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Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Blood Is the Life!"

If you're not sick of vampire posts today--or this week--then, here's one more for you, from the vampire queen (me).

Before I go further, let me explain that when I was a teenager, I got into vampires, and the interest has stayed with me. I wrote my first vampire novel (unpublished), in 1980-'83. Now I write a series with vampires and whatnot, and I have a blast doing it!

Being that my interests were cut and clear (and they just don't teach this stuff in school, y'know?), I had to investigate it all on my own. I researched the hell out of it, looking up anything in the library that had to do with vampires, and anything in the newspapers got clipped out, and I still have those browned clippings in a file.

My first experience with the vampire came from watching the old films such as "Dracula" with Bela Lugosi. His performance as Dracula is unforgettable--on stage as well as on screen. He was the film personification of dark evil. I must say, I enjoyed staying up late just to watch these films (all of the monster movies), and earned the reputation as being "weird". Now, vampires are cool. Go figure. I think vampires, and people who get into them has finally come full circle.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula
The word 'vampire' is a Romanian word meaning 'blood-drinker'. The bat who dons this name was given it by Cortez when he remembered the vampire legends of Europe.

So how was it that the term came to apply to humans? During the middle ages European nobles interbred and this led to various genetic disorders--as one can imagine. But one was hemophilia. In this case the term "Royal Blood" held more than water in this case. Among the many disorders there was one which didn't gain enough medical attention. In fact, its mysterious problems probably caused too much attention, as far as the sufferer was concerned. This decease is called erythropoietic protoporphyria (say that three times fast--just typing it was hard, and I'm not even sure it's spelled correctly). This disorder causes the body to produce too much porphyrin, which is a substance all red blood cells must have to be normal. The absence of such results in redness of the skin, eyes and teeth. Even the upper lip tends to recede. But the most bizarre thing that really made the poor soul's life hell is that they were allergic to sunlight. The skin would crack and bleed. Yeah, nice, huh? So, you can just figure that doctors who didn't know how to treat the disease came up with having the patient locked up in a dark cellar or attic during the daylight hours (to prevent bleeding), and for any loss of blood, they were given blood to drink--gak! I'm sure it was probably animal. Transfusions were not yet invented.

Just think of the rumors which must have run rampant in a small village back then! Keeping a child, or adult in a dark cellar during the day and let out at night to drink blood!

Now, back to Dracula. As we all know Bram Stoker did NOT invent the vampire. He DID invent his character "Dracula". So, where did Stoker get the idea of vampires? He was influenced heavily by a 900-page "penny dreadful" novel called, "Varny the Vampyre", which was written by James Malcolm Rymer. The story was written in 109 weekly installments in the mid-1800's. It was the first vampire novel in English, and the first vampire fiction since the original short story by John Polidori "The Vampyre".

But where these two authors bring nothing new to the whole vampire literature scene, Bram had a fantastic idea and used an historical figure who was, himself, pretty much the bloodiest psychotic of them all, bar none.

Enter Drakulya, aka The Impaler.
Dracula, Vlad Tepes (the Impaler)
(1431-76)
First of all the names of Dracula and his father Dracul are important. Both father and son had the given name "Vlad". The names "Dracul" and "Dracula" are nicknames, and to be really confusing, these nicknames had two meanings. "Dracul" meant "devil," as it still does in Romanian today. In addition it meant "dragon."  Of course they were in the Order of the Dragon--a semi-monastic, semi-military organization dedicated to fighting the Turks. From what I've dug up is that Dracula means "son of the dragon" or "son of the devil." A most important point in this is that the words "devil" and "vampire" are interchangeable. Interesting. No?

Bram's Stoker's novel Dracula is one of the most horrifying books in English literature. Published in May of 1897, and was an immediate success, and has never been out of print, and is still a best seller.

Possibly the setting for Dracula in Transylvania was because it was, and still is, a far-away land, where anything can happen. It even sounds exotic!

Now, also there is the blatant sexual fantasies derived from the story, and those that follow it (including the films). Much of the novel's appeal comes from its hostility toward female sexuality. You've got the Oedipus complex--a kind of incestuous, necrophilous, oral-anal-sadistic thing going on throughout. What are we talking about? The blood-sucking? Pleeeeeze! It's core fantasy is all sexual.

Well, I see the hour is getting late, and I must leave you. If you have never picked up Bram Stoker's Dracula, you should, if you enjoy vampires. Speaking of which, I haven't opened my copy in a while. I may just have to pick it up again.

Let me leave you with a little bit from Dracula. Set up, Harker is snooping around the castle, trying to find a way out. He is being held captive. Finally he stumbles across boxes--coffins?

"There, in one of the great boxes, of which there were fifty in all, on a pile of newly dug earth, lay the Count! He was either dead or asleep, I could not say which--for the eyes were open and stony, but without the glassiness of death--and the cheeks had the warmth of life through all their pallor, and the lips were as red as ever. But there was not sign of movement, no pulse, no breath, no beating of the heart. I bent over him, and tried to find any sign of life, but in vain. He could not have lain there long, for  the earthy smell would have passed away in a few hours. By the side of the box was its cover, pierced with holes here and there. I thought he might have the keys on him, but when I went to search I saw the dead eyes, and in them, dead though they were, such a look of hate, though unconscious of me or my presence, that I fled again up the castle wall. Regaining my own chamber, I threw myself panting upon the bed and tried to think..."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Big Bad Werewolves

Even he who is pure of heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the moon is full and bright.
This poem is actually from the 1941 film "The Wolfman" invented by screenwriter Siodmak.


What the vampires were to Transylvania, the werewolves were to northern and western Europe. The werewolf legends may have sprung from myths of the Norse gods who were said to change into animal forms, such as the bear and wolf. But practically every nation has its were-creatures lore.

wax  reproduction of Henry Hull
as the wolfman

And, of course our wolfy friends have had their moments forever vilified in films, like Werewolf of London (1935), and The Wolfman (1941), and newer, modern versions, which became more graphic, such as The Howling (I-III) And my favorite so far has always been with Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer in the 1994 film,Wolf  


I could spend the whole post talking about the films, but I won't. If you have interest in them, you can catch the links, or go find the DVD's. What really fascinates me--because my tastes go with the really bizarre--are the real-life cases, which usually turn out to be even more crazy than what they can put in a book or on film. Just like with the vampire lore, there are actual, real stories where the cases were quite strange, and may have helped feed the legends.

Take for instance the Beast of Gevaudan. From 1764 to 1767 and unknown monster terrorized shepherds and those who worked in the fields near the Auvergne Mountains in France. Known as the Beast of Gevaudan, the creature was said to have savagely attacked and killed at least 40 people--some were childre--and attacked many more. The locals claimed the creature was red, and covered with scales, and had a mouth the size of a lion's. Yeah... right. It could run at great speeds and evade any trap or hunter. I'd run like hell too! But, you know how a tall tail get even taller, once it's spread from mouth-to-mouth. Especially if there's a pint in the hand. Anyway, in 1767 a large wolf was killed and the attacks ceased. Go figure.

Another story of a man named Stubb, a brutish woodcutter who had been cornered in a forest ravine by a large hunting party with a pack of hounds. He was on all fours, they say, snapping and snarling like a beast, he had fought with inhuman strength until they overcame him.
There are dozens of documented cases of lycanthrope.

Petrus Gonsalvus
Wolfman of Munich
In some cases, werewolf stories may be founded on fact. Odd cases, fortunately are rare, but there have been people who believed they were animals and have killed, eaten raw flesh or blood. This condition is known as zoanthropic paranoia. Yeah, well, it just goes to show that you just don't know your neighbor all that well...

Another odd story is the "wolfman from the Canary Islands". Meet Petrus Gonsalvus(left), aka "The Wolfman from Munich" aka "the man of the woods". He was born in 1537 in Tenerife, and his life was pretty well chronicled, as he was, well, an oddity in life.

He went to Paris to refine his rough manners. As luck would have it, he married a pretty woman, but their children inherited his hairy traits. His condition is called "Hypertrichosis", or "the werewolf syndrome". At last account, the portrait of Gonsalvus is in Castle Ambras, otherwise known as the "Frankenstein Gallery", or the "Chamber of Art and Curiosities" It's filled with a few of the more grotesquely disfigured people, like the man with disabilities, or the one who had somehow lived with a lance that pierced his other eye. Ouch!

Gregor Baci who was healed after having
a lance pierce his right eye
Well, my pretties, I hope I've brought you some amount interesting visuals, as well as stories of the macabre in my post about "werewolfery".


Tomorrow, (if I have time), I'm going to wind this series up with my post about vampires... 
Hmmm, who do we all know that has been accused in many movies, books and such as a vampire?


Vlad The Impaler "Dracula"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

BOO!

It's most likely that someone you know has told you that they've seen, a ghost, or knows of a house, graveyard, or other spots which are haunted. By haunted I mean the cold drafts where there should be none, weird smells, misty objects that move and then disappear (especially around stairways), and sounds that can't be explained, such as rapping on walls, thunks, or objects that move or fall off walls. Or, maybe you've had such experiences? Either in your own home, or in another? And it need not be as creepy as these places either...


I've dealt with a ghost in our 1906 farm house from time to time, although as of late (for the past several years), it's been very quiet. The original people who built the house homesteaded the area. Their last name was McGurr, and I'll come back to this in a moment.

If you go to your bookstore (if you still can find one), right now I'll bet you can find a dozen or more coffee table books on haunted places. If you go on a tour of older homes, you'll likely be told that it is haunted. I've been told many times by people who work in the older buildings at NIU, where I drive a bus. Libraries and basements seem to be the best chance to find a ghost. There's a multitude of famous dead people who are said to be haunting famous places. Like Anne Boleyn who they say haunts the Tower of London. Or Rose who walks a famous graveyard near Chicago.

And some who have an unusual amount of supernatural, or unexplained phenomena happening night after night open up their homes around this time of year and attract thousands of visitors every year for tours, and make a little loot off of their ghosts--and why not? The glowing mist floating around the room would really raise the hair on my arms, for sure!

It's believed that around this time of year, Halloween, or Samhain (pronounced sow-'n) is when the veil between our world and that of the dead is thinnest, and it would be relatively easy to communicate with the spirits of loved ones who have died during the previous year.
Some people hire a spirit medium in order to contact the dead person who may be haunting a house. There are also those who investigate hauntings. We have people who do that in our area. I'm sure that is an interesting side-line.

Now, I'm going to tell you about our ghost(s). We've had some nights where banging on walls and other phenomenon happened around this old house, especially when we first moved in. One night, we were sitting watching TV when a strange clattering sound came from down in the basement. It sounded to me like a large round piece of metal fell, and made that wobbly sound before it settles. We have a cistern, that isn't very deep and I thought it sounded exactly like a covering might sound if someone were to lift one end and just let it fall. But there was/is no such covering on it.

We've lived in the old McGurr house for 20 years now. In the beginning we had a LOT of weird sounds and happenings. The usual was rapping on walls at night. Once I swear while in bed the sound of what might have been a shoe dropping maybe three feet on the other side of the bed had me holding my breath for a minute, waiting to hear anything else. My husband claimed to be asleep at the time. There were the steer horns that were above the threshold that fell, missing my husband by only a few feet, and a glass that--by his description--shot out of the cupboard and shattered when he opened the cupboard.

But the weirdest thing that happened was the day before we were to host the descendants of the McGurrs on a walk through the house as part of a family gathering (they requested it through the park district superintendent, and since we live here as park managers, we complied). This meant we had to clean the house, top to bottom. There are three floors--if you include the roomy attic. We were nearly finished, and left the one room that had a bad bug problem for last. the floor was littered with dead flies and so forth (bad seal around a window), and one of us had to go up and sweep the bugs up. My husband went up to do this, while I was busy doing something else at the base of the stairs.

 About a minute later my husband calls down to me "Did you sweep up the bugs up here?" he asked from the top of the stairs.

"No," I said.

"Well... who did? There isn't a bug anywhere," he said.

I ran upstairs, thinking he was joking. I got to the room and he was right. There wasn't a bug to be found anywhere. And unless one of us did this during an episode of sleepwalking (we aren't sleepwalkers), there is no explanation other than the ghost we came to call "Old Mrs. McGurr", who we had heard a number of little stories about, had come up and cleaned this room, knowing her off-spring were coming to visit. Weird. Right?

Well, the next day the grandchildren of the McGurrs--all grown with their own grand kids--came out for the tour, each of them had a memory about some part of the house. It was a nice visit. When the tour was over, I took a couple of the ladies aside, because they were talking about ghosts, and told them what had happened the day before. They looked at one another, and then one of them said, "That was the old mother." In other words, Mrs. McGurr, who slept in a small room, downstairs, which had become a bathroom.

Do you have any stories of hauntings, or ghosts?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Witches' Ride

Webster's New World Dictionary: Witch n. 1. a woman thought to have supernatural power as by a compact with evil spirits; 2 an ugly, old shrew 3 a fascinating woman or girl

Well, well, well. You know, I've never actually looked up the word before this moment. The picture above was what I grew up with seeing and as a child was exposed to. We didn't really believe that witches could fly on a broomstick. (And then along came "Harry Potter" and blew that out of the water.)

Furthermore, justification of witchcraft on biblical texts, written originally for a religion (Jewish/ Old Testament) which had no devil. We all know there are errors throughout the Bible where translations are changed to suit what they felt they wanted to convey. Many Catholics and Protestants quoted Exodus xxii. 18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But the Hebrew word kaskagh (occurring 12 times in the Old Testament with various meanings) here means, as Reginald Scot pointed out in 1584 "poisoner," and certainly had nothing to do with the Christian concept of "witches". This quote and other texts which some tried to use (or did so), in order to twist the truth in order to torture and put to death hundreds of thousands of people. It turned into a 300 year holocaust in whichever nations observed "witch hunting". I hope the world will never see again, for thousands of innocent people died at the hands of very sick, disturbed people under the guise of religion.


"Europe would not have suffered, for three centuries from 1450 to 1750, the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest shame of western civilization, the blackout of everything that homo sapiens, the reasoning man, has ever upheld... The record of witchcraft is horrible and brutal: degradation stifled decency, the filthiest passions masqueraded under the cover of religion and man's intellect was subverted to condone bestialities that even Swifts' Yahoos would blush to commit." from The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology.
Execution of  alleged witches




And then we have the other side of the coin... Homer speaks of the witch Circe as a "goddess with lovely hair... radiant...beautiful goddess singing in a lovely voice..."  Medea, the witch in the Golden Fleece adventures, is describe as a beautiful young princess. And there are more examples of "beautiful" witches. But you know, as well as I (especially when there's an election), a good smear campaign is the best way to win everyone over to your side--Yay! Of course, if you had enemies, watch out, you'd be in the stocks waiting your fate at the stake.

Burning witches was only the final destination. There were as many devised tortures invented as there were men to use them.



The word witch is derived from wicce or wicca, meaning "wise one,"  witches being both female and male.
Meaning of the word Witch is linked to "wisdom," and is the same root as "to have wit" and "to know." It comes from the Anglo-Saxon.

Also, the word "Witchcraft" has been misused for hundreds of years. Christian missionaries, encountering native peoples in other lands whose beliefs differed from their own, automatically labeled those beliefs and practices as "witchcraft." It mattered not if it were African witchcraft, Native American witchcraft, or Australian aboriginal witchcraft, none of which have any relationship to the ancient pre-Christian nature religions of western Europe. In fact Witchcraft--Wiccacraeft (craft of the wise), dates back from long before Christian times. It is an ancient Pagan religion with a belief in both male and female deities, with a reverence for nature and all life, and recognition of a need for fertility among plants, animals, and humans.

So, where do we get this "crone" who rides the broomstick idea? Probably pulling from an old religion. The Celts believed in a goddess whose form changed with the seasons. The spring maiden turned into the life-giving mother of summer and then the wizened crone of fall. At Samhain, she would climb upon the tree of life--a broomstick--and ride across the sky to the spirit realm, and there rested for the winter.

And because black cats were believed to see spirits, one was her companion.

And a Greek earth goddess Hecate was associated with night and the moon, ghosts and spirits, magic, witches and sorcery. She was known as Prytania of the Dead, or the Invincible Queen, goddess of enchantments and magical charms.
"Lost Caprichos" by Goya

Transvection or levitation
"Witches" by Hans Baldung
Witches flying on brooms may have come from older religions, and beliefs, because, well, the old ways just would not go away. They could torture, burn, drown, but people would not give up their beliefs. And it's like the more wild the story the more it will be retold and retold again, down through the generations to come.
Did women ride brooms, or certain beasts to get to their Sabbat? Who knows. Possibly this was a combination of heavy drinking and consuming funny mushrooms that had people thinking they did this, when really they didn't. They just had one hell of a party in the woods. And artists certainly loved to portray them, especially when they added an erotic element, or some of the more grisly aspects of their most deranged imaginations. Goya, the Spanish artist, had many such paintings of hags, during his "Black" period.

A number of infamous old women who were considered "old crones", who lived in appauling squalor, were apparently gifted with the art of curing sickness, making prophecies and even raising the dead. One of such was Mother Red Cap, or also called "Mother Damnable."


But funny just how seriously these ideas took hold when something called Cannon Episcopi  of the tenth century defended as heretical superstition the belief in the claims of "wicked women... who profess that in the dead of night they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Dianna, and fly over vast tracts of country." Demonologists flat out denied the possibility of transvection by saying these people were delusional.

But, this is Halloween, and, well, I wouldn't want to spoil anyone's fun. The whole idea is to have fun, isn't it? As long as we all understand it's make believe.

Next up, I'll scare up some real ghosts stories! BOO!