wikipedia's strengths could be the German entries on well-known authors of 18th century books on vampires like Michael Ranft, Johann Christoph Pohl, Johann Heinrich Zopf, Otto von Graben zum Stein, and Johann Christoph Harenberg. And, of course, you can also find background information on contemporary thinking in the entries on e.g. Wolffianism and Christian Thomasius, cf. the English entries on Wolff and Thomasius.

The quality of entries differ (that, unfortunately, is also the case of some professional dictionaries), but at least you get a starting point, whereas not many years ago, and especially in my own youthful interest in the subject, the above mentioned names were but names. Back then I thought that it would be interesting to contact the university in Leipzig to find out more about some of these people. Now, Wikipedia (and other resources) provides you with a headstart from your pc, tablet or phone!

Thursday 29 December 2011


Readers residing in or visiting Switzerland, may wish to go to Chateau Chillon, famous for its literary connections, to attend the exhibition Witch-hunting in the Pays de Vaud, from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

'The Pays de Vaud was the site of major witch-hunts between the 15th and the 17th centuries. During this period, there were more than 2'000 death sentences!

On a larger scale, Switzerland within the current borders if the time holds not only the record for the longest-lasting repression of witchcraft but also for the largest number of people persecuted fro this crime, in relation to the population. In almost three centuries, 5,000 people were accused and 3,500 of them were put to death, mainly by fire, with 60 - 70% being women.

Chillon Castle was an important detention centre for individuals suspected of witchcraft, either when awaiting trail or carrying out their sentence. During the term of the Bernese bailiff, Nicolas de Watteville, from 1595 to 1601, some forty-odd people were executed at Chillon, La Tour-de-Peilz and Vevey. And 27 more in 1613! Their Excellencies of Bern noted «with regret and sadness» «the extent to which the negation of God and submission to the evil spirit was growing among our subjects in the Romand (French-speaking) country».

Given these facts, the renowned Vaudois fortress is an apt location for this exhibition. Based on documents primarily related to Chillon, then to the region (Riviera-Vaud-Western Switzerland), the exhibition highlights this little known facet of Vaudois history.

The purpose of the museography and the catalogue is not to make people shudder – although shudder one does when contemplating the terrible suffering the poor souls had to undergo. Through texts and images, the exhibition illustrates a portrait of simple madness, madness that at times leads to making pacts with the Devil and, on the other side of the coin, the madness of the inquisitors who could consider a hollow tooth housing for an impure spirit!'

Accompanying the exhibition, a series of films is screened by the Swiss cinemateque Sorciers and sorcières au cinéma, which includes several well-known films somehow related to the subject, even featuring Mario Bava's vampire film, La Maschera del Demonio.

Not included is Otakar Vávra's Czech Kladivo na carodejnice from 1970. Known in English as The Witches' Hammer and in German as Hexenjagd, it is the interesting and at the same time unpleasant story of the witch hunter Heinrich Franz Boblig's infamous persecution of supposed witches in Groß-Ullersdorf (Velké Losiny) in Northern Moravia in the 1680's. Worth watching in its own right, and no doubt the persecution resembles the paranoia people may have experienced on that side of the Iron Curtain, the film is also interesting because it is set in the vicinity of the areas where incidents of magia posthuma were encountered (and only a few years before von Schertz published his book on the subject). So you may imagine that some of the persons involved may at other times have heard of or dealt with corpses suspected of harming the living...

The film is available on DVD in Germany and in the USA, but it can currently be watched in toto on youtube with English subtitles.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

The Brothers Grimm commemorated

Gerald Axelrod, author of Im Reich von Dracula and Die Geheimnisse der Blutgräfin Elisabeth Bathory, two well-written and richly illustrated books on Vlad Tepes and Elisabeth Bathory respectively, is preparing yet another lavishly illustrated book, this time on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm: Die fantastische Welt der Brüder Grimm: Entlang der Deutschen Märchenstrasse. The book will be published by Stürtz in May 2012 to commemorate the two hundred anniversary of the first volume of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen.

The book's photos are taken along the Fairy Tale Route (Märchenstraße) that was created in Germany in 1975. According to the route's web site, it 'stretches over 600 km from Hanau near Frankfurt in the south to Bremen in the north, meandering through the towns and cities where the Brothers Grimm lived and worked, connecting the places and landscapes of their collected fairy tales into a route of wonders. The Fairy Tale Route offers culture and history, enchanting medieval towns of half-timbered houses, castles and fortresses, museums and art galleries, concerts and theatres - a charming blend of traditional town life, urban atmosphere and local folklore crafts.'

Axelrod's photos from his Dracula book, by the way, once again grace a calendar, also available from Stürtz.

Sunday 25 December 2011

A Christmas Card

With the above look at part of a postcard from Freihermersdorf, I wish readers of this blog a merry christmas.

This was the site of the exhumation and cremation of several bodies suspected of posthumous magic in the winter of 1754-55. When news of the events arrived in Vienna, the court of Maria Theresa sent two prominents physicians, Wabst and Gasser, to investigate. Their report on this and similar incidents in the vicinity of Olomouc (Olmütz) led to Gerard van Swieten's famous commentaries on vampirism and the Empress' proscription of the superstitious handling of corpses.

Some years ago I spent a lot of time perusing texts and maps to locate Herm(er)sdorf. At the time not an easy task, because texts tend to only mention an approximate position, and there are more than one place that has been called something like Hermersdorf. Unfortunately, this uncertainty is also found in as recent a work as Anja Lauper's Die phantastische Seuche. Lauper follows Heiko Haumann'a opinion that Hermersdorf must be Temenice, today a part of Šumperk (in German Mährisch Schönberg) in Northern Moravia.

Haumann actually just states his opinion in a note ('Bei Hermesdorf handelt es sich vermutlich um ein Dorf bei Mährisch-Schönberg, das Heute Temenice heißt und mit Sumperk zusammengewachsen ist), adding that the research was done by Thomas Bürgisser. (Zeitschrift für Siebenbürgische Landeskunde 28 (2005) 1, p. 8)

Bernard Unterholzner, on the other hand, in his paper on the incident in Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie, clearly identifies Hermersdorf as Svobodné Hermanice: 'Bei dem Ort in Oberschlesien, nahe der mährischen Grenze, handelte es sich um das heutige Svobodné Hermanice, das rund zehn Kilometer westlich von Opava liegt.' (p. 91)

Suffice it to say, it can be proved beyond doubt that Hermersdorf was Svobodné Hermanice, later on known as Freihermersdorf. In fact, if you look at other villages and towns associated with incidents of posthumous magic in the areas near Olomouc/Olmütz and Bruntál/Freudenthal, many of them are situated within a relatively small part of present day Poland and Czech Republic. E.g. just some ten kilometers to the North East you find Velké Heraltice (Groß Herrlitz), and some fifty kilometers to the South West Moravsky Beroun (Bärn) that I recently mentioned in a post on the term vampertione infecta. Both sites of the exhumation and destruction of bodies suspected of harming the living.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Elisabeth Bathory and Vlad Tepes in Austria

If you have read their books on Elisabeth Bathory and Vlad Tepes, or if you are just curious to know more about those two historical persons, you might plan to visit Austria next Summer for a tour of Ritterburg Lockenhaus or Burg Forchtenstein hosted by Gerald Axelrod and Liane Angelico. See their website for more information.

You can also watch a couple of videos on their Dracula and Bathory tours.

Vanished Kingdoms

'All my life, I have been intrigued by the gap between appearances and reality. Things are never quite what they seem.' Anyone used to the popular conception of vampires who is getting interested in the historical background of the phenomenon, will probably agree. As well as is the case of many other subjects.

The fictional vampire and gothic tale to a large extent relies on a mythical landscape of names, places and concepts, in general a curious concoction of fact and fiction. Transsilvania, the German names of towns in the area, Styria etc. etc., all places that may conjure up some kind of association or picture in our imaginations, often on a background created by British or American filmmakers with only a passing knowledge of the reality behind those names.

But our concept of our past is, as Norman Davies addresses in the quote, generally biased towards understanding the past in terms of e.g. current boundaries and concepts. 'Whether consciously or not, they [authors and publishers of history books] are seeking the roots of the present, thereby putting themselves in danger of reading history backwards.' This affects what he calls 'our mental maps', which are 'thus inevitably deformed. Our brains can only form a picture from the data that circulates at any given time; and the available data is created by present-day powers, by prevailing powers and by accepted wisdom. If we continue to neglect other ares of the past, the blank spaces in our mind are reinforced, and we pile more and more knowledge into those compartments of which we are already aware. Partial knowledge becomes ever more partial, and ignorance becomes self-perpetuating.'

For someone attempting to make some sense of all the information about vampires, shroud eating corpses, posthumous magic etc., it is necessary to get at least a rudimentary understanding of the geography and history of the areas where things happened or were debated. Although living not so far from Central Europe, Moravia, Bohemia, Silesia, Galicia, or even Serbia are names whose significance in European history is rarely discussed here. And, as Norman Davies notes, it can be hard to find literature on the subject, and the focus is typically on the past hundred years or so.

So, Norman Davies' book, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-forgotten Europe, recently published by Allen Lane, sounds like an interesting read. According to a review in The Telegraph,

'For anyone wanting to understand the ongoing influence which these “disappeared states” still exert on their present-day successors, there could hardly be a better place to turn than Norman Davies’s encyclopedic new book. Its author, who made his name as a historian of Poland (where his fame is not far behind that of the late Polish pope), has a broad and luminous erudition, and he uses it to shed light on whole swathes of the European past – from the early medieval Kingdom of Alt Clud (a large rock in Scotland’s Western Isles) in the far west, to Byzantium (now the western side of Istanbul), that final outpost of Europe on the Bosporus. (---)

Davies is keenly observant of how modern-day European nations choose to conduct this dialogue between these multiple pasts and the present: in particular, the way they use their institutions of collective memory – museums, monuments, memorial days – “to keep in touch with the past, and sometimes to reconstruct it systematically”.

Much can hang on the answers. Does modern-day Muslim Turkey, with an eye to future membership of the European Union, for instance, choose to “own” the period when it was the Christian capital of the Roman world? Or does it instead look to become top dog in the Muslim world, playing up its Islamic past and effectively disowning the Christian centuries before the Muslim conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453? Davies’s alertness to these implications makes his book a must for anyone with a serious interest in Europe’s present-day international relations.

Better still, however, is to savour this book in the manner that its length (a hefty 830 pages) and range permits. Take it with you to read the relevant chapter en route to your next European destination – whether to familiar Florence, once capital of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Etruria (now comprehensively forgotten by the Italians), or to rather less tourist-friendly Minsk. There are few better ways of coming to an understanding of the multilayered splendours and horrors of Europe’s past than through the pages of this wise, humane and unfailingly engaging book.'

The vanished kingdoms discussed in the book are: Tolosa, Alt Clud, Burgundia, Aragon, Litva, Byzantion, Borussia, Sabaudia, Galicia, Etruria, Rosenau, Tsernagora, Rusyn, Éire, and CCCP. Can you honestly say, you had heard about all of them before now?

According to The Economist: 'All across Europe ghosts will bless [Norman Davies] for telling their long-forgotten stories.' See also the review in The Independent.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Vampirism and magia posthuma

So the papers from the conference on vampirism and magia posthuma arranged by Christoph Augustynowicz and Ursula Reber at the University of Vienna in the Summer of 2009 have finally been published. I received the book yesterday, Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie published by Lit Verlag. As little information on the book is mentioned on various web sites, I will list the contents:

  • Vorwort by Augustynowicz and Reber
  • Hans Richard Brittnacher: Blut. Grundsätzliche Bemerkungen zur Erfolgsgeschichte des Vampirs
  • Hagen Schaub: Beweist ein archäologischer Fund den Wiedergängerglauben? Kamen Südosteurops Vampire über österreichische Berichte bis nach Nordhessen?
  • Marco Frenchowski: Die Unverweslichkeit der Heiligen und Vampire: Eine Studie über Kulturelle Ambivalenz
  • Vlado Vlacic: Militärberichte und Vampirmythos
  • Bernhard Unterholzner: Vampire im Habsburgerreich, Schlagzeilen in Preußen. Wie Mythen zu politischen Druckmitteln werden
  • Oliver Hepp: Vom Aberglauben hin zur "magischen Würckung" der Einbildung. Michael Ranffts Tractat von dem Kauen und Schmatzen der Todten in Gräbern
  • Christian Reiter: Der Vampyr-Aberglaube und die Militärärzte
  • Thomas M. Bohn: Das Gespenst von Lublau. Michael Kaspereks/Kaspareks Verwandlung vom Wiedergänger zum Blutsauger
  • Clemens Ruthner: Ärzte am offenen (Text-)Grab. Zur Literarisierung von Flückingers Vampirismus-Protokoll (1732) bei Mayo (1846) und Kock (1998)
  • Christoph Augustynowicz: Von Branntweinmaßen, Klöstern und Waisenhäusern oder Galizien langes 19. Jahrhundert und Vampir-Motive
  • Christa A. Tuczay: Alb- Buhlteufel - Vampirin und die Geschlechter- und Traumtheorien des 19. Jahrhunderts
  • Peter Mario Kreuter: Er steht sogar im MERIAN. Zum vampiresken Verwaltungsschriftgut des 18. Jahrhunderts aus dem Hofkammerarchiv
  • Ursula Reber: Vampirmaschinen | Engelscharen. Diskursive Reihen und Knoten
  • Niels K. Petersen: Magia Posthuma. A Weblog Approach to the History of Central and Eastern European Vampire Cases of the 18th Century
  • Anhang: Farbabbildungen
  • Biographien

I am looking forward to reading it, and I expect to write a bit about this and some other books that have been published this year. I am sorry to say that - as usual - the most important books published this year  are not written in English. At least as far as I am aware of.

Vampirismus und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie is available at just € 19.90 from the publisher and various online booksellers like e.g. German Amazon. Do note that it is also listed under the alternative title Vampirglaube und magia posthuma im Diskurs der Habsburgermonarchie.

Saturday 10 December 2011


That not everyone with an interest in the subject of vampires is enthusiastic about the Twilight phenomenon, is a fact clearly stated by Mark Benecke in a recent interview about the 'vampire subculture', where he remarks that: 'Die Leute, die denken sie wären Vampire, die haben «Twilight» nicht gesehen.', The people who think they are vampires haven't seen Twilight.

Personally, I did work my way through the first film, but must admit that I had to press fast forward to get through the next two. But then, I doubt that I belong to the target audience of those books and films...

Well-known vampire expert, Peter Mario Kreuter is being interviewed by Anthony Hogg on his Vampirologist blog. In the first installment Kreuter tells how he first got interested in vampires, a road that curiously begins with an interest in this blogger's native country, Denmark: 'Danish history fascinates me...'

Apropos of Kreuter, he contributed a paper to a book on Theophrastus Paracelsus that was published last year, Paracelsus im Kontext der Wissenschaften seiner Zeit: Kultur- und mentalitätsgeschichtliche Annäherungen. The paper (Paracelsus und die deutsche Sprache. Nebst Anmerkungen zur deutsch-lateinischen Mischsprache temporibus Theophrasti et Lutheri) concerns the language of Paracelsus, which is apparently usually critized, but Kreuter has another view on the matter.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

The World of the Undead according to Marigny

An interview (in French) with Jean Marigny has just been published here. Marigny has penned a few books on the subject of vampires, including the popular Sang pour Sang which has been published in English as Vampires: The World of the Undead:

'En 1992, j’ai dirigé un colloque sur les vampires à Cerisy-la-Salle dans la Manche. Le centre étant très connu, les éditions Gallimard m’ont contacté pour me proposer de faire un livre sur les vampires dans la superbe collection « Découvertes ». Le but de l’opération était de publier ce livre en janvier 1993, au moment de la sortie du Dracula de Coppola. J’ai travaillé d’arrache-pied pour tenir le délai, et lorsque le livre est sorti, il a eu un énorme succès, à ma grande surprise, ce qui m’a valu d’être invité sur les principales chaînes de radio et de télé. Cela m’a permis aussi d’acquérir, dans ce domaine, une certaine notoriété.'

Marigny's most recent book on vampires is the fully illustrated Vampire: De la légende au Mythe moderne which was published by Éditions de la Martinière in November.

Sunday 4 December 2011

An important exception

I recently mentioned Paul Barber's preface to the second edition of his Vampires, Burial & Death, as well as Rob Brautigam's Shroudeater site in another post. Paul Barber calls attention to that web site, while mentioning that 'theories sometimes crowd out the facts, especially on the Internet,' adding in a footnote:

'An important exception is Rob Brautigam, whose site ( contains a valuable collection of material from many countries over many years. Brautigam has gone to great trouble to verify sources in the accounts he publishes there, some of which have evolved in moving from one book to the next. In one case (that of William Doggett) he demonstrates that a vampire was eventually inserted into a story that originally wasn't about vampires at all.' (p. v-vi)

Brautigam recently updated the site with a large number of 'cases', this time including an index by place name instead of by country alone, even indicating alternative names for various places.

I have only taken a brief look at some of the new entries. One of them concerns Marienburg and is placed in Poland. Curiously, Montague Summers in The Vampire in Europe refers this to Tyrol:

'In his chronicle under the year 1343 Sebastian Moelers relates that during a terrible visitation of the Black Death cases of vampirism were numerous in the Tyrol, and the Benedictine abbey of Marienberg was much infested, one at least of the monks, Dom Steino von Netten, being commonly reputed to have been slain by a vampire.' (p. 160)

As is sometimes the case, the original source text is not easy to locate online, in this case Sebastian Möler's Prussian chronicle. Brautigam refers to a book from 1837 that clearly places the occurrence in Lauenburg (today Lębork), and not Marienburg (today Malbork), both near Danzig (Gdansk) in Northern Poland. I found a bit on it on p. 53-4 in Reinhold Cramer's Geschichte der Lande Lauenburg und Bütow (1858) (see below), which clearly shows that this has to do with a dead person's corpse that keeps turning up outside the grave, until it is forced to stay there by being punished with a sword and reminded of an oath taken by the deceased while alive. As such, it is certainly farfetched to claim that it is an example of a vampire per se. Unfortunately, Montague Summers's vampiric version set in Tyrol must be considered a figment of his (or charitably, perhaps someone else's) imagination, as Brother (not Dom) Steino von Retten died from the epidemic illness that he tried to flee, not because he had been 'slain by a vampire.'

As Cramer says, this story is so wonderful that it sounds more like a fairy tale than a true story, but must be considered one of the stories concerning Medieval miracula mortuorum that are recounted by various authors, including Dom Calmet.

Those interested in factual background information may find it worth taking a look at the appendices in Cramer's book.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Mastication in Italian

Initially written in Latin, then translated into German and expanded by the author, and some 250 years later translated into French, and published in a modern German edition, Michael Ranft's De masticatione mortuorum in tumulis was published in Italian earlier this year by LibriPerduti as Diceria del Vampiro. It is accompanied by texts by Gabriele Ferrero and Dario Spada.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Vampertione infecta

I have always found it strange how various 'black metal' bands take up names and quotes from all sorts of literature on e.g. vampires and posthumous magic for their band names and song titles, cf. this post. According to the Wikipedia entry on Black Metal,

'The most common and founding lyrical theme is opposition to Christianity and other organized religions. As part of this, many artists write lyrics that could be seen to promote atheism, antitheism, paganism or Satanism. The hostility of many secular or pagan black metal artists is in some way linked to the Christianization of their countries. Other oft-explored themes are depression, nihilism, misanthropy, death and other dark topics. However, over time, many black metal artists have begun to focus more on topics like the seasons (particularly winter), nature, mythology, folklore, philosophy and fantasy.'

Certainly not to my own taste in music and aesthetics, it is curious to find that sometimes searches on the internet directly lead to web sites about black metal bands. One such search concerned the phrase 'vampertione infecta', which has been used as a song title by Italian metal band Riul Doamnei. The phrase is probably mainly known to people with a special interest in Moravian magia posthuma, as it supposedly appears in an 18th century parish register of deaths in Moravia or the North East of present day Czech Republic.

At least, so Christian d'Elvert claimed when writing about vampires and posthumous magic in 1859, see e.g. Die Wiedergänger von Bärn/Mähren 1662-1740 or this recent entry on Rob Brautigam's Shroudeater site, quoting an entry from the parish register of Bärn, present day Moravsky Beroun:

'Anno 1725 den 28. Februar ist Anna des seligen Andreas Berge, gewesene Ehewirtin verschieden, ihres Alters 48 Jahr, hat keine Ruhe in der Erden gehabt, Vampertione infecta, und ist letztlich verbrannt worden.'

In English: A.D. 1725 on February 28, Anna, the widow of the blessed Andreas Berge, deceased at the age of 48. She found no peace in the earth, Vampertione infecta, and was finally cremated.

Klaus Hamberger notes the word 'Vampertione' when commenting on the incident in his Mortuus non mordet: 'Das Fremdwort in der Eintragung zum 28. 2. 1725 verweist gleichwohl auf einen bemerkenswerten Bruch.' (p. 77) So I have always been somewhat intrigued by the term, and when I had the chance, I looked for it in the original (as shown below), and - to my eyes - there is no trace of the infection!

So, one might wonder how those two Latin words ended up among d'Elvert's otherwise reasonably reliable passages from the parish register. Just as one may wonder what 'Vampertione' was supposed to mean.

At face value this is clearly an example of the burning of a corpse suspected of posthumous magic that appears to have been relatively common in those parts during the 17th and 18th centuries. The entry in the parish register contains no description of how people determined that she should have found no rest in the grave. For that reason it seems farfetched to talk of a vampire per se. Still, as we know, the term 'vampire' was quickly linked to various kinds of revenants and (supposedly) uncorrupted corpses. For that reason, Gregor Wolny had no qualms using the term when mentioning the examples of posthumous magic in Bärn in his Die Markgraffschaft Mähren topographisch, statistisch und historisch geshildert from 1839, as shown in the excerpt at the bottom of this post.

Looking at the reproduction of the text above, even as shown here, I think you can see that there is a difference in the shade of the ink from the first to the last sentence, but the style of writing looks similar. Clearly, the last sentence was added later, as one would expect. Unfortunately, we know nothing of what happened in between, only that it apparently did not involve 'Vampertione infecta' ...

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Sunday 27 November 2011

A collector's item...

This is certainly one of the more curious items for sale on ebay: Van Helsing's diary from 1899-1900 with a description in Italian:

'Meraviglioso diario anticato in pelle nera sbiadita e interamente scritto con pennino d'epoca. Il diario narra della visita del Professor Van Helsing (personaggio realmente esistito? e presente nel Dracula di Stoker) a Venezia nell'autunno del 1899. Qui incontrerà Cesare Lombroso e studierà il fenomeno del vampirismo segnando nel suo diario tutti gli sviluppi e gli incubi nascenti. Il diario qui in vendita, frutto del lavoro di un artigiano del settore è stato redatto con precisione e grande abilità, e al suo interno potete trovare oltre al diario, gli appunti, due foto anticate del professore e di Lombroso, stralci di vecchi articoli, disegni a pastello della laguna di Venezia, un ritratto, disegni di vampiri, antiche incisioni, fiori secchi, una antica mappa di Venezia, un antico telegramma londinese, una busta intestata, un foglio del 1700 che accenna a Dracula, una busta con cera lacca, diversi fogli ripiegati di giornale e tanto altro materiale assolutamente affascinante e soprattutto unico, in quanto, come gia' scritto, il diario è stato costruito in maniera totalmente artigianale e a mano, adoperando man mano che scorrono i giorni del diario, con diversi pennini, per rendere il tutto ancora piu' reale, e con una calligrafia che muta con gli eventi, diventando sempre piu' frettolosa, nervosa e spaventata cosi' come diventano piu' inquietanti i fatti che si sviluppano.

Il diario inizia il 24 ottobre 1899 e termina il 4 febbraio 1900. Ad hoc mancano alcune pagine che risultano strappate o con appunti di appuntamenti.

Vera chicca da collezione per gli amanti del mistero.'

According to the seller, Abraham Van Helsing visited Venice in 1899, and the note book from the time of his visit apparently contains sketches, envelopes, dried flowers, and various other objects. A collector's item, no doubt, and considering the work that has probably gone into creating it, € 246 perhaps is not too expensive. Still, I think there is good reason to be cautious about the other items he has for sale...

It reminds me of the vampire killing kits that you can find at e.g. Ripley's here in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Body, Soul, Spirits & Supernatural Communication

I have seen this announcement a couple of times recently:


International Conference

Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Pécs, Hungary

18th-20th May 2012, Friday to Sunday

Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of Pécs University
The Folklore Department of the Hungarian Ethnographic Society, &
ISFNR Belief Narrative Research Network


June 1st 2011

This conference will be the ninth in a row of events launched by the Hungarian organisers in 1993 under the heading “concepts of religious ethnology in an interdisciplinary approach”. To date this has resulted in eight publications. The primary objective we declared at the outset of the project is still valid today: to approach various concepts of religious ethnology and to survey the latest findings from the angle of folklore studies, anthropology, religious studies, cultural history, psychiatry, literary studies etc.; as well as to create an interdisciplinary discourse to find the solution to our various scientific problems. Participants at the conference will include academics from all parts of Europe to give us an even closer view of current European research areas.

Each of the topics mentioned in the title deserves investigation in its own right; however, at this conference our main aim is to capture the set of connections which exist around these three topics. Thus we need to explore the ties between different notions of the soul, communicational techniques and functions and the spiritual world which is supposed to decode such communication. We would also welcome papers which investigate the role of notions of the soul and the spirit world in the everyday life, religion and mentality of various communities. On the other hand, we would like to explore the narrative traditions surrounding each of our themes: narrative metaphors for notions of the soul and for supernatural communication, their representations in folklore, literature, the arts and academic literature, as well as the ways in which beliefs and narratives are related.

As regards notions of the soul, folklore research has presented a rather simplistic account in the past, insofar as they reduced the topic, at least with regard to Christian Europe, to something like “the Christian duality of body and soul versus the remnants of the mythological legacy of the different peoples”. The latter mainly refers to representations of the free soul/shadow soul, alter ego or second body as well as their traces in literature and folklore. E.g. in a Hungarian respect this mainly meant exploring the “shamanistic” legacy of the nation’s archaic pre-Christian religion, while in Greek literature and philosophy they were discovering remains of Thracian or Iranian shamanism, etc. Besides this simple pattern, research sometimes came face to face with the more nuanced notions of the soul held by certain non-Christian and even non-European peoples, e.g. the rich ancient Greek literary, philosophical and linguistic heritage or Germanic mediaeval data (or, in the Hungarian context, the varied material of the Ob-Ugrian linguistic relatives), which were mainly examined by linguists, literary scholars, researchers of religion, theologians and philosophers (e.g. Erwin Rohde, Jan Bremmer, Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, Régis Boyer, Claude Lecouteux, etc.). It barely occurred to anthropologists studying similar subjects abroad to look around their own neighbourhood.

Research conducted by linguists and historians of religion about notions of the soul, the free soul or the alter ego which breaks away from the body, have attained considerable results in Europe, but rarely if ever have scholars looked into the role of these notions in the everyday religiosity of a community, and in the communication with the supernatural. As regards the exploration of Christian visions, both religious studies and anthropology have made serious advances in the last few decades, particularly as regards investigations into the religious and social role of visions in the Middle Ages and the modern period (pl. Ernst Benz, Peter Dinzelbacher, Jean-Claude Schmitt, Claude Lecouteux, most recently William Christian, Galia Valtchinova and many others). At the same time, many other forms of communication have remained unexplored, nor do we see clearly regarding the boundaries and interconnections of various systems of communication (e.g. shamanism, spirit possession, Christian visions, mediumism, etc.) with each other and with different notions of the soul.

Therefore we believe that the time has come to gain a somewhat more nuanced picture of the notions of the soul held by the peoples of Europe, in the above indicated context of connections. It would be desirable to form clear ideas about the extent to which the notions of the soul used by various religions and denominations were known, the local interpretations that existed, the special “popular” notions and representations of the soul which might differ from or only partially converge with the former; as well as alternative traditions that have been preserved alongside Christianity and survived in folklore collections, literary and linguistic relics or have merged with Christianity. (Naturally, Christian notions are also far from being homogeneous and have been changing along the constantly shifting ideas and boundaries of monism/dualism/trialism and also in relation to the various eschatological and resurrection dogmas which are in themselves also in constant change. At the same time they have helped sustain popular and non-Christian traditions.) We are not necessarily implying here the existence of a unified and clearly outlined notion of the soul or several, clearly delineated souls with different functions – it is more to do with the (frequently merging) representations of different ideas and notions as they appear in mentality, way of thinking, folklore or literature.

It is this rich and varied array of phenomena that needs to be mapped out for each nation and culture, including their terminology, cultural and social context, linguistic metaphors, visual representations and meaning, with regard to a people or a geographic unit or local society, preferably in the context of the above described connections, meaning the role they play in sacred communication.

A few possible points to anchor this vast and varied material may be the following.

1. Concepts of the soul

Life soul, selbst, psyché. life force (vitalstoff) as a body-soul immanently present in the body, the ‘inside’ (thymos) which is clearly connected to some part of the body (head, brain, heart, liver, kidneys etc.), it resides there and is associated with bodily functions (breathing, breath, blood circulation, sperm). The soul related to some natural element or phenomenon such as the wind blowing (duše), fog, water. Functions related to various notions/terms for the soul (life force, mental concepts, breathing, movement) etc.

The free soul, external soul, mirror or shadow soul, double ( alter ego, double, harm, fylgja etc.) as the seat of life force, as the depository of communication with the supernatural. It is outside the body either constantly or temporarily, it breaks away from the soul in dreams, in a trance etc. Living and dead, bodily and spiritual variants. Their connection with the soul which lives on after death and with mortal spirits. Its formations (human, animal, mirror image, light, foggy figure). It is only observable in certain situations, at certain times, before death; appears only in dreams or visions. An invisible protector, companion (guardian angel), a fate soul which determines destiny or prophecies the future. It is an emotional and intellectual tie with the alter ego of oneself or others (mara/Mahr/mora phenomena). Accompanying, guarding, helping and initiating spirits interpreted as formal variants of the free soul.

Narrative traditions related to notions of the soul, motifs in stories and legends for the free soul, shadow soul, external soul, as well as departure from the body, the soul departing in sleep, narrative metaphors for transformation, metamorphosis, for turning into a soul (flight, invisibility, becoming small, entering through the keyhole, travelling in a small object, walking on the water, turning into an animal etc.).

Special creatures who have a free soul or an alter ego since birth – two-souled creatures, double beings, shapeshifters: werewolves and mara/mora/Mahr/Alp/lidérc beings, vampires, witches and magicians.

2. Body and soul – death, life after death, spirits of the dead

Death of an individual: death of the body and/or soul, the bodily and spiritual existence of the dead. Dead body (drying out, turning to dust, whether the soil will or will not admit it). Bodies living on, living dead bodies. Half-living or revived bodies, possessed dead bodies. What (sort of soul) dies along with the body, what survives the body. Souls living on in dead bodies and in bones.

Deathbed – with ancestors and relatives appearing, coming to take the soul. Companions of the soul (angels, saints, demons). The soul at the moment of death, which soul dies. Whether and how it leaves the body, where it goes, what shape it takes (breath, blood, fog, tiny man, tiny angel, naked baby, bee, bird etc.). Linguistic metaphors for the departure of the body. The place where the departing soul resides, its different stages, periods, dates of departure. Gradual death, bodily functions which persist temporarily after death, gradual departure. Transitory places, transitory existence: dead persons with no status who have not found a final place of rest, souls roaming in a liminal existence.

Souls and spirits in the other world, up, down, in heaven, in the underworld, in the woods, on the mountain, on an island, under water. The spirit of the dead in the other world – bodily and spiritual attributes and manifestations. Personal judgement and resurrection, resurrected body and/or soul – the fate of the body and/or soul in the meantime; souls in purgatory. Transition between different other worlds. Last judgement, the final destiny of the soul after resurrection.

Souls remaining in the soil, in the body, in the cemetery (in or around the grave), in the house, with the family; the dead of the family in the house, around the hearth, the soul of the ancestor in the wall, around the hearth, under the doorstep – in an animal form (house snake, talašom etc., ‘building sacrifices’). The spirit of the dead person in the likeness, statue, magical object (talisman, stoicheion). Dead people turned into guardian spirits of the family or the individual, ‘evil dead’ assaulting the family or the community.

Mythical beings fused or merged with the dead: fairies; ill-intentioned dead turned into demons; ‘two-souled creatures’ – people who have alter egos or living and dead variants (witches, magicians, vampires), demons. Spiritual beings which are half human or a transition between human and spirit – ‘light shadowed ones’, ‘wind-men’ (storm magicians, stuha, zduhać, płanetnyk, chmurnik); fairies.

Spirits of the dead or possessing dead who return to the human community, to earth, who appear to humans (in a dream, trance, in an earthly setting as ghosts, in ’a bodily form’, individually or in a group), helping or assaulting humans, snatching them to death, hoping that they would influence their otherworldly destiny or demanding offerings. Occasions, time and purpose for returning/appearance; times and places of the dead on earth.

3. Supernatural communication – in the context of the body-soul and spirits

General, spontaneous, lay forms and professionals who use certain bodily/spiritual capacities, birth traits (they have a special soul, alter ego or peculiar guardian spirits etc, and communicate with a unique spirit world or other worlds).

Communication with the dead, with spirits of the dead, with demons of storm clouds, ‘walking with the fairies’ etc. Forms and functions of such communication (assaults by the dead, snatching the living for ‘initiation’, possession by the dead, poltergeist phenomena). Communication with dead people or spirits who appear in dreams. Communication through alter egos/doubles of the living. Lay and professional communication with the dead, with spirits through a double who had broken away from the person: horizontal, earthly travels of the double. Double beings, creatures with two souls and shapeshifters communicating between the worlds of nature and culture (werewolf), and between the human world and the night world of the dead and demons through their demonic alter egos: mora, Mahr, witch, strigoi, vampire etc. Helping spirits as the unique manifestations of the alter ego.

Techniques of the communication. Communication in a trance – inducing a trance, relevant techniques (spontaneous transe, self-suggestion, meditation, objects inducing a trance such as a mirror, water etc). The state of the body and the soul in a transe. Seers and fortune tellers reporting in a transe about their journey int he other world.

Ritual communication, symbolic and trance-inducing rites (fasting, St. Lucy’s stool, magic circle, magic wand, walking around the grave of the dead and the ‘places of the fairies’, beating them with the wand). Ritual invocation of the dead and of fairies, rites for acquiring spirit helpers or invoking the dead.

Spontaneous and professional, ritually induced activity of mediums. The clairvoyant as a medium possessed by the dead. The role of music, dance and turning round in inducing trance; ritual possession by the dead or by fairies (healing societies: rusalia, rusalje, căluşari, etc.).

‘Journeys’ of the free soul – with companions, helping souls or spirits or without; the free soul rises out of the body, elevates itself, looks back and sees the body or the earth; falling in a tunnel, crossing the water in a vehicle, rising with the vapours into a storm cloud; flying in dream to a ’fairy heaven’; turning into an animal and thus joining the demonic werewolf troupe; travelling to a witches’ Sabbath on the back of animals, or of objects or metamorphosed into an animal; flying to the fairy other world with a troupe of fairies, making music and dancing etc.

Battles of the soul in dream or trance, against hostile harming spirits, storm souls in storm clouds, against assaulting werewolf demons, between good and bad – healing and harmful – spirits (in a possession trance); night battles (in a dream or trance) against the assaults of the dead or demons.

Narrative tradition, linguistic metaphors and textual representations of trance experiences and soul journeys, of communication through alter egos, of being snatched by the dead and of journeys to the other world, accounts of such experience, motifs in tales, legends and literature; folklore and literary motifs of journeys to the other world; narrative traditions of fairy other worlds and witches’ Sabbaths.


Papers are welcome without restrictions on methodology or on the time and place of their subject matter as long as they use a theoretical approach in folklore studies, anthropology, cultural history, sociology etc. We also welcome comparative historical or textual philological analyses or presentations of research findings based on archive work or field work either in our outside of Europe, as well as analyses of religious phenomena from the perspective of religious anthropology, history of religion, theology etc. Mere descriptions of material are acceptable only if they considerably enhance our knowledge about a particular field.

The conference will be bilingual (Hungarian and English), and might take place in parallel sections, preferably in alternate time periods. (In such a case foreign participants will be offered optional cultural events or excursions for the duration of Hungarian papers.)

We request applicants to submit applications with an abstract of 10-15 sentences before August 20th 2011 on the form attached. The full text of the papers should be submitted no later than April 30th 2012 in order to leave sufficient time for circulating and printing.

Although publication of the proceedings of our last conference (Magical and Sacred Medical World) in English are still not forthcoming, we are not giving up hope and will do everything for the material of this conference to appear in both languages. While the Hungarian publication seems almost guaranteed, we are making efforts to secure an English version, too.

Costs for participants are presently being calculated, and organisers will do their best to keep costs manageable. (Should we fail to secure sponsorship, costs for three days and three or four nights, including food and accommodation but excluding travel costs, are expected to be around EUR 200.)

The maximum number of papers to be accepted for presentation is 50. Should there be more applicants than this, we will be forced to select among presenters. However, we shall not limit the number of non-presenting participants. We also reserve the right to reject papers for thematic discrepancy or other reasons.

Please, submit applications to the address below (by e-mail or post).

Professor Emeritus Éva Pócs
PTE Néprajz-Kulturális Antropológia Tanszék
7624 Pécs, Rókus u. 2.

Application form for the conference Body, Soul and Supernatural Communication (Pécs, 18th-20th May 2012)
Occupation, position, title, employer:
Postal address:
Title of paper:
Language of paper:
Abstract (10-15 sentences):


Éva Pócs is known for her work - in some cases in cooperation with Gabor Klaniczay - on Hungarian witchcraft cases and folklore.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Before Dracula: Vampire Archaeology

An Italian reader has kindly informed me of a new book on vampires: Prima di Dracula: Archeologia  del vampiro (Before Dracula: Vampire Archaeology) by Tommaso Braccini, who 'has earned a doctorate in Anthropology of the Ancient World and works at the University of Siena's Interdepartmental Centre for Anthropology of the Ancient World'. The publisher introduces the book this way:

'As the Middle Ages drew to a close, in the Balkans and in the increasingly distressed territories of the dying Byzantine Empire, there was a widespread fear of restless dead people who would abandon their tombs in order to hound the living. Drawing upon wide-ranging original research, this book examines the development of beliefs in vampires in the Byzantine and Slavic Middle Ages, explores their origins in ancient times, and follows their evolution and relationships with heresy and the history of the Church up to the modern era. Anthropological analysis of ancient sources reveals unexpected facets of the vampire myth; the ensuing "archaeology" shows that reality truly can be stranger than fiction.'

According to my informant, 'The author quotes extensively dozens of sources in Latin, Ancient and modern Greek and other European languages, and I must confess that many of them are not even quoted by Summers, Barber, Lecouteux, Keyworth or other renowned vampire history experts. His bibliography seems also very up-to-date. It is very specific about Byzantine and Greek vampires, but it delves also on the magia posthuma question.'

The book is available from Italian Amazon at a price of €15.30.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Historical Library of Witchcraft and Magic

As this app is so far only available for the iPad, and I do not own one, I am unable to tell you how this app really works. But according to this favourable review, it works very well as a 'virtual book shelf'.

The Historical Library of Witchcraft and Magic app is made by Bibliolife, and includes a number of out of print and obscure books on the subject of witchcraft. According to Bibliolife's own promotional material, the texts include The Magic Staff: An Autobiography of Andrew Jackson Davis, The Witch, The Magic of Jewels and Charms, Modern Magic, A Short History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Trials, Mysticism and Magic in Turkey, and many more, probably including a number of those available from Bibliolife subsidiary Bibliobazaar.

It looks like an interesting app, and possibly a brilliant ressource of a mix of fictional and non fictional books on the subject that may be worth reading or at least having at hand if you are particularly interested in older books on the subject. In that respect, I suppose it could be very interesting if a similar app was made that included various books and texts relating to the subject of vampires, e.g. the rarely seen first English translation of Calmet's Dissertation which is available as a print on demand book from Bibliobazaar.

However, if the library app does not include any current information on the books and the subject, I am somewhat worried that the casual reader will be more misinformed than informed on the subject. This is apparently still a relevant issue in certain circles that have a particular interest in the subject, as a so-called 'Neopagan' writes in an interesting essay on Recent Developments in the Study of the Great European Witch Hunt:

‘We Neopagans now face a crisis. As new data appeared, historians altered their theories to account for it. We have not. Therefore an enormous gap has opened between the academic and the “average” Pagan view of witchcraft. We continue to use of out-dated and poor writers, like Margaret Murray, Montague Summers, Gerald Gardner, and Jules Michelet.

We avoid the somewhat dull academic texts that present solid research, preferring sensational writers who play to our emotions. For example, I have never seen a copy of Brian Levack’s
The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe in a Pagan bookstore. Yet half the stores I visit carry Anne Llewellyn Barstow’s Witchcraze, a deeply flawed book which has been ignored or reviled by most scholarly historians.

We owe it to ourselves to study the Great Hunt more honestly, in more detail, and using the best data available. Dualistic fairy tales of noble witches and evil witch hunters have great emotional appeal, but they blind us to what happened.’

I heartily welcome any new technological advance in making books and information easily available, but at the same time I find it paramount to stress how important it is that outdated information and views are not presented as if they are still valid. The easier it gets to find all sorts of old books and material, the more important it is to be able to view this material in a contemporary and informed perspective.

Sunday 6 November 2011

A Matter of Corporeal Evidence

'In the 1990s, a Spanish doctor revealed that, while watching a Dracula film, he began to suspect that the lore came about from people observing the effects of rabies. It's probably only a matter of time before another doctor, watching another movie on television, reveals a connection between the vampire lore and the common cold.

Here we must insist that the movies and the media in general are not good sources of information on vampire folklore, however sound they are in the matter of aliens, crop circles and conspiracy theories. In fact, studying the vampires by watching movies is like studying the Civil War by watching Gone with the Wind, except without all the accuracy.

This observation is even truer now than it was twenty years ago, for the fictional vampire has evolved wonderfully - and this evolution is enlightening. To reacquaint myself with the fiction, I actually bought two vampire movies and watched a third on television. Well, I bought the movies at a yard sale. For fifty cents each. Still, they weren't much of a bargain. Trying to watch one of the movies reminded me of trying to read the novel it was based on. I had several false starts before I got far enough into it to state definitively that it was mining fantasies at some remove from my own. In fact, I started to understand why the average doctor, watching a vampire movie, finds himself making up wild theories in preference to following the plot.'

Paul Barber's preface to the 2010 edition of his Vampires, Burial & Death is certainly one of the more amusing texts on vampires I have read in a while.

At the same time, Barber's preface pays due to the legendary Danish archaeologist who apparently played a key role in developing Barber's interest in vampires: P. V. Glob, author of among other books, Mosefolket, translated into English as The Bog People:

'Many years ago, my wife, an archaeologist, handed me a copy of P. V. Glob's The Bog People and suggested that I might enjoy reading it. She had apparently noticed my interest in things creepy and disgusting, and Glob's book is full of such. It is an account of Iron Age corpses that, steeped in acidic bogs, had stood the test of time and emerged millennia later in remarkably good condition.'

Peter Vilhelm Glob (1911-1985) was involved in examining a number of those 'bog people', bodies found in Danish bogs, and also played an important role at two major Danish museums: Moesgård Museum (where the so-called Grauballe Man is exhibited), and the National Museum.

In his preface, Barber says that 'Glob's book has stood the test of time as well,' although one must remember that a lot has happened during the fifty years since he wrote it. In a recent Danish study of mummified bog bodies, Mumificerede moselig (Høst & Søn, 2002), historian and classical philologist Allan A. Lund dissects the various theories that have been proposed regarding the bog bodies, and it is apparent that also some of the views proposed by Glob are dubious. Barber himself adds that he 'had a few quibbles with' Glob's book:

'It was clear to me, for example, that pinning bodies down in bogs had a practical purpose that Glob seemed unaware of: left to their own devices, bodies tend to pop to the surface of watery areas, simply because, as they decompose, the gases of decomposition alter their specific gravity, turning them into something resembling a buoyant, spooky balloon. Staking them in the bog not only released these gases but physically held the bodies in place.'

Barber clearly linked these considerations to the folklore of vampires: 'What if this phenomenon was the original reason for the staking of the vampires?' Answering this question led to his influential book on vampires, and later on to co-writing a preface to a 2004 reissue of Glob's book:

'In 2004, the New York Review of Books decided to republish the very author whose book had inspired me to write this book. My wife was asked to write an introduction to The Bog People, and she agreed on the condition that we do it together. This led me to reread it. I still admire The Bog People, although now it seems almost understated and tasteful. The bog bodies, pickled in tannic and humid acid, remained quietly and decorously in place throughout their long history, whereas our vampires, always restless, took every opportunity to plague the living. They stayed out late at night, made distressing noises, stank to high heaven and beyond, and often couldn't be counted on to stay dead even after they were staked or decapitated. They didn't have superpowers, but they certainly had staying power.'

Curiously, archaeological finds have rarely been an inspiration for vampire research, as Austrian historian Hagen Schaub notes in his contribution to the vampirism conference in Vienna in 2009, Knochen und Bestattungsriten: Die Bedeutung archäologischer Funde zum Wiedergänger- bzw. Vampirglauben, although there are many relevant cases at hand in the archaeological literature:

'In der durchaus reichhaltigen Literatur zum Thema Vampirismus bzw. Wiedergänger im weitesten Sinn besitzen Abhandlungen zu archäologischen Funden seltsamerweise einen nur geringen Stellenwert. Die meisten Übersichtswerke zu Vampiren befassen sich gar nicht mit den sog "Vampirgräbern", obwohl archäologischen Abhandlungen in durhaus großer Zahl vorhanden sind.'

Schaub's paper is probably the most thorough analysis of various archaeological excavations that might be interpreted as proof of beliefs in vampires or other revenants. Ultimately, he concludes that it is very uncertain if these finds can in fact be connected to revenant beliefs. The archaeological evidence can usually be interpreted in alternative ways than those relating to apotropaics, and in many cases the revenant interpretation relies on the researcher's lack of knowledge of actual revenant beliefs (as was also the case of the Spanish doctor that Barber refers to, in fact Juan Gómez-Alonso).

Recently, archaeological finds have of course been popularly connected with vampires through Matteo Borrini's discovery of a brick in a female skeleton's mouth in Venice. In some respects, we might say that this return to visum et repertum vampire and revenant research brings us full circle with Frombald, Glaser, and Flückinger's dissection of Serbian corpses. In stead of investigating old books, the vampire researchers have returned to study the corporeal remains of persons who may have been suspected of being revenants.

Still, it is difficult to interpret these corporeal remains which, fortunately, only haunt the curiosity of archaeologists and other researchers.

Caroline Arcini of Sweden's National Heritage Board recently studied about 600 cases of skeletons found buried face down, what is known as prone burials, and proposed that these burials were not accidental, but a deliberate and widespread practice of humiliating dead people for deviant deeds done while alive, cf. e.g. National Geographic's news story.

In her article in the June 2009 issue of Current Archaeology, Arcini rules out premature burial as a general explanation, and although individual burials can, perhaps, be explained as examples of e.g. revenant beliefs, she rules it out generally:

'In some cultures it is believed that individuals with supernatural abilities should be laid face down, for fear that their power could escape through the mouth. It has, for example, been adduced as an explanation for one of the 101 African slaves found buried in a 16th to 17th century cemetery in Barbados. The individual in question, a woman, had been placed on her own in the largest burial mound in the cemetery.

However, while several individuals in prone burials have their faces in the earth, the majority have the head turned to one side - in other words, in the same way as many of those who are buried supine. A similar idea is that people might be buried face down to prevent them rising to haunt the living. Both forms of explanation are plausible in relation to isolated graves, but are untenable in relation to concentrations.'
(p. 32-3)

In her conclusion, Arcini says that 'the occurence of prone burials indicates that society sanctioned this apparently negative treatment of the dead. Presumably, the grieving relatives had little say in the matter; funerary customs have always been controlled by social mores.

An interesting feature of this study is the possibility of surveying, through archaeology, a form of behaviour that is deeply rooted in humankind. It appears that, whatever the religion, whatever the standards we live by or are compelled to follow, there are reactions - such as the negative response to prone burial - which are deeply rooted and universal. However, lamentable, isolating, and negative it seems to us in modern times, being buried face down is an ancient and global practice.'
(p. 35)

It is very hard to evaluate Arcini's view on the basis of her article only. Fellow Swede, Katarina Harrison Lindbergh, is sceptical in her recent book on vampires, Vampyrernas historia (Norstedts, 2011), as she finds Arcini's hypothesis an overinterpretation of the archaeological facts. Sweden, by the way, is the site of the remarkable find of the so-called Bocksten Man, who was 'poled' or staked in a way that all too easily would ignite the imagination of 'vampirologists'.

Archaeology, in any case, provides us with more interesting information than the theories proposed by people like Gómez-Alonso whose knowledge of 'vampires' is based on films or modern novels. However enjoyable and in other ways emotionally or intellectually stimulating such fiction can be, like Barber, 'we must insist that the movies and the media in general are not good sources of information on vampire folklore'. An issue of your local journal of archaeology, on the other hand, might perhaps be a better stimulus and inspiration.

New book on Eighteenth century vampirism

This book was recently published in Zürich by diaphanes: Die ›phantastische Seuche‹: Episoden des Vampirismus im 18. Jahrhundert by Anja Lauper (208 pages, € 26,90 / CHF 40,00). It is apparently concerned with the 18th century vampire and how it was understood and put to death by its contemporaries, only to rise as the modern, fictional vampire:

'Der Vampir des 18. Jahrhunderts ist einer der singulären Mythen der Moderne. Im Jahr 1732 tritt der Vampir – bis dahin unbekannt – mit einem Schlag in den Diskurs der westlichen Welt ein. Wenig später haben die Buchhändler ihr Sortiment fliegend der plötzlichen vampiristischen Nachfrage angepasst, bevölkert der Vampir die Berichte der Militärärzte von der Ostgrenze der österreichischen Monarchie und streiten sich Mediziner und Theologen um die Deutungshoheit angesichts einer unbekannten Seuche.

In diesem Buch wird der historische Vampirismus von seinem Ende her verstanden. Kein Exorzismus kann ihn ausmerzen, einzig die grundlegende Verwaltungsreform der Habsburgermonarchie, die ab Mitte des 18. Jahrhunderts an die Hand genommen wird, ist in der Lage, den Vampir abzuschaffen, indem sie ihn in eine neue polizeyliche Gesundheits- und Bevölkerungspolitik überträgt und ihn darin zum Verschwinden bringt. Diese gouvernementale Politik schaufelt dem Vampir des 18. Jahrhunderts sein wohlverdientes Grab – und schafft damit die Voraussetzungen für die Proliferation des Vampirs in der Literatur der Moderne.'

Anja Lauper wrote a paper on the subject and Johann Christoph Harenberg's views on vampires, Die 'phantastische Seuche': Johann Christoph Harenbergs Theoretisierung der vampiristischen Einbildungskraft, which was published in Dracula Unbound: Kulturwissenschaftliche Lektüren des Vampirs.

Monday 31 October 2011


'But it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.'

I suppose a lot of us living in Europe recall this year's Summer as wet, and perhaps, some have spent Summer days reading (or watching) fictional tales of a horrific nature, like Mary Shelley did in 1816:

'Some volumes of ghost stories translated from the German into French, fell into our hands. There was the History of the Inconstant Lover, who, when he thought to clasp the bride to whom he had pledged his vows, found himself in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had deserted. There was the tale of the sinful founder of his race whose miserable doom it was to bestow the kiss of death on all the younger sons of his fated house, just when they reached the age of promise.'

Byron, Shelley and co. read the French Fantasmagoriana ou Recueil d'Histoires d'Apparitions, de Spectre, Revenans, etc. as translated from German by Jean Baptiste Benoit Eyriès. Curiously, a translation into English was published in 1812 as Tales of the Dead, and reviewed in The Monthly Review with a reference to both Dom Calmet and Abbé Lenglet-Dufresnoy and their writings on vampires and other revenants.

The German origins of Fantasmagoriana was the popular Gespensterbuch written and compiled by Johann August Apel and Friedrich Laun (actually Friedrich August Schulze). According to the brilliant study of German ghost and revenant literature, Die deutsche Gespenstergeschichte (1994) by Gero von Wilpert, this is actually the best known German collection of ghost stories, including tales inspired by Erasmus Franciscus and Otto von Graben zum Stein. The first volume was published in 1811, and is today available as a reprint from De Gruyter, but can also be found on Google Books.

By 1811 a lot had happened since the time when debates on the existence of revenants were a struggle between more orthodox points of view. In the preface, Laun says that friends of Enlightenment would expect is to oppose superstition, while those more in favour of the spirit world would expect it to give their theories a helping hand. And Apel finishes the book by eloquently saying that while it is debated whether ghosts exist, it is certain that there are ghost stories, and that there are many people who like to hear and read them.

Obviously, by 1811 a book about ghosts and spirits no longer served to prove or disprove the existence of such phenomena. Apel states that the Gespensterbuch does neither: There is neither pro nor contra ghosts in the book. The reader can, as Apel says, read the tales of old castles, graves, treasures, white ladies, shrouds etc. without fearing to encounter such things.

Von Wilpert places Laun and Apel in between Enlightenment and Romanticism. Today, of course, most books about ghosts, vampires and other revenants only intend to make us shudder at the thought of 'what if' - what if such things were real? And today on this very day people in parts of the world even dress up to look and behave like ghosts and vampires, only to return to everyday life next day. Just as the reader could put the Gespensterbuch aside, 'ohne zu fürchten, daß dir etwas unheimliches der Art in Leben begegne.'
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