Friday, October 30, 2015

Bram Stoker and the invention of the vampire

Almost nobody in modern America believes in vampires anymore - but we almost all agree on what properties a vampire has. Mostly, we base these assumptions on modern portrayals of one character: Count Dracula.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Basic Renaissance Handball

I've been asked recently about good historical outdoor games for reenactors and I realized I hadn't put together a single, consolidated set of instructions for early modern handball as I currently teach it. So that's what this is.

This doesn't have any rules whose invention depends on the existence of purpose-built tennis courts, but it otherwise conforms to the rules given by Juan Luis Vives in 1540. The result is, I believe, a decent conjecture at how the game would have been played in southern Europe ca. 1500.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Vampires of New England

In 1890, Mercy Brown of Exeter, Rhode Island, came down with consumption (tuberculosis), the disease which had killed both her mother and her older sister. Her brother Edwin followed, falling ill less than a year after Mercy's death.

Certain members of the family and the town they live in decided that a paranormal cause was to blame for Edwin's death. It seemed a perfectly normal presumption to them, as the local superstition held that consumption was often caused by the intervention of dead relatives, mostly those who had themselves died of the same illness, sapping away the vitality of the living. To rural New Englanders of the late eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries, this seemed the most likely cause of such a string of cases.

George Brown, the father of the three children, didn't believe in such things, but eventually agreed to exhume the bodies of several deceased relatives. When Mercy's corpse was found relatively free of rot, it was concluded that she was responsible for Edwin's illness, and so to keep her from similarly afflicting another member of the family, her heart was cut out of her body and burned. The ashes were also mixed with water and given to Edwin as a folk remedy against his illness. The remedy failed: Edwin Mercy died of tuberculosis in 1892.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Unquiet Grave

A corpse isn't buried promptly after its funeral, and a pregnant cat jumps over its unattended coffin.

The corpse returns to life, still dressed in its formal funereal attire. Stiff from rigor mortis, its arms are permanently stretched in front of it, and it can only move by hopping - perhaps a slightly comical sight, but it stalks the night to drain the vital force of the living. The body has become a jiangshi.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Vampires of the Twelfth Century

It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony. It would be strange if such things should have happened formerly, since we can find no evidence of them in the works of ancient authors, whose vast labor it was to commit to writing every occurrence worthy of memory; for if they never neglected to register even events of moderate interest, how could they have suppressed a fact at once so amazing and horrible, supposing it to have happened in their day? Moreover, were I to write down all the instances of this kind which I have ascertained to have befallen in our times, the undertaking would be beyond measure laborious and troublesome; so I will fain add two more only (and these of recent occurrence) to those I have already narrated, and insert them in our history, as occasion offers, as a warning to posterity.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"It is 100 years since our children left."

A single sentence in a town record from Hamelin, Germany dated 1384 provides the only primary-source we have for an incident which remains utterly mysterious. History knows only that the town lost its children, and has no idea how.

Folklore, of course, provides an answer, and one with far more detail than the record bears out: this notation in the archives is the first written telling of the tale that would become the Pied Piper of Hamelin.