Sunday 24 July 2011

A reminder

Having, of course, spent a good deal of time over the past couple of days following the shocking and tragic events in Norway, late last evening I watched the video that the terrorist Breivik put online to accompany his voluminous manifesto before committing his terrorist bombing and mass murder.

The point of view on current European affairs and Breivik’s own ‘solution’ is in itself both extreme and perverse. But I could not help feeling a bit extra uncomfortable by seeing slides devoted to Vlad Tepes and the Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683.

These are, as readers of this blog will know, historical subjects that have been touched on in connection with the theme of this blog, here as well as elsewhere. The Dracula: Woiwode und Vampir exhibition that I myself attended in Bucharest last year also dealt with the Türkenkriege, the struggles between Christian rulers and the Ottomans. In a post on that exhibition, I myself mentioned that this struggle ‘is an interesting way of linking the otherwise disparate subjects of a Valachian Voivod and the ‘undead’ corpses that caught the attention of many people in the 18th century.’

With Breivik’s appropriation of this struggle and related historical subjects, I cannot help but feel disconcerted. Seeing the image of Vlad Tepes, so well-known from many books, in his slides makes me feel that he has in some way tainted this image.

Of course, there is nothing new about staging current affairs in terms of a historical framework, and I am sure that others will feel that he has tainted other images and subjects. Also there is no doubt that the image of Vlad Tepes was a picture of real horror and evil hundreds of years ago, but with Breivik’s use of it, it has now become associated with current day violence and cruelty.

And this is not all - and I apologise if this subject makes my reader nauseous - but a quick search in Breivik’s manifesto shows that he has also decided to use the Tepes name for a kind of weapon that he cruelly names: ‘Tepes revenge – Defensive Steel Impaler’. ‘The name is taken from Romanias most famous historical Crusader, Vlad Tepes, who impaled tens of thousands of Muslim invaders in the Balkans,’ Breivik explains. “… he was a real master of STAGING the cruelty to obtain maximum effect,” he says of Vlad Tepes, “He was the greatest master of imagology, hundreds of years before this science to be discovered and theorised.”

Obviously the Norwegian terrorist has aimed at providing images for his own crusade, and I am afraid that in some unsettling and perverse way he has succeeded. At least, I am myself afraid that it will take me some time to shake off the uncomfortable association between the image of Vlad Tepes and the bombing and mass murders in Norway.

On the other hand, this uncomfortable feeling can serve as a reminder of the tragedy that happened in a neighbouring country, formerly actually a part of my own country. And as a reminder that self-styled ‘crusaders’ everywhere may appropriate history and images for their own purposes.

And as I am sure we all need to think about the tragic events that have happened in Norway and to consider what we can do to prevent them from being repeated in the future, it is after all not for the worst to have something to remind us of them.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Serbian vampires close-up!

This Serbian documentary provides an exceptional look at some of the places related to vampire history and legends in Serbia, including Kisiljevo and Medvedja. As I do not understand the language, I cannot tell you much about what they are actually saying, but names of places and persons, like e.g. Petar Blagojevic (i.e. 'Peter Plogojowitz'), are easy to recognize. Part two also includes some (split screen) clips from the old Leptirica film.

It is pretty ridiculous to see a guy trying to locate the grave of Blagojevic using a pendulum, and I had to smile when I saw Flückinger portrayed as an old man writing the Visum & Repertum. But I find it very nice to see Serbians reclaiming the vampire. After all this is where it started. Without the vampires - or at least the villagers worried about vampires - of Kisiljevo and Medvedja we would hardly be talking about vampires today.

The 'first' vampire

Anthony Hogg, in a comment to a recent post, asks: Who was the first vampire? Giure Grando, Peter Plogojowitz, or perhaps the vampires mentioned in Mercure Galant as quoted by Calmet.

As I wrote in an earlier post, there is a museum dedicated to Giure (or: Jure) Grando, commemorating him as the first vampire. As it says here: 'Jure Grando (1656) was the first classical Vampire to be mentioned in documented records.' Still, I would myself refer to Peter Plogojewitz (or however you prefer to spell his name) as the 'first' vampire, because that term is used in Provisor Frombald's report from Kisiljevo.

As for bloodsucking, well, most of these revenants tend to either strangle or by other means affect the living, and blood itself generally first turns up on the corpses that are exhumed, and it is then interpreted as blood drawn from the unfortunate victims of the revenant. But some kind of bloodsucking is actually mentioned in connection with the Mercure Galant article on the Polish Upiertz that Hogg also refers to in his comment. Still, the term 'vampire' is apparently not used, although Calmet claims that the articles 'parlent des oupires, vampires ou revenants'. There appears to be an excerpt from the 1693 issue in question on the web site of this author of a book on vampires, i.e. here, and it actually says that this Demon draws blood from the body of a living person or of cattle.

A Google search, of course, provides a number of other answers like Cain, Lilith, Vlad Tepes, George Bush...

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Last minute

Haven't decided where to go this summer? Or are you just planning a trip later this year or next year?

If you need a bit of inspiration, then this German site might help you out, at least if you like a bit of the horrific. I happened to find it when I read about this Horor bar in Cesky Krumlov, the town known from e.g. the Vampir Prinzessin documentary. At least, it looks like a pretty unique place to have a drink :-)

The woman behind this 'Gothic' site has, apparently, visited a number of other places that might interest readers of this blog, e.g. in Prague, Vienna or Cachtice. Just click on her Gothic Reisetipps for more information.

Reading about her lifestyle, I am reminded that I was recently interviewed by a guy who thought that being interested in vampires and revenants had to be a kind of lifestyle. I hope I convinced him that my interest in magia posthuma and similar subjects does not reflect in my tastes in life in general. :-)

Video via Outside Prague.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Breaking with the Baroque

'By the middle of the eighteenth century, there were signs that the appeal of graphic violence in Catholic Baroque culture was waning. Popular culture never lost its fascination with violence and crime, and the decrease in the number of public executions within the Habsburg realms cannot be taken as evidence that the public was less interested in these spectacles, rather, it demonstrated that the central government was starting to take a different view of public displays of physical punishment. What had changed was the sense of simultaneous distancing and identification with the sufferer that had characterized the Baroque encounter with violence. The distancing had originally made it possible to view animal baiting, or even the execution of a criminal, without the on-lookers experiencing any stirrings of empathy toward the sufferers, but curiosity or pleasure instead. Yet the pious Catholic also identified with the sufferings of saint or martyr because of the different moral context in which the torments were inflicted. Suffering of ordinary mortals or of saints, like the suffering of Jesus, could produce positive results for the sufferer or for others. Suffering blocked out the less important day-to-day world, and a meditation on denial and suffering invited the participant to enter another world where closeness to God was the reward for the act of distancing oneself from the material. The promoters of the Enlightenment did not share this view, but were much more concerned with the possibilities of happiness being achieved through less painful and non-supernatural means.

The breakdown of this seeming fusion of what appear to be polar opposites, empathy and distancing, was further fostered by a more dispassionate and analytical view of the body, in particular, the human body. The anatomical Wachsenpräparaten created in the 1780s for the Josephinum, the surgical institute established in Vienna by Joseph II, are the clearest demonstration of the break with the Baroque in the Habsburg world. Although their postures and the tasseled pillows on which some of them are displayed are reminiscent of the waxen figures in Baroque reliquaries, these figures are guardians of a mystery with no theological or moral implications. They are instead aids to instruction at a state-supported school that teaches a practical skill imparted by a scientist rather than a priest, where no clergy are employed and whose every detail bears the mark of enlightened despotism.'

According to Dr. Paul Shore, St. Louis University, in The Eagle and the Cross: Jesuits in Late Baroque Prague (Saint Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2002), p. 50-1.

Friday 15 July 2011

Unusual news from Poland

Leon, in a comment here, points to a news story from AFP via Yahoo News. I suppose the examination of current interest in vampirism has little to do with vampires per se, but may have to do with concern over the popular fascination with vampires, just like the Catholic Church has been concerned over the fascination for Harry Potter and Dan Brown's books:

Excorcists meet in Poland, tackle vampires

Vampires, the devil's deceit and mental illness are among the hot topics for some 300 exorcists who flocked to Poland this week from as far away as Africa and India for a week-long congress.

Held at Poland's Roman Catholic Jasna Gora monastery, home to the venerated Black Madonna icon, this year's congress "examines the current fashion for vampirism in Europe and the world-over, schizophrenia and other mental disorders as well as the devil's deceit during exorcism," according to the monastery's radio station.

Also attending are "priests and lay people who work with exorcists or who are themselves practitioners in cases which do not involve possession but rather other forms of harassment by evil spirits," Polish exorcist, Father Andrzej Grefkowicz was quoted as saying.

Hailing from India, world-renowned exorcist Father Rufus Pereira as well as chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of Vienna Larry Hogan are among the participants, the radio reported. The unusual meeting is held once every two years.

The Jasna Gora monastery's venerated Black Madonna icon is believed by many Poles to work miracles.

Legend has it that it was painted by the apostle Saint Luke on a table top from the home of the Holy Family, according to the Jasna Gora website. Records suggest the icon arrived in Poland during the 14th century.

With around 90 percent of the population declaring themselves Roman Catholic, Poland remains one of Europe's most devout countries.

Monday 11 July 2011

Death in Venice

Writing about vampires in Venice a couple of months ago, I could only feature part of the Doctor Who documentary Death in Venice. In the meantime I have found the complete one elsewhere, and although it is mainly a making of featurette, it does include a bit of information on the bubonic plague in Venice - and a short reference to the archaeological find that made the headlines as a 'vampire' a couple of years ago.

Doctor Who Confidential 5x06 - Death in Venice

Sunday 10 July 2011

Bohemia anno 1567

One of the examples of the inaccuracy of Montague Summers is his retelling of the incident concerning 'the vampire of Treautenau' Stephen Hubner in The Vampire in Europe (p. 159 and 327). Summers probably learned of it from Dudley Wright who mentions Hubner on p. 168 of his Vampires and Vampirism with Jacob Döpler as his source. Döpler's Theatrum poenarum, suppliciorum et executionum criminalium, oder Schau-Platzes derer Leibes- und Lebens-Strafen, however, is from 1697, but the story can be found elsewhere. E.g. in Thomas Bromhall's A Treatise of Specters (1658), as David Keyworth points to in his book from 2007 Troublesome Corpses, and even earlier in Andreas Hondorff's Theatrum historicum (1598), which Thomas Schürmann quotes in Nachzehrerglauben in Mitteleuropa (1990).

There is no reason to waste more time and space on Summers here. What I find particularly interesting in the text, is the description of Hübner's haunting. Apart from the explanation that it was, in fact, Satan who made the cadaver roam about, it says:

'corpus eius ... plurimos hominum arctis adeo complexibus compressit, vt multi eorum morentur, multi etiam ex morbo reualescerent, qui omnes vno ore confessi sunt, se ab opulento isto viro, eo corporis habitu, quo viuum ipsum vidissent, compressos esse.'

So the victims all said that they had been pressed by the body of the opulent man. In fact he had pressed them down with so tight clasps or embraces (arctis complexibus compressit), that many of them died, whereas others recovered. As one would expect, there is no mention of blood sucking, although blood (cruor) flows from the corpse during the posthumous execution.

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As Stephan Hübner was a wealthy and well-known citizen of Trautenau (today: Trutnov), we know more about him. On the internet there is an excerpt of a town history, Aus der Geschichte der Stadt Trautenau by Ernst Kröhn-Gießdorf, which mentions an incident in Oktober 1563 when a formidable house recently erected by Stephan Scholz or Stephan Hübner just across from the Town Hall in Trautenau collapsed.

'Am 22. Oktober stürzte um 17 Uhr der steinerne Neubau des Stephan Scholz oder Stephan Hübner gegenüber dem Rathause zu Trautenau ein, welcher von dem Baumeister Orban Hirsch aus Lemberg in Schlesien aufgeführt und schon in allem, auch mit dem Erker, Gesims usw., 3 Schwibbogen lang, vorn auf 4 Steinsäulen ruhend, fertig war. Der Bau hatte 71 Schock gekostet. Auf Geheiß des Bauherrn hatte der Baumeister die Errichtung des hölzernen Baugerüsts unterlassen, weshalb der Schaden entstand. Stephan Scholz verdingte den Baumeister den Abraum wieder wegzuräumen und gab dafür den Maurern 7 Schock, einen Scheffel Korn und 1 Fass Bier. Darnach aber ließ er das Haus von einem böhmischen Maurer Simon N. aus Königinhof wieder aufbauen.'

However, the house was rebuilt and later on became the Town Hall. According to a local and contemporary chronicler, Simon Hüttel, people claimed that Stephan had allied himself with the Devil (this suspicion probably had to do with his success as a businessman, and would also explain why he returned as a revenant) and died on June 6 1567. Hüttel no doubt is the original source for later writers. Unfortunately, I have not had access to his chronicle (some excerpts can be found here, cf. also this Czech page). An excerpt concerning Hübner, however, is online on - of all things - the web site of a restaurant situated in the heart of Trutnov, so if you happen to be in that town, maybe you should visit the Radnice (i.e. town hall) grill restaurant. Their web site says that Stephan Scholz/Hübner continued haunting the town despite his posthumous execution. Apparently, he became part of local lore.

The use of two alternate surnames for Stephan is, I guess, because Hübner signified a farmer owning an allotment of land, cf. this entry on German Wikipedia. Scholz might be a variant of Schulz, in Czech Šolc.

Saturday 9 July 2011

De sagis magisque posthumis

For some years tranquil peace ruled in Moravia, but then ...

As Google Books put more and more books online, one can get to check up on some more references, and I recently noticed the Moraviæ historia politica et ecclesiastica from 1787 by Adolf Pilarz and František Adolf Moravec, i.e. a political and church history of Moravia. In the third part of the book, Pilarz and Moravetz note that after The War of the Austrian Succession, peace ruled in Moravia, and the area flourished for some years. However ... two kinds of superstitions infested Moravia, one of them being what 'the Hungarians call Vampires'. More precisely, Moravetz writes: 'de sagis magisque posthumis, quos Hungari passim Vampyros vocant,' which links posthumous witches and magicians with vampires.

The authors call this superstition an ancient (vetustus) error which has moved from the East (Oriens) to Poland, Hungary and Moravia, and defines it is a common belief that corpses of witches and magicians buried in cemetries return animated by a demon to suck the blood of the living. And, as we would expect, this belief is related to the find of cadavers full of blood and incorrupted (sanguine plena, atque incorrupta), although these signs can be explained through natural means.

Pilarz and Moravetz  then refer to a specific case, the well-known incident dated December 22 1754 concerning a woman of Polish background, Rosina Polakin, whose body was hardly corrupted after thirty days, and consequently cremated along with a number of other corpses. Baron and court physician van Swieten, however, refuted the belief, and Empress Maria Theresia in 1755 ordered these acts of superstition to be stopped.

Monday 4 July 2011

Vampyre and Vampire Meeting

I just noticed this 'vampire meeting' which takes place at the so-called Pulp - das Event-Schloss in Duisburg, Germany this Saturday July 9. The programme includes talks by Mark and Lydia Benecke, and Peter Mario Kreuter:

15 Uhr: Einleitung: Vampire dieser Welt (Mark Benecke)
16 Uhr: Vampire der Vergangenheit (Peter Mario Kreuter)
17 Uhr: Vampyrvereinigungen nebst verwandten Gestalten der Nacht und der Wälder
18 Uhr: Psychologie des Bluttrinkens (Lydia Benecke)
19 Uhr: Interviews mit Vampyren
20 Uhr bis in die Puppen: Wein, Blut und (von uns) kein Gesang im Wintergarten, Biergarten oder auf der Dachterrasse und bei der um 22 Uhr beginnenden Schlossparty auf drei Areas.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Apropos of Calmet

Last July I mentioned a forthcoming book on Calmet, and at the same time I pre-ordered a copy of it. However, since then I have regularly received messages that it has been postponed. And this morning I got another one, so I am still waiting to see what this voluminous book (around 1.000 pages!) contains.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Macabre speculations

I recently mentioned Andrew Miller's new novel Pure, which in the meantime I have read. It certainly is a macabre tale, but also a gripping story of the people involved in the destruction of the Les Innocents cemetery a couple of years before the French Revolution. Most of the characters are fictional, but some historical persons crop up, in particular the well-known physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who in the novel is studies the various stages of human decomposition that are found during the unpleasant exhumation of thousands of bodies in the cemetery. The novel provides entertainment as well as an interesting view of the period. That the story of a young engineer destroying an ancient church and its cemetery can be interpreted as a metaphor for a major change in society is lost neither on the reader nor the engineer himself.

A paper from 1997 on Deadly Fears: Dom Augustin Calmet's Vampires and the Rule Over Death by Marie-Hélène Huet, published in Eighteenth-Century Life Vol. 21 (May 1997), p. 222-232, speculates on  both Calmet's work on vampires and the move of cemeteries from central Paris to its outskirts. Personally, I think Huet overinterpretes this conjunction, but she provides some interesting information on e.g. the cemeteries:

'Toward the end of the century, when new legislation finally authorized the closing of overcrowded cemeteries and new locations were chosen, one of the primary concerns was to find a soil where the bodies would decompose quickly. Long before the Cemetery of the Innocents was closed, officials complained that "the soil has difficulty absorbing the bodies buried there" (qtd. in Thibaut-Payen, p. 211). A similar anxiety would spread through Paris during the Revolution, with endless complaints that the guillotined bodies failed to decompose and were rejected by the clay of the Madeleine cemetery where they were first buried.

In the second half of the century, one notices a growing repulsion toward and dread of the dead as the sacred respect due them seemed to be superseded by a rising fear of their nefarious powers. Michel Vovelle quotes a 1781 Lettre du Baron de *** à son ami sur l'affaires des cimetières, from an anonymous author protesting a proposed "lieu de dépôts" or "temporary storage" of the dead in Paris:

"A sick person dies and is kept at home twenty four, sometimes forty eight hours: shall we have to keep it uncovered for another twelve hours? ... Here is a corpse that casts its most dangerous infection into the air; the many moves one will be obliged to make, to take it to church, onto the cart, moving and emptying the cart, will increase this infection, letting it escape into the air. What will be the scope of this infection, already so dangerous when it comes from a single body, when it is multiplied by all the corpses of Paris and air temperatures? ... All of Paris, at all times and in all its quarters, will be filled with cadaverous and pestilential putrefaction." (pp. 202-3)

A growing antipollution movement brought together village priests and villagers, as well as members of the Academy of Medicine and of the Academy of Sciences, all of whom were anxious to relocate cemeteries outside the cities, far from the living. The famous decision in 1785 to close the Cemetery of the Innocents testifies to several concerns, writes Thibaut-Payen, chief among them, "the dangers of insalubrity presented by the presence of a necropolis inside the city limits" (p. 221).' 

Particularly far-fetching are in my opinion Huet's comments on the 'deep Christianity' of the 1732 story of 'Arnold Paul', Calmet being her prime source:

'Undoubtedly, most of the elements of the classical vampire story are here. But the most striking part of the story lies in its deep Christianity, in its hardly disguised evocation of Christ's life: the forty days reminiscent of the days spent fasting in the desert, fighting the devil's temptations, the ressurection from the dead. But at the same time, everything is reversed: the vampire's public life starts after his death, and, instead of fasting and resisting temptation, he indulges in blood feasts that cannot be stopped until forty days after his life as a vampire has started. Like an inverted image of Christ, the vampire wins disciples who will, in turn, make their victims into new converts. Vampirism is not just a plague, it is a false religion. The sacrificial burning of vampires cannot fail to evoke the burning at the stake of heretics and devil worshippers.'

I object to this analysis, because I cannot recall reading any contemporary 18th century speculations along these lines. For more or less the same reason, I also find her thoughts regarding the name of 'Arnold Paul' speculative:

'Moreover, the name of the deadly vampire, Arnold Paul (which Calmet remarked himself was a most unlikely name for a Hungarian vampire), must have immediately reminded readers of the great Jansenist Arnauld. Certainly, vampire stories, articulated on countless episodes of grave profanation and extraordinary attacks on Jansenists, provided the Benedictine monk with a thinly disguised religious parable.'

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