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August 18, 2017

Magic Words: Eighteen

Placid 18

“And whatever your labors or aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.”

Desiderata (Max Ehrmann)


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August 17, 2017

Magic Words: Seventeen

placid 17

“Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be.”

Desiderata (Max Ehrmann)


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August 15, 2017

Countess Dracula: In League With Witches?

As long as there have been stories, tales of female vampires have captured the popular imagination.  Hebrew scriptures claim Lilith and her daughters lived on the blood of babies, and in the Greco-Roman mythology the followers of Hecate were also said to feast on children.  But the Guinness World Record for a woman serial killer is held by a documented historical figure – the wealthy Hungarian noble, Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614).  She is said to have tortured and killed around 600 peasant girls in order to bathe in their virgin blood, believing this was the fountain of youth that would keep her beautiful. The maidens were lured to her castle with promises of well-paid work, only to be beaten, burned, mutilated, frozen, starved, or stabbed to death.

Countess

Bathory is also known as Countess Dracula, partly because her atrocities are often compared with Vlad the Impaler’s reign of terror – a fellow Transylvanian murderer.  Bram Stoker used Bathory’s royal Hungarian connection for his Count, and made Dracula appear younger each time he feasted on human blood.

According to some sources Bathory, betrothed at age 10, married a lesser nobleman when she reached 15 years old.  In the meantime, however, she was impregnated by a castle servant and secretly gave birth to a daughter.  The child was never heard of again – and the lover was castrated before being fed to a pack of dogs.  She was married for 29 years, and during that time had several other children.

Bathory is thought to have suffered from violent seizures in early childhood, which may have aroused the first suspicions that she was “possessed by demons.”  Her husband spent a lot of time at war.  During his absence a manservant called Thorko apparently introduced her to the occult and several of her companions were rumored to be witches, sorcerers, seers, wizards, and cunning folk.  Four of these people were accomplices in her bloody crimes and when she was finally brought to justice, two were burned at the stake, one was beheaded and burned, and a last was imprisoned.  Because of her royal status Bathory could not be executed, so she was incarcerated in her castle for the remaining few years of her life.

Legend has likely embellished the horrors of Countess Dracula.  And whether she was dangerously vain, mentally unstable, or killed maidens simply for sadistic pleasure, we will never know.  But this was the era of witch hunting — and Bathory was a rich, powerful widow who triggered a lot of political envy and resentment — so she was a natural target for the ambitious men around her.  We cannot deny the fact that royal ladies have been known to torture and kill.  But when one of the charges against this noblewoman claims she cast a magic spell to summon ninety cats to torment her enemies . . . perhaps she is not quite as guilty as we have been led to believe!


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August 14, 2017

Magic Words: Sixteen

Placid 16

“You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Desiderata (Max Ehrmann)


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August 11, 2017

Kate Bush’s Waking the Witch

Waking The Witch (Kate Bush)

Goddess

Wake Up
A good morning ma’am, your early morning call
You must wake up
Wake up
Wake up, man
Wake up child, pay attention
C’mon, wake up
Wake up, love
You shouldn’t make the night, but see your little lights alive
Stop your lying and sleeping in bed! Get up!
(C’mon! Your ma needs a shower)
Little light
Can you not see that little light up there?
Where?
There?
Where?
Over here…
You still in bed?
Wake up you sleepy head
We are of the going water and gone, we are of the water, and the holy land of water…
Don’t you know you’ve got to wake up?
Look whose hear to see you…

Listen to me…help me baby…talk to me, baby…tell them…listen to me…help me

You won’t burn
Red red roses
You won’t bleed
Pinks and posies
Confess to me girl
Red red roses
Go down

Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…
Spiritus sanctus in nomine…

Poor little thing
Red red roses
The blackbird
Pinks and posies
Wings in the water
Red red roses
Go down
Pinks and posies

Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…
Deus et dei domino…

What is it child?

Bless me father, bless me father, for I have sinned…ugh
Red red roses
Help me baby, listen to me, listen to me, tell them baby
Red whole rose
Help me baby
Don’t you know?
I question your innocence

This black bird…
Is a stone around my neck
Ha! Damn you woman … Ah! Ugh!
This black bird…
Is a stone around my neck
What say you good people?
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
This black bird….
I am responsible for your actions!
Whoa….
Not guilty!
Help this black bird.
Wake of the Witch

Get out of the waves.

Get out of the water.


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August 10, 2017

Vampires: The Devil’s Minions

Eve

The vampire is one of the archetypal embodiments of evil.  These cursed, damned creatures are claimed by Satan, and act as his followers to lure human souls away from God.  For that reason they cannot tolerate any reminders of what they have lost – crucifixes, holy water, rosaries, consecrated ground – and are forced to wander in the dark realm of night alongside the dead and undead.  Traditionally thought to be the reanimated evil souls of witches, suicides, and malevolent spirits, these corpses prey on the living in search of gratification and blood.  So how did this weird form of demonic possession becomes so sexy in the popular imagination?

Our literary fascination goes back the nineteenth century when Gothic horror writers began exploring the vampire myth.  Perhaps the most influential book was Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which has since defined the legend for many generations.  Having spent seven years exploring Transylvanian folklore, Stoker based his demonic character on Vlad the Impaler (Vlad II, Dracula of Wallachia) who killed 40,000 – 100,000 enemies by impaling them on wooden poles – providing us with the method of ending a vampire’s reign by driving a wooden stake through the heart.  Vlad’s other atrocities included roasting children and serving them to their mothers, burning entire villages to the ground, and making men eat the severed breasts of their women.  Interestingly, the name Dracul can mean both dragon and devil.  But Stoker’s villain is much more attractive and sophisticated.  His Dracula is a worldly aristocratic count who skillfully stalks and seduces his prey.

During the twentieth century, the TV show Dark Shadows featured a sympathetic monster called Barnabas (1967).  In Interview With A Vampire Anne Rice introduced the sensual character, Lestat (1976).  And before long the disgusting blood-sucking creature of nightmares turned into a metaphor for redemption.  If the sad, lost vampire can be saved – by love or compassion – surely there is hope for everyone!   This also seems to be the  hook in books like the Twilight series.

Today the vampire has become a sex symbol, the hero of YA fiction and cable TV.  But this is not a modern phenomenon.  Ever since Eve was tricked in the Garden of Eden, the devil has been portrayed as being both attractive and seductive.  He does not lure Eve into temptation in human form – he chooses to appear as the phallic snake, a reminder that woman is lustful and open to the sins of the flesh.

When Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil she dooms the human race to mortality, and in aligning herself with Satan she becomes the prototype witch.  But as European mythology made evil the polar opposite to good, it seems the devil came up with an intriguing alternative.  Instead of God’s promise of eternal life, Satan offers immortality on earth through becoming one of his minions.  Vampirism is an attractive solution to the Christian rigors of heaven or the painful tortures of hell.  And so, I would argue, the Dracula myth was born.

Who does not want to overcome death and live forever?  Most of us have a secret craving for love, immortality, power, and freedom.    The vampire realm requires an initial sacrifice of blood to the master, but thereafter there are no punishments or rules, no aging and pain, no guilt or taboos.  Surrendering to the darkness is erotic, exciting, mysterious, and adventurous.  The vampire remains suspended in time and the lustful soul is free to roam at will.

As modern day religion and morality changes with the times, so does our perception of good and evil.  It is only natural that our mythology alters too.  Few people would have found Bela Lugosi’s demonic Dracula very attractive:

Bela

But True Blood’s Eric Northman is a whole different beast!

Vampire

Sources:

Wikipedia: “Dracula” – “Vampire” – “Vlad the Impaler”

Dawidziak, David.  “When Did Vampires Turn From Monsters To Sex Symbols?”

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Penguin, 1990.



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August 08, 2017

Magic Words: Fifteen

Placid 15

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.”

Desiderata (Max Ehrmann)

Photo: Vera Kratochvil


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August 07, 2017

Magic Words: Fourteen

“Do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.”

Desiderata (Max Ehrmann)

Photo: George Hodan


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August 04, 2017

Rasputin: Devil or Saint?

Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916) was a complex Russian cunning man, sometimes called a monk, yet also described as a demon.  Why is he still such a fascinating figure?

Born a Siberian peasant, Rasputin rose to fame as a mystical faith healer to Tsar Nicholas II and his family.  His name, however, is often associated with trickery, debauchery, and the lust for power.

Following the death of his two young sons, Rasputin claimed to see a holy vision that led him to become a religious wanderer.  In 1907 he was summoned to the royal palace to attend Alexei – heir to the throne – who secretly suffered from hemophilia.  Although traditional medicine could do nothing for him,  Rasputin healed the young man with special prayers (and possibly his own herbal remedy), offering the Tsar and his wife their first glimpse of hope for their son’s future.

At a time when most of educated Europe was interested in mysticism Rasputin claimed to have access to the spirit world.  This – and his sway over the royal family – earned him many critics, some of whom claimed he was the Tsarina’s lover.  The newspapers of the day continually hounded him, yet by 1914 he was a firm influential force in Russian politics.

Multiple assassination attempts were made on the cunning man’s life.  One the first occasion he was stabbed.  But the night his enemies finally murdered him, Rasputin was poisoned with cyanide, shot three times at close range, bludgeoned with a shoe, and dumped in an icy river.

Scholarship suggests Rasputin was not a saint – he was never ordained in any religious order.  Rather, he was a charismatic personality with hypnotic eyes, who clarified the scriptures and made them accessible to everyone.  Most likely he was a herbalist and a gifted faith healer.  But his strong male appetite for power, fame, sex, and entertainment ultimately led to his downfall.

At the end of the day Rasputin was human, and like all of us he had both good and bad qualities.  Yet the widespread public fascination he evoked (and continues to evoke) suggests he may have been one of the first modern pop-culture icons.

Perhaps that is why his fame has stood the test of time.  Rasputin was the undisputed paparazzi star of his era!


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August 03, 2017

Magic Words: Thirteen

“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.”

Desiderata (Max Ehrmann)


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