The vampire has long been a source of morbid fascination, particularly for authors of gothic fiction. Although The Vampyre – Polidori’s uninspired pilfering of an unfinished tale by Lord Byron in 1819 – sparked a hugely popular revival in vampire literature that eventually led, in 1897, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and its subsequent exhaustive film adaptation), vampire fiction can be traced back as far as classical Greece.
Many attempts to explain the vampire myth have been cursed by the difficulty in separating the genuine folklore from the lurid fiction it inspired; Stoker, for example, seems to have added several qualities to the vampire which were subsequently adopted into the literature as genuine – such as the idea that a vampire has no reflection. Some researchers have plumped for psychological interpretations of the vampire, others have suggested rare blood diseases (such as Dr Dolphin’s porphyria hypothesis), but all are flawed and inspired more by the fictional vampire than his folkloric archetype.
The ‘vampires’ exhumed and dispatched throughout eastern and central Europe during the middle ages are not really the subject of this discussion. Paul Barber (1) studies these cases in some detail, and shows how corpses can be expected to appear in the ‘vampiric’ condition – bloated, with blood at the mouth. Such outbreaks are undoubtedly largely brought about by the plague, which was also a factor behind the witch hunts.
The rest of this article by Liam Rogers, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Exhuming the Vampire
The sleep of reason produces monsters; inversions, caricatures of what we know to be right and sensible. Sometimes the fancies of the night seem more substantial than the sober thoughts of daytime. The dreams of a folklorist are especially subject to this kind of inversion. Consider two magazine pieces published by that Victorian litterateur, Grant Allen of Haslemere. One is a serious contribution to folklore scholarship, while the other is its dark parody. But the night-time version is far more revealing. It says a great deal about the mind of its author; but it also tells us something about a hidden strand in twentieth-century paganism.
Novelist, freethinker and evolutionary theorist, Allen was much in tune with the spirit of his times, and had mastered an easy style which could be turned to most themes. In a piece for the Cornhill Magazine he addressed the subject of fairies. It was very curious that the English peasantry should believe with such tenacity in creatures who did not exist; at least, as far as he was concerned they did not exist. What could have inspired the idea of fairies? They were a little people, who used flint arrowheads and dreaded iron. That suggested Stone Age man, about whom so much had recently been discovered. They were to be met with in grassy hillocks, the ancient burial mounds of that people. So fairies were the ghosts of Neolithic man, dimly remembered and feared by subsequent races. QED, thought Grant Allen, or at least the rational side of him did.
The rest of this article by Jeremy Harte, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1998, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Dark Green – Some Disturbing Thoughts about Faeries
It was around the 5th century that a synod was called to bring Britain’s Celtic Christian Church into line with Rome. In Britain the church owed as much to Druidry (and by inference, paganism) as it did to Christianity. Rome was not pleased with our Isles and many hitherto honoured Gods and Goddesses were either Canonised – like Bridget – or, became the butt-end of nasty folklore, such as Wayland, Freya and Cerridwen. Much the same happened to our sacred sites. The most popular sprouted churches. The less popular, sprouted scary legends.
The oral traditions suffered much the same fate as god/desses and sacred sites and, though scribed in Medieval times, they were given a 5th/6th century back-drop. The tales were, of course, much older than either of these times and were probably of Druidic origin. (Perhaps coming from an age before Druids were called Druids – though this is pure speculation.) The Arthuriad, the Matter of Britain, was part of those oral traditions. It is possible that the Arthur of the 5th/6th century was no more than an inspired creation of Geoffrey of Monmouth, as some people claim. Maybe all that so-called history was just a re-telling of bardic tales, a modernisation of old stories, as authors such as Mary Stewart, Parke Godwin, Marion Bradley and Guy Gavriel Kay have done in our age.
Of course Arthur could have been a tribal leader or Roman soldier who lived in, or around, the 5/6th centuries. Who become the Ard-Ri (High King) of our Isles. Who did heroic deeds. Who married a Queen, had a sorceress sister and was advised by a wizard. He may even be the one who built Tintagel. And maybe not.
The rest of this article by Kate Westwood, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
“Save Seven, None Returned” : Arthur, Kinship and Kingship
In this article I hope to draw to the readers’ attention to a little known field of study known as the archaeology of folk magic. This is intimately related to what most people call witchcraft and involves the physical remains related to practices undertaken by the ‘white’ witch to protect people’s property from ‘black’ witches and also practices which lay-folk undertook by themselves for the same reason. There is a bias of material in my collection to the 16th and 17th centuries, this is because this is the focus of my PhD and also because it is when there was the most fear about witchcraft – hence more archaeology relating to protection. Where material is not dated assume that it comes from these two centuries. Before beginning with a description of the finds and theories about them, it is important that I set the context for the topic.
Historians are getting better at writing about witchcraft. About thirty years ago there was still a tendency amongst them to use exclamation marks when talking about the horrors of torture and to dismiss the belief in witchcraft as primitive heretical superstition or as over-enthusiastic religious faith. A classic and highly respectable work entitled The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology written by Robbins in 1959 has some of these hallmarks.1 While they were correct by our modern standards to be horrified by the tortures that occurred they did not attempt to compare the ‘witch-craze’ to Stalin’s purges or the holocaust or other comparable situations. Now we have books like Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas2 which details the practices of the village cunning-men and wise-women (the ‘white’ witches who were really slightly grey) and Early Modern European Witchcraft – Centres and Peripheries edited by Ankarloo and Henningsen3 which collects together major articles which deal, among other things, with spirit flight and Icelandic witchcraft.
The rest of this article by Brian Hoggard, which was published in White Dragon at Beltane 1999, can be read on the White Dragon website.
The Archaeology of Folk Magic
The rock-cut Hermitage at Bridgnorth lies on a steep hill just south of the Wolverhampton road and less than a mile east of the town. The Hermitage lies in ruins now, destroyed by the passage of time and, it is said, by the fires of its temporary occupants, the homeless poor.
However what remains is still impressive. The Chapel is still extant, although the front end is now gone, and the stairs, which used to ascent to the upper chamber, are still there, but go nowhere as the upper chamber has disappeared.
The Hermitage was so-called because it was here that Aethelward or Aethelard, a Mercian prince, retired here for a short time as a hermit before his brief reign. In 924ce he came here to reside in solitude and contemplation. He was interested in literary matters as well as ancient customs and was a grandson of Alfred the Great, which meant that he had Welsh blood as this royal line had intermarried with the Welsh and Cornish royal families. Three of his sisters became nuns and his aunt was none other than Queen Ethelfleda, whose ability to repel the fearsome Danes renders impotent many a modern male ego! Indeed it was Ethelfleda who established a Burgh at Bridgnorth with a castle at Old-Bury on Panpudding Hill (Panpunten in Welsh). the Hermitage therefore has strong royal links and, given Aethelward’s study of traditional lore, it would seem that it attracted someone with an interest in the main study of all folklore, that is magic.
The rest of this article by Chris Jenkins, which was published in White Dragon at Beltane 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Caves and Hermitages of the Severn Valley
Back in May I had confidently expected the redesign of the White Dragon website would be completed and the new site active from the beginning of August. The best laid plans, as they say. Various family issues arose during June and July which made the intended timescale impossible and we will therefore be returning to the matter in September once those issues have been resolved and the holiday season recovered from.
In the meantime, progress reports will be posted as and when on this blog so please call back from time to time for the latest excuses.
For many pagans, the harvest season which starts at Lughnasa is the most evocative and powerful time of the year. This is the time when thoughts turn towards the culmination of a year’s work; for our ancestors it represented the culmination of the year’s endeavours in ensuring that they could look forward to enough food to see through the winter – the grain which would provide the following year’s bread and beer, the fruit and meat were laid down and stored for the coming months of scarcity. Today few of us will actually rely on what we grow for ourselves and we are more likely feel satisfaction on a practical level when we see the tangible results of the year’s endeavours in the form of projects coming to fruition – exams passed, for example.
Today we tend to celebrate according to a fixed calendar. The calendar on the wall tells us that such a date is 1st August and the pagan calendar tells us that that date is the beginning of the harvest.
Margaret Killip points out that in the Isle of Man the harvest has always been unpredictable and that it was particularly dependent upon the weather. Many was the time, she suggests, when farmers sat in the pews in church listening to a sermon on the harvest being safely gathered in when the reality of a wet and cold summer meant that the grain crop was still standing, unripened, in the fields weeks after the harvest should have officially begun. It is, perhaps, a measure of just how remote most of us are from the changing seasons that we celebrate the seasons and our harvest when our diaries tell us to and not when the grain is clearly ready for cutting or the apples are ready for picking.
What we seem to have lost is the senstitivity to listen to what the landscape is telling us and the flexibility to actually work with the seasons. If so, we have lost more than we can know.
The rest of this article by Rowan, which was published in White Dragon at Lughnasa 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Capturing the Harvest Spirit