Walpurgis, Dracula, & May 1ST Eve – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – May 2012
By Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell, The Halloween Queen®
Vampires seem to be all the rage these days and the more disgusting and revolting they are the more popular they are, but once upon a time there was a man who wrote a book called Dracula. The author’s name was Bram Stoker and his story was chilling because it appealed to the intellect, the creativity of the mind and all the emotions that make us humans what we are and the undead are not. Walpurgis Nacht is very important to the genesis of the book but what exactly is Walpurgis? Most people are only aware of it because of the beginning of the novel [amazon_link id=”0486411095″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Dracula[/amazon_link] when Jonathan Harkness arrives in the land of Count Dracula and is warned about not going out that night. The story has captured the imagination of many artists since it was first conceived. Edward Gorey illustrated the cover of In Search of Dracula (value $25) in 1994. Gorey’s Dracula a Toy Theater (value $85) is one of the great popup books of all times.
The mountain Brocken is 3,747 feet high and is the highest peak in the Hartz Mountains which are reputed to be very haunted, magical, and eerie. The mountain is also known as the Blockberg and is where the Goddess Freya, her devotees and the dwarves or Rubenyah lived. It is also, where the Specter of the Brocken, a meteorological phenomenon known as the Brockengespenst is to be seen. Brockengespenst is an optical illusion, the anti-corona which causes a person’s shadow to loom magnified over the ridge which leads one to speculate if a spirit or ghost walks beside you. If that wasn’t eerie enough, often rainbow like bands and rings would surround the shadow. Nicholas Tessla would have loved this! Witches have and do meet here on May Eve and in the 1930s a special train was put up to take the many tourists and Freya believers and seekers to the top of the mountain. The tickets for these are graphically pleasing and highly collectible $10-30.
Brocken is not to be confused with Blakulla-Blokula-Blakella that Swedish witches fly off to at Easter as Brocken is real and the mountain of Blakulla has never been found if it existed at all except in tales. It is interesting to note that people still went to Brocken during the Burning Years when millions of women and some men were tortured, burnt, hung etc. for the crime of witchcraft. Sweden had a short rein of this insanity but it only lasted for a few years. But… in one day alone 133 women were burnt and that was a small number compared to what occurred in other countries. Religious intolerance has always been a weapon against women and non conformists as well as intellectuals, artists and scientist. The many depictions of Brocken or the witches revels vary and later ones usually show a devil figure with the witches or pagans as folklore as well as mainstream religion had deemed with great delight, everything it did not approve of as devilish. Fear rules. There have been some incredible art created showing both Brocken and Walpurgis and one is a portfolio of silhouettes 17 1/2 x 16 done in 1919 by Otto Stieffel and published by Edm. V. Konigs Kunstverlag, Heidelberg. (value $500) This shows the many different types of animal transportation that witches used to fly great distances to their feasts. Panthers, boars, pigs, cats, etc. All the birds such as Ravens and Owls populated the skies with these semi and sky clad individuals. It is interesting that obtained under torture, records say that the witches never enjoyed the feasts as the food did not have salt in it but it could have been the menu.
Alsace-Fricasseed bats, Savoy-roasted children, Spain-exhumed corpses of your closest relatives. The devil was obviously not a gourmet and did not have a personal chef. England fared a bit better… in Lancashire mutton was stolen but the rest of England roasted beef and drank beer. Perhaps the roast beef was over cooked and the beer poor but still it was better fare than other countries. History, often nothing but propaganda, said you are what they say you are not what you think and are. The artistic tradition leaves us some gruesome as well beautiful images of both sides of the story. It is remembered that Joan of Arc was burnt as a witch because of wearing men’s clothes and in Salem, Bridget Bishop was hung because she was foolish enough to have a tiny bit of red lace on her petticoat which was proof enough she was a witch!
Most legends and history intertwine and are inclusive of many items woven into a subject. Walpurgis has many legends and stories very few which are true and have cost many innocent people their lives. If your garden or farm prospered better than your neighbors, if you had any form of physical deformity, you were old, ugly, particularly beautiful, etc. you could be in great peril.
Alder trees are called Walpurgis trees as the witches of Germany allegedly consumed the alder buds during their flight to the Brocken on Walpurgis. It is uncertain if the buds were eaten raw or cooked, and if cooked if they were seasoned and if so with which spices? Alder branches were used to stir the cauldron. Alder was sacred to the goddess Freya whose last remaining temple in Magdenberg, German was destroyed by edict of Charlemagne. Poor Freya was banished to the mountain tops of Sweden, Germany and Norway. Though she was banished she continued to have her devotees and as late as 1688 the Saxons of Magdenberg continued their devotion to this goddess even though she had been branded the queen of the witches by the church. Many Alder trees were uprooted and burnt to keep witches from using them to stir their cauldrons or make brooms.
Goethe’s Faust visits Brocken for Walpurgis. The book took him a mere 60 years 1749-1832 to complete. There are many collectibles especially relating to the stage plays and operatic versions of this great epic. Gounod and Boito wrote opera’s which are spectacular and based on Goethe’s novel. Europe has always been more attuned to the fiction and fantasy of mysterious holidays and May Eve-Walpurgis is to them similar in many ways to our Halloween only more poignant and less serene. Was it the devil himself that was so frightening or was it the more corporal and sinister image of, not the historical Dracula who really existed, but the fictional character out of an 1897 novel. Dracula even more than Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein captured and continues to capture the imagination of millions. Perhaps, it is because poor Frankenstein was so hideous and the concept of the vampire is considered sexy. Why did Andy Warhol (numbered silk screen valued about $35,000) depict Dracula as did countless other artists? Why have so many movies been made about the count? And wasn’t Hollywood fortunate to have Bella Lugosi?
There is a tremendous amount of difference between silver and lead but both are metals. Here is how, in the world of vampires you can tell the crème de la crème. Watch “Dark Shadows” the TV series and some of the early movies. Or have someone who feels like a thespian sit in the far corner of a darkened room and with only a flash light, read the original out loud to those sitting in the dark. Or listen to an audio tape while sitting in the dark. Then try turning on a contemporary Vampire program, movie or audio tape and listen to it in the dark. With TV you can even darken the screen and just make believe it is a radio. Those that send the chills and shivers up your spine are silver. Your imagination is the screen and your fears are enhanced 100 times over. Stoker knew how to build in tension and fear. The suspense conjured by his written word was psychological warfare. He didn’t need visual blood and gore, he had impeccable manners. Stoker played your imagination using it like the devil does his fiddle. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that the old radio programs have become so popular again. Try driving down a lonely road listening to “Lights Out,” “The Witching Hour” or “Inner Sanctum.”
As for “Dark Shadows” and “Barnabas Collins”…doesn’t he live in that old Victorian house just down the street from you? I’m sure those are vampire bats that flitter about there. You better be careful as it is almost Walpurgis –May Eve.
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