Author Archive | Brandy Schillace

What’s a Vampire, Really?

BookOne_doorVampires. I know, I know–I always seem to be talking about them here. Not the sparkly ones, not the infamous Count, not the myriad of angst-ridden near-vamps in recent science-fiction and paranormal TV. No, I’m fascinated by the vampires of history.

In a previous post here, I wrote about the vampire graves discovered in Český Krumlov (and dated to 1732). The “vampire debate” of the 1730s concerned an epidemic of this “vampirism,” borrowing from science and from folklore. For instance, according to some of the stories, vampire men would come back not only to attack the living, but to woo them. Ok, probably it doesn’t count as wooing, but a case documented around the same time claims that a woman’s deceased husband returned to impregnate her. Sound crazy? It did to the scientific community, who sent in physicians to try and sort it all out. The woman’s case was dismissed as a diseased imagination–but that doesn’t mean they weren’t taking vampires seriously.… Read the rest

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Death in Transition

PIC: Claus Ableiter (CC)

PIC: Claus Ableiter (CC)

A few months ago, I wrote a short series titled Approaching Death as a way of exploring grief rituals for my upcoming book with Elliott and Thompson (DEATH’S SUMMER COAT). Regardless of where we live or who we are, we must make preparations for the end that awaits us all. Historically, this was a problem of space and health as well as grief and loss. While our ancestors had to bear the burden of sorrow for a missing friend just as we, they also had to deal with pressing practical concerns–such as, what do we do with the body? To leave it lying would attract pestilence; to burn it would use fuel, to bury it would require workable soil. And so, in each culture, burial differs due to climate and geography as well as spiritual practice and cultural assimilation. As part of a series on the Daily Dose, I provide a brief look at death-in-transition–something that many cultures, from Borneo to India to Egypt have in common.… Read the rest

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‘Devil’s Breath’ Author Tessa Harris on The Deadly Fog of 1783

(PD)

(PD)

Tessa Harris, author of the Devil’s Breath, a Thomas Silkstone mystery, recently wrote about the killer fog of 1783 on my other blog, the Fiction Reboot. Tessa’s marvelous story-telling, coupled with her conscientious research into the 18th century, make for heart-pounding reading. The ‘year of awe’ is truly stranger than fiction, however! I have provided an excerpt of this post below… it resonates with me, as I was in England for the last Icelandic eruption ad a similar (though less dangerous) miasma. Chilling to think we are ever at the mercy of the earth and sky!

Excerpt: Year of Awe | Guest post by Tessa Harris

A deadly fog that killed both man and beast, a blood-red moon, savage thunderstorms and great meteors: no wonder most people in eastern England thought the world was about to end in 1783!

Sores and patches appeared on the skin of animals

By June 23 the highly toxic cloud of sulphur had reached Britain.

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Approaching Death by “Headhunting”

p008HEAD HUNTERS OF GRIEF?

Among the Ilongot people of the Northern Philippines, it was common to headhunt during the “rage of bereavement.” Upon the loss of a loved one, the men of the Ilongot would hunt and kill other men. It seems unthinkable to us, especially as death in Western culture leads (or is meant to lead) to a contemplation of the sanctity of life. Furthermore, in a culture where we have euphemisms like “prostrate with grief” or “paralyzed by sadness,” it is hard to imagine the pull towards so war-like an activity, especially when there is no revenge involved. Given the unusual and unusually violent nature of this ritual, we naturally look for explanations. What causes this behavior?

Anthropologist Renato Rosaldo writes extensively about the Ilongot and their bereavement rage–and about his own cultural assumptions. When he asked the tribesmen what drove them to the practice, they claimed that severing and throwing away a head was the same as throwing away the anger at death.

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Medical History and the ‘Monster’

Medical history so often includes intersections and byways that seem to take us into folklore, fiction, and the Gothic imagination itself.

While researching “monstrous” births from the early 1800s, I came across the following reprint of Kirby’s wonderful and scientific museum: or, Magazine of remarkable characters. The story recounts a child “covered with long hair” and “grovel[ing] upon the ground” is fastened to a post like a dog. Described as “wild and ferocious,” the story resembles those of the dog children—but the narrative has been embellished with the tone and phrasing now made famous by the Gothic narratives from Udolpho onwards. The “gentleman” who reports the scene says “he never say so wild and wretched a spot as the situation of the poor hut where they reside” and that “A most horrible mystery seems to hang over the whole.”[i] The landscape, a repeated trope of wretched wildness, is imbued with mysterious overtones that have, mainly, to do with paternity.… Read the rest

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The Dark Secrets of Medicine–Revealed in a New Series!

Imagine, if you will, a low stone slab. Upon it, dimly lit and un-preserved, is a three-day-old corpse going slowing rancid in warm the summer night. This, young surgeon, is your textbook. If you are lucky. For many a medical student, the remains were less fresh, less available (and occasionally less human) than the one I have described. In the 16th century, Andreas Vesalius–the father of anatomy–had to steal half-rotten bodies from the gibbet after hanging. Not what you expect, perhaps, of the profession that has since risen to be one of the most well-respected and well-paid in medicine; long years were spent in the dark before surgeons (and surgery) entered the light.

What happened in this shadowy period is the subject of myth, mystery, mayhem and history–and all of it is rendered in fascinating detail by a new documentary project: Medicine’s Dark Secrets, brought to you by the indefatigable Chirurgeon’s Apprentice: Dr.… Read the rest

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