Sunday, August 22, 2010

Examining Roumanian Superstitions

The origin of the word, nosferatu, has been a contentious topic with scholars. Emily Gerard (1849-1905) is generally considered to be the earliest author to use the term. However, a source pre-dating her work is dealt with in a certain vampire dictionary. Let's take a look at it.

I know Wikipedia's reliability as an information source is roundly criticised, but their nosferatu page gave me an invaluable paper trail. Take this sentence: "Peter Haining identifies an earlier source for nosferatu as 'Roumanian Superstitions (1861)' by Heinrich von Wlislocki." The source is identified as Peter Haining's A Dictionary of Vampires (London: Robert Hale, 2000). As it happens, I own a copy of this book. Here's the relevant extract:
In his book, Roumanian Superstitions (1861), the distinguished historian, Heinrich von Wlislocki has provided probably the definitive statement on its activities: 'The Nosferatu not only sucks the blood of sleeping people, but also does mischief as an Incubus or Succubus. It is the stillborn, illegitimate child of two people who are similarly illegitimate. It is hardly put under the earth before it awakes to life and leaves its grave never to return. It visits people by night and when its sex is male, it visits women; when female, men.' (184-185)
I was unable to find any trace of this von Wlislocki book anywhere. At this point, serendipity stepped into the picture. You see, I was reading Margaret L. Carter's Shadow of a Shade: A Survey of Vampirism in Literature (New York: Gordon Press, 1975) on Friday. No particular reason. But boy did my eyes light up when I came across this:
Rumania is the home of the Nosferat, the name applied (not quite accurately) to Count Dracula by his creator. A Nosferat, reports Heinrich von Wlislocki (quoted in Ernest Jones' On the Nightmare) is the "stillborn, illegitimate child of two people who are similarly illegitimate." (2)
Carter gives a more complete listing of her source in her book's "Notes" section: "Ernest Jones, On the Nightmare (New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 1951, c1931), p. 117" (148).

Was it possible that Haining quoted von Wlislocki via Jones? This assumption would be pretty hard to establish as fact, as Haining's Dictionary doesn't contain a bibliography. So, that left me with the option of consulting Jones' book, instead.

Thankfully, I have a copy of it. The original, in fact, not the reprint Carter cites. I'd downloaded it from Internet Archive on February 5, 2009. Here's what Jones' On the Nightmare (London: Hogarth Press, 1931) has to say:
Heinrich von Wlislocki, in his researches into Roumanian superstitions, tells us: 'Der Nosferat saugt nicht nur schlafender Menschen Blut, sondern stiftet auch als Inkubus-Succuba Unheil. Der Nosferat ist das totgeborene uneheliche Kind zweier Leute, die beide ebenfalls uneheliche Kinder sind. Kaum wird das von solcher Mutter und solchem Vater stammende uneheliche und totgeborene Kind in der Erde verscharrt, so erwacht es zum Leben, entsteigt seinem Grabe und kehrt nicht mehr dahin zurück. Als schwarze Katze, als schwarzer Hund, als Käfer, Schmetterling oder auch bios als Strohhalm besucht es nachts die Menschen; wenn es männlichen Geschlechts ist: die Frauen; wenn es weiblichen Geschlechts ist: die Männer (117).
If you can't read German (like me), that's ok, because Jones also supplies an English translation:
The Nosferat not only sucks the blood of sleeping people, but also does mischief as an Incubus or Succubus. The Nosferat is the still-born, illegitimate child of two people who are similarly illegitimate. It is hardly put under the earth before it awakes to life and leaves its grave never to return. It is hardly put under the earth before it awakes to life and leaves its grave never to return. It visits people by night in the form of a black cat, a black dog, a beetle, a butterfly or even a simple straw. When its sex is male, it visits women; when female, men. (117)
The similarity between Jones' translation and Haining's quote from von Wlislocki, is too obvious to dismiss. But, unlike Haining, Jones directly cites his source: "Quoted by Stern, op. cit. Bd. i. S. 357, 358" (117).

So, who was this Stern bloke? Once again, Jones told me. Firstly in his "Index of Authors" (356) and then in a previous footnote: "B. Stern, Medizin, Aberglaube und Geschlechtsleben in der Türkei, 1903, Bd. i. S. 364, 365" (102 n4).

Some light googlin' turned up a more thorough citation: Bernhard Stern's Medizin, Aberglaube und Geschlechtsleben in der Türkei. Mit Berücksichtigung der moslemischen Nachbarländer und der ehemaligen Vasallenstaaten. Band 1 (Berlin: H. Barsdorf, 1903). Incidentally, "Band" is German for "Volume".

Would Stern's book tell us the von Wlislocki source? Once again, Internet Archive came to the rescue. His bibliography has the following citation: "„Quälgeister im Volksglauben der Rumänen", von Heinrich von Wlislocki.. ,.Urquell" 1896" (24).

Thanks to the Wikipedia entry, I had already come across mentions of this article in David J. Skal's Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen, rev. ed. (2004). I don't have a copy of this book. Thankfully, Google Books has "previews" of it. Which is why I can tell you that it includes "an excerpt from Wlislocki's article 'Torturing Spirits in Romanian Popular Belief' from the German periodical Am Ur-Quell ("At the Primary Source"), vol. 6, 1896, pp. 108-109" (80-81), which was translated and researched by Lokke Heiss and Andrea Kirchhartz. So, to come full circle, here's a section of their translation which ties in with the previous sources (except Haining's):
The most dangerous torturing spirit of Romanian folklore, which not only sucks sleeping people's blood but also plays a dangerous part as incubus and succubus is the Nosferat. According to popular belief, the Nosferat is the illegitimate child of two people who are illegitimate themselves. The Nosferat is born dead, but after burial awakens to life and never returns to his grave, but assumes different shapes. One moment he appears as a black dog, now as a beetle, now as a butterfly, yea, even now as a straw. In these shapes he visits people at night; if he is of the male sex, women; if female, she pays her visit to men. (80-81)
And this is where I've come up against a brick wall. As of this writing, I haven't been able to access a copy of von Wilslocki's "Quälgeister im Volksglauben der Rumänen". That's where I've hit a dead-end with the Internet Archive and Google Books. So, I can't tell you whether or not von Wlislocki's article, in turn, came from an earlier source. But, let's say I'm highly doubtful.

For starters, Heinrich von Wlislocki (1856-1907) would've been five years old when Haining clams Roumanian Superstitions (1861) was published. Thus, I'm left with three possibilities:
  1. Haining misunderstood Jones' ambiguous comment about von Wlislocki's "researches into Roumanian superstitions".
  2. Haining obtained the misattributed quote from another dodgy source.
  3. Haining fabricated the source.
I'm hesistant to accept the last option, although, it doesn't help that Haining (1940-2007) obviously transposed von Wlislocki's "Nosferat" to "Nosferatu". Nor does it help that Haining's book contains no bibliography. A mere book title (which, incidentally, I haven't even been able to trace) isn't good enough. Yet, I'm also fairly convinced that this book doesn't exist, anyway.

If I do get my hands on a copy of von Wlislocki's article, I'll let you know if it cites publication in an earlier work. However, the periodical's title ("At the Primary Source") seems more like an omen than a glimmer of hope.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oh Hells Yeah!

I'm incredibly humbled by my blog's inclusion in Carrie Carolin's "Best of the Dark Side: 13 Great Vampire Blogs". Especially in such esteemed company.

Several of the blogs she mentions are found on the Blogroll to the right, funnily enough. Anyhoo, here's what she had to say about my online ramblings:

This blog has been going since 2008. Currently featuring the Vampires Suck trailer, a few posts about antique vampire killing kits, a dissertation on the difference in spellings between vampire and vampyre, and news on vampires in pop culture. The author, Anthony, is thoughtful and careful when writing, and he really knows what he's talking about. Never a dull read here.

How cool is that? I also see she's covered several of my recent posts. The Vampires Suck trailer featured here. I've written three posts on vampire kits (one, two, three), thus far, and explored the difference between vampires and vampyres.

Monday, August 9, 2010

It Was Bound to Happen

I wasn't kidding when I mentioned how mainstream vampires had become thanks to the Twilight franchise. Here's the latest proof.

A word of warning, if you're actually thinking of seeing this flick: it was written and directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. If those names don't ring a bell, try Date Movie (2006), Epic Movie (2007) and Meet the Spartans (2008) on for size. The best assessment of their movies can be found here (NSFW link).

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Vampire Killing Kit Update!

As mentioned previously, one of the dubious Blomberg vampire hunting kits can be found in the Mercer Museum, Doylestown, PA. So, I decided to contact them, to get the lowdown on their famous "artefact".

Shortly after writing "The Scoop on Vampire Hunting Kits", I e-mailed Cory Amsler, Vice President, Collections and Interpretation, of the Mercer Museum ("Vampire Killing Kit", Thursday, 22 July 2010 12:15:51 AM):
Good evening,

Apparently, there is a vampire killing kit in your museum's collection, allegedly of nineteenth century vintage. Has it been authenticated?
Here's what he wrote back ("RE: Vampire Killing Kit‏", Thursday, 29 July 2010 11:29:17 PM):
Mr. Hogg -

It is believed to be one of the compilations of both historical items and "made up" artifacts that found its way into the antiques market sometime in the 1970s or 1980s. We had some portions of it analyzed in the labs of the Winterthur Museum and learned that the "silver" bullets are actually pewter (not a surprise given their lack of tarnish) and that the paper is of 20th century vintage that has been artificially "aged." We use it currently to contrast traditional and contemporary vampire "lore," help interpret the origins of some vampire beliefs, and to demonstrate the use of scientific methodologies in authenticating artifacts.
The "1970s" date is contemporary with Michael de Winter's claims, however, the pewter bullets present an interesting conundrum. You see, pewter is "a malleable metal alloy, traditionally between 85 and 99 percent tin, with the remainder consisting of copper, antimony, bismuth and lead." Yet, de Winter says the "silver" bullets in the kit he allegedly manufactured "were difficult to produce due to the higher melting point of silver when compared to lead".

Why didn't he just say they were made out of pewter?

I can take a few guesses:
  1. The Winterthur Museum's analysis is incorrect.
  2. de Winter forgot about making the bullets from pewter, or declined to mention it.
  3. de Winter lied about manufacturing the kit.
  4. The Mercer Museum's artefact is actually a replica of an extant fake. A Blomberg imitation, if you will.
And that's the thing. There's no doubt the kit's a fake. As Amsler pointed out, even the paper's been artificially aged. Despite the slight hole in de Winter's account, I'm yet to be convinced any 19th century vampire killing kits existed. Clearly, there was a thriving trade in these fakes, and it gets pretty tragic when the unsuspecting cough up nearly $15,000 for 'em. Word to the wise, folks: if you're gonna spend that kinda dough on an "antique", make sure you get the bloody thing authenticated first! Sheesh.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vampire or Vampyre?

You've probably seen these spelling variants bandied about on various websites; especially ones that cover the vampire subculture. So what's the difference between the two?

Some proponents of the vampire lifestyle claim that vampire is used to define folkloric, fictional or cinematic variants. You know, the bloodsucking corpse variety. So, they use vampyre to distinguish themselves from this motley crew.

Father Sebastiaan, a major figure in the Scene, elaborates on this distinction in his book, Vampyre Sanguinomicon: The Lexicon of the Living Vampire (San Francisco: Red Wheel-Weiser, 2010):
Our traditional spelling denotes a significant and profound difference between fantasy and reality. Thus the Strigoi Vii, when speaking in short text, spell Vampyre with a capital V and a y. We use the y spelling to designate the term representing Our existence and Our mysteries. For example, when referring to the practice of energy tapping from the Strigoi Vii perspective, one would say Vampyrism. When We spell vampire with an i and lowercase v, it traditionally refers to the mythological, literary, or popular concept of the vampire (8).
While might accept such defintions, applying it to vampire studies on a broader basis requires that you completely ignore pre-twentieth century usage of "vampire" and "vampyre".

The still-standard vampire concept and term were introduced to the English language via coverage of the Arnold Paole case, in the March 11, 1732 issue of The London Journal. The term used at the time? "Vampyres". These were obviously not the quasi-mystical variety Sebastiaan talks about.

Not long after that, "vampire" was already making an appearance. Charles Forman's A Second Letter to the Right Honourable Sir Robert Walpole (London, 1733) used it in a metaphorical context when he contrasted the effective use of the Dutch governments' use of taxes against the taxes used by other States for unncessarily opulent projects ("the Rapine of a fat-gutted Vampire" [38]).

Let's skip ahead to the 19th century. What was the name of the first English language vampire story? That's right: John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819). By mid-century, "vampire" and "vampyre" were used interchangably in the penny dreadful, Varney the Vampire (c. 1845). Meanwhile, a then widely-consulted source on vampire history was a chapter in Herbet Mayo's Letters on the Truths Contained in Popular Superstitions (1849) and its subsequent editions. Bram Stoker, himself, consulted one of these latter editions in the preparation for writing his magnum opus, Dracula (1897). The name of Mayo's chapter? "Vampyrism".

So what's the deal with these spelling variations if they were used to refer to the same thing? That's where we get into liguistics. You see, it wasn't just "vampires" that copped inconsitant spellings. Many other words did, too. As with many languages, English has taken a long time to become the standardised form we use today. Thus, certain words became obsolete and archaic spellings are revised. We no longer say thy (your). We hesitate, not hæsitate. And we use the toilet, not the privy.

The very same principles apply to vampyre and vampire. In this case, they're phonetic renderings of the same Slavic term: vampir. As you can see, both terms have been used to describe the same being, that is, a bloodsucking corpse. When it was used metaphorically, it was in context of these same legendary beings. Thus, the distinctions made by Sebastiaan et. al., have no historical basis.

What about Sebastiaan's claim that Stoker's publisher wanted the "vampyre" renderings in his novel changed to "vampire", so they wouldn't sound "too ethnic", thus popularising vampire's usage (9)?

It's a pretty ludicrous claim in light of Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller's Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition (Jefferson: McFarland, 2008). It clearly shows that Stoker was using "vampire" or "vampires" long before he'd even finished writing his novel. Seven times, in fact (19, 25, 63, 83, 125, 127, 131). That'd be wholly consistant with late 19th century usage, when "vampire" was the common rendering.

So, to sum up, in an historical context, there's no difference between "vampyre" and "vampire". Vampyre is merely an archaic rendering of vampire. If you insist on spelling vampire as vampyre because it's more "authentic", then you might as well regress your modern vocabulary to other archaic spellings like faile (fail), garbidge (garbage) and gullable (gullible).

Don't get me started on the strigoi vii.
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