Sunday 15 April 2012

We had thought that vampires were extinct

’… One of the most curious legacies ever bequeathed to anybody is perhaps that of £1000 left by the late Mrs Olivia Flint, of Pittsburg, to her doctor: Mrs Flint was very fond of novel reading, and, although very ill, began to read Bram Stoker’s thrilling romance, ”Dracula.” So interested did the dying woman become in it, that when she had read a chapter or two, she turned to her nurse, and, asking for pen and ink, wrote a few words to the effect that if Dr Allardyce could keep her alive long enough for her to finish the tale he was to receive a legacy of £1000. Mrs Flint lived for several hours after the last words had been read.’

This, an excerpt from the Marlborough Express Nov 2 1909, is one of the more curious examples of the early reception of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that have now been collected in a slim volume, Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Critical Feast. An annotated reference of early reviews and reactions, 1897-1913, compiled and annotated, with an introduction, by John Edgar Browning (Apocryphile Press, 179 pages, $18.95).

Aiming at both dispelling the misconception that Dracula received a mixing critical reception and providing literary scholars and the public with the documentation, Browning compiles 91 examples of reviews and letters, along with book covers and ads, from the English languaged part of the world where most of the initial editions were published. Only two translations appeared in Stoker’s lifetime, and a ‘bibliographical afterword’ by J. Gordon Melton presents of a list of non-English editions of Dracula.

The tale of a ‘human vampire’, as many reviewers call Count Dracula, is generally favourably received, and apparently made the blood of many critics curl. ‘We had thought that vampires were extinct,’ notes the Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, ‘but Mr. Bram Stoker has set himself to prove to us the contrary. Or rather he has recreated them with considerable ingenuity and a distinct gift for story-writing of the blood-curdling order.’ ‘There are a hundred nightmares in “Dracula,” and each is more uncanny than the last,’ writes St. James’ Gazette, while a reviewer in The Daily Mail is reminded of the author of a number of gothic novels: ‘It is said of Mrs. Radcliffe that, when writing her now almost forgotten romances, she shut herself up in absolute seclusion, and fed upon raw beef, in order to give her work the desired atmosphere of gloom, tragedy and terror. If one had no assurance to the contrary, one might well suppose that a similar method and regimen had been adopted by Mr. Bram Stoker while writing his new novel Dracula.’

Some critics found that the transition of the vampire from the more gothic Transylvanian setting to contemporary London did not work so well.‘Vampires need a Transylvanian background to be convincing,’ wrote The Academy: A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art, adding: ‘The witches in “Macbeth” would not be effective in Oxford-Street.’ Still, there was no doubt that Dracula’s castle is not a place to visit, in the words of The Glasgow Herald: ‘Henceforth we shall wreathe ourselves in garlic when opportunity offers, and firmly decline all invitations to visit out-of-the-way clients in castles in the South-East of Europe. Dracula is a first rate book of adventure.’

What will strike modern day readers as odd, is that some critics saw Dracula as a werewolf book. ‘Mr. Bram Stoker, in his remarkable novel “Dracula”, has gone to the old legends of the were-wolf for the inspiration of his story,’ writes The Speaker, calling the novel ‘the first introduction of the were-wolf to English soil.’ Similarly, The Daily Telegraph finds that Bram Stoker illustrates and modernises ‘a revival of a mediaeval superstition, the old legend of the “were-wolf”,’ and traces this ‘old legend’ and its literature more closely, as the critic asks: ‘What has Mr. Bram Stoker been reading?’

Indeed, what has Stoker been reading? Today, we tend to forget how small the existing ‘canon’ of vampire literature in the English language was when Stoker wrote the novel. In fact, the deluge of books on the subject only dates back to the 1960’s or 1970’s, and the 'classics' by Ernest Jones, Dudley Wright and Montague Summers were all published after Stoker’s death. So in the 1890’s, one might have found the translations of Dom Calmet, Herbert Mayo’s letters, and a bit here and there, including the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould’s The Book of Werewolves, Being an Account of a Terrible Superstition from 1865, which is in fact mentioned by the reviewers of both The Daily Telegraph and The Stage, the latter apparently finding some pleasure in describing the horrors of the novel:

‘Those who know the Rev. S. Baring Gould’s little volume on the Were-Wolf, a theme also touched on here and there by Kipling, may possibly not be repelled by the grisly details of two beautiful and virtuous women having the veins in their throats sucked by the red lips, and lacerated by the gleaming white teeth of this centuries-old Transylvanian warrior and statesman, who often appears as a gaunt wolf and a huge bat.’

In his notes, Browning writes that the convention of seeing vampires transform into wolves ‘was to fin de siècle readers relatively unfamiliar – practically an innovation at the hands of Stoker.’ His other vampiric innovations are humourously commented on by Longman’s Magazine, when reviewing an inexpensive reissue in 1901: ‘The rules of vampirizing, as indicated by Mr. Stoker, are too numerous and too elaborate. One does not see why the leading vampire, Count Dracula, could not bolt out of the box where was finally run to earth by a solicitor named Jonathan. If he could fly about as a bat, why did he crawl down walls head foremost? The rules of the game of Vampire ought to be printed in appendix: at present the pastime is as difficult as Bridge.’ The reviewer then lays down eight chief rules like e.g. this sixth rule: ‘No vampire can vamp a person protected by garlic.’

Fortunately, an interview with Stoker himself was published in The British Weekly, allowing him to comment on both his sources and the vampire belief itself. Asked, ‘Is there any historical basis for the legend?’ he answers:

‘It rested, I imagine, on some such case as this. A person may have fallen into a death-like trance and been buried before the time. Afterwards the body may have been dug up and found alive, and from this a horror seized upon the people, and in their ignorance they imagined that a vampire was about. The more hysterical, through excess of fear, might themselves fall into trances in the same way; and so the story grew that one vampire might enslave many others and make them like himself. Even in the single villages it was believed that there might be many such creatures. When once the panic seized the population, their only thought was to escape.’

He apparently thought that the vampire belief was particularly prevalent in certain parts of Styria (where he originally set Dracula), and added, that ‘the legend is common to many countries, to China, Iceland, Germany, Saxony, Turkey, the Cersonese, Russia, Poland, Italy, France, and England, besides all the Tartar communities. Two sources are mentioned in the interview: Baring-Gould’s book and Emily Gerard’s Essays on Roumanian Superstitions.

Interestingly, not many reviewers go into detail regarding the subject of vampires. The National Observer, and British Review of Politics, Economics, Literature, Science, and Art, briefly mentions that ‘More awful even than the ghoul of the Arabian Nights is the Slavonic superstition of the human vampire, which, dead to all intent and purposes during the day, is supposed to prowl around by night and gorge itself with the blood of living man,’ adding that ‘this fearful legend, which flourished in Eastern Europe a century ago, and still finds credence among the ignorant.’ The Liverpool Mercury claims that it is ‘An old Eastern superstition, still having weight in Hungary.’

On the whole, the only reviewer to deal with ‘vampiredom’ in more detail is actually the one writing for the Australian Argus in 1897, who states that ‘Vampires – the “living dead,” whose corpses cannot decay, but who have the power of rising from their graves at night to batten upon the blood of human beings – are the Vroucolakas of the Greeks,' and then goes on to mention that 'They have been treated of by an old German writer, Michael Raufft (sic!), in his learned book “De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis,” by the Frenchman Calmet, and by many another grave-faced sifter of mediæval superstitions,' before supplying more information about 'these unpleasant noctural prowlers.'

Upon Stoker’s death one hundred years ago on April 20 1912 , The Outlook found reason to note that ‘The lamented death of the author should direct fresh attention to the most imaginative creation of his pen. For weird force and picturesque horror Dracula deserves to rank with the classics of morbidity.’

For that reason, as well as for the novel's role in keeping ‘vampiredom’ alive and well in modern popular culture, the centenary of Stoker's death is good reason to read or re-acquaint oneself with the novel. For those interested in getting a better understanding of the literary reception of this, the single most important piece of vampire fiction, John Edgar Browning’s reference book is highly recommended.

Finally, a few words regarding the bibliography of translations: It is quite a daunting task to compile a complete and faultless bibliography of this task, and judging by the Scandinavian language editions mentioned, it is not a completely or a fully correct list. The Danish translations are all listed under the title ‘Drakula,’ but have actually all been titled Dracula, and I doubt that the list of adaptations is complete. The list of Swedish editions is, unfortunately, incomplete, and it is not correct that the first English translation of the preface to the Icelandic translation was published in 1993.

Sometime in the mid-Eighties, I was in contact with Richard Dalby, author of the first Stoker bibliography (published by the aptly named Dracula Press in 1983), and supplied him with information on the translation and copies of the preface. He subsequently had it translated and published by Guild Publishing in 1986 in a one-volume edition of both Dracula and The Lair of the White Worm, this also being the first time the latter novel was reprinted in its original length, as it had been absolutely butchered in all previous reprints.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Love can only be made in perfection by the sea

'As we passed through the wood in the twilight the gentle wind took the puffs of steam from the engine and carried them in tall columns till they looked like ghosts among the trees.'

Tracing my interest in vampires and posthumous magic back to reading Bram Stoker's Dracula as a teenager, I find it interesting to occasionally follow the ongoing development in the literature on Stoker and his creation of the Count Vampyre.

The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker, edited by Elizabeth Miller and Dacre Stoker and published by The Robson Press, is a lovely and very welcome addition to both the Stoker biographies and the various editions of his own work. A caringly edited and annotated version of a journal that passed on from Stoker's widow, Florence, to their son, Noel, and now in the possession of Stoker's great-grandson, Noel Dobbs, the Journal is a kind of notebook containing verses, short pieces of prose, jokes, observations and ideas that the young, aspiring and developing writer Bram Stoker planned to use at some time. So now one can feel with the young man writing shortly before his twenty-fifth birthday of pain in 'Pain & Bravery':

'To have feeling but to lack its fit expression
To be dumb amid the music-world of life
To be still amid the roar & the progression
Where the worker as he touches stamps possession -
To be fettered by our hearts before the strife -
To be crippled ere the race - to lose the Real
Which we erst have sadly toiled for and in vain
To seek among the passing forever our Ideal
This is pain.'

The Journal is not reproduced in the original order. Instead, Miller and Stoker have organized the contents thematically, e.g. devoting one part to portions that may have inspired bits in Dracula, as they find that 'the Journal breathes new life into Dracula, offering fresh insights into Stoker's method of composition as well as motifs for his plot and characters.' This section contains references to Poe and Frankenstein, but I will let others decide to what extent it really does provide insights into Dracula, written several years after the Journal.

Stoker himself appears to have had a bit of taste for the gruesome, as in this sketch:

'Seaport. Two sailors love girl - one marries her, other swears revenge. Husband goes out to sea soon after marriage & on return after some days sees in grey light of morning his young wife crucified on the great cross which stands at end of pier.'

And we are affirmed that the sea played a special role for him, even curiously claiming that: 'Love can only be made in perfection beside the sea.'

Miller and Stoker note that 'the closest we get to vampires in the Journal are the references to Dion Boucicault,' who wrote the popular play The Vampire: A Phantom Related in Three Dramas from 1852. So the vampire historian will probably gain little from the Journal - apart from the pleasuring of dipping into the numerous bits and pieces.

Stoker researchers, of course, will find inspiration for future work, but first of all, it is simply a delightful collection of short pieces, proving that a private notebook never intended for publication actually can have some value to readers almost 150 years after it was written.

The various introductory essays and comments, along with a timeline of Stoker and his family, by Miller and Stoker aids in setting the Journal into the context of its author's life, work and times, as does about a dozen of photos of Stoker's family.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

The Archbishop's Vampires

'If I were to permit myself to investigate the holy mysteries of divine Providence, I would say: why do these apparitions and tricks of the Devil only take place today in poor Moravia and northern Hungary, and not elsewhere in Spain, France and our Italy?'

The Dissertazione sopra i vampiri by the Archbishop of Trani, Giuseppe Davanzati, to my knowledge has never been translated in toto into any language, although it is relatively easy to come by an Italian copy. So you may have a hard time finding extracts and more than just cursory information in English. Montague Summers dedicated a couple of pages to Davanzati, but most of it is biographical information, and he is quick to dismiss the Archbishop’s conclusion.

Fortunately, Francesco Paolo de Ceglia of the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy (not far from Trani), the author of a.o. a book on Georg Ernst Stahl, has remedied the lack of information in English with his paper The Archbishop’s Vampires: Giuseppe Davanzati’s Dissertation and the reaction of “scientific” Italian Catholicism to the “Moravian events”, published in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences vol. 61, no 166-167, Juin-Décembre 2011.

Written about 1739, when Davanzati heard of the Moravian episodes of posthumous magic from e.g. Cardinal Wolfgang Schrattenbach, Bishop of Olomouc from 1711 to 1738, the Dissertazione was published posthumously in 1774, long time after the initial vampire debates. Still, manuscript copies appear to have rapidly been spread and read shortly after it was written, even in the Netherlands.

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century the area under clerical jurisdiction of the Consistory in Olomouc saw several cases of what Karl Ferdinand von Schertz had coined magia posthuma, and in the 1730’s the interest in this kind of phenomenon had exploded with the news of the Serbian vampires. Some fifteen years later, Empress Maria Theresa aided by her physician, Gerard van Swieten, would take matters into her own hands, when news reached Vienna of how the Catholic authorities handled the instances of posthumous magic, no doubt further eroding the position of the Jesuits in the Austrian lands.

Davanzati, writes de Ceglia, 'was a man of that Catholic Aufklärung which, shaking off the visionary excesses of Baroque mysticism, was responsible for the classics of the Italian “anti-superstitious” school of thought. Concentrating, above all, on the theme of witches and celestial apparitions, these publications were circumscribing the space that, until that time, had been conceded, above all, to the action of the Devil, but in part to God as well, in this way drastically reducing the group of phenomena that tradition had considered preter- and supernatural. The imperative was to explain the phenomena through the laws of nature, without unnecessarily involving the Devil, as had, instead, been done until just a few decades prior.'

Believing in the invariability of the laws of nature, Davanzati was of the opinion that if vampires should exist, they could not be something new. Consequently, he identified vampires with ghosts, and even elves common to the mythology of Southern Italy. The Church accepted the existence of ghosts as souls from the Purgatory, but they were souls temporarily allowed by God to return and still under his jurisdiction. So from a theological point of view, ghosts were not allowed to carry out evil acts, for which reason vampires could not exist.

The Protestants, on the other hand, denying the existence of Purgatory, believed that ghosts, if not illusory, had to be the work of the Devil. Davanzati’s response to various theological counterarguments was to point out that vampires had apparently only been encountered in Moravia and Hungary, and not in Spain, France and Italy. Perhaps it was rather the work of priests taking advantage of the local populace’s fear that led people to believe in the excessive power of the Devil?

De Ceglia sums up Davanzati’s strategy, ‘much drier, more debonair and, above all, less gullible than Calmet’, briefly this way:

‘1) first of all, he “rationally” – that is, without making recourse to the authority of the conciliar decrees – minimised the Devil’s actual ability to influence nature and people, being nonetheless careful not to slip into the Pyrrhonism of Pierre Bayle or the radical Cartesianism of Balthasar Bekker. 2) The operation succeeded in temporarily identifying the vampire-ghosts as souls from Purgatory. Someone had already noticed that the belief in vampires prospered mostly in areas where the existence of the third realm of the afterlife was denied. Moreover, like souls from Purgatory, vampires could be interpreted as an intermediate state between saved and damned souls. It was nonetheless inexpedient to go on with this identification, dangerous from a theological point of view. 3) At this point, it was only necessary to prove that these apparitions had no goals of spiritual elevation to set aside their supernatural origin. 4) Once all this was done, the last obstacle to overcome was the naturalistic interpretation of the phenomenon:

“Anyone with a little common sense, so to speak, can clearly realise that the Devil plays no role in a story like that of these vampires; it is all a human creation, or at most a sort of tiresome illness, such as the plague, or some other epidemic disease.”’

As for the questions concerning the incorruptibility of corpses and whether a corpse is still alive, de Ceglia notes that ‘Davanzati was working in a period in which the Roman Church was redefining its ambivalent relationship with uncorrupted bodies,’ and compares the canonisations manual that was in use at the time of the incidents of posthumous magic in Moravia, Bishop Carlo Felice de Matta’s Novissimus de sanctorum canonizatione tractatus from 1678 with the later one by Prospero Lambertini, De servorum Dei beatificatione (1734-8), which in its second edition also deals with vampires.

‘The chapter “De incorruptione” in the first handbook, gave credence to the most improbably tales,’ de Ceglia notes and sums up its views briefly: ‘a) a holy body is soft and flexible; b) nevertheless, it is important to pay attention to the Devil’s nasty jokes; c) as well as to the intimate vitality of the cadaver (whatever its origin may be),’ adding that: ‘All three of these positions were scaled down by the new “regulated devotion” of the 18th century.’

Ultimately it becomes a matter for the theologians to decide whether an uncorrupted corpse is in fact a miracle, as Davanzati states: ‘And although it would not be difficult for me to believe that said circumstance could be a purely natural thing in some cadavers, I demand it be a supernatural and miraculous thing in those servants of God whose moral virtues in heroic status have been proved as such by the Holy Mother Church and by the Sacred Roman Rota.’

Davanzati, however, admits the importance of the imagination as a real operative force that could produce effects outside the body of the imaginer, a kind of action at a distance. Vampires consequently are, in de Ceglia's words, 'the result of a collective suggestion, in which, however, the imagination of one person "effectively" acted on that of another, triggering a "spiritual epidemic".' This kind of argument surely could easily undermine the notion of true miracles, so Davanzati decided to subordinate medicine to theology:

‘From this it can be deduced that fear of the adversary is pointless, so by attributing so many almost miraculous operations to the imagination, damage is done to the virtue of real miracles and the canonisation of saints. The miracles of the latter will always be real miracles, each time, as previously said, when they happen concurrently with heroic virtues. When this is not the case, these same supposed miracles will always be considered the natural effects of fantasy.’

A miracle for Davanzati, as de Ceglia writes, ‘tautologically remained what theologically was decreed to be a miracle. The recognition of the efficient cause – natural vs. preter- and supernatural – depended on the individuation of the final cause: aetiology was subordinate to teleology (and theology). Vampires, in conclusion, were for him figments of the imagination, not because they were otherwise inexplicable from a scientific point of view, so much as because the miracle of their existence made no sense theologically. Nonetheless, had the foundations de fide of the reasoning been disowned, as was possible for the Protestants, the whole logical construction would have collapsed.’

Sunday 8 April 2012

Superstition and Magic in Early Modern Europe: A Reader

An interesting book to look forward to, although I am unsure when it will be published. Amazon says November this year, whereas the publishers say Halloween 2013!

Dr. Helen Parish, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Reading, who co-edited Religion and Superstition in Reformation Europe (Manchester Univ. Press, 2003), is preparing Superstition and Magic in Early Modern Europe: A Reader, including a section titled Ghosts and Apparitions:

'In recent decades research into witchcraft and magic has expanded alongside a deepening understanding of early modern popular culture and belief. The result is a much more nuanced appreciation of how such beliefs were woven into the fabric of society, and of the degree to which early modern religion, superstition and magic were intertwined. Recent research has facilitated a more detailed and comprehensive understanding of these themes, and this volume brings the key threads of each debate together in one volume, demonstrating the richness of the historiography, and the significance of superstition, magic, and popular belief to our understanding of early modern popular culture.

The selected texts reflect the diversity of both early modern popular culture, and modern scholarly investigations of it. Readers will be introduced to debates over the (co)existence of religious and magical belief, the nature and conceptual challenge of superstition, the redefinition of magic and miracle in the aftermath of the Reformation, the manifestation of diverse beliefs in the supernatural, and the ever expanding controversy over witchcraft in early modern Europe.'

Saturday 7 April 2012

The product of superstitious and false beliefs

What do we understand by superstition?

I suppose that we all have some kind of commonsensical idea of what ‘superstition’ means, when we use it on an everyday basis, but when you need to apply it to a specific historical context, you easily get into trouble. So when I took up the subject of vampires and posthumous magic some years ago, I quickly felt a pressing need to get some grasp of the term and its history. This, unfortunately, was not so easy, because the meaning of the term not only has changed over time and very much depends on a given context, but frequently there is ‘a certain elasticity about it’, as Keith Thomas pointed out in his Religion & The Decline of Magic (1971, p. 48-9). Similarly, in a more recent work, Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, & Religion, 1250-1750 (2010), Euan Cameron calls superstition ‘an elusive and slippery term’ (p. 4) that is ‘a flexible designation, and can be aimed at a range of targets at different times and by different people.’ (p. 5)

'In the era of confessional orthodoxy from the late sixteenth century to the end of the seventeenth, the rhetoric that had traditionally condemned superstition and magic in the eyes of the devout became a crucial part of the intellectual armour used to prosecute sorcerers, magicians, and witches. Then, in the early Enlightenment, ‘superstition’ took centre stage in religious discussions to an even greater extent than before. ‘Superstition’ and ‘reason’ became the poles around which the religious and ethical theorists of the early Enlightenment debated the proper claims of religion on the human mind.' (p. 6)

Superstition and reason are also frequently seen as the poles in the vampire debate of the 1730’s. Stefan Hock did so in 1901, dividing the authors of vampire books into two groups: those explaining vampires in terms of demonic influences, and those seeking a rational and natural explanation. However, if you actually read the books and articles from the period, you find that the texts do not easily fit into such a simple scheme. Likewise, on a more general scale, Cameron stresses the complexity of the debates concerning superstition:

'The eighteenth century did not discard the heritage of previous centuries wholesale, whatever the statements of propagandists for the ‘Enlightenment’ might at times imply. Some ‘superstition-treatises’ emerged from the movement known as ‘baroque Catholicism’ that embodied a firm belief in the continuity of traditional metaphysics and traditional pastoral theology. In Protestant Europe, the seventeenth-century debate over the reality of spirits continued into the era of the Enlightenment with no clearly discernible winners or losers.’ (p. 286-7)

In a lengthy paper from 2010, “… da sie in den närrischen Wahn gestanden, daß es Vampyren gebe”. Dimensionen des Aberglaubenbegriffs und Strategien der Aberglaubenskritik in gelehrten Beiträgen zur Vampirdebatte der 1730er Jahre, Benjamin Durst notes that the view of a vampire debate between obscurantism and Enlightenment has survived well into our time and can be found even in modern works on the subject.

Durst points out that the dichotomy between mystical obscurantism and rational Enlightenment that many historians superimpose on the eighteenth century is rather a result of the Enlightenment process than a condition of the period itself. This dichotomy is a construct of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not of the eighteenth, so Durst sets out to critically scrutinize the vampire debate in terms of the knowledge and views of its own time. Limiting himself to what he calls the first phase of the vampire debate: the debate during the 1730’s between authors whose native tongue is German, Durst divides the debate into three groups according to the arguments employed: 1) theological, 2) sympathetic (Aristotelian or Paracelsian), and 3) medical.

Their different points of view notwithstanding, all authors tend to agree that the Serbian vampire belief is superstitious. Frequently, they consider the superstitious Irrglaube and Altweibermärchen to be the surviving remains of pre-Christian, pagan beliefs. Harenberg in his Vernünftige und Christliche Gedancken über die Vampirs oder Bluhtsaugende Todten stresses the antiquity of the belief in harmful revenants, saying that it existed at the time of Moses and can be found in the works of Vergil and Homer. Michael Ranft writes of the poison of superstition from old times and thinks that it may still work in the hearts of Christians.

As the Serbians typically were Orthodox Christians, the authors participating in the debate, most of whom were Protestants, find that this Church plays a role in the vampire belief. Protestants were of the opinion that both the Catholic and Orthodox Church had introduced superstitiones superstructae, false and superstitious constructions on top of the pure Christian belief, in order to maintain and gain power and money. Polemical books about the Orthodox Church, such as Thomas Smith’s Epistola de Graecae Ecclesiae hodierno statu (1698) and Johann Michael Heineccii Eigentliche und wahrhafftige Abbildung der alten und neuen Griechischen Kirche (1711), were not only sources of contemporary views of this Church, but also contained information on the Greek popular beliefs in revenants like the Brucolaccas.

from Salomon Schweigger: Ein newe Reiss Beschreibung auss Teutschland nach Constantinopel (1639)
The participants in the debate were quick to equate the Serbian vampire belief with the Greek revenants, and generally link the Orthodox belief in the effects of excommunication with the Serbian vampire belief. They criticize the clergy for not eradicating the superstitious belief, but instead accepting or promoting it for their own purposes. Consequently Durst notes that the criticism of vampire superstitions turns into a critique of the Orthodox Church.

There were, of course, exceptions. Johann Conrad Dippel accepts the Orthodox belief in the preservation of holy people and of the excommunicated as the work of God, but refutes a connection between excommunication and vampire beliefs. The Catholic W.S.G.E. finds that the vampire belief is the product of the uneducated and superstitious Serbians’ reception of true Christian tenets. From a theological point of view, the more superstition and the less education there is in a place, the easier it is for the devil to carry out his schemes in that area.

The Serbians themselves are also the subject of various explanations. They are stereotypically considered barbarous and under the influence of opium which is thought to have influenced both the deaths of suspected vampires as well as the belief itself. Their moral deficits and lack of education make them susceptible to superstition or even demonic influence. Egidius Günther Hellmund in his book on divine judgment, Iudicia Dei Incognita, oder unerkannte Gerichte Gottes über Böße und Gute in der Welt (1737), goes so far as to consider the revenants as God’s punishment of a sinful and ungodly Serbian populace in need of repentance.

The authors, and not just those those writing from a medical perspective, find that there is a close connection between the superstitious belief and the disease that the supposed victims of vampires suffer from. In some cases an analogy between these is stated, blurring the division between disease and superstition.

The superstition leads to fear and fancy, perhaps even creating visions of nightly revenant visitations, making the villagers more prone to diseases. So itself a product of pagan doctrine, false religious beliefs and the inability of uneducated people to comprehend natural phenomena, the vampire belief is inseparable from the suffering – and ultimately the death - of the Serbian villagers.

Durst carefully describes the individual arguments behind these general views of the role of superstition in the Serbian vampire belief. He does, however, emphasize that more work on the subject will yield more facts and dimensions to our understanding of what superstition was according to the learned authors involved in the debate.

I plan to write about some other recent papers on the seventeenth and eighteenth century writings about vampires and related topics. For now, I will recommend a reading of Durst’s work which not only provides an interesting reading of the vampire debate, but also points to a handful of works that I don't recall seeing mentioned elsewhere.

Illustration in Leithäuser: Das neue Buch vom Aberglauben (1964)

Thursday 5 April 2012

Vampire (&) Science

VAMPIRE (&) SCIENCE: A Trans-Disciplinary Conference on the occasion of the Bram Stoker Centenary, 1912-2012

20 April 2012, Trinity College Dublin, Long Room Hub

09:00 First Bites: Opening & Intro

09:15 Clemens Ruthner (Dublin) - How Dracula Became Undead: Stoker’s Vampire & Folklore Studies

10:00 Christian Reiter (Vienna) - The Habsburg Vampyre Files from the 18th Century & Forensic Medicine

10:45 Break

11:15 Brendan Kelly (Dublin) - Fusion, Delusion and a Thirst for Blood: Vampirism & Psychiatry

12:00 Shaun McCann (Dublin) - „The Blood is the life”: Vampirism & Haematology

13:00 Bite Break

14:00 Jürgen Barkhoff (Dublin) - Sucking Energy: Vampirism & Mesmerism

14:45 David J. Skal (Los Angeles) - Science and Pseudoscience: Evolution & the Vampire Mythos

15:30 Break

16:00 Sorcha Ní Fhlainn (Dublin) - Postmodern Vampirism, Evolution & George W. Bush”

16:45 Hannah Priest (Manchester) - Plasma, Parasites & Personality Disorders: Vampires & ‘Bad’ Science

17:30 Final Discussion & Closure of the Tomb

Organized by the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, TCD

Attendance free of charge – everybody’s welcome!


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