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Dracula - Roots of the Vampyre Legend

Posted by J. Roslyn Antle on 5/25/2014 to General

DraculaDracula! The name still carries as much power today as it did when it first electrified Victorian Britain in the 1890s. It is perhaps the most famous horror story of all time, certainly in the Western World, and this month it turns a grand 107 years old.

This most powerful of tales created a literary figure of such frightening power that over a century later, his name still causes the hair to rise on the backs of our necks.

The image of the Vampyre (or Vampire) is a captivating one. Along with a thrilling plot, an electrifying combination of love and bloodshed and frightening use of Magick, ‘Dracula’ was a great success upon its publication.

It propelled its author, the Irish writer Bram Stoker, to considerable fame, and has echoed down through the years ever since.

When one of our Coven’s members, Lynda Stratton, mentions to people that she is from Romania, it is not long before th

To truly understand Stoker’s creation, we must look at the roots of this most thrilling of stories. Written in London in 1897, the original novel ‘Dracula’ used a combination of real folk beliefs, tradition and macabre history to infuse the exhilarating story with a sinister dose of realism.

Dracula CastleThe mountainous lair of the creature is a real region, the Transylvanian reaches of the Carpathian Mountains. It has a unique reputation in Europe, not as central and well-known as the Alps, but rather a very imposing and inaccessible range of mountains. To Victorian England, this was the “Wild East” of Europe, a place where who-knows-what dwelt. The Transylvanian region is often understood as being infused with mysticism. It is a region that has often had the specter of war looming over it throughout the centuries. Stoker saw it as the perfect zone for his greatest creation to inhabit. The Carpathian Mountains have long been a very special place when it comes to European spiritual beliefs. Occupying as they do the uplands of Romania and Hungary, they are one of the defining mountain ranges of the continent. As the marauding armies of the Turkish Empire assaulted Christian Europe in the 15th and 16th century, the vast forests and craggy peaks of Transylvania would serve as a bulwark against these foreign forces. It became a region that was out there ‘on the edge’ of Europe, wild in nature and steeped in mysticism.

Romanian ForestAs a region it was untamed, and full of the wild beasts that the Vampyre would ultimately take the forms of, such as bats and wolves. This part of Romania remains closely associated with the Roma, or Gypsy people. Indeed, these people play a vital role in the original story of ‘Dracula’. They warn the first protagonist, Jonathan Harker, of the danger that waits for him. Their ability to “scrye”, or see into the future, allows them to give him advance warning – which of course he ignores. They live in fear of the ‘bird of death’ that dwells in the castle nearby.

More strikingly however, is the use of Magick and ‘mind control’ within the story. This Vampyric power has a firm basis amongst the people of the region where this most popular of stories is set. Numerous characters in the classic book are struck by this power, which seems almost like an instant form of hypnosis. Even the Gypsies are not immune, being used as pawns by Dracula in the climatic final battle. The idea of upstanding citizens suddenly being stripped of their self-control due to the application of an arcane and Magickal power was quite scandalous in Stoker’s time, and it was a concept that he certainly played upon. One of the most striking characters in the story is Renfield, a former lawyer who has been spiritually dominated by Dracula.

Dracula has made the man his slave, using his inherent Magick to cast a kind of dominating Spell and control Renfield’s will. In doing so, Dracula impresses upon him the need to consume small animals to gain their ‘life force’, and he collects flies and spiders to this end. He hopes to progress up to bigger animals, and gain more and more power. In this respect, it seems Renfield himself becomes a kind of psychic vampire, utterly consumed by the need to feed.

This is the clearest indication in ‘Dracula’ of Stoker’s understanding of the life force consumption concept. It is a central point in the story, and certainly one of the most disturbing. Renfield’s obsession with the absorption of energy has even been used by the medical community to name a particular disorder. Named Renfield’s Syndrome by clinical psychologist Richard Noll in 1992, it is the uncontrollable urge to drink blood and can start as early as childhood. Chilling, no? We should note that the legend of the Vampyre was not dreamed up totally by Stoker, but rather he put a modern spin on what has long been a figure that existed in Romanian folklore.

Working on a mythic figure that had already been partially explored by previous writers like Sheridan La Fanu and John Polidori, he perfected the creature, rather than create it.

The Vampyre has been understood for centuries as a being that feeds on the ‘essence’ or energy of another being. These beings have been known to walk among unsuspecting individuals, and their work can be insidious and hard to detect. It can be hard to identify who is feeding on the energy of others or not.

This forms part of the dramatic tension of ‘Dracula’. The slow reveal of the monster in all his terrible power forms the central portion of the book. In medieval Romania, a land riven by war and upheaval, it was not out of the ordinary to find strange individuals who dwelt on the edges of a frayed society. The shadow of the Vampyre was thus cast across the landscape.

Superstitious folks, who feared that evil forces had taken hold of people, and could cause them to rise from their graves, took precautions. These included piercing the hearts of those who had passed away, with holy iron. Sprinkling the ‘blessed herb’, garlic, around a body before burial was also common. These were the ways that the people reassured themselves against what they believed were dark forces. Why take the risk?

VladThe region has had its fair share of infamous individuals. Most famous perhaps is Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler. A highly respected local nobleman, he was also known by the name, 'Dracula'. He struck fear into the hearts of the invading Turkish armies by impaling great numbers of prisoners who fell into his hands. These unlucky individuals were then strung out over the countryside, serving as a demoralizing warning to anyone who dared attack his lands. It was a brutal practice that echoed down through the ages.

‘Dracula’ is a tale that revolves around blood, and the ghastly figure of Countess Elizabeth Bathory certainly played her part in its inspiration. She is reckoned by many historians to potentially be the most prolific female serial killer in the world, having murdered hundreds of young women whom she lured to her castle in 16th century Hungary, which is very close to Transylvania.

Bathory was a noblewoman, and thus she could not be easily condemned by the authorities, but such were her crimes that she was eventually walled-up in a section of her castle so she could not threaten anyone ever again. The tales of her bathing in the blood of murdered virgins to restore her youth have always been deemed sensational, but it is easy to see the parallels with Dracula.

Blood, as it appears so prominently in the Dracula story, is a more visceral and horrifying form of ‘energy’ that the Vampyric being must harvest from others. The tale of the Blood Countess is perhaps more horrifying due to its basis in historical truth, something that Stoker knew would make his tale all the more chilling. The female form is at the heart of ‘Dracula’.

Carmilla & DraculaThe Vampyre’s trio of dark brides that prey upon the helpless Jonathan are both seductive and fearsome, using a form of Vampyric Magick to seduce and control him. It is a striking inversion of the modest approach to femininity that prevailed in the late 19th century in Britain. Stoker played on this. Interestingly, the Vampyric figure of ‘Carmilla’, an earlier novel by the writer La Fanu, closely touched on an erotic power that approached lesbianism. Stoker incorporated this idea into his work, subtly allowing a kind of feminine empowerment amongst Vampyres that again stoked interest amongst his readership.

If you are interested in the Magickal concepts that classic tale of ‘Dracula’ touches upon, I urge you to look more closely at the rich folklore and history of the Gypsy people. Here you will find the real hints and glimpses of the powers that appear in ‘Dracula’. Many readers, distracted by the action and the plot of the book, fail to notice a very important facet in the Dracula story.

Upon his arrival in England, the vampire brings coffins full of earth from his native land, so that he many rest in this soil and recharge his powers. The power of the Vampyre is so closely linked to the spirit of the land that he cannot bear to be separated from it.

Dracula himself is compromised of the organic myths and traditions of this secluded and shadowed section of Europe.

Have you ever been inspired by the tale of Dracula? Have you ever felt a calling from the mountains and forests, such as those that compromise Transylvania? Do you have a favorite version of the tale, in book or film form that you find yourself returning to?

There are many to choose from, but I often find myself returning to the original – it is a classic after all. Similarly, if you find the Magickal forces that are hinted at in the novel intriguing, feel free to peruse our section on Ancient Vampyre Magick.

Our Coven’s expert in this field, Lynda Stratton, will be happy to help you explore the possibilities of this most esoteric of crafts.

Please feel free to share your own opinions and experiences below, or feel free to leave a comment on our Facebook Page.

My blessings upon you,
J. Roslyn Antle High Priestess,
The 7witches Coven
7witchescoven.com

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