Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Q & A with Niels K. Petersen, Part 2

For the previous installment, click here.
AH: Part of the reason for your blog's existence, was to relay your attempts at finding a copy of de Schertz's famous Magia Posthuma, a work very few authors have read. Where did you find your copy and why do you think other writers have struggled to find a copy of this work?

NKP: If I wasn't seriously searching for that book, I may never have started my blog, and probably would not have attempted to launch the term "magia posthuma" as a kind of brand for the topic. Magia Posthuma is famous because of Dom Calmet who wrote about it in his Dissertation, but apparently it wasn’t widely read or even known in the 18th century, and probably never has been. Because of Calmet and those who have cribbed from him it has become a well-known title, even becoming the name of a Belgian metal band for a short period.

I was finally able to read a copy thanks to the Royal Library in Copenhagen, but I had to help them by pointing in the direction of a copy. As far as I know now, there are two copies in the Czech Republic and one in France, the latter one probably the copy that Calmet himself read.

Magia Posthuma originates in Catholic considerations on how to deal with beliefs in posthumous magic and probably was only known in certain Catholic circles. It isn’t mentioned by Giuseppe Davanzati in his dissertation on vampires, so those circles may have been pretty limited. That would also explain the scarcity and the current location of copies of the book.

AH: Most sources cite the book's publication date as 1706, yet you're fairly confident that it was actually published in 1704. What gives you the grounds for this claim?

NKP: I am not that confident as to the actual publication, but from the contents I can see that a censor read the book in 1704 and recommended its publication. So it must have been written in 1704 or before. I hope that future research in those parts of Europe, particularly in the Czech Republic, will shed further light on the actual background for von Schertz’s book. One would expect that archives and libraries could contain more information, or just information that is not currently easily available, but I honestly don’t know what to expect. As the magia posthuma cases and posthumous cremations of corpses in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia are closely related to witch and sorcery cases, hopefully someone will augment the work of Karen Lambrecht and Gabor Klaniczay, filling in some of the gaps in our knowledge about the posthumous magic of that region.

AH: Apart from finding a copy of de Schertz's book, what would you say is your proudest achievement, so far, in your vampirological studies and aims?

NKP: I am happy to have inspired people in Vienna to arrange a conference on vampirism and to have participated. That certainly has been one of the highlights of my active interest in the subject. I also want to mention my delight in inspiring and helping various people in their studies and research. It seems that I have inspired a couple of students in their choice of thesis. I am frequently surprised at the kind of response I get from my blog. Some of the feedback I have received can be seen on the blog, but a lot of it is only communicated by e-mail.

AH: To my knowledge, you haven't published any book-length works on vampires. Why is this? Do you plan on publishing anything in the immediate future?

NKP: I am frequently asked that question. But like I said, I started out working on a book in my native language, Danish, before even considering blogging about the subject. I must admit that my search for further material, blogging, and in particular all those other things that I am involved in outside of the field of magia posthuma has taken up a lot of time. But I have lately put more time into getting on with my book. So I am actually working on it, but my time is pretty limited, so I dare not put a date on when it will be finished.

AH: Lastly, what is the ultimate aim of your blog? What do you hope your readers will get from it?

NKP: I hope that people will find out that vampires and other revenants are rooted in "historical reality", that they differ a lot from the vampires of Buffy and Twilight, and that we can learn something about human history and concepts by following the history of the vampire. I hope that more people will be inspired to explore the reality behind the myth by not just accepting what some author, say Montague Summers, writes, but by reading the original texts.

I don’t think I have an ultimate aim with the Magia Posthuma blog, but its existence and aim is of course related to my own activities in the field. Curiously, even in periods when I only post a few times a month, I keep getting e-mails and commentaries from people who have just found it, so I suppose it works well as a resource of information and ideas.
I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Niels for his co-operation with this interview and should point out that his blog served as a key inspiration for this one.

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