The Supernatural VS. The World

TThe debate that spans the reformation to the current day with no sign of letting up, the question being who reigns supreme? 

(Specifically, in England)

The supernatural is a very difficult term to define. From a modern perspective it can be seen through a pop-culture lens that includes recent literature, classic books and films. Notable examples including Harry Potter, Twilight, the remakes of classics such as Jekyll and Hyde or the Frankenstein cornicles. The disengagement with the supernatural as truth, is believed in popular culture, to stem from the enlightenment after which science and logical thought destroyed the credibility of magic. However, this has its limits. The resurgence of the supernatural, following the scientific revolution of an earlier time, occurred during the Victorian. However, it was under a different context. The disenchantment people were experiencing with modernity allowed a cultural shift towards magic or parlour tricks mainly by the upper to middle classes. 

Is the reformation to blame for wavering feelings for the supernatural?

The reformation forced the separation between structured religion and the supernatural, but did it cause a decline in supernatural belief, keeping in mind structured religion cannot always represent the practises of the masses. In Keith Thomasbook ‘Religion and the Decline in Magic’ the reformation is seen as a way to remove magical elements from religion in an effort to remove the separation between individuals and God, whether that be blessed objects or the pope. From a protestant’s view the ritualistic nature of the catholic church held an element of ‘sorcerous witchcraft’, which can be seen to describe practise such as communion, the use of relics such as rosery bead or holy water, the blessing of objects by a member of the clergy that could hold sacred power was seen as an act of witchcraft. This also shows the extent to which protestants had major issues with the catholic church one of the biggest being the priests having access to God’s supernatural power, this means priests can take a profane item and make it sacred. Although in general the real issue seems to be the removal of Gods all-knowing and acting supernatural power the issue with this being humans having a claim on divine powers. This fear of Catholicism is not the same as the fears early modern people held for witches as they were powered wholly by the devil. 

The practice of popular religion 

Post reformation popular religion is a subject that holds much contention, a whole country’s religion was changed over-night with a 1530 act that deemed Henry the eighth the head of the Church of England making significant changes to the political sphere, holding the question how much of an impact did it have on the masses and their practice of religious activities. Robert Whitingpresents the idea of a decline in the strength of commitment to religion in the years following the reformation with the possible cause being fragmentation of belief, also with the change in tradition it was hard to replicate the devotion of earlier generations. It can be seen in a primarysource a letter from Thomas Bedyll to Oliver Cromwell concerning the Bishop of London’s sermons commending them on being appropriate and for the next weeks sermons to be sent to Cromwell for approval. Henry the eighth uses sermons as propaganda this shows there is a conscious effort to sway the masses religious opinions with literature and not by force. This is similar to the writing of John Foxeduring the Elizabethan era that helped the state control and influence public opinion. 

Witches  

Post reformation expectations of religious practice and general beliefs painted practices that would have been intertwined with religion as acts of witchcraft or at least questionable. Some scholarsbring the English witch trials into the perspective of women hating the real issue of witchcraft being immoral actions in terms of sexual promiscuity in connection with religious rhetoric rather than their connection with the supernatural in general. This shows the belief and practice of the supernatural whether it be legitimate or accused is policed by men who believe they have a superior protection against the actions of the devil. This may be because they don’t have a connection to the biblical Evewho is seen to embody the very essence of femininity, easy prey to evil. 

Victorian supernatural 

The resurgence of the supernatural in Victorian England massively contrasts with the turn towards science and proof of happenings, this may be why the supernatural had such a large audience with middle class men who wanted to disprove its existence. Peter Lamontgives the idea of spirituality having a platform due to the uncertainty with mainstream beliefs, the questioning of Christianity and the unresolved reality of science. The aim to disprove the actions of individual mediums for example Daniel Douglas Holmes, by scientific societies shows a need to police marginal beliefs without the same effort to disprove the teachings of Christianity. Although this scientific debate is not one sided, spiritualist also argued their point of view. In the book Spiritualism’by H. J. Powell(1864) he presented himself as a man of science using scientific terminology such as evidence or experiment. 

In conclusion the supernatural has had many worthy opponents since the reformation but it seems in times of hardship or uncertainty more people turn towards it as a source of comfort or entertainment. Due to science’s inability to explain all the world’s phenomena the belief in superstition will continue to explain the unexplainable in the same way it has in pervious centuries. Although it is important to remember in some cases of ghosts and ghouls the message of the story or experience can be used to explain a happening in society or an experience of an individual, all experiences have to be put into the context of the society they have been taken from and evaluated as such.

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Whose spine is it anyway?

Despite what the title may suggest, this is not a piece of improvised comedy, nor will it feature any great English or Canadian comedians. Instead, it will guide you through one of the most interesting and curious pieces of Early Modern literature I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

The document in question is titled A very curious and particular account of some Skeletons of Human Bodies, available here for your conviencence (https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=eccoii-1378900300&terms=skeletons).

The front page of the account

Translated from French, and published in 1760 in Cambridge, 21 of the 29-page account are (as the title suggests) indeed about the discovery of bones in a tomb in France, in a village named Cocherel. While the bones themselves are midly interested, what is more fascinating to me is the way the authors (Olivier Estenne and Peter Vallee) try to identify the bones. Now obviously, given that we are looking at a 259 year-old document, the techniques the authors used to identify these bones are vastly different than we would use today, and this is why this account is so fascinating.

Beginning with the bones themselves, they authors describe most of them them on the very first page as being of ”no further worthy of our Notice”. However, a large emphasis is placed throughout the text on the thickness of the skulls, and this is a central piece of evidence in determining the origin of these skulls. The skull is described as being ”considerably thicker than skulls are in general”, and being capable of withstanding injuries that ”almost always prove mortal” and this, according to the authors, proves that the bodies were not those of Frenchman.

This is when the other factors begin to be introduced. These other factors (the tools, the stones and bone) allow for a wonderful insight into how burial sites were exhumed and understood, how much importance the writers placed on the structure of the bone, and how much scholars in the 18th century understood about the rituals and traditions of the civilisations and groups that came before them.

The tomb contained numerous rocks, stone tools and sharpened pieces of bone. This combination of tools, combined with the unsual formation of the tomb (sealed on only three sides, rather than entirely sealed) clearly bewildered Estenne and Valle, as they introduce 5 different theories (some barely a line long) about the origin of the bones, only to shoot down their own suggestions. For example, the first theory introduced on page 7 of the account, is that the men were Roman prisoners of war, that had been killed by the Gauls (a West-European group of Celtic people first appearing around 5BC). However, before we even reach the end of page 7, that theory is quickly dismissed as the Gauls had a ritual of immolating prisoners of war, as they never ”mangled” or ”misused” those they had taken captive.

The next theory put forward by our 18th century osteologists is that the skulls belong to Jewish men. This appears to be a perfect theory; the bones are of the right age, they are buried in and appropriate location, all the tools in the tomb would have a purpose for a Jewish ceremony, the sharpened stones found in the tomb were found to be suitable for use for circumcision or decoration, and the bones were found facing dead north and south, which was a Jewish burial custom.

If this were an episode of Bones, it would finish there, however, the writers decided that despite all the evidence pointing towards the bodies being of Jewish descent, there ”was no precedent of Skulls of Jews having been met with so much thicker than those of other men’‘.

Having discarded the potential Jewish origin, the next group put forward is the Druids. The Druid section follows the same format as the Jewish section, with plenty of evidence, including the proximity of the tomb to some Oak trees, where Druids would gather to collect wood. Similar to the Jewish theory, the Druid theory suggests the bodies were placed in ceremonial positions. According to the authors however, the tools and lack of any Greek inscriptions in the tomb immediatly disprove this theory. It is peculiar to me that the thickness of skulls is not mentioned at all in this section of the text, considering how vital they consider this to be in terms of the Jewish theory.

The discarding of the Druid theory brings us to the end of the investigation into the origin of the bones, and our authors return to the idea of the bones belonging to Barbarians, something mention in passing early on in the text, but swiftly dismissed. This bizarre u-turn is another strange twist in an all-together strange document. If the evidence points so strongly to the bones being of Barbarian origin, why the 15 extra pages of posturing? why the introduction of so many theories that did not make sense?

Eventually settling on the notion that these bones were indeed of Barbarian origin, most like prisoners of war offered up by Gauls as sacrifices, this document is an extremely interesting (albeit some what unneccessary) insight into the understanding of physiology (and how important they believed it was), biology and superstitions in early modern Europe, and is a very helpful tool in understanding just what 18th century scholars understood about the world around them and the world before them. I strongly reccomend this account to anyone interested in early ideas about the human body, spiritulism and superstition, and the importance of burial rituals in the early modern period.


Spirits and Apparitions

Woodcut of a witch with a demon

I have always been very interested in the beliefs of a supernatural world that borders our own; my interest was piqued a couple years ago when I had a brief introduction to early modern views about witchcraft and the activity of witch hunting. But by far the most interesting part about the supernatural, for me at least, is that of spirits and apparitions. In the early modern period it was common practice in country houses for families to all sit round a fire on a winter’s evening and share stories of apparitions and ghosts.

Antiquarian John Brand believed that by telling stories about ghosts that people were only adding “to the natural Fearfulness of Men”[1] and that it was this fear that makes man “many Times imagine they see things, which really are nothing but their own Fancy.”[2] I am inclined to agree with Brand that man’s natural fear of the supernatural, or what he doesn’t understand, is very likely to make them believe that they have seen something truly not from our world, shadows start to hide demons and familiar noises suddenly sound alien and terrifying.

It is not surprising, since we are talking about country houses, that herds and shepherds are the most common group of people to claim that they have seen apparitions and because of this they always have many stories to tell about their encounters.

Woodcut of shepherds

Shepherds have been known to have seen fairies and spirits that have taken on the form of familiar animals likes dogs or cows, many claim to have even seen the Devil who, no matter what form he takes, always appears with a cloven foot. It isn’t surprising that they claim the Devil had a cloven foot because he has always been represented to them as having hooves, the only problem is that many of the animals they herd also have hooves, I believe that their fear tricks their mind into thinking that instead of just looking at one of their animals they instead think that they have seen the Devil.

Brand doesn’t think that apparitions are completely false, we cannot prove that there has never been or never will be apparitions but he fully believes that “almost all the Stories of Ghosts and Spirits, are grounded on no other Bottom, than the Fears and Fancies, and weak Brains of Men.”[3] I agree with Brand, there is no definitive proof that anyone has ever had contact with a spirit or that they have seen the devil. All of the stories that shepherds told were just that, stories, they were told for no other purpose than to scare others for the entertainment of the storyteller.

“belief in the active presence of the supernatural in daily life was ubiquitous in early modern Europe.”[4] People accepted stories about others encountering animal apparitions or ghosts and believed that some people possessed magical powers or had some magical lore about them, these beliefs weren’t just confined to any one class of people, they were “shared by urban and court elites and even the clergy.”[5]

In his work “Living with the dead: ghosts in early modern Bavaria” David Lederer shows that it was often thought that “ghosts and the possessed were the genuine voices of souls speaking from purgatory to their still-living relatives”[6] neighbours of those who had been visited by the spirit of their dead relatives believed that “these phenomena were diabolical delusions.”[7]

Image of spirits possessing a human

It was also widely accepted that people could become possessed by the devil and attain magical powers, “Possession of the body by a devil or devils was also held to endow the possessed with the same powers of natural magic to which devils, as fallen angels, are heir.”[8] Possession was a tricky subject, it was hard for people to tell if it was God’s way of trying to elevate humankind to the next spiritual level, or if it was the devil trying to trick people by possessing a human to spread falsehoods to others about God and how powerful he actually was.

It was often feared that any females who were possessed by spirits or the devil were in fact witches, this was made possible because the early modern period was plagued by fear of witchcraft and the witches’ Sabbath where it was said that witches would attend ceremonies where the devil and other demons would appear in human or animal forms. The point of the Sabbaths would be for the devil to have relations with the witches and train them to inflict harm upon others using their magic.

I believe that the supernatural was widely accepted in the early modern period because it was accepted by the clergy, nearly everyone was religious during the early modern period so if they were warned by their priests to be aware of evil spirits like the devil then they would listen and accept that such things actually pose a danger to them. I think that if the clergy had rejected spirits then a lot less people would have believed in their existence.

[1] John Brand, Observations on Popular Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne 1777 p.102

[2] John Brand Observations p. 102

[3] Ibid. p.103

[4] Kathryn Edwards, “Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe” p.629

[5] Kathryn Edwards. “Werewolves” p.629

[6] Ibid. p.629

[7] Ibid. p.629

[8] Sarah Ferber, Demonic Possession and Exorcism: In Early Modern France, 2004, Routledge p.8

Bibliography:

Brand, John, Observations on Popular Antiquities (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1777)

Edwards, Kathryn, “Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief and Folklore in Early Modern Europe, reviewed by Elspeth Whitney in Renaissance Quarterly Vol. 57 No.2 (Summer, 2004)

Ferber, Sarah, Demonic Possession and Exorcism: In Early Modern France, 2004, Routledge

How Werewolves have transformed in modern cinema

The werewolf has been a popular monster since the Early Modern period. Wolf like men have been reported and had stories created about them since this time. These wolfmen were described as having wolf like features and being extremely hairy and were also described as turning literally from a human into a wolf.

Werewolves have been a part of film culture since films began over a hundred years ago. Throughout this time, the appearances of werewolves and their character tropes have constantly changed

The first appearance of werewolves I can remember is from the Harry Potter franchise, whereProfessor Remus Lupinis the werewolf in question. This portrayal fits with those at the time (like that seen in the ‘Underworld (2003-2016) series and ‘Van Helsing (2004)’film, while also making its own mark on Werewolf portrayals.

Werewolf portrayals in this period of cinema history were a start of a resurgence for horror characters. Whereas previous eras stuck with humanoid portrayals, this was the start of more inhuman portrayals. The ‘Underworld’ series depicts a fight between Vampires and Lycans (werewolves) and ‘Van Helsing’ is the story of a man (Van Helsing) fighting Count Dracula and encountering other horror characters as well.

(A Lycan from the ‘Underworld’ Series

These films all show different portrayals of werewolves, and likely shared similar influences. In ‘Van Helsing’ the werewolves are covered in muscle, are also superhuman in strength and agility and seem very animalistic. Lycans in the ‘Underworld’ series are not too dissimilar, though are more human than the ones in ‘Van Helsing’. Professor Lupin in Harry Potter is the most different from the other two films and most dissimilar to previous representations for werewolves in films and early modern stories, though the werewolf is not a key part of the film and is mainly in one for two scenes from different character perspectives.

(A werewolf from ‘Van Helsing’ and Remus Lupin in Werewolf form in Harry Potter)

The scene in question from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’is in the latter half of the film. The Hogwarts students have just stopped Sirius Black’s death and start to make their way back to the school. However, in his haste to help his students, Professor Lupin forgets to take a Wolfs bane potion (which is said to soften effects of the Lycanthropy in the Harry Potter universe and make him a more tame Werewolf) and therefore starts to transform as the full moon is in cycle.

Although he is only in his werewolf form briefly, it is an image that terrified me as a child and has left a permanent memory. Professor Lupin’s werewolf appearance is that of a gangly, skinny Werewolf that is not as hairy as a traditional werewolf. Furthermore, the snout is more like a domestic dog then that of a wolf.

(Remus Lupin just after transformation)

This portrayal follows many of the stereotypes and tropes of an early modern European werewolf. However, Lupin (in his werewolf form) forgets who he is and that his nearby friends are not his enemies. Despite pleas from his best friend Sirius Black during the transformation, once Lupin has transformed, he begins to attack the nearby characters. This fits in with the early modern tales of men that transformed forgetting their own families. Furthermore, this fits with the idea that these ‘beasts’ are rabid and not human in any way once they have transformed. Concept art for Professor Lupin in his werewolf form show a more humanoid looking Werewolf that may even have fit with early modern examples, as well as early films that Werewolves appeared in.

(Concept art for Lupin)

These films include the famous Werewolf of London’ as well as ‘Frankenstein meets the Werewolf’, both of which are from before 1945, when practical effects were still expensive and new to cinema.

(A werewolf from ‘Werewolf of London)

These predecessors are completely different to the modern interpretations of werewolves and are more like early modern ones that we have descriptions of.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Early Modern Europe was filled with descriptions of strange man beasts and wolf men have left a lasting impact on today’s horror culture. The religious connotations of leaving the ‘divine form and transforming themselves into such impure, cruel and savage beast’, were heavy in this period[1]. Although we do not have the exact same belief today, it is clear to see how this has shaped the portrayals in film in the early 2000’s. All three films represent the werewolf as an impure creature, especially in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, where the transformation of Lupin, and appearance of the werewolf is almost barbaric and the form is almost neither man nor wolf and therefore, ‘impure’ or ‘uncanny’.


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It was seen as sinful to disfigure your face in early modern Europe, ‘since it was formed in the likeness of celestial beauty’[1]. Again, this is shown by the films, which focus on the faces of their respective werewolves. Even the earlier counterparts focus on facial transformations more than other areas of the body and generally show clothed Werewolves, though this is possibly due to budgets and what was acceptable in cinema at the time. Professor Lupin, and the werewolves in the ‘Underworld’ series and ‘Van Helsing’ film are unclothed, showing more of the body than portrayals before them. This is unlike many of the descriptions presented by Europe in the early modern period. This can differ regionally, as some were have said to turn straight into wolves with no human features, but this is not the same as modern portrayals.


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(Early Modern images of Werewolves, showing clothed and more animalistic versions)

It is clear to see that films in the early 2000’s were heavily influenced by early modern. Whilst earlier examples clothed men with a wolf like face, these more modern portrayals show more animalistic werewolves that are unclothed. Professor Lupin is perhaps the most different portrayal, as the werewolf is not even that wolf like. Despite hundreds of years of history, film today still shows similar character traits to that to early modern counterparts. Whilst it is certain werewolves will continue to be a big part of the horror franchise, we could also say it is certain that werewolf portrayals will continue to develop and transform while keeping some of the same troupes. Though not always major characters (as shown by the Van Helsing film and Harry Potter Franchise), Werewolves are an important part of horror history, and will be for some time to come.

References:

  • Kathryn Edwards, ‘Werewolves, Witches, and Wandering Spirits: Traditional Belief & Folklore in Early Modern Europe’, (2002, Missouri), pp.181-189.

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Gender, Crime and Witchcraft

In popular culture, witchcraft is usually associated with women for example in television shows, movies and books witches are often women or girls, even when considering the magic systems in these forms of media their male counterpoints usually called wizards or warlocks.  However, these contemporary interpretations of witches, mean that the term has become more gendered as it is 8-witch-familiar-in-early-modern-europeusually associated with women. One of the only places where this is not true is in religious practice. Apps (2003) argues that roughly 80 percent of people executed for witchcraft were women. This is linked to Schulte (2009: 36 -40) who argues that witches tended to be people who transgressed societal norms in some way. For example, people who were related to, namely the children of, people who had been accused or tried as witches had an increased pressure to conform to social norms. This was because there was a greater social stigma that being related to a witch.  This could be because women were more likely to be seen transgressing social norms. Schulte (2009: 37) highlights a man who pleaded with a court in the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein to rehabilitate himself and his siblings as their mother’s execution at the stake as a witch had been perceived as a blemish of the character of her children and as such, they were often suspected of witchcraft.

 

In comparison to how women were portrayed negatively as witches, men’s use of witchcraft was either portrayed positively or negatively. For example, John Lane healed Anne Mylner’s possession was who in 1564 when he spit vinegar up her nose, whilst in prayer to get her to call upon the blood of Christ to cure her. Once Anne had cried out ‘No, no, no more for God’s sake’ Lane gets her to repeat the Lord’s prayer after him. After which she was cured. This is contrasted with common ideas of witches as being purely malignant, in a similar way the recording of this event supports that idea because the healing is attributed to God. The letter the event was recorded in describes it as a ‘wonderful woorke of God in Deliuering a Mayden within the City of Chester’. The place where the event is written about is important because the act of magic is largely attributed to God and as result it is seen so it is pure portrayed as coming from the divine.

 

The other way which men are depicted in relation to witchcraft is through the performance of witchcraft to harm someone else. An example of this is John Samond who was accused of bewitching two people which resulted in their death. Samond was tried for murder as a result. This is interesting because unlike Lane, it is more consistent with stories and reports of witchcraft being malicious rather than healing. This suggests that people who were accused of being witches because of bad events such as the death of a loved one, livestock or crop failure. However, men are also associated with healing when looking at instances of witchcraft in the early modern period in contrast women were more likely to be associated with negative events. This can be seen through the differences in reactions that John Samond and Joan Haddon had to the accusations of witchcraft. Joan Haddon was accused of bewitching some people while also receiving fraudulent money from them. Haddon pleaded guilty for the money fraud, but not guilty for the witchcraft. Whereas in contrast, Samond did not plead either way. This is interesting because although the nature of their crimes was similar, they were both accused of bewitching others, Samond’s case was tried as a murder and Haddon’s case was based on fraudulent money transactions in addition to practicing witchcraft. Whereas Samond’s alleged bewitchment culminated being accused of murder, Haddon’s was added on to another crime largely separate from the bewitchment, only connected through the victims.

 

The contrast between Haddon and Samond, who were accused of bewitching others and John Lane, who performed an exorcism is interesting because it brings up possible class and gender differences in relation to who was accused of performing witchcraft with malicious intent and who was using it to heal. This suggests that Lane was either a doctor or a member of the clergy. This is supported by the fact that in the letter he is discussed in he is referred to as Master Lane and that this healing is recorded by letter, whereas the other two were only referenced in court documents. How Lane is referred to in the source is important because it suggests a form of professionalism that women such as Hammond would not be able to access and as a result, it can be used to demonstrate how gender affected accusations of witchcraft in the 1600s. Likewise, comparing Lanes experience with Samond’s accusation issues of class can be examined. This can also be carried out through considering the ways which each source for each man was recorded, Lanes being in a private letter recording the events of Anne Mylner’s healing, this makes it more personal because it is a correspondence between a small group of people. Whereas Samond’s was recorded as part of a trial and kept as court documents, comparing the relatively public nature of a trial, even if people did not attend the trial they would have known about it and people would have talked about it openly, to the more private nature of a letter, which may have been talked about but not nearly as much I have a court trial, especially a murder, unearth the differences status for these two men because of the privacy of each event.

 

It was interesting to look at how each person was referred to while looking at these sources. For example, Samond was referred to as a wizard and Haddon was called a witch but when Lane was being discussed he was referred to as Master Lane. This is interesting because although Samond and Haddon were both accused of bewitching others, only a Haddon was called a witch. This could be linked to current portrayals of witches in pop culture. This could be partly because there’s an idea that only women were accused of performing witchcraft on other people and because women were more likely to be seen as straying from moral norms than men were. However, it could be because men who were accused of witchcraft were less likely to be called witches and as a result, the language revolving around pop cultural depictions of witches is usually about women.

Fact to Fiction: How the legend of Vampires evolved

Vampires are ingrained into our popular culture. From Dracula to Twilight, there are a diverse range of portrayals with consistent themes: the pale, shape-shifter sucking the blood of the innocent. However, this image did not spring from thin air: we should consider the history behind these creatures, looking at the original Vampires, and how their image changed over time.

Unlike the bloodsuckers of today, the Vampires of the Early-Modern period could be more commonly associated with ghosts, and their name reflected such: Revenants. Revenants, meaning “re-coming”, referred to the recently deceased returning to life, often filled with an unsuitable hunger. These initial legends could be easily compared to ghosts, the early tales telling of them visiting (and attacking) relatives. The destruction of the corpse was present in many of these tales, sometimes dissected, sometimes burnt, the body would be eliminated to prevent any chance of the undead’s return.

However, the destruction of the corpse was just one way of dealing with the issue. In a significant amount of cases, the bodies of those suspected to be infected with Vampirism would be buried with rocks in their mouths, or bolted down, to protect them from eating their own flesh – and others. This showcases how serious Vampires were treated in these times, as the desiccation of a body was considered wrong.

Events in the 18th-century helped to push the image of Vampires further. In the 1720s, a Hungarian soldier died after falling from a haycart. This death triggered a series of problems in the community, as cattle and villagers unexpectedly begun dying, followed by the outbreak of an epidemic shortly afterwards. Accompanied by these strange set of events were reports of the soldier wandering the nearby area, who by this point had already been buried.

This is detailed in the report of Johannes Fluckinger. A military-surgeon, Fluckinger was used to interacting with bodies. He was sent to excavate any bodies in the local area suspected of contracting Vampirism, wherein he found several perfectly preserved corpses. Although there was a reasonable explanation for this, the cold weather likely preserving the bodies and slowing the decomposition rate, some saw it as evidence of the dead’s return.

The report itself, however, does not take Vampirism as a fact. Whilst it ends with Fluckinger concluding the bodies to be Vampiric, this does not specifically mean that he was a believer. It is likely that he was using them best terminology available to describe these strange occurrences, and was simply referring to Vampirism as a concept, not a symptom.

Others attempted to put science to the supernatural in this period. Augustin Camlet presents a variety of explanations for these symptoms of Vampirism (the full text available here), attempting to put reason to these beliefs. The most common argument he draws upon is the comparison to real-world diseases, arguing that these could simply be the side effects of other diseases or pestilences. One example would be rabies, a disease easily transferred to many in this period, which to the uneducated could seem to fit the myth perfectly. Like Fluckinger, Camlet also questioned the well-preserved bodies, simply being the effect of both the weather and chemical reactions.

He also provides explanations for reports of sounds coming from within coffins, rather horrifically, arguing that the noises from coffins, and the scratching on the inside, were caused by those buried alive. However, whilst these serve as explanations for some cases, he also provides another, broader overview: Imagination. As the scientific revolution progressed, many begun to stop believing in oral evidence of Vampires, simply because it could have easily been imagined. Very often, investigations into cases of Vampirism became less about finding the supernatural but keeping calm. Regardless, whilst Camlet offers explanation, he still treats the legends of Vampires with some deal of respect, partly to avoid being labelled as an Atheist.

However, these accounts did not always hold the myths with such regard. The account of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, a travelling botanist, provides a far more satirical account of a vampire scare. The reports were like Fluckinger’s: A recently deceased individual harassing the local community, . Pitton dismisses these claims, attributing them to merely being pranks by the local youth. However, these fears persisted, and the locals eventually found themselves digging the body of the accused Vampire.

The exhumed body was placed on the altar of the nearest church, the only place available, before being dissected by a local Butcher, also the only person available. However, the butcher was quite naturally inexperienced with the dissection of human bodies, leading, rather grimly, to a great deal of mess. The mingling of incense and the bodies’ natural fumes only served to cause more unrest, as the stench led to many claiming to be experiencing hallucinations. To cap it off, the Butcher became concerned with the warmth of the corpse’s insides (something that we would simply attribute to the heating of natural gases). Pitter made attempts to explain the reasons for these occurrences but was ignored in the panic. Eventually the heart, and later the rest of the body was burnt, and life returned to normal. It was clear that by the 1700s, some had begun to treat the evidence of Vampires as false. However, many still treated this as fact, and led to wider hysteria.

But as Vampires crossed further into fiction, their image became even closer to today. By the turn of the 19th century, they had become associated with bats and other creatures of the night. Goya’s Los Caprichos portrays them as nightmarish figures, surrounded by animals and clad in black robes. Fuseli’s “The Nightmare” plays on similar imagery, associating them with devils, preying on young women.

However, whilst the portrayal of vampires became more nightmarish, there was also a humanisation. Poems like Ossenfelder’s “The Vampire” helped to humanise these beings, giving a voice to an otherwise abstract being. Similarly,  Edward Munch’s series of paintings, entitled “Love and Pain” are oddly intimate, quite unique for the art of this period.  As the century turned, Vampires underwent a major change, becoming more terrifying, but also more human.

It is clear through the history of Vampires, that theri image was subject to constant change. As they faded from fact to fiction, they became more popular, they became more human (for better and worse), and the Dracula we know today emerged.

18th century Ross Kemp: Augustin Calmet on Vampires

Everyone and their mum has heard of vampires; you’d have to have lived under a rock (or in a crypt) your whole life not to. As one of the most iconic supernatural creatures in modern times, vampires and the stories surrounding them carry several distinct features that are so common across nearly all their recent depictions we might often forget that these stories originated from popular belief. I aim to give a brief and enlightening look into where the vampire myths originate and attempt to explain what made them stick.

Augustin Calmet was a French monk from the late 17th and early 18th centuries who wrote many fascinating dissertations, including several on the reports of so-called vampires. His work, Dissertations upon the apparitions of angels, daemons, and ghosts, and concerning the vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, is what I will be focussing on to explain the nature of vampire myths. Interestingly, Calmet describes vampires as a kind of spectre, equating vampires with other types of ghosts and spirits and showing that the principal distinguishing feature of a vampire was his ability to return from the dead, rather than sucking blood or transforming into a bat, and many of his accounts involve vampire encounters occurring in broad daylight (perhaps those bits were added later from somewhere else).

The arguably most significant and well known aspect of the vampire of modern times is their thirst for blood, often described as unquenchable. After a read of Calmet’s collection of stories, it seems that instances of vampiric bloodsucking are very specific to Eastern Europe. While he gives many accounts of the supposed resurrection of several Western Europeans, he generally refrains from describing them as vampires. In fact many of the descriptions sound closer to a modern interpretation of a zombie. One especially, a Greek man who had been dead for some time, was labelled a broucacka (the Greek term for a vampire) and accused of several attacks in the village. Much like several other so-called vampires that Calmet wrote about, his body was exhumed, and described as bloated and warm inside, and when opened he was described as “stinking something fierce”. Well they didn’t say that, but the sentiment was certainly apparent. Remarkably, Calmet also has an account from Peru, which also describes a suspected vampire having a vicious stench. The horrific smell of the alleged vampire seems intrinsic to many vampire tales, but alas, this part of vampire mythology has evidently not survived the years. I think I speak for everyone when I say it would definitely improve Vampire Diaries if they were all terribly bloated though.

Most so-called vampires that Calmet has accounted for are in fact purported to simply attack or suffocate their victims, rather than seek the blood of the living; in the case of Peter Plogojowitz, a Hungarian villager who died and supposedly returned revolves around his return to torment and strangle his family. Plogojowitz also reportedly requested food (suggesting a theme of hunger at least) and other things from his family, another common theme from vampire incidents of the time. Not only does this pointedly show where the stereotypical vampire homeland of Transylvania originates, but it reflects an adoption by Western Europe of the stranger and eerier legends of the barbarous East. In all fairness, the drinking of some poor wretch’s blood is a lot more dramatic than coming back to life to simply kick your daughter in the shin and strangle your wife.

The way to stop a vampire (since they are obviously already dead and can’t be killed) is, as we all know, to use a stake to pierce its heart, chop off its head or burn the body. As for warding them off with garlic or signs of the cross, Calmet’s stories make no mention (those parts are probably borrowed from other myths or simply not included in Calmet’s pieces). Interestingly, Calmet records the opinion of another scholar attributing the practice of impaling a vampire through the heart to a 14th century treatment of murderers in Sclavonia (now part of Croatia); in other words, what was simply a punishment for murder inflicted upon both suspected living and dead killers had, by Calmet’s time, transformed into a popular method for dealing with vampires. If this is true, it’s certainly very interesting to see how this practice spread, as it appears in the clear majority of Calmet’s tales about vampires. It’s also very typical of the Early Modern period, as they often put animals or even corpses on trial and punished them accordingly if found guilty, and I’d expect no less for a dead person accused of still committing crimes. After all, a guilty dead man is still guilty.

Finally, while Calmet does not outright say that vampires are unholy living dead creatures, he does assert that, since God is the only one who can restore life and when he does so he does it to a full and healthy condition, vampires, if they be real, are not technically alive, nor are they sanctioned by God to get up out of their graves whenever they fancy. He also sneakily compares the state of vampirism to the state of some of those who have died while being excommunicated from the Catholic church, especially Orthodox Christians (whom he seems to ridicule at every opportunity) which is likely a subtle dig at those he might consider a “heretic”.

All in all, Calmet’s work is a very revealing piece into the vampire beliefs of the time and a great indicator for where many of our own perceptions of vampirism originate, even if it is a bit heavy at times. Perhaps the rest of the vampire mythos can be found in other accounts. I do think it would be great if more of those bits about putrefying corpses and bloated bodies had stayed in popular imagination. Could you imagine a corpulent Edward Cullen pulling off that dreamy stare with everyone around him holding their nose and retching?

Bibliography

Calmet, A, Dissertations upon the apparitions of angels, daemons, and ghosts, and concerning the vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, trans. for M Cooper (London, 1759).

How the Enlightenment Changed Horror, and the Natural Becomes the Uncanny

Before the Enlightenment, horror and fear of the unknown was the realm of the super-natural and dark corners of the natural world. Strange beasts from foreign lands, witches hiding in the forests casting spells to bewitch normal people that could only be protected against or warded off with personal charms, werewolves hid in plain sight as normal men but though magic could transform into hideous beasts, and devils and demons were waiting to possess everyday godly folk and use them to commit sins. These are just some of the fears that the average early modern person would face in their daily life, but it was all entwined with the super-natural elements of the natural world; witches would get their magic through pagan rituals or deals with Satan, possession came from devils as a part of God’s natural work, and the strange beasts were clearly made from a twisted natural creation. All in all, the horrors facing these people were out of their hands and were external forces.

However, as the Enlightenment began to take hold there was a shift in the fears of people as the natural world was better understood. There were no cyclopes or dog-men found hiding in the corners of the world when explorers went into these corners – there were some strange creatures but nothing like the earlier fears. Witches and magic were no longer old crones living in cottages casting spells as the old superstitions were replaced by rational thinking, and religious possession by demons coincided with a general reduction in the religious fervour of earlier times. The question is, what replaced these old fears as human knowledge grew, and new sciences were developed? As science developed the fear was instead the unknown of what these new sciences could do or meant for humanity and its place in the natural world, and whilst magic still held some fear it was removed from religion and became more mystical and unknown. Science seemed to be determined to be able to control nature, not the other way around, and interfere or even do God’s works.

One of the prime examples of this fear brought on by scientific development is the understanding of the human body and new medical sciences. Before the Enlightenment Galenic medicine was very well established and the humoral model was well known and had been especially revived during the Renaissance. It was all a part of the natural processes and well designed by God. One of the earlier Enlightenment doctors, William Harvey, said as much – ‘…I found the task so truly arduous… that I was almost tempted to think… that the movement of the heart was only to be comprehended by God. For I could neither rightly perceive at first when the systole and when the diastole took place by reason of the rapidity of the movement…’. As the Enlightenment began however, this model was challenged by some and the body was better understood. Rather than being a creation of God and working by itself various theories and discoveries put forward by early Enlightenment scientists seemed to say that the human body was more of a machine than a natural process. William Harvey’s studies on the circulatory system and the way blood moved around the body showed a mechanical process rather than a natural one, and Thomas Willis’ works on the nervous system showed a greater understanding of why the body reacted to external stimuli and showed the mechanics of the human body better than before. Just overthrowing the thousands of years of Galenic practice was unsettling for some, but the questions the new discoveries raised about man’s place in the natural order were also troubling. If the human body was more of a machine than a natural process, did that mean humans were out of place in a natural world? Was it possible to control these mechanical processes rather than leaving it to nature, be able to control a person through purely physical means? And the largest and strangest question was; would it be possible to create a person now that these mechanics were understood? Some early automations had managed to create some crude imitations of life, but Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a good example of this fear of the unknown and the abilities of the new sciences, and the new view of the human body as a mechanical creature rather than a natural one.

As the natural world was better understood and people moved away from their old superstitions, new fears of the magic came forward. The old ideas of possession by devils and ghosts were still there, but had lost some of their magical aspects and were made more possible with scientific explanations. Seeing ghosts or having paranormal experiences were a result of the body malfunctioning but still retained their earlier horror due to the unknowable aspect of why these bodily malfunctions could cause people to see ghosts, and what it meant for the afterlife. The old stories of devils possessing people and affecting them became stories about the affects science could have on a person, exemplified by the writing of Jekyll and Hyde – a story that is similar to earlier possession stories but driven by scientific factors rather than religious ones. The fears of strange monsters and the unknown edges of the world were changed as explorers went to these edges of the world and found that these creatures did not exist, but more mundane and understandable creatures did exist. What then developed was a fear of more magical creatures in further out regions that were still well understood or in the very well understood and safe home environment. Dracula, placing a paranormal vampire in Romania that then comes to England, highlights this change well by removing the primal and murky fears of mystical creatures in the blank edges of the map and making it a fear of a strange creature still, but one that can be far easier understood and is much closer to home.

Overall, the Enlightenment created a stark change in people’s fear and the concept of horror. The Enlightenment’s focus on the scientific method and its attempts to reduce the natural world moved fear away from the natural world and into the uncanny world. Fears no longer came from the natural world and were uncontrollable forces; they became fears of the abilities that new sciences could bring and the implications it meant for mankind’s place in the natural world,  and the control we had over it.

Bibliography

Breen,Benjamin, American Monsters: Images of Brazilian Nature from Early Modern Europe <https://resobscura.blogspot.com/2012/01/american-monsters-images-of-brazilian.html>

Distelzweig, Peter, Goldberg, Benjamin, Ragland, Evan R. Early Modern Medicine and Natural Philosophy

Hutton, Ronald, The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present  (Yale University Press, 1 Aug 2017)

Power, d’Arcey, Life of Harvey, (Longmans, Green, & co.)

Temple, Ian, Magic and the Common People of Early Modern Europe, <https://www.luthercollege.edu/university/academics/impetus/spring-2011/magic-and-the-common-people-of-early-modern-europe/>

Early Modern Knowledge-Sharing: Sea Monsters and our Natural World

Wivenhoe estuary is still. Yet, it is teeming with life. Sounds are all around.

Sounds of the river.

Weekend walkers; birds communicating between trees; the occasional whistle of a train, bound for the coast. The wind howls through my jumper and tousles my hair, and I breathe in salty air from the tidal water. I notice the slow flow of the water, and the group of brant geese squawking on the mud banks.

The human pull away from the bustle of urban industry (the buildings which can be spotted on the horizon of the photo below) means that many of us now come to bodies of water as a leisure activity. We walk our dogs alongside canals, visit the beach with our families, punt on rivers, swim in estuaries and dive in the sea.

Living in 2019, I have no anxiety about finding a sea monster caught in my fishing line or net. However, accounts from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries describe many sightings of unusual creatures found in seas and rivers. Bodies of water were regarded with much more fear and speculation than they are now; early modern people did not have the wealth of information we now have about biodiversity, or the types of animals found in the deep sea.

Sea monsters varied in appearance. Often described as having colossal dimensions, there was an emphasis on the size of their jaws or teeth, and descriptions of any fearful additions, such as horns. In 1789, a one-page description was printed in London of a ‘SEVEN FOOT’ sea monster, taken by some Fishermen. The creature had ‘FOUR ROWS of sharp Teeth’ and ‘TWO IMMENSE HORNS’. A doctor pronounced this monster ‘the most wonderful Prodigy the Ocean ever produced’. [1]

Doctors often formed a key role in the verification of medical miracles, to confirm to the Church that no medical intervention had taken place when people were cured of disease. [2] They were trusted to have a good understanding of human and animal bodies, so it’s not surprising to learn that Doctors verified reports of monstrous creatures. Monica Azzolini considers that unnatural beasts ‘served as privileged specimens in the investigation into the workings of nature,’ in a time where natural investigation was becoming central to the seventeenth-century understanding of the ‘natural and anatomical’. [3]

1674 depiction of a sea monster.

In contrast, Capoferro notes that ‘although innovatively regarded as biological entities, monsters remain a symbol for what is incomprehensible’. [5] Sightings of these incomprehensible beasts were often recorded through a chain of events: who saw it first, who caught or destroyed it, who reported it, and so on. In her study of secrets and knowledge in science, Rankin states that ‘person-to-person exchanges of tacit knowledge were one of the most important means of communicating secrets’. [6] Many sightings, secret or not, were in fact second or third hand accounts. [3]

Accounts were often empirical – describing the exact dimensions of torsos, jaws and feet. Books, observations and oral correspondence were the primary ways in which early modern people created their knowledge. [3] Oral communication through various people, eg. ‘fishermen, merchants, architects, missionaries, and servants’, were important ways of constructing knowledge to provide what they considered to be reliable information in printed sources. [3] So long as these chains of spoken accounts also utilised some empirical ‘data’, they were valid to print, because testing knowledge had become a ‘feature of science’. [3]

Although the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries show a move towards further empiricism and the age of Enlightenment, it was also clearly a time of constant belief in the supernatural, and non-scientific ways of understanding. Much trust was placed in the power of the seasons, the elements, and the humours of the body, and belief in religion was strong. In an eight-page account from 1674 of a sea monster taken in Ireland, the author writes to reassure those who considered the monster to be an ‘Apocaliptical Beast’.

“if we consider how large a share the Sea makes of this inferior Globe, and that Nature is ever active and wonderfully fruitful, we may not irrationally conclude, or at least suspect the Ocean to be inhabited with as many several species of Creatures, as the Earth; and that the vast wilderness of Waters contains as many Monsters, and altogether as strange ones, as any in the Deserts of Africa.” [modern transcription and emphasis my own]

Quote taken from 1674 account. [4]

This passage shows the openness of early modern people to understanding the natural world around them. As modern-day citizens, we pride ourselves in paying close attention to modern scientific knowledge – except in reality, many of us don’t actually read scientific papers themselves, favouring instead media interpretations of these journals. In reality, we too use the method of a chain of accounts, in order to gain a valid corroboration of information – just like our early modern ancestors.

For example, when I first decided to travel to Wivenhoe estuary, I heard accounts from my friends about the atmosphere; found photos, checked the tide times; and I looked for information about the wildlife.

Tide chart for Wivenhoe.

In order to remember my time in a place, I usually favour taking photos or painting pictures over writing detailed reports.

Painting by the estuary.

At the estuary, I had an overwhelming feeling I could have stayed: the brisk air making me colder, the earth wrapping me in mud, whilst listening to the comforting flow of the water. In recounting this, I noticed the connection between my ‘modern’ thoughts, and the beliefs of my early modern ancestors. I noted the feelings in my physical body, and the elements around me, both of which were hugely important factors. Really, there isn’t such a gap between us and them: this is clear as mud.

Muddy prints.

In conclusion, early modern accounts of sea monsters should not be taken simply at face value, by naïvely assuming that early modern people made up stories, or that they grossly misunderstood the natural world. In fact, these documents can be regarded as a great example of the ways in which people furthered their understanding, through sharing their knowledge of both the natural and supernatural elements of the world which they lived in. Modern urban consumer culture means that now, we feel more and more separated from nature – but in reality we come into contact with it all the time, for leisure or for scientific understanding.

The Art Exchange at the University of Essex recently exhibited Aggregate Flows, [9] an art project about water in and around Essex and South America. Talks, exhibits and information were sourced from artists, animal ecologists, oyster fishers, and academics. We are always furthering our knowledge by talking and listening to other people, and by documenting our experiences in much the same ways as our seventeenth-century predecessors. Historian Louisa Mackenzie says it best: ‘Knowledge today is just as hybrid, just as networked, as it ever was before the Scientific Revolution, and nature and culture continue to co-produce each other.’ [10]

Painting using estuary mud.

Sources referenced:

[1] Pace, printer, no 56, Borough High-street, ‘A sea monster, was taken on Sunday last, by some fishermen, and brought to London…’ (London, 1789).

[2] Duffin, Jacalyn, ‘Medical miracles: doctors, saints, and healing in the modern world’ (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[3] Azzolini, Monica, ‘Talking of animals: whales, ambergris, and the circulation of knowledge in seventeenth-century Rome’, in Renaissance Studies Vol. 31 No. 2 (2017).

[4] P. Brooksby and W. Whitwood, ‘A true and perfect account of the miraculous sea-monster, or, Wonderful fish lately taken in Ireland’ (London?, 1674).

[5] Capoferro, Riccardo, ‘Empirical Wonder: Historicizing the Fantastic, 1660-1760’, (Peter Lang AG, 2010).

[6] Rankin, Alisha, ‘Secrets and Knowledge in Medicine and Science, 1500–1800: History of Medicine in Context’, (Routledge, 2011).

[7] Screen-capture of ‘Tide Chart For Wivenhoe’, tide-forecast.com. Available at <https://www.tide-forecast.com/locations/Wivenhoe/tides/latest> [accessed 15.03.19].

[8] Authors own content, 2019. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

[9] Link to ‘Alejandro Jaime: Aggregate Flows’, artexchange.org.uk. Available at <http://www.artexchange.org.uk/exhibition/alejandro-jaime-aggregate-flows/> [accessed 26.03.19].

[10] Mackenzie, Louisa, French Early Modern Sea-Monsters and Modern Identities, via Bruno Latour (2014).

North Carolina Wineries

by Magali Perez Chay, UNC Charlotte

Wine is a drink that a lot of people enjoy. There are many different types of wines, such as red, white, sweet, sparkling, rose, and dessert. A lot of people enjoy drinking wine during a meal or after work. People who tend to enjoy wine the most are millennia’s and adults. North Carolina has many wineries and one of those wineries is located in Asheville at the Biltmore. The muscadine grape is native to North Carolina that thrives all across the region’s geography and climate (Fenchak). Mr. Cecil who took ownership of the Biltmore, wanted to grown a vineyard. He was advised to work with native muscadines that were already growing in the garden. The harvest was not satisfactory to Mr. Cecil. Although experts there initially told him that vinifera grapes on the west side of the estate in 1978 (Fenchak). The quality of the grapes then became satisfactory to Mr. Cecil, establishing the Biltmore Estate Wine Company. The winery became opened to the public in 1985 and has emerged as the most-visited winery in the nation, wining numerous awards and rankings in competition with the finest wines in the world (Fenchak). I have personally gone to the Biltmore winery and must admit that the wine is splendid and is of good quality. I enjoyed trying different types of wines that the Biltmore offered, but to me, my favorite was the Bordeaux Blend that is a a winter wine. There are now more than 400 vineyards and 100 wineries across the state; growing grapes may eventually provide a viable economic alternative to traditional tobacco farming (Fenchak).

Wineries continue to grow and have outnumbered breweries. The number of breweries in North Carolina are 110 (Kiss). The harvesting and production of wine in North Carolina has had an economic increase and continues to grow. According to 2009 figures, wineries had a $1.28 billion impact in the state, up from just $813 million in 2005 (Kiss). Wineries in North Carolina are expanding and growing. In the ranking states, North Carolina is tenth in the number of wineries and more traditional grapes are being grown other than muscadine (Kiss). Charlotte has many wineries such as Arooji’s Wine Room, Assorted Table Wine Shoppe, Coke and Crate, and Bonterra Dining & Wine Room. Wine can be social, there are many places that offer a wine and paint class. Charlotte has may wine and paint rooms, where people enjoy music and get to paint while drinking wine. Some of the places are Painting with a Twist, Wine & Design, Wine and Canvas, and City Art Room. I have yet to do this, but it is on my list of things to do in Charlotte. If you love wine, going to the Biltmore would be an amazing place to try different flavors. If the Biltmore is to long of a drive, I would suggest going with your friends to a paint and wine class or a wine tasting restaurant.

Work Cited:
Kiss, Tony. “Wineries Thriving in Area Mountains.” GreenvilleOnline, 2014, http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/life/2014/07/30/wineries-thriving-area-mountains/13352983/.

Fenchak , Sharon. “A Shared History of Wine.” Biltmore, 2013, http://www.biltmore.com/blog/article/a-shared-history-of-wine.