Friday, November 11, 2011

Dracula: Black Magician... Scientist?

Dracula, Black Magician…Scientist?

So, in addition to Dracula’s purported malicious and secretive actions, how further, then, does Van Helsing build the party’s respect and fear of such a cunning villain? For that matter: how does he convince this Party of Light to join him in conducting…magic?

In Chapter 18, Van Helsing unveils Dracula’s powers and histories, as researched by his friend in Budapest, Arminius.

From Wiki: Details of his early life are obscure, but it seems that Dracula studied the black arts at the academy of Scholomance in the Carpathian Mountains, overlooking the town of Sibiu (also known as Hermannstadt) and became proficient in alchemy and magic.[2]

The Scholomance was fabled to be a legendary school of black magic run by the Devil, supposedly located near an unnamed lake in the mountains south of the city of Hermannstadt (now called Sibiu in Romanian) in the Transylvania region of Romania.
Emily Gerard, a Scottish author married to a Hungarian cavalryman stationed in Romania, gave a detailed description in her article "Transylvanian Superstitions" on page 136 of The Nineteenth Century:

As I am on the subject of thunderstorms, I may as well here mention the Scholomance, or school supposed to exist somewhere in the heart of the mountains, and where all the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all imaginable magic spells and charms are taught by the devil in person. Only ten scholars are admitted at a time, and when the course of learning has expired and nine of them are released to return to their homes, the tenth scholar is detained by the devil as payment, and mounted upon an Ismeju (dragon) he becomes henceforward the devil's aide-de-camp, and assists him in 'making the weather,' that is, in preparing thunderbolts. A small lake, immeasurably deep, lying high up among the mountains south of Hermanstadt [sic], is supposed to be the cauldron where is brewed the thunder, and in fair weather the dragon sleeps beneath the waters.

Bram Stoker, likely drawing from Gerard's work, referred to it twice in Dracula, once in chapter 18:

The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.

And in chapter 23:

He dared even to attend the Scholomance, and there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay.

Stoker's reference to "Lake Hermanstadt" appears to be a misinterpretation of Gerard's passage, as there is no body of water by that name. The part of the Carpathians near Hermannstadt holds Paltinisch lake and Bâlea Lake, which host popular resorts for people of the surrounding area.

Katherine Ramsland describes the nine remaining scholars, known as Solomonari, as "tall, redheaded men clad in white wool...[possessing] several instruments of magic and a book of instruction." She also goes on to explain that they are "trained for nine years...overcoming obstacles and surviving ordeals. Their final examination involved copying all that they knew about humanity into the Solomonar's book."
Dracula is referred to as “the devil’s tenth scholar,” though he never discusses his supernatural abilities.

Here, his shape-shifting powers work with more specific limitations devoted to time of day in its primitive sense of daybreak, mid-day, and twilight (yes, last weekend’s “fall back” would be cherished by the undead as well as the leisurely). Vampires apparently share the ability to shrink and pass through small spaces, as Lucy and Dracula both seem to do this. His relationship to running water also plays into the detective work, to discern his unique tactics. The five vampires who appear in the epistolary accounts may not all share Dracula’s powers. Van Helsing’s retelling suggests that Dracula’s magic research enabled him to choose his vampiric life. The idea of Scholomance mages commanding wolves, storms, lightning bolts---particularly, the tradition of one aide-de-camp being trained for this---suggests Stoker intended at least some of his powers stem from such training, though it’s a nebulous understanding, as befits the story’s purpose.

While Dracula, from these accounts, is a black magic sorcerer, Van Helsing, too, has rituals, from the decapitation solution, garlic, and this:

Near the end of the novel, they attack a camp consisting of Van Helsing and Mina Harker, beckoning the latter to join them and referring to her as their "sister".[citation needed] However, Mina is repulsed by them (mostly due to the holy circle Helsing created around her using holy water, negating the vampirism in her. Had he not, Mina would have heeded the sisters call and been turned). Van Helsing wards them off, but the sisters manage to kill their horses. Van Helsing subsequently goes to Dracula's castle and, after locating their tombs, destroys them by staking and decapitating them (Wiki).

Van Helsing’s studies of hypnosis, used repeatedly on Mina Harker in the quest, could be categorized similarly, while they fall under methods of the day’s science. When he says Dracula has been experimenting, he then brings his enemy back over the line as a sort of fellow scientist, in accord with both the understanding of alchemy and that sphere as the antecedent to science, the science of that day, and as a fellow user of scientific procedure in his plans, which make the world his laboratory, as befits his warlord mentality.

While according to D. J. Conway, practitioners of white magic avoid causing any form of harm, even to enact positive outcomes. Gray magic incorporates all the beneficial purposes of white magic, but also works towards ridding the world of evils.[3] Ann Finnin states that many practitioners of gray magic employ the term because of its vagueness, and to avoid having to consider ethical questions.[4]

A rather different meaning to the term was given by Roy Bowers, an influential British witch of the 1960s. For Bowers, it was a technique of baffling, bewildering, and mystifying everyone he met in order to gain power over them; by doing so, he was always more sure about them than they were about him. In his article entitled Genuine Witchcraft is Defended, Bowers says the following:[5]

“ One basic tenet of witch psychological grey magic is that your opponent should never be allowed to confirm an opinion about you, but should always remain undecided. This gives you a greater power over him, because the undecided is always the weaker. From this attitude much confusion has probably sprung in the long path of history.

The tactics of both sides seem to fit this category. There is a fascinating para-military aspect to this anti-vampire militia being improvised from sensible bourgeoisie Britons.

The definition of black magic varies by system, so please understand this as the most cursory description, for the purposes of this novel. I believe a strict reading of the King James Version of the Bible observed by Victorians, generally, would make all these things questionable wisdom, and so you must understand the internal conflict of behaving so strangely and believing such outrageous stories of a being in the darkness. Judging from the White Chapel murders contemporary to Stoker initiating his narrative, there were reasons to fear dark, sick impulses in the midst of civilization’s self-congratulatory self. Jack the Ripper may have played some part in providing the bridge they must cross to consider Van Helsing’s solutions (one can only hope they’re not hypnotized, yes?); this would’ve certainly been so for Stoker’s initial audience, if not the escalating horrors of serial killers that were publicized in the century after, once the stage play brought the novel its first true mass audience.

For public consumption, at the least, science, and scientists, had not become deeply entrenched atheists or agnostics, nor had the newly-literate, pre-cinematic public encountered suggestions of empirical materialism or nihilism. At this point, literature was not devoted to spiritual controversy, outside of theological tracts read by seminarians. The church and the newspaper were still very much at the center of the culture, at a height, proportionately. The very act of writing, developed for trade, had not become far removed from the reality that those trained in religion were the majority of literate people.

The terror of Dracula, so physically visceral to the unjaded perception, involves a very imaginative treatment of fear of losing Immortal soul---a fear which made me question the nature of the salvation in which these people trust (rather than question Stoker---which is to his credit as a writer).

The less controversial viewpoint asserted that it is the body that becomes corrupted with an unworldly host, inhabited by a daemonic presence in place of one’s own identity; so Van Helsing explains to his friend Dr. Seward in the instance of their invasion of Lucy Westerna’s crypt. (For the times, this was transgression enough to titillate many readers, and these are still respectable professional gentlemen here behaving so suspiciously and scandalously. ) Even Dracula, Mina reasons, achieves the peace of his true soul with the end of his damned existence.

(Notice: that adjective “damned” has shades of meaning, and is used vulgarly on a regular basis today, without the unreserved dread for the future beyond one’s mortal powers and existence afforded in the manner in which we discuss, for instance, Dracula.)

The book might be a chore for some ---as Ingrid Pitt humorously admitted---but it certainly succeeds in conveying a sense of place, and is filled with beliefs.

Next: Letters between friends

Bite me Magazine

* Additional notes on Scholomance: Another version of the tale known in Transylvania tells that the Scholomance was founded by famous Lord Samuel von Brukenthal, to teach "white magic" and esoteric matters to seven chosen pupils, one for every burg or schloss of Saxon Transylvania. This version did not involve any black magic or the Devil.
The Brukenthal Museum website:
There was not only the palace named by him, also a school which is situated near the palace, right across the Protestant Cathedral. Samuel von Brukenthal is the oldest German school in Romania. The school was mentioned the first time in 1380. The present building was erected in the 18th century. The school is named by the former governor of Sibiu and the lover of Maria Theresa of Samuel Brukenthal. The Samuel von Brukenthal Gymnasium (Sibiu, Romania) is a school with instruction in the language of the German minority. The school is still one of the best schools in the country[citation needed]. The language is still German, Romanian is only taught as a foreign language. After the turn of the twentieth century and the exodus of the Transylvanian Saxons, the majority of students are Romanians.[1]

Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft, the Scholomance is a ruined castle held by the Scourge whose cellars and crypts are now used to train necromancers and create undead monsters. Like its legendary namesake, the Scholomance in World of Warcraft is in the middle of a lake; ;;; ; for an Enlightenment-era viewpoint on mysticism, as professed by Palamas, St. Martin.

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