Abraham "Bram" Stoker (November 8, 1847 – April 20, 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.

Matthew Beresford: Vampires, Astrology & the Planetary Myths

In a recent study1 I have argued that the history of the modern vampire myth can be traced back through time some 6000 years to the Classical World of Ancient Greece and Rome. Nick Campion2 put forward his opinion that astrology also holds its roots in the Ancient World, but that the idea of astrology has its most obvious evidence in the megalithic stone circles and henges of Prehistory, most notably in the Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages (circa. 3,000BC onwards). This means, he argues, that the knowledge and use of planetary observation dates back at least 5,000 years, and possibly as long as 6,000 years, in north-western Europe. Indeed, it is suggested that the ancient Iranian prophet Zoroaster was ‘wholly given up to the magic arts (as) the devil alone inspired him to study and observe the stars’3 reflecting this early interest. Given the obvious correlation in date between the origins of the vampire myth (in its demon or spirit form) and this apparent astrological monumentation, then, it is the purpose of this article to examine exactly how far the two are intertwined, and what the evidence is for this. 

Evidence of demonic or spiritual ‘vampires’ in the Ancient World relies heavily on the connection between the Afterlife or spirit world and life on earth; beings such as the Empusas, Sirens and Lamia from Greek and Roman mythology. Interestingly, these beings share a common link with water: in Greek Mythology the Sirens were daughters of the river god Achelous and in Roman Mythology they were daughters of the sea god Phorcys, and the Lamia were daughters of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. In the play named The Frogs by Aristophanes (456-386BC) Dionysus travels to Hades in order to bring Euripedes back from the dead. On the way there he has to cross a river and is ferried across this by Charon, the ferryman for the dead. When Charon delivers Dionysus to the river’s shore he is confronted by the Empusa, and although this demonic vampire creature has no direct links with water, it is interesting that it is lying in wait for people ferried across the river into Hades. This depiction of Charon within the fable is integral to early vampire myths. Ancient death and burial customs depict coins being placed on the eyes or in the mouth of the deceased in payment to Charon for crossing the River Styx, gateway to the Realm of the Dead. In The Vampire: His Kith & Kin (1928) Montague Summers argued that the initial meaning of this practice had been misinterpreted over time through Classical literature and actually related to the belief that the soul left the body, and could return in the same way after death, through the mouth of the deceased, and so in order to prevent this votive offerings such as coins, charms and pieces of pottery inscribed with magical pentacles were placed in the mouth to prevent the soul from reanimating the dead person. On the Greek island of Mykonos these same pentacle symbols were often carved on doors in order to protect against the vrykolakas (Greek vampire). 

Within astrology, or more specifically the planetary myths, Hades (Pluto) is depicted as God of the underworld who would welcome the souls of the deceased and keep them in his realm forever. However, should the dead wish to return to the living they could drink from the waters of Lethe, which took all memory of their past life, and then be reborn upon earth. The similarity here of the vampire consuming life-giving liquid (albeit usually blood) in order to be given prolonged life is all too apparent. Hades also appears, within the astrological planetary myths, in the story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone where, after falling in love with Persephone, Hades arrives in a chariot drawn by large black horses and kidnaps her. This arrival is markedly similar to our first glimpse of Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel when he collects Jonathon Harker in his black carriage en route to Castle Dracula, and significantly to this theme Dracula later travels to England on board the Russian ship Demeter. Whether Bram Stoker meant any obvious connections with his vampire and earlier astrological myths is unclear, but no other explanation is readily apparent regarding the name of the Russian ship. 

Returning to the story of Demeter and Persephone, once learning of the kidnap of her daughter, Demeter (the ‘mother earth’ Goddess) in her grief prevented the earth from yielding its crop and so rivers ran dry, harvests failed and plants and trees withered and died. Due to this Zeus intervened and persuaded Hades to return Persephone, but not before Hades made her eat some pomegranate seeds. Legend depicts that if a person eats or drinks in the underworld they are only allowed a short return to life and are destined to return to the realm of the dead. Thus, when Persephone returns to life, Demeter is happy and everything flourishes and grows, but when she must return to the dead and Demeter grieves, so must the earth grieve and everything withers and dies. This explains why things grow and flourish in Spring and Summer but wither and die in Autumn and Winter. The seasons mark the continuous journey of Persephone, and the subsequent moods of her ‘earth mother’ Demeter. It is this cyclical pattern that is not only instrumental in the rites and beliefs of the Prehistoric period, and therefore the importance of astrology to the peoples, but also in later vampire lore. 

In the early Prehistoric, most notably the Neolithic (or New Stone Age, circa 5000- 2500BC), we see large, communal chambered tombs and long barrows, and these are often aligned to coincide with important solar occasions. For example, at Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey the passage to the tomb was constructed so that the sun shone directly into the chamber at the midsummer solstice. This is also the case at the chambered tombs of Maes Howe in the Orkneys, at Gavrinis in Brittany and at Newgrange, Co. Meath. As time progressed in Prehistory the monumentation changed somewhat, but the astronomical beliefs were retained. The Stonehenge Heelstone also aligns with the rising midsummer sun and the setting midwinter sun. What we do see as the chambered tombs or Long Barrows are replaced by smaller round barrows and stone circles is the symbology of the cyclical belief pattern being fundamental within society. Indeed, in the Bronze Age (circa 2500-700BC) we see barrows (burial mounds), stone circles, cairns and houses all adopting this circular shape, perhaps reflecting the continuous flow of the seasons evident in earlier astrological beliefs. But how does this relate to the idea of vampires? Well it is in this period that the idea of death and burial and the afterlife become integral to society’s actions and belief patterns. In fact, what may well be the first ‘physical’ evidence of vampires is shown on a Prehistoric drinking bowl in the journal Delegation en Perse, where a man is depicted copulating with a dead vampire whose head has been severed from his body. We also see, in the Prehistoric, evidence for the practice of excarnation, or the defleshing of the body usually by birds or wild animals, which allows the soul to be released from its physical ‘shell’, suggesting that there must have been a strong belief in the afterlife. And of course, once it is believed that the souls of the dead can pass into the next world, then the fear arises that perhaps they can return from the dead as well. If we consider the burial cairns of the Prehistoric, which are prevalent across much of Europe in the Bronze Age, we often see a central burial being ‘housed’ or ‘contained’ by a number of stones and rocks of differing sizes, a practice which may have been used to prevent the dead returning, in effect to ‘contain’ them. As time progressed into the Iron Age (circa 700BC-AD45) we can see this fear of the dead returning become even more apparent. In a number of cases, archaeologists have discovered the human remains of ‘bog bodies’, people often thought to have been ritually killed and dumped in bogs or areas of peat land, something that has preserved the remains due to the high water content of the soil. Lindow Man, discovered near Manchester in 1984, and Tollund Man (found near Silkeborg in Denmark in 1950) both showed signs of being murdered, perhaps in some form of ritual. Other bog bodies, such as those from Ehrenberg, Bavaria, had large stones placed on top of them perhaps to prevent them from returning after death. Yet others had been ‘staked’ to the ground with sharpened branches or lengths of wood. What we can suggest from this is that the early cyclical beliefs and the use of planets or stars to align monuments must reflect an importance within society in the belief that there was a higher power involved in life. Once this notion took hold and people started believing that there may also be a place that the dead go to and perhaps an afterlife, it opened the way for a wider fear in the spirits of the dead returning, and as time progressed into the historical period, these fears grew to such a level that vampires, demons, devils and witches became part of everyday life. Perhaps this is why the circle, or cyclical system, was such a powerful symbol in our early history, as it reflected a continuation of birth, growth and death and one would then assume re-birth, a factor that undoubtedly aided the immortal vampire. 

These cycles that were integral within Prehistory are controlled, astrologically, by the moon, and perhaps no other astrological symbol is more prevalent to the vampire myth. Artemis (Goddess of Hunters) is the moon god and lives, legend tells us, on the dark side of the moon hidden away from life on earth. That she loved the dark and hunted by moonlight throws up instant parallels with the vampire, himself a famed night hunter. We now know that it is the moon that controls the tides and flows of our seas and oceans but it also controls the water contained inside our bodies, in our cells and in our blood. It is interesting that the early vampiric demons have apparent links with water, as this would also suggest therefore a link with the moon and may reflect why later vampire beings also hold links with the moon. The cycles of the moon also mirror the cycles of life: birth, growth, death, renewal and Lisa Tenzin-Dolma4 suggests that the constant living, dying and regeneration of the cells of humans, plants and animals creates a continual (cyclical) process that aids evolution. The moon also lends its name to lunacy, of course. 

In many Eastern European countries we see the werewolf being as prominent as the vampire within folklore, and it is this mythical creature that holds the most obvious links with the moon. In an article in Folklore5 Harry Senn put forward the view that the werewolves of many countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia, have obvious links with the cycles of the sun and moon and to festivals relating to these. For example in Romania we hear how the varcolac, a being generally described as being a wolf-like creature similar to the more familiar werewolf, eats the moon and the sun and causes eclipses, or bites the moon until it appears covered in blood (again, denoted by an eclipse, either partial or total). The symbolism of the wolf devouring the moon therefore represents the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. These werewolf legends within Romanian folklore lead to a number of oral traditions being passed on from one generation to the next, in a culture that is littered with examples of werewolves, devils, witches and monstrous creatures. Whilst the origins of some of these legends often prove difficult to trace, that of the varcolac can be seen to relate to the following curses and restrictions stipulated by the Church: ‘Christian holidays are likewise the focus of sexual restrictions inscribed in the church canon; that is, one must observe abstinence from sexual relations on the eve of Christmas, Easter and the Pentecost’ - if these rules are not obeyed and a child is conceived, the child ‘will be cursed with ‘wolf-ears’, for example, or a ‘wolf’s head,’ or will have harelip, and generally be ‘unlucky’ and even malicious’.6 

It may also be that some of these legends hold their roots in some of the Pre-Christian religions such as that of Cybele, the mother earth Goddess. Although Romania today is largely a Christian country, evidence of these earlier Pagan traditions still exist in some of the rural villages where we see young adult males parading through the streets performing dances and singing ritual hymns. Many of the people involved in these festivities wear costumes and masks depicting animals and devils, in a tradition that mirrors the Pre-Christian festival of the Lupercalia where young males dressed as wolves or goats and chased young women through the streets playfully ‘whipping’ them with leather thongs, a practice believed to inspire fertility.7 Again it cannot be coincidence that the name Lupercalia holds etymological links with the French word loup-garou, which means werewolf, and could be early evidence of the ‘wolf traditions’ within folklore. If we consider that the practice of eating pancakes during Candlemas (15th February) symbolises the devouring of the old moon in order to be replaced by a new one, we can again see strong evidence of the links between the cycles of the moon and the varcolcac or werewolf. There is also evidence of this cyclical belief in the traditions of Janus (from which January was named) which relates to the New Year, or more specifically the end of one year and beginning of a new one: ‘(Janus) was an idol with two faces, as if one were the end of the old year and the other the beginning of the new, and, as it were, the protector and auspicious author of the coming year. And in honour of him, or rather of the devil in the form of that idol, the Pagans made much boisterous revelry, and were very merry among themselves, holding various dances and feasts’. 8 

Although a lot of the impetus on the importance of astrology that existed in early history was lost after the collapse of the Roman Empire in Western Europe, Sun and Moon worship continued to be a strong influence on theology. Perhaps this was due to the relevance within ‘natural’ occurrences and phenomena, such as the links with seasons, agriculture and so forth. In addition to this ‘a great emphasis was placed on the observation of celestial phenomena, such as comets, a rare event, eclipses and lunar phases’.9 Perhaps the most telling evidence of this comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle regarding the sacking of Lindisfarne, Northumbria by the Vikings in AD793: ‘Here terrible portents came about in the land of .orthumbria, and miserably afflicted the people: these were immense flashes of lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air, and there immediately followed a great famine, and after that in the same year the raiding of the heathen miserably devastated God’s church in Lindisfarne island by looting and slaughter’.10 The suggestion that ‘fiery dragons’ were present could relate to the dragon heads that adorned the boats of the Vikings (the ‘heathens’), used to scare away evil spirits and instil fear in their enemies, but in his translation of the text Michael Swanton suggests that they may also refer to the long-tailed comets that were usually interpreted as portents of disaster. There is often a link between dragons or serpent-like beings, the Devil and vampires. In the legends of the Lamia the being is often depicted as having the lower body of a serpent or having snakeskin draped around her, and Lilith is also often linked with serpents (for the links between Lilith and the vampire myth, see Beresford, 2008). We must also not forget that the word ‘Dracula’ itself translates as ‘Son of the Dragon’ (‘drakul’ means ‘dragon’ in Romanian, and the prefix ‘ulya’ simply means ‘son of’, hence Drakulya or Dracula. This stems from the fact that Vlad Dracula’s (The Impaler) father was a member of the Order of the Dragon and was known as Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the dragon). 

The main reason for the apparent demise of astrology in the Early Medieval period is largely because, as Nick Campion tells us, ‘society was mainly non-literate and agricultural, and divination tended to be based on easily observable phenomena, such as thunder, wind or clouds, or in the case of the sky, comets, eclipses and lunar phases’.11 This led to astrology only existing in its crudest forms, and how far this had to go ‘underground’ is again difficult to discern: 'we are also to know that there were some heretics who said that every man is born according to the position of the stars, and that by their course his destiny befalls him… Let this error depart from believing hearts … Man is not created for the stars, but the stars for man'.12 If astrology had not existed in some form or another then surely Aelfric would not have felt the need to comment in this way. 

Evidence of vampires (or revenants) in the Early Medieval period still continued, however, and is particularly prominent in the work of the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum of the 12th century. In Book I we hear how Odin was attacked and slain in Finland but even after being interred in a burial mound he continued to cause ‘abominations’ until, in true vampire-hunting style, his corpse was dug up, staked through the heart and his head cut off. Also, in William of Newburgh’s Historia Rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs), we hear how in the county of Buckingham a ‘certain man died and according to custom…was laid in the tomb on the eve of the Lord’s Ascension. On the following night, however, having entered the bed where his wife was reposing, he not only terrified her on awaking, but nearly crushed her by the insupportable weight of his body. The next night, also, he afflicted the astonished woman in the same manner’.13 This episode is markedly similar to those of folklore and hold parallels with the Incubus (male) and Succubus (female) vampiric entities. Legend tells us that frequent ‘attacks’ by the Incubus or Succubus, usually of a sexual nature, leads to the victim’s rapid deterioration in health and possibly death. This scenario mirrors later ‘vampire attacks’ within the folklore of Eastern Europe and may be explained by the similarities between suspected vampires and the symptoms of plague (see Beresford, The Fiend of Folklore, Chronicles Vol. 2 Issue 7). In such examples from both Western and Eastern Europe the victim often complains of being visited at night by a ‘vampire’ being and being strangled or suffocated by them, but generally this is put down to the victim being delirious or hallucinating due to the plague or some other disease / illness. However, in the report on the case of Arnold Paole from Serbia (see Beresford, The Fiend of Folklore, Chronicles Vol. 2 Issue 7) Johann Fluckinger described how he examined several of the corpses that were the reported victims of the ‘vampire’ Arnold Paole. Now, before her death, one of these victims, a 20 year old woman named Stanoika, had complained of the same ‘nightly visitations’ by the vampire as those from William of Newburgh’s account. On inspecting her corpse Fluckinger noted a, ‘blood-shot’ blue bruise on her neck about the length of a finger, which may confirm that someone had indeed visited the victim and attempted to strangle her perhaps. However, although he notes this as strange given the allegations of vampirism, he is unable to explain this further. Perhaps some devious person was using the ‘vampire’ allegations as a smokescreen for his own purposes, perhaps as a cover for rape or murder? 

Astrology itself became very prominent in the Medieval period, and it perhaps comes as no coincidence that so too do devils, witches, vampires and other such Occult beings. The Malleus Maleficarum (Witch Hammer) of 1486 by the Dominican Inquisitors Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer attempted to document such beings and provide methods for their identification and how to deal with them. On the Incubus and Succubus beings, we hear that ‘these demons work owing to their influence upon man’s mind and upon his free will, and they choose to copulate under the influence of certain stars rather than under the influence of others’.14 This is, they suggest, where witchcraft originated from, that is through the ‘foul connexion’ of mankind with the Devil, and that this was done through the Incubus / Succubus beings. With regards witchcraft, they add, there are four points that are generally required, and these are 1) to renounce the Catholic faith, 2) to devote oneself body and soul to evil, 3) to offer up unbaptised children to Satan, 4) to indulge in every kind of carnal lust with Incubi and Succubi. 

According to the Malleus Maleficarum these Incubus / Succubus beings had existed long before the Medieval period. In Esaias xiii it states that in the desolation of Babylon lived Owls and Satyrs, which are wild, shaggy creatures of the woods and are also often known as Incubi. Further more, in Esaias xxxiv is described the desolation of the land of the Idumeans, where dragons inhabit and owls court and the wild beasts of the desert meet (interpreted here as devils and monsters). Also here woodland Gods dwell, in particular the beings that the Greeks called Pans and the Latins Incubi. 15 Isidore in his 8th book describes these beings as ‘lusting lecherously after women’ and copulating with them – ‘O Faunas, love of fleeing nymphs, go gently over my lands and smiling fields’.16 Kramer and Sprenger then argue that these vampiric Incubus / Succubus creatures and the witches they fornicate with belong to a particular area of superstition, namely Necromancy: ‘The practices of witches are included in the second kind of superstition, which is to say Divination, since they expressly invoke the Devil. And there are three kinds of this superstition:- .ecromancy, Astrology, or rather Astronomy, the superstitious observance of stars, and Oneiromancy’.17 The difference between necromancy and astrology is that whilst both use the power and influence of the stars , with necromancy there is always an express invocation of demons, according to Kramer and Sprenger, whereas the practice of astrology harbours no intention of this, although they admit that figures of demons and their names sometimes occur in astrological charts. With necromancy it is often the case that magical symbols are inscribed on rings, gems or other precious metals in relation to the stars, but also they are often inscribed on other objects and buried in the ground to summon demons or cast spells. These notions become more evident in later Occult practices, such as Black Magic and the Dark Arts, and hold links with religious sects such as Satanism, so it may be that early ideas on Astrology were ‘corrupted’ by works such as the Malleus Maleficarum and the intolerance and persecution placed on so-called ‘witches’ by the Church, to be later associated with much darker and ‘evil’ practices because of this. 

So it would appear that there are certainly links to support a connection between astrology and the vampire myth, and one cannot help but feel that the two most likely grew alongside each other. It was probably not a purposeful correlation between vampire superstitions and the implications of astrological beliefs, but rather a more general belief pattern affected by wider superstitions, beliefs and religious views within society. And this might be expected to increase, or be more apparent, in particular areas within society (isolated, rural villages for example) or indeed at specific periods within history, such as after the decline of the Roman Empire and a return to a somewhat ‘primitive’ lifestyle in terms of education and knowledge and so forth. Also, at points when Paganism and Christianity were vying to be the primary religion, we might expect to find the superstitions and beliefs in astrological matters and vampires becoming more prevalent. The theme of astrology and the planetary myths, and indeed early ideas on death and the afterlife, play an important role in creating a foundation from which the modern vampire myth was born, and should therefore, in the author’s opinion, be considered by anyone wishing to understand that most mythical of beasts, the vampire. 

1 – Beresford, M – From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth (2008, Reaktion) 
2 – Campion, N - Astrology in Britain Before the .ormans, Astrology: The Astrologers’ Quarterly, Summer 1982, Vol. 56 no 2, pp 51-8 
3 – Kramer, H & Sprenger, J – Malleus Maleficarum, 1486, Part I, Question II 
4 – Tenzin-Dolma, L – Understanding the Planetary Myths (2005, Quantam) 
5 – Senn, H – Romanian Werewolves: Seasons, Rituals, Cycles, Folklore, Vol. 93:2, 1982 
6 - Senn, Romanian Werewolves, p. 206 
7 – see Beresford, 2008, Chapter 4 
8 – St. Isidore, Etym. VIII. 2 
9 – Campion, 1982, p. 55 
10 – Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Canterbury Manuscript, translated by Michael Swanton (2000, Phoenix) 11 – Campion, 1982, p. 57
12 – Homilies of Aelfric, Vol. 1 p. 111.
13 – Historia Rerum Anglicarum, 1066-1198, Book 5, Ch. 22 (1)
14 – Malleus Maleficarum, Part I, Question II
15 – Malleus Maleficarum, Part I, Question III
16 – Malleus Maleficarum, Part I, Question III
17 – Malleus Maleficarum, Part I, Question

Matthew Beresford: Vampires, Astrology & the Planetary Myths

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