Guest blogger Arlene deWinter writing about Dracula

VAMPIRES 7 Comments »

I am happy to have a guest blog from Arlene deWinter, about a favorite topic…Dracula! 

  Dracula Was a Man of the Theatre 

Whitby Abbey

My name is Arlene deWinter. As the resurrection of Springtime is upon us, the Vampire  sleeps a little longer in his grave.  Now I feel it is safe to tell you a story of Vampires little considered on our side of the pond.

 Dracula was Born in a Trunk

Vlad Tepes may have been a warlord from ancient Wallachia, infamous for his cruelty, but Vlad Dracule was a man of the theater! Though not the first Vampire to tread the boards of the London stage, he is certainly its star. It was he who brought his nefarious race under the spotlight, and his lustre remains undimmed for over a century.

Lord Ruthven

The first literary Vampire was invented by the physician, John Polidori in 1818, during the famous snowbound ghost story contest in Swiss Alps where Mary Shelley created Dracula’s erstwhile rival, Frankenstein. Polidori’s novella was called The Vampyre; A Tale.   It’s menacing antagonist, Lord Ruthven, was based on Polidori’s character assessment of the infamous poet, Lord Byron, legendary womanizer, and destroyer of souls…Not long after his book was published, to scandalous success, the 26 year old Polidori killed himself.

The Stage

The Vampyre was staged many times in the 1800’s, with multiple spinoffs, much like the film versions since Bela Lugosi brought Dracula chillingly to the screen. These plays were particularly popular in Paris where they merged with the horrific Grande Guignol, and even inspired the German Opera, Der Vampyr, first presented in Leipzig in 1828.

John Polidori was uncle to the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti whose beautiful, red haired wife, Elizabeth Siddall, was his model and muse. Ten years after her tragic death from an overdose of luadanum,  Rossetti had Elizabeth’s  body exhumed to retrieve a volume of poetry that he had buried with her in Highgate Cemetery. The men who dug her up claimed her shining red hair filled the coffin, and that her body was still as young and lovely as she had been in life. Haunted by grief, and remorse for the horrible deed he had done, Rossetti succumbed to chloral addiction and went mad.

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Vlad Dracule and Henry Irving

Bram Stoker himself was man of the theatre. Manager to the famous Victorian actor, Henry Irving, Stoker was the driving force behind the commercial success of the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden. Henry Irving was considered its resident genius and, like many geniuses, was a moody tyrant. Bram Stoker was completely under his spell.

Shakespeare was Irving’s specialty, and Stoker was immersed in the blood soaked tragedies, and rich poetry of the Bard of Avon on a nightly basis. His discovery of a portrait of Vlad Tepes caused an explosion in his imagination! It is not too far fetched to see in Tepes’s aquiline features, a reflection of the face of Henry Irving.  Irving was known to excel at dark, brooding, villainous characters, his tall, thin frame often clothed in black as he lurked menacingly about the stage.

Vlad 

Dracula was published in 1897 in London. Stoker dispensed with the charming, aristocratic Byronesque Vampyre. Rather, his Dracula was creepy and repulsive in the extreme, based as he was on Stoker’s research into the Balkan folklore about the Undead preserved in their graves by feeding on the living.

Significantly, the book was first reviewed in The Stage on June 17, 1897 where it was referred to as a tour de force. Many of the classic qualities we associate with Vampires were invented by Stoker such as his fear of crucifixes, (strange aversion for an impaler…) the Host, the need to sleep in his country’s soil, even sleeping in his coffin by day, to only come out at night, changing into a bat — all were inventions of Bram Stoker’s fertile imagination. The association of Vampires with wolves, though, is a deep part of the tradition in the wolf haunted forests and mountains of Central Europe.

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On its 1897 release, a staged reading of Dracula, or The UnDead, was held at the Lyceum Theatre to secure its copyright. Behind the actors loomed the set of Irving’s current production of MacBeth. Dracula was already being prepared for dramatic performance, but Irving refused to play the part. When the play was produced, it was not according to Stoker’s vision, rather in cheap, pirated, slipshod productions in London’s theatre dives that were an embarrassment to the disappointed Stoker.

Dracula Becomes a Movie Star

Though he failed on the stage due to theatrical politics and B level productions, Dracula would be raised from impending obscurity by the new art of Cinema. The 1922 German Expressionist film, Nosferatu, would seal his future as a movie star. Despite a few alterations, and name changes, the script of Nosferatu sticks very close to the spirit of the novel, so close in fact that Stoker’s widow, Florence, was outraged at what she considered a violation of copyright, and sued the film’s producers, the Prana Film Company, and director, Friedrich Wilhelm Murneau. After a three year battle, the tenacious widow Stoker won, and demanded all prints of the film be destroyed. Woe to the future of Dracula, and his fans, had her wishes been carried out to the letter!
Dracula refused to bow out gracefully.

After the success of Nosferatu, many more productions of Dracula were staged in London and Dublin with varying success. But, by then, Dracula had found a more responsive audience in the movies.  In the 1930’s Bela Lugosi, an actor from the same part of the world as Vlad Tepes, would make him a Film Superstar. Perhaps it is Lugosi’s portrayal, a blend of the Byronic, sexy, cultured aristocrat, with the supernatural powers bequeathed to him by Stoker, that made Count Dracula truly immortal.

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Thank you to David for having me as a guest on your wonderful blog. I hope my little insights have contributed to your audience’s pleasure by adding to your inspiring series on Vampires.
I am a professional Clairvoyant, Healer, Writer and Artiste. More of my articles, in a similar vein to David’s, can be found on my blog at www.Winterspells.com : Life on the Magical Path, Legacy of the Witchblood. My other website www.whiteswan-tarot.com describes my services as a psychic, and shows my own hand painted Tarot of the Holy Grail.

Good Evening…

Arlene deWinter

Comparing the fictional and historic vampire

VAMPIRES 2 Comments »

nosferatu vampire

I’ll finish my series of posts about vampires with some ideas about the relationship between the fictional and the historic vampire.  The fictional vampire is a far cry from its original source material.  Yet even today the classic, modern version of the vampire still retains hints of this historic vampire.  The historic vampire was a ghost-like entity that haunted its own dead body, abandoning its body to roam at night to torment the living.   If we look at the fictional vampire, we can explain it’s strange magical abilities by referring to the historic vampire of folklore.  For instance, the vampire can’t see its reflection in a mirror.  Why?  That is a hint of the historic vampire who was a spirit and not a physical being. Spirits don’t cast a reflection.  The classic vampire could turn into a bat, which is a pretty odd ability for the walking dead.  But if we view the historic ghost-like vampire, it makes sense.  Spirits can fly.  In theory a spirit could assume any form it wished, if it had the awareness of this ability. 

shadow1The classic vampire slept in a coffin and the historic vampire’s body remained in its grave while its ghost traveled about seeking sustenance.  What about all this blood sucking stuff?   A vampire spirit would not need blood, but it did drain the energy from the living.  The stake in the heart?  That action was a symbolic attempt at staking a vampire’s spirit down into its body to keep it there.  Sunlight destroyed both the fictional vampire and the historic vampire.  Sunlight’s powerful radiation would disrupt the subtle energies necessary for a vampire spirit to manifest its ethereal body.   As for immortality…spirits don’t age. 

The idea of  the historic vampire being a ghost-like being does not make for thrilling fiction.  I can see why today’s fictional vampire still has a physical body at the same time it retains many of the spiritual traits of the historic vampire.  

If there ever was such a thing as a spirit vampire, they no longer exist.  The reason is our modern funerary practices.  Embalming the dead effectively destroys the subtle connection between the body and the spirit still trying to inhabit it.  This connection is brought to an end with cremation or embalming.  The historic method for destroying the vampire was to destroy the physical body, usually by fire, and severing the link that kept the spirit connected to the physical world.  For any ghost hunter, the greatest prize would be to encounter a genuine vampire.  For that reason only I wish they still haunted the world!

vampirism

The physical and spiritual reality of the vampire

CEMETERY, GHOSTS, VAMPIRES 6 Comments »

digging-up-the-deadVampires exist.  Of course this reality is based on how we define “vampire”.  The vampire of fiction, a walking, blood-sucking sexy corpse, is not real.  However the vampire of folklore actually did exist, if only in people’s beliefs.  People actually believed in them enough to act on that belief.  In past centuries villagers would go through the trouble to dig up a grave, sometimes entire graveyards, exhuming the buried in search of corpses that did not decay properly.  When such a corpse was found, it was killed a second time to make sure it was dead.  It could be staked to keep it “down”, or it would be cremated by fire.  The goal was to make sure the dead stayed dead.   It was believed that the dead could truly be undead.

There was a recent story about the discovery of such a “vampire”.  Check out these links below, they include images:

In the National Geographic News:  “VAMPIRE” PICTURE: Exorcism Skull Found in Italy
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/03/090310-vampire-graves.html

The same story in the New Scientist:  ‘Vampire’ discovered in mass grave
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126985.200-vampire-discovered-in-mass-grave.html

killing-the-deadThe source of this superstition seems to have emerged from people’s lack of understanding concerning the process of decay.  There are factors that can slow down decomposition.  Temperature, soil conditions, lack of oxygen in a grave and so forth.  In the past people were not familiar with such things and if they encountered a grave where a corpse had not decayed but looked “fresh”, they logically assumed it was somehow still “alive” in some fashion and called it a vampire.  The best look at the source of this folklore would be Paul Barber’s book “Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality”.  He explores the causes behind the vampire folklore.  It is the definitive word on the topic and highly recommended for anyone interested in the topic.

However, there remains a mystery.  Why would people feel the need to dig up the dead in the first place?  What could motivate people to such extreme action?   It was an action taken when a community experienced sudden, unexplained illnesses accompanied by haunting phenomena.   People back then felt the dead could be a source of menace to society…the vampire.

There was a belief that someone was not truly dead until the skeleton’s bones were bare and decomposition was complete.  It was felt that the soul could linger as long as there remained cellular activity continuing on the body.  A corpse is still alive in many respects…the process of decay is filled with microorganisms breaking down the body.  The soul could remain connected to their body until nothing was left but the bones.   This explained the need to kill a corpse a second time.

The vampire was sometimes mistakenly thought of as a walking corpse.  However if we examine the folklore carefully, we see is that the vampire’s physical body did NOT leave his grave, only his or her spirit did.   What people reported seeing was a predatory ghost that would feed off the life of the living, not sucking blood but one’s life, their chi or ka, causing illness.  This ghost still had a connection to their physical corpse and it was thought to return to its body in the grave after feeding.  These life-consuming spirits needed to feed to continue their halfway existence.  This supposedly prevented the corpse from disintegrating into bones.  

In spiritualist and occult theory, there is thought to be an intermediate stage between physical death and the point of permanently leaving the world of time and space.  This intermediate stage is commonly referred to as our ghost.  A ghost can still interact with the physical world in a subtle way.  At death, the path to our final destination is usually swift and our ghost lingers only minutes.  But it is possible for our soul to linger far longer for different reasons.  Often a tragic death can shock a soul into remaining at the site of the tragedy, attached to it.  Or a spirit may become attached to a place they knew in life.  A soul may also remain attached to their physical body after death.   When a spirit continues this attachment to their body after death, it becomes a vampire…a different and more dangerous type of ghost. 

In my next post I will go into further detail about what spiritualism has to say about the nature of the vampire spirit.  Ghosts are common, but vampire spirits extremely rare.   Why?  The answer next.

Vampires of popular culture

VAMPIRES 5 Comments »

 vampire

When we consider the vampire, what is the first thing that comes to our mind?  I guess it depends on how old we are.  If we are old or fans of the old, then it is Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.  If we are a tween, then Twilight.  In between, maybe the Hammer Studio’s grand Christopher Lee or perhaps Ann Rice’s creations.  The vampire has held an enduring fascination as a literary character. 

I find it interesting how the vampire theme has remained relatively consistent, within a margin of error.  Early versions were magical shape shifters; current versions are more naturalistic.  The variations themselves are interesting.  Today’s vampire is not as supernatural as he used to be.   The idea of a vampire being able to turn into a bat has disappeared in the current mythology.  The idea of the animated dead is a stretch, but still within the realm of suspended disbelief for a movie theatre.  The idea that an animated corpse can also transform into a bat or wolf, within a small fraction of their body mass?  That is frankly beyond our ability to suspend disbelief.  That is the old Dark Shadows/Bela Lugosi stuff.

nosferatuWhat else has gone away?  Remember when vampires couldn’t see their reflection in the mirror?  That is gone.  Now crosses don’t repel much (being a more secular society).   Some vampires can still sort of fly, but even that has gone by the wayside (now they just move fast!).  Today the classic vampire is immortal, needs blood symbolizing sexuality, is inhumanly strong and fast…a current view of modern wish fulfillment.   A far cry from the first, more truthful version of the vampire of popular culture…Nosferatu.  Nosferatu is a silent black and white German Expressionist movie about Count Orlok, which was an unauthorized take on Bram Stroker’s Dracula. 

This Nosferatu was not a sexual being at all…unlike Lugosi’s Dracula.  This Nosferatu had a rat like appearance…horrible.  Bald head, rat teeth…this vampire did not offer immortality to his victims, only death.   He symbolized the very real problem of the plague back in that day when people had memories of such plagues.

I suggested the Nosferatu was  a more “truthful” version of the vampire then modern depictions of vampirism.  As if there is any shred of truthfulness to vampirism.  Which is the point I will make.  Vampirism is not only a literary creation.  It is not only folklore and superstition.  There just might be more to the vampire then we can imagine.  In my next post I will offer a theory (an occult/spiritualist viewpoint) to the genuine nature of vampirism.  Why can’t vampires see their reflection in a mirror?  How can true vampires can shift their shape?  Can sunlight destroy a vampire?  Why does a stake in the heart kill a vampire?  If vampires are actuallyy real, why are they so rare nowadays?  I have the answers.

Seems like a silly topic.  Yet, there really is a real spiritualist viewpoint that vampiries are real.  The bottom line is, if you believe in the possibilty of ghosts, you may believe in the possiblity of vampires.  The details in my next post.