Dublinvania

Bran_castle

Bran Castle in Transylania – Never a Vampire found.

Vampire hunters of the world where are you bound?  The soaring Carpathian mountains?  The forests of Transylvania?  The dark stretches of the Danube to the port of Varna?  Perhaps the dour English port of Whitby?  You are wasting your time.

If its vampires you want you will find them in Dublin.

The first appearence of a vampire in literature was the Lesbian Vamire Carmilla, the product of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a Dublin lad who wrote about the Evil immortal countess from a mysterious Eastern territory in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Her lust for blood is equal to her lust for pretty young girls.  Oh, the horror.  One of the short stories in his anthology “In a Glass Darkly” published in 1872 which is simply the greatest title for a book of horror stories.

Carmilla.jpg

Some twenty five years later Dracula was published in 1897 by Bram Stoker rounding off the key elements of the canon of vampire lore, Van Helsing, Count Dracula, the demented human servant, the many brides of Dracula, wooden stakes, garlic, sacred weapons, lack of reflections and so on.

It is quite likely that Stokers imagination was fired by the stories of Sheridan Le Fanu.  While he never travelled to Eastern Europe himself it is known that in London he was friends with Ármin Vámbéry a hungarian Jew and fellow writer,  who regaled Stoker with tales of the Carpathians.

So from the pens of two Dublin writers of the late 19th Century we derive a body of vampire lore that has evolved into libraries of books, comics, graphic novels, films and television series.

Fangs for the memories guys.

Except…. it’s all lies.

There was Lord Byron with his poem The Giaour back in 1813

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
and suck the blood of all thy race;
there from thy daughter, sister, wife,
at midnight drain the stream of life;
yet loathe the banquet which perforce
must feed thy livid living corpse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
shall know the demon for their sire,
as cursing thee, thou cursing them,
thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Image result for the giaour

And then there was that night on Lake Geneva in 1816 during the year without a summer when Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and John William Polidori competed to write the scariest horror story.  The night that gave us Frankenstein from the pen of Mary Shelley.

Polidori wrote “The Vampyre”, and published it in 1819 in The New Monthly Magazine where the unscrupulous editor attributed it falsely to Lord Byron to up his sales.

Image result for the vampyre

Wyrms

White Worm

Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, also wrote “Lair of the White Worm”.  This is based on the old English word Wyrm.  The Wyrm was a giant legless and flightless serpent.  A cross between a Dragon and a Snake.

In Gaelic a Wyrm is called a Péist.  Pronounced like the English word “pest”.  Ireland is a country with no snakes, but many placenames suggest that they were once home to mighty Wyrms.  Poulnapeasta translates as “Hole of the Beast/Worm” and idiomatically translates as “Dragons Lake”

In the tale ‘Hunting of Sliabh Truim’ there is a péist with ‘ears as large as the gate of a  fort’ and ‘tusks as big as a tree’.

Irish mythology is full of warriors slaying dragons in lakes and Monks destroying dragons with the power of Christ.  Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary, St Senans Isle, was home to a beast slain by St. Senan.

The story of St. Senan describes his encounter with the Wyrm as follows:

and then they went to seek the monster, to the place in which it abode.

When the monster heard them it shook its head, and its hair stood up upon it, and its rough bristles, and it looked at them hatingly and wrathfully. Not gentle, friendly, mild was the look it bestowed upon them, for it marvelled that anyone else should come to visit it in its island. So it went to them strongly and swiftly, insomuch that the earth trembled under its feet. Hideous, uncouth, ruthless, awful was the beast that arose there.

Longer was its body than Inis na h- Urclaide. A horse’s mane had it ; an eye gleaming, flaming in its head, and its mien savage, forward, angry, edged, crimson, bloody, cruel, bounding. Anyone would think that its eye would go through him when it looked upon him. Two very hideous, very thick feet under it ; behind it a mane. Nails hard as iron on it, which used to strike showers of fire out of the rocks of stone wherever it went across them. A fiery breath it had which burned like embers. A belly it had like the bellows of a furnace. A whale’s tail upon it behind. Hard, rending claws upon it, which used to lay bare, on the path they came, the surface of the ground behind the monster. Equally did it traverse sea and land when it so desired. Then the sea boiled from the greatness of
its heat and from its virulence when it entered it.

Now when the monster came savagely to the place where Senan was standing, it opened its maw so that, as it drew nigh the cleric, its entrails were clearly seen over the maw. Thereat Senan lifted up his hand and made the sign of Christ’s cross in its face. Then the monster was silent, and this is what Senan spoke to it :

‘ I say unto thee,’ saith he, ‘ in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, leave this island, and hurt no one in the district over which thou wilt go, nor in the district into which thou wilt come’.

The monster went at once at Senan’s word out of the island till it reached Dubhloch of Sliabh Collain. And it did no hurt to anyone till it came here, nor after arriving ; for it
durst not oppose Senan’s word.”

Was Ireland a nest of Dragons in ancient days?  Or is it possible that the Early Christian Church used serpents and dragons as metaphors for Pagan Gods?

 

Vampire Crusaders

Le Giaour by Vernet

Le Giaour by Vernet

On Dec 12th 1408 Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary, founded the Societas Draconistarum (Order of the Dragon) one of the most evocative of the Military Chivalric Orders of the middle ages.

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We are all familiar with the larger orders such as the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. The smaller chivalric orders are less well known, but abounded all across Europe. Spain and Portugal had many orders, the best known being the Knights of Calatrava. The Baltic States had a number of orders in the Northern Crusdades against the Pagans, with the Livonian Sword Brothers playing second fiddle to the Teutonic order.

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Today we think of the Crusades as being particular to the holy land and nothing could be further from the truth. The Crusades represented a clash of cultures with Christian and Muslim states fighting for territory all across Europe.

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The Iberian peninsula was the Western theatre. The remnants of the Christian Vizigothic kingdoms fought for control against the Caliphate and then against Rif muslims such as the Almoravids and the Almohads. The Reconquista culminated in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella took the Kingdom of Granada and unified Spain under Christian rule.

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A second campaign was waged all across the mediterranean in places such as Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Malta, Crete, Cyprus, Rhodes etc to control the maritime trade routes. The key players on the Christian side were the Italian maritime states such as Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Amalfi, Ancona and Ragusa. The Ottoman fleet was the backbone of the muslim navies, but was ably supported by a variety of independent muslim rulers, traders and pirates. Two great battles signalled the ascent of Christian power; the Great Siege of Malta (1565) and the naval battle of Lepanto (1571). In both cases the Spanish Empire, freed of its own crusade, was able to contribute to Christian Victory.

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On the Eastern Front the Christians fared less well. After capturing Jerusalem in the first crusade they established four ‘crusader kingdoms’ collectively known as Outremer; the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and the County of Edessa. They lost Edessa and Jerusalem to Saladin and then lost all the remaining land over the following years to Baybars, the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, who then flowed into Europe and the Balkans.

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It was the Balkans that became the ‘front line’ of the crusades, the central theatre of the conflict. For Europe the most important single battle in the entire history of the Crusades was the Siege of Vienna in 1529. Under Sulieman the Magnificent the Ottoman Empire reached its high water mark. Had Vienna fallen then all of Eastern Europe could have become Muslim.

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It is in the context of this world that we understand the order of the Dragon, a knightly order for selected nobility who vowed to defend the Christian world against the Turks. As noble knights they were expected to act as the leaders in the defence of Christian lands. It had members in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary and all across the Balkans. One of the more noted members of the order was Vlad II Dracul. The nickname ‘dracul’ was adopted when he was inducted into the order and means ‘Vlad the Dragon’.

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After the assassination of Vlad Dracul his eldest son, Mircea, was blinded and buried alive. From the confusion that followed arose Vlad III who took a diminutive form of his father’s nickname and called himself ‘Dracula’. He was better known by his people as ‘Tepes’ or The Impaler, for his habit of impaling his muslim enemies. Dracula earned great fame and loyalty from the Romanians of Transylvania for his defence against the Turks.

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Many years later, in the 1890’s Bram Stoker visited the town of Whitby in Yorkshire and was inspired by the gothic nature of the town to write a novel. A Dublin man, Stoker had taken a job as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. This gave him access to literary circles where he met Armin Vambery, a Hungarian Jew, traveler and author who was an expert on Ottoman Orientalism. It is undoubtedly from Vambery that Stoker learned of Dracula, and framed the central character of his famous novel. In many portrayals of the story the character of Armin Vambery serves as a model for Van Helsing.

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The Giaour ; by Lord Byron

. . . Unquenched, unquenchable,
Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, most beloved of all,
Shall bless thee with a father’s name —
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark
Her cheek’s last tinge, her eye’s last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o’er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallowed hand shalt tear
The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn
Affection’s fondest pledge was worn,
But now is borne away by thee,
Memorial of thine agony!