Backstory of Ch’en, Maya Vampire, Priestess, and Shaman

Pre-Columbian artifact/Cult of the Camazotz

Pre-Columbian artifact/Camazotz

Ch’en and The Camazotz

The day began with a sense of dread for some of the denizens of the palace. The young noblewoman’s attendants pleaded with her not to make the trek to collect the small shells. Her day of birthing was imminent and the remote beach where they would be found was a day’s return journey. Even her visiting mother, a king’s mother, had tried to dissuade her, insisting that the comfort of the beds in the stone palace was better than walking the long distance—which is what the headstrong, expectant mother would do, rather than ride properly upon a litter as her station warranted.

She answered, “Mother, I feel well and strong. Today is lovely. I will swim in mother sea and receive her blessing. I must have the shells to make the child’s first adornment.” She would not be swayed, even by offers of sending someone for the aquatic treasures.

Her mother, having capitulated, demanded that a midwife join the group of attendants, threatening them with torture should they somehow fail to bring the young woman back safely. The beach where the tiny shells were found lay to the south, and they would not reach it until the Sun observed them from directly overhead. It was the month of Ch’en, when the Sun, Kinich Ahau, made his journey more quickly and with less zeal.

When the noblewoman set off, she was accompanied by a retinue of eight: four warriors to guard her, a midwife, two attendants, and her favorite friend, who was also her handmaid. The highborn wife of the princely high priest at Zama, The Dawn City, she was also sister of the king of Coba.

The warriors carried a litter in case she should become too tired to walk, yet she only needed it for the last leg of the morning’s journey. Once there, she, her friend, and an attendant collected the small, white Marginella shells while the older midwife and second attendant set out a lunch of tamales, papaya and pitaya. After eating, the women swam and chattered. But soon it was time to return, or they’d not make it back before dark. The path from the beach to the road, or sacbe, was long enough and required many steps.

The sacbe, made of crushed and pounded limestone, left white dust on their sandals and on the hems of the women’s dresses. They trudged and sang, until the noblewoman suddenly stopped, a spasm causing her to grab low on her belly. She stared fearfully at the midwife.

Hurry”, the older woman insisted. “Perhaps we can get back. There should be time.”

Carrying her on the litter proved difficult and did little to help as her movements sent the men teetering all over the sacbe. It was easier to walk, stopping only when a contraction came. But as they tried swiftly to make their way, each contraction came far more quickly than it ought. And when the sun had noticeably descended, a fierce one brought her, with a cry, to her knees. With help, she stood when it finally passed and said, “I do not know if I will make it. We are still so far. What will we do?”

One of the warriors suggested carrying her on the litter again and running. But the midwife, after checking the woman, believed it was futile. They needed to find a suitable place. And so they carried her a little farther until they came to a place the midwife knew. Not far off the sacbe, there was a cave and cenote, or sinkhole which created a well. It would be a perfect place.

When they reached the spot, the group found a massive Ceiba tree growing over the cave, with its pendulous roots reaching their way down into the cenote, to the crystalline pool at its bottom. They stared in awed silence, until the midwife hurried them to get a fire built and a bed made. One of the attendants searched the area, shooing off any animals like snakes and dangerous insects. The other cleaned up a suitable space just inside the mouth of the cave and laid leaves and then blankets over the hard limestone. Water was fetched, and the contents of the midwife’s bag were laid out.

All the while, the young noblewoman worked hard to breathe through the ever tightening, ever closer contractions. The pain became otherworldly and she finally curled up tightly on the blankets as the group waited for the baby to come forth.

Night filled the spaces left by the descending sun and all were glad for the fire. A female jaguar’s searching call came from close by, followed moments later by the resounding grunts of a far-off male. Only the impending mother had not heard them through her whimpers. Keeping her calm, the midwife checked to see the labor’s advancement. She ordered the friend to sit behind her as a chair—the mother’s pain was too great to squat.

Accompanied by grunts and soft cries of excruciation, the baby eventually came forth. The exhausted mother slumped back against her friend—her braided and cloth-entwined hair having partially escaped its artfully constructed constraints. An attendant held the infant as the midwife used her obsidian knife to cut the umbilical cord. She then examined the baby and cleaned her, telling the noblewoman than the infant was lovely and healthy. Sending an attendant for more water from the cenote, she handed over the infant, who instinctively searched her mother for a place to suckle.

And then the terrified scream of the attendant stabbed deeply into the silence.

The warriors sprang into action and disappeared into the darkness. The noblewoman, her friend, one attendant, the midwife, and the baby remained visible within the golden, red light of the fire. Another scream pierced the silence—and then another. After a fourth, one warrior burst into the light flickering against the trees, terror enhanced by his facial piercings and tattoos. But before making it to the cave, dark shapes beat massive wings as he was suddenly grabbed by his arms and lifted into the Ceiba tree canopy. His scream stopped abruptly, and the quiet was absolute—until his body crashed down through the branches, landing in the pool of the cenote with a sickening splash.

After several moments, faint, rhythmic, watery sounds came from the hole. He was alive. The cenote did not have the shear walls that surrounded many. He could make it out, but without the help of the women who clung together inside the cave entrance. Whatever was attacking them was fearsome and not a normal creature of the night. These flew and were large, like people.

The noblewoman whispered, “Grandmother—what were those things? They were not jaguars. Not owls. They looked like—” But before she could say more, a soft, ominous flapping sound announced the descending of the demons—for that is what they surely were. The women drew closer together, just as the drenched warrior made his way out of the cenote. It seemed as though the beasts were hunting him.

He had lost his spear, but still had his macuahuitl and readied it as he took a stance between the cave and the cenote.

The beasts appeared—huge things flapping darkly to land on the other side of the cenote.

The attendant and friend shrieked while the new mother slumped into exhausted, fright-fueled unconsciousness. The midwife quickly grabbed the baby before she slid off of her mother to the cave floor. As the warrior stepped back in shock at what he saw, the midwife squinted. Her eyesight was not what it had once been; the slight milkiness of her cataracts hindered her for a moment. And then, as the beings moved around the cenote, she could not believe her vision. Man-sized bats headed swiftly for the warrior, loping on all fours, exactly like the tiny blood-drinkers that preyed upon sleeping human feet and ankles in the city at night.

Their massive dark wings folded so tightly that their long front limbs had become skinny arms ending with a strange, clawed digit. It was their thumbs upon which they balanced. Their fur, dark in most places and lighter in others, covered their bodies, stopping at the knees of their hind legs, which were connected via a leathery skirt of wing flap. One bat turned its head on a thick, short neck to stare with round, glossy, obsidian eyes. As though thinking of the women as an audience, it seemed to widen its wedge-shaped, evil grin.

Horrified, the midwife held the infant tighter as she thought that nothing could be sharper than those arrow-like teeth.

When the bats neared, the warrior swung at them with his wood and stone club. But they anticipated his moves and maneuvered more quickly than their size seemed capable—not at all like normal men and animals. They hopped and flew around him, keeping a triple moving target that disoriented him. He swung with such strength that the momentum toppled him and he landed hard on his tattooed, naked back. The bats leapt upon him, each biting as he flailed.

The women gasped, too fearful to scream. As the bats continued their attack, the warrior lost beneath a vicious, pile, the midwife gained enough self-preservation to stand, escape being her only thought. Holding the infant close, she reached out to gently smack the cheeks of the unconscious mother. After gesturing to the other two women, she watched as they stood and lifted the mother with them. The mother woke with a quiet groan. When her eyes widened at the equally quiet slaughter taking place outside the cave mouth, the midwife whispered, “You must stay strong—for your baby. We must try to escape!”

The noblewoman knew the old midwife had seen much, but her courage was shocking, until she saw the quivering of the old woman’s elaborate hairstyle, belying her calm. The young mother reached out to touch her baby girl, and replied, “We must try.”

goldbat

Gold bat figure

“But, Grandmother,” said the favorite friend. “The Camazotz will follow us. Can they not see in the dark better than we?”

Camazotz? The old woman dared to glance at the giant bats as they now calmly lapped at bloody divots they had bitten into the warrior, who had stopped his struggle. He appeared to still be live, based on his slight movements. She had thought them ordinary demons—if a demon could be ordinary. But yes, perhaps they were the bat gods told of in the sacred text of the Popol Vuh, like the one to whom the hero, Hunahpu, literally lost his head—the head that became a ball used by the gods to play their ball game.

Crowded together and holding fast to each other, the women slipped as silently as possible from the cave and crept quickly toward the sacbe, taking as wide an arch around the feasting bats as possible. The wind shifted to blow the scent of the creatures, which smelled similar to the scent in normal bat caves—but this smelled also of the warrior’s death. Truly, they were death bats—Cama zotz.

Once they’d reached the trees, the women ran as fast as their leather clad feet would carry them with the new mother keeping pace. They were careful to avoid the skin bubbling Chechen trees, despite their terror, even though they knew the Chaca that grew alongside it was an antidote. It would take too long to stop and treat if anyone got the toxic Chechen sap on them.

As if somehow knowing she must remain silent, like a newborn fawn, the infant did not cry or move. At the sacbe, rapid breath searing their lungs, they took a moment to regroup. The midwife had left her precious tools, herbs, and cloths, including the knife. She scrutinized the mother, whose body had obviously rid itself of anything left in her womb. The young noblewoman was exhausted and uncomfortable, but alert as a doe.

Through heaving breaths, she whispered, “Will they follow? Where is the other attendant? Is she . . .”

The midwife anxiously shrugged. She had no idea what could happen next, but doubted the other warriors and attendant would survive, if they were still alive. She knew bats tended to exist in much larger numbers than three; she was sure they’d met the same fate as the last warrior—based on their screams. So she turned and headed north, toward home, praying rapidly to the Goddess Ixchel to protect them on their journey. The old woman cast her gaze to the sky, finding the dark space where she knew the Moon had gone to her well, or Ch’en. The new moon comforted her as sure as though it were full. Surely Ixchel had not deemed the child worthy to be brought forth only to allow the Camazotz to kill her.

Then suddenly it came to her in a flash so strong she knew the Goddess was demanding it. The child would be called Ch’en, no matter what the priest said. He would give her two other names based upon what the calendars dictated, but Ch’en would be her truest name.

As they hurried along the pale road, bright even in the moonless night, the old woman announced to the others what she had just come to understand. She was grateful that the young, noble mother agreed—but only so long as they all made it back to Zama alive. They had lost half their group. The warriors were the best the city had; their deaths were a massive loss—however the manner of their death was creating a creeping shock in the women.

They had loped slowly along for some time when the baby stirred in the midwife’s arms, searching insistently for her first proper meal as a person in this world. The midwife stopped and called to the mother. As the baby was handed over, the almost tearful mother asked, “Am I ready to feed her? How can I do this now?”

The mother’s friend said, “But what if the Camazotz come for us?”

“If the baby doesn’t eat soon, she will begin to cry and alert them to us. Here, eat some Yaxox nut as we walk.” the old woman produced some dried Mayanuts from a pocket in her dress to help the mother’s milk come more quickly. She then ripped a wide and long piece of cloth from her skirt and created a carrier so that the mother would have a free hand to eat.

But just as the baby latched on and they started forward again, a whispering, high-pitched noise came from above. Dark shadows and a soft beats announced the presence of something sinister. The women soon realized they were surrounded, as a horde Camazotz descended through the open cut of the road in the tree canopy.

The women quickly gathered together, back to back, as they formed a defensive circle. They had no weapons. They were exhausted, hungry, and utterly terrified—soft palace-dwellers with few defensive skills and clothing that didn’t permit unfettered movement. And as the huge, dark shapes landed, then crawled with deadly focus toward them, the old midwife, with her years of wisdom, fell to her knees and begged of Ixchel, the Moon, “Please! Save us, save this child. We have caused no harm and beseech you for your mercy and protection!”

But the Moon was in her well, or Ch’en, and maybe she couldn’t hear.

By the starlight reflected off the sacbe, they could see white teeth exposed by the terrible grins of the bats now—triangular daggers, each face bearing six. Two pointy top front incisors and fangs slightly farther back. Soon they were surrounded by so many that counting was futile. When the gap between the women and the creatures was only four arm’s lengths, a shrill chirping sound emanated from above.

The crowd of furred monsters stopped advancing, but made a space for a lone bat to land. It did so with incongruous grace. All kept an even distance from it, crouching low, as if in submission. Something was different about this one, as it stood slightly taller and more erect. It gazed at the tight clump of women, obviously evaluating them as they too subconsciously crouched a little, together, in an attempt to huddle like prey.

The bat took a step forward, giving a squealing hiss when the other bats moved with it. They stopped in unison and shuffled back several paces. It then continued to approach, it’s ears swiveling and its nose quivering. A lance-like tongue flicked out, either in anticipation of blood or to taste the human’s scent.

“You have a newborn child,” it said, and thereby causing two of the women to nearly faint. The speech had been so unexpected that no one responded initially. The bat’s accent, inflection, and pronunciation of the various sounds was exactly what would be expected of a creature that had a pointed tongue and only six sharp teeth—but it had spoken clearly enough to be understood.

The midwife slowly stood and finally answered, “Yes . . . great Camazotz.”

The bat pointed its brachycephalic head toward the sky, the better to catch the individual human scent molecules. “Let me examine her,” it commanded.

The noble mother whimpered and held her baby closer, sure they were all to die and that the infant would simply be an aperitif. The infant fed, oblivious. The bat squinted at the woman and suddenly bounded forward, winding up with her fanged face inches from the suckling, succulent child. The women froze as it sniffed her.

Taking a step back, it observed the mother, then said, “You are different than these others. You are more adorned. More than any humans I have seen. Why?” When the bat cocked its head almost like a human, a tiny spear of hope jabbed at the woman’s mind.

“I . . . I am sister to a king, wife of a high priest.” She ventured on to say, “My husband rules at Zama.”

“That is the human colony to the north, by the sea?” questioned the bat, which sat back, having to crouch slightly as it did so. After the mother nodded, the bat said, “Your daughter is a princess. I too have daughters. They too are princesses. For I am Queen of the Camazotz.”

Carving from Copan

Carving from Copan

Unexpected as an earthquake, the women shuddered with shock at the revelation. The bat was not only female, but a Queen!

She raised herself high again and lifted her front wing, showing a little membrane as she pointed at them with her long, clawed thumb. “This goddess, Ixchel, to whom you pray. She has given you to me—she has given the infant to my service. And you will all assist the infant in this. You will groom her as a priestess for the Camazotz. She will choose sacrifices for us from among the humans. And she will be brought to the cave of her birth once a year, on this very night, that I may inspect her.”

“I—Inspect her?”

“You will not augment her. You will not bind her head. You will not change the color of her skin with images. You will not pierce her skin. She must remain as she is this very moment.” When the exhausted mother began to cry, the bat squinted at her. “What is wrong with you? Humans are strange with their watering eyes.”

When the blubbering mother didn’t answer, the midwife offered, “If we cannot adorn her, how will she be seen as a beautiful noble. She must have a husband.”

The bat snorted and stamped her delicate feet. Her expression twisted, making her very frightening. “She has other purposes. She must also learn healing arts. I command this!” And then the Queen of the Camazotz let out an ear-piercing, complex song. Soon, another bat flew down to her, carrying several things with it’s strange thumb. When it landed, it threw the items to the ground before the women in a clatter.

“These are the adornments of your warriors. You will take them and tell your mate, the ruler at Zama, that I will come for as many men as all my colonies can eat if I am not appeased—and that is more than the population of men at Zama. He knows we drink from the forest-dwellers and villages. He knows other cities sacrifice to us. But we will have our tribute from Zama too. If you do all this, I let you live.”

The mother’s crying had ceased and she quickly affirmed with an exaggerated gesture.

“Bring her to the well of her birth on exactly this day when the seasons have turned again. I will send a group to follow and protect your journey home tonight. But do not allow the warriors that protect your journey back next year to come near, or we will kill them. Only you, mother, you, old woman, and one more female attendant. Now go!

Without waiting to see the women begin their march, the Queen of the Camazotz took flight and was gone. Her colony took time to leave in her wake. There were too many of them to all simultaneously take to the wing. They left in an orderly fashion, which appeared orchestrated, but without a conductor. Their scent overpowered even the strongest odors emitted by the jungle.

~~~~~~~

And so the little girl, Ch’en, grew. At every milestone or unusual request of her impending profession, the Maya society to which she belonged balked or attempted to box her into the feminine roles it dictated. More than once, interfering males from the city were found covered in red divots, utterly exsanguinated. After the first, Ch’en’s father never again interfered. He simply stayed as far away as possible, bringing in teachers, shamans, priests and healers to teach his only, and alienated, daughter.

Her mother loved the highly precocious princess. But as Ch’en grew into her adulthood, it became apparent that the Camazotz mattered more to the young woman than her fellow humans. High born men came to ask for her in marriage, finding her beautiful (or her power attractive) despite no adornment or augmentation, only to be rebuffed every time. Those who persevered were found, having become a nighttime snack. Somehow, Ch’en was communicating her wishes to the bats. Her yearly sojourn to the place of her birth was clearly not the only interaction she was having with them, but no one ever saw how.

After a young lifetime of lessons and initiations, Ch’en assumed her mantle as Priestess to the Camazotz. The other priests hid their derision and prejudice out of fear, but they took their alienation of her to the farthest limit she would accept. Some even came from afar to see her for themselves. And she was perfectly fine with that. It wasn’t only that she was female, but that she took so many roles, absorbed them, synthesized them, and became far more than they had ever imagined was possible. She didn’t want their company. She didn’t really want the company of humans.

In truth, she wanted to join the Camazotz as one of them.

She even tried drinking blood, as they did. But after a few sips, she found it made her ill. She was stuck being human, with their pettiness, stupidity, and untrue hierarchies. But eventually she accepted it and became slightly more kind to them—but only slightly.

A powerful shaman from a land far to the north had somehow learned of her and came to teach her how to master astral journeying.  The older man then insisted she must reward him by bearing a child by him—one who would, with their parentage, be a sorcerer for the new world to come. One who would defeat the men who came in dark, giant canoes from a land across the eastern ocean.

Soon after, he had a fatal nocturnal meeting with the Queen of the Camazotz herself.

Despite his ethical digression, (which she was pretty sure was a tale told merely to lay with her) Ch’en was grateful for the teachings of the northern shaman, because it meant easy escape from daily drudgery in the city of Zama. She could go on exploratory journeys without ever leaving her small, but elegant home—which had been built apart from, but also connected by a hall to the main palace. Most did not feel very comfortable in her presence, for fear of insulting her, and thereby coming to the notice of the Camazotz.

On one particular evening, she felt compelled to do a ritual before embarking upon a spirit journey. News had travelled that the smelly, hairy-faced men in metal from the East had taken a powerful western king captive. While she knew they were far away, she also knew this was somehow greatly important.

Ch’en brought in her pet crow and made the bird sit quietly by attaching a thin rope to its leg, and then to a sitting post, then gave it some specially prepared tapir meat. She got a handful of aromatic copal resin burning in a brazier and settled onto her cushions with a cup of herbal ‘travelling’ tea. It contained a carefully calculated mix of psychotropic plants most people would be too fearful to attempt.

By the time the crow had finished its snack and settled in for a drug-induced nap, Ch’en’s tea had taken effect and her breathing was no more than a faint wind rustling leaves. She flew West across the land, then water, then land again, and eventually found the invading men. She observed through the eyes of a phantom crow—a manifested avatar of her pet that most could not see. After much time observing them, she came to one simple conclusion: that these conquering men would eventually be horrifyingly successful—that her people’s civilizations would be destroyed, their wealth stolen, and many communities and most of their knowledge would disappear. Her life, and those of the Camazotz, would be forever changed.

Despairing within her trance, she spent time wandering and wondering how she and the Camazotz could evade this devastation. It would be easy to assume the land was big enough; that Zama was too far from the invaders. But the Queen’s range was much, much bigger. It encompassed all of the land she knew of. The Queen’s colonies were spread far and wide. Only topography and weather created the boundaries of her Queendom.

Some magic would work against the foreign men, but she doubted it would be enough. In her state of dread, she found herself suddenly racing back to the East, over Zama and the coastline. She flew despondently over the ocean until she spotted a giant canoe, like those told of the conquering men—like that described by the northern shaman.

She was compelled to explore it.

Her crow’s avatar swooped down and around the dark vessel, seeing weary, pallid, thin men, many of whom appeared in a sort of daze or trance themselves. They methodically did their work or stood around, simply staring. They were close enough to the coast, despite being far from sight of the shore, that gulls approached. The gulls could not see the crow avatar, which moved in closer. She could see marks on the men—on their necks, their arms, even their hands. They appeared to be bite-marks with four equidistant punctures. Oddly, the occasional gull would swoop in with an attack to one of the men. It was all very strange, since gull behavior was on par with crows, which ate the dead, but certainly not the living.

Ch’en was deeply drawn to see what was inside the building within the giant canoe. Someone or something powerful was in there—the energy of which she could smell like the burning copal. It was a pleasant scent, but belied something dire, she knew.

Slipping through the molecules of the wooden hull, she first saw objects that looked like storage. She found several large rooms with a few very ill men in them. She was sure one was dead. Moving farther to the back of the vessel, she swooped up to a special room, the one she felt held a special presence. And once inside, she discovered how special it was.

Double-headed gold bat from Sitio Conte burial

The darkened space held a bed, a desk, and trunks. She could see by the light that permeates all when viewed from the astral realm. Upon the bed lay a man in strange, fine garments. He was the longest person she’d ever seen and had facial hair like the other foreigners. She floated close and stared at his light face. His short, swept-back hair was the color of fire, which intrigued her. It was red-gold, just like flames. He was a b’alam, or lord, she was sure.

She stared intently, wishing she could touch, and then his deeply hooded eyes opened, his gaze virtually seizing her. She was shocked to see eyes the color of dark jadeite or the forest itself! His smile developed slowly, exposing a set of fangs easily as wicked as those of the Camazotz. His lips then sealed and the meaning behind the smile was unfathomable. Was it evil, or was it—promise of a long future? She only knew for sure that he’d been able to see her clearly within the crow’s avatar.

And as Ch’en, the Priestess to the Queen of the Camazotz, shrank back, then flew for all she was worth to escape the strangely colored demon man and his horrible dark vessel, she felt true terror for the first time in her short existence. He had whispered unspoken words she knew meant that he was coming for her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vitaortus Character Guest Blogger ‘Lord Alexander Gregory’ muses upon ‘Dracula’ – the 1979 Stage-to-Screen version

By Lord Alexander Gregory (Scots/British; 35 y.o. old when turned in 1235) Sophisticate, business adept, ex-Templar and boss blood-imbiber.

1977 Theatre Poster and artist, Gorey

1977 Theatre Poster and artist, Gorey

When requested to pen my opinion upon a cinematic form of entertainment in the vampiric genre, I reluctantly agreed. However, I insisted it should be a film worthy of my attentions—I therefore chose a very special version of the iconic tale of Dracula. It is a strong contender for my favorite of all the options . . . thus far.

Actor Frank Langella photographed November 3, 1977 in costume as 'Dracula' on Broadway. CREDIT: JACK MITCHELL

Actor Frank Langella photographed November 3, 1977 in costume as ‘Dracula’ on Broadway.
CREDIT: JACK MITCHELL

In the latter 1970s, Frank Langella was performing on stage an adaptation of the Bram Stoker story and the like had never quite been seen—a vampire as a desirable, sympathetic character? Don’t misunderstand; I feel a certain personal satisfaction at such a prospect. But the perspective was somewhat new. After all, mankind had definite ideas about what a vampire was, and romantic hero was not part of the curriculum vitae, even in the ‘anti’-sense (Bela Lugosi was looking for lovely minions; Christopher Lee was all monster).

I believe one owes thanks to the inimitable Edward Gorey, (and Hamilton Deane’s excellent script). Gorey designed the costumes and sets—which, if faithfully rendered to film today, would likely be an instant success. By what means do I make such a claim? Well, I have been a theatre patron for rather a long while, which lends an advantage in prognostication of such things. But returning to my point, audiences were so taken with the production and Langella’s subtle and mesmerizing performance, that a film version simply had to be made.

Gorey's set design

Gorey’s set design

Here I shall make small mention of the divergence taken from Mr. Stoker’s book. The tale is significantly shrunken-down and simplified. Mina and Lucy switch names, for reasons not entirely clear. All the heroic young men of the novel are congealed into the now healthy, courageous, and sniping Jonathon Harker, who only assists Dracula from British shores. There is no action in Transylvania whatsoever. Also, in the book, Dracula’s ability to shapeshift into a wolf is barely hinted at, though he certainly controls them. I was quite gratified that in this film adaptation he chooses the lupine form more than once. By the by, it has irked me slightly to see the myth of the ‘werewolf’ diverge from its origins as vampiric. Regardless, the sections of the story that were chosen or changed work beautifully so that it may fit the silver screen without compromising Stoker’s vision. The sets and especially the costumes are exquisite in their detail. And while they are not those which Gorey designed for the stage production, the care taken with them is no less special.

Van Helsing jokes with Lucy at Mina's fresh gravesite

Van Helsing jokes with Lucy at Mina’s fresh gravesite

So, while the directing was all well and good, mostly, the acting was superb. Olivier may not have had an appropriate Dutch accent (though his daughter Mina—played adorably by Jan Francis—did when speaking to him), but his take on a slightly barmy and fragile Van Helsing was wonderful—particularly when considering how ill he really was during the filming. Donald Pleasence is perfection as guileless Dr. Seward. Renfield is played with treacly repulsiveness by Tony Haygarth—quite an excellent performance. Another notable was the brief, but brilliant portrayal by Janine Duvitski of the insane Annie. I quite enjoyed her. Even the beautiful white horse which tramples the vampire’s grave acts brilliantly.

Dr. Seward, Van Helsing, and Jonathon Harker prepare to undo Dracula's Handiwork

Dr. Seward, Van Helsing, and Jonathon Harker prepare to undo Dracula’s Handiwork

My only quibble would be the casting of Trevor Eve, who appeared as though he’d stepped from the latter 20th century into the latter 19th. It seemed an ill-fitting role for him and made it almost too easy to expect, nay—cheer-on a lively, intense young Lucy to choose the outrageously handsome, intelligent, seductive Count. And of the lovely Lucy (who really should be called ‘Mina’), one sees the nod at her feminism, capability, and brains that actually make her the hero of the original work. However I imagine there shall be some today that bristle at this Lucy easily dropping her virtue—and existence—into the Count’s lap, so to speak. It is of an old romance—the kind where man and woman waltz into their love, him leading as she demurely follows with sensual anticipation. But, lest they kill the romance with gender-role or abuse critique, look again with a discerning eye. It is Lucy who chooses Dracula. He already had Mina, but in this version, Lucy makes the choices each time. This Dracula never ‘mesmers’ or forces. He does with Mina, but not Lucy, who is able to recognise the loving, lonely man that resides side by side with the monster. He is a lover and a blood-drinker.drac3

And to the modern men who scoff at this version—those who find its romance silly or cannot comprehend why their women will watch it over and over, I say this: You’ve no sense of what a gentleman is or what women desire. You’ll likely never have this exchange:

Dracula: “I will see you again.” Lucy: “Oh please.”

Dracula--in a form many women (and some men) want!

Dracula–in a form many women (and some men) want!

Other favorite lines:

Dracula: “No drugs! You must not pollute her blood.”

Renfield: “I’ve been bit by a bat.” Dracula, as he puts his arm round Renfield’s shoulders: “Yes. I see.”

After violently smashing a mirror, Dracula says to Van Helsing: “I detest mirrors. They are the playthings of man’s vanity.”

Lastly, I will say that the bats chosen to represent the count in that particular morph—they were unfortunate. But then, one must realize this was well before CGI technology. Clearly, by the surfeit of poorly characterized bats through the decades, one must allow that it is difficult to simulate a vampire bat. Only the living article would do before the magic of computers and one suspects they are difficult to train. And speaking of technology, I have acquired this film in all it’s possible formats—VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, Blueray—and I’ll continue to upgrade as new options arise.

So, on the Vampire hair scale (Really, must I do this?) 5 stars. Langella’s hair was magnificent. On the vampire tale scale, 5 stars. It is, after all, Dracula. And on the vampire tale importance scale, well, highest marks. The Count is the King, is he not? This version helped open the door for the vampire to walk through as more than monster.goreydracbat

Vitaortus Character Guest Blogger -‘Georges’ shares his thoughts on “Bordello of Blood” (1996)

By Georges Picault (French, 35 y.o. when turned in Paris c. 1790) Highly appreciated man-about-town and restaurateur.

 

The Cryptkeeper

The Cryptkeeper

What is this She has done to me—forcing me to review this horror that only the worst kind of straight, frat boy could love?! It is a travesty, and my eyes cannot unsee what they have seen. Loloches everywhere!

However, thank God it is redeemed by its ending.

And anyway, who does not, after all, love the Cryptkeeper?

The fabulous Angie Everhart as Lilith

The fabulous Angie Everhart as Lilith

Bordello of Blood. As tantalizingly as the name slips over the tongue and past the lips, I cannot say that I, being who I am, enjoyed this film. It was an assault on my senses. But I will say that Angie Everhart was fabulous, elegant and looked wonderful in her costumes. Her one-liners were really the best of the entire script. I felt for her as Lilith, mother of all Vampires.

But—Dennis Miller? Non, non, non, non! He had no redeeming quality. Yes, Yes. I understand he is an

Dennis Miller & Chris Sarandon prepare for horrifying 'Ballroom Blitz".

Dennis Miller & Chris Sarandon prepare for horrifying ‘Ballroom Blitz”.

antihero, but really, how anti do you need to be? He was completely unsympathetic.

Cory gets what he deserves

Cory gets what he deserves

In fact, all of the men, to include Cory Feldman, were très ghastly.  They were classless and deserving of their lack of female admiration. The mortician was probably the most vile thing I have observed in a very long time—utterly repulsive. I will say, though, that Aubrey Morris played his role to perfection. I did appreciate that his repulsiveness was perfectly executed.

And Chris Sarandon, while looking his usual lovely self, would have been a little more convincing if he had a proper conservative minister’s coiffure. American reverends of this type are notoriously clean-looking. He was far too hirsute. Otherwise, while turning down his usual ‘smolder’, he too exuded a smarminess that made for a sinister minister.

Chris the Reverend Prosthelytizes with his geetar.

Chris the Reverend Prosthelytizes with his geetar.

There was no actual theme here except women as sex object, blood-sucking, evil monsters or proper little virgins to be turned. No underlying symbolism—just unadulterated silliness. It was boorish.

And yet, one can see the utter joy had by all and sundry males associated with the film with the execution of the ‘Ballroom Blitz’ scene. One can only wonder at the depth of the sexual frustration suffered by the writer and/or creators. I do hope they received the catharsis needed by such impotent rage. Still, it was brilliant in its gore and horror. I salute them in all their pathetic resentment toward the power of the feminine. I must add, Lilith’s heart-eating is the single act to which it all boils down. Poor, poor lads.

Chomp!

Chomp!

While I do not like to see Lilith treated in such a disrespectful manner (as if Dennis Miller or his character ‘Rafe’ would EVER turn down a diva such as Madam Everhart—so unrealistic), I know she could never be destroyed, like Dracula.

And as I have said, it is all redeemed and everyone gets their desserts—wait, do I mean just deserts?

No way to treat a Diva.

No way to treat a Diva.

5 on the vampire coiffure scale

2 on the vampire tale scale

1 on the vampire entertainment importance scale (except for Angie–she was phenomenal)

Please, She who weaves my fate, do not make me view another such as this. It is cruel. Ask Jack, I’m sure he has watched it many times. Why couldn’t you have given me “Interview”?

Vitaortus Character Guest Blogger – ‘Jack’ shares his thoughts on the 1985 version of “Fright Night”

By Jack Garrity (American; 30 y.o. when turned in 1984)—Hip, Hot, Hazardous Vampire and Cinephile

Peter Vincent grows a pair

Peter Vincent grows a pair

Okay, so first, I just have to get this, uh, out of my chest: Roddy McDowall—you hurt me man; really hurt me. A Vampire killer? I grew up with you; loved you. Lassie Come Home; My Friend Flicka; How Green Was My Valley. And I can’t even believe my favorite, emotive apes, Galen or Cornelius, would stake me or burn me to a crisp. It’s not right Rod . . . just not right.

But that said, I understand this was a tongue-in-cheek flick with some great horror for the time (30 freaking years ago! Still getting used to this immortality thing). The special effects are all hand-done, pre-CGI, which deserves massive respect. So I’m giving you a pass. Plus, your coat was great.

If it’s one thing I love in my horror films, it’s humor. And this has got to be the film that inspired Joss Whedon, because the ‘Buffy’ humor sprang right from it—there’s also that facial ‘change’ thing the vampires go through when pissed-off (a state Whedon uses when his vampires feed too). That added a little something to the scenes, but didn’t make much sense overall. I don’t remember it being used in vampire films before this one. Shape-shifting does make sense though. There’s a great scene with a wolf; possibly the best death-throes scene ever. We’re right there, feeling what Roddy’s Peter Vincent does as he watches in horror and pity. It was pure camp, both funny and horrible at the same time

Seriously scary s**t

Seriously scary s**t

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The movie starts with teenagers making out, the boy, Charlie, getting frustrated when his girlfriend, Amy, won’t put out—and that clumsily declares the metaphor of the whole crazy thing: tasting forbidden fruit.

Now, I’m not with Alan Ball of True Blood on this one. I don’t like the idea of being a metaphor for sex, myself . . . at least, not always. But I get it, and I’m glad humans think vampires are sexy—we are (original literary Dracula and Nosferatu aside, and discounting some other species . . . and revenants, gross.). But I digress. I had to try to look for a bigger symbol and that was the idea of facing fears and growing up. Both Charlie and Peter do this, as does our young lady, Amy. Dandridge the Vampire is the big, bad (and alluring) truth that they all have to face and fear they have to conquer. A small part of that is ‘don’t let the sex consume you!’ For Peter Vincent, it’s ‘walk the talk!’ Be the big bad vampire killer you’ve pretended to be all this time.

Eddy goes bad

Eddy goes bad

Now a note about Edward: he’s the scariest thing in the entire film. He’s freaky, unhinged and just not cool on too many levels. I don’t get why Charlie is friends with him. He’s a mean nut-job and not too realistic as a character or pal. But he was a guilty pleasure to watch, from Dandridge seducing him to his brilliant finale. Like I said, his final scene is a doozey that deserves to be in the horror hall of fame.

I’ll give Chris Sarandon major props. There are some moments I imagine humans might find a bit chilling. He’s one of those guys that you want to like you. He’s cool and has great hair. The dance scene with Amy, crappy ‘80s pop music notwithstanding, was hot; well-done and pretty much right on the mark. We do that kind of thing. However—we would never lose our shit at the disco or anywhere else in public. In fact, we don’t lose our shit, like you see them do in werewolf movies. It’s one of a few unrealistic moments. (What?) Regardless, how could Amy not give it up for Dandridge? He takes her innocence, well, blood at least, in that very romantic and lovely scene there in his crib. Nice, by the way, with the fluffy rug and fire. Great dress, too.

Dandridge lookin' good

Dandridge lookin’ good

But let’s be clear on one thing: from the start, Dandridge gives Charlie the option of doing the right thing: live and let kill. But he doesn’t go for it, so game on. I don’t feel too sorry for Charlie after that—sucks for him that no one believes him for a while. By the way, that whole cop scene was pretty lazy film-making, if you ask me. What cop brings a kid with him? Another of those scenes that wouldn’t work if it was a straight-up serious rendition, or made today. Anyway, I feel that Dandridge got a seriously raw deal. He tried to work it out with the kid.

Dandridge lookin' freaky

Dandridge lookin’ freaky

It wouldn’t be right of me not to mention all the various forms of teeth we see: Ed’s unhygienic set of gnashers, Dandridge’s funky monster teeth, and Amy’s insane maw of fangs. Wow. Is that the first time that was ever done? I don’t know. Don’t remember anything but an honest set of fangs before that movie. But it sure added to the scare-fest—especially Amy’s!

Amy's beautiful smile

Amy’s beautiful smile

So, a few of my favorite things:

-The thoughts I’d love to hear in women’s minds about Dandridge’s long fingers.

-His apple-eating, while inaccurate, was kind of a nice touch—very cool. But vampire bats don’t eat fruit.

-His silence when predating.

-His whistling ‘Strangers in the Night’ when going to get Charlie.

-When Charlie’s mother asks, “Do you want a valium?”

-When Peter Vincent says, as all the clocks strike dawn, “You’re out of time, Mr. Dandridge!”

So on the vamp hair scale, 5 out of 5. Sarandon was a great vampire.

On the vamp tale scale, 3 out of 5. A little too fanciful for this vampire’s liking.

On the vamp entertainment importance meter, 5 out of 5, because it marked a turning point in vampire fiction and was actually pretty original. And Roddy McDowall!

But Rod, may you rest in peace . . . ouch!

An Immortal perspective on Gothic Music

 

The inimitable Siouxsie Sioux

The inimitable Siouxsie Sioux

I recently tripped over a You Tube post by a young woman explaining to the universe what Goth is and isn’t. She was a very young woman who stated that it wasn’t really about the ‘aesthetic’ but rather, the ‘music’. I found it cute and amusing, until the little beastie mentioned ‘Metal’—which leads me to assert that I’ve been around a lot longer than she. I won’t reveal how long, but long enough; long enough to know a bit more about the genre . . . as well as its history. The ‘Metal’ thing is a relatively new and mutant absorption aspect—and it is entirely inappropriate. Let me give you a convoluted explanation as to why, using a few historic examples.

mayan-skull-atm-cave-belize-san-pedro--tripwow-Jeffsadventures

mayan-skull-atm-cave-belize-san-pedro–tripwow-Jeffsadventures

Goth roots go back to that first caveperson who picked up a skull and became mesmerized by it and all it represented: death and the suffering that comes before it, and all the ways it is symbolic of our potential for enlightenment. As the fire crackled, and perhaps a prehistoric drumbeat filled the shadowy cavern while massive, hungry beasts lurked in the darkness beyond, she began to sway and wish she had the power of this skull to mesmerize, knowing there was a partial answer in the music. She didn’t want to render her hands or the hunt on the cave wall; she wanted to finger-paint and mouth-spray skeletons and things beyond the ordinary day—things of the darkness and the unknown, imagined world. She did so to the beat of the drums and maybe even became the first shaman.

dionysus-CU-top-PT-7544

Dionysus

The ancient Greeks had a very special form of music and lyric known as the Dithyramb. It was poetry, it was rhythmic music, it involved dance and it was initially about the tragedies of our mysterious Gothic hero, Dionysus. This was a divinity who was a God apart from the others.

Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.”[1]

 Dionysus didn’t wear black (unless it was a black leopard skin) and I doubt his followers would thrash to Death Metal—or maybe they would, since most things are perverted from their originality. But more likely it would be Death Rock (there is a huge difference!). And today, a respectable Goth respects the right to choose, but the aggressive, violent lyrics of the Metal genre aren’t apropos to the Goth message. True Goths would never subvert romance and dignity (or campy horror fun) in such a way, unless they were in a rare, Dionysian ecstatic, booze or drug-fueled rage (which would generally be precipitated by a broken heart).

The absolute truth behind ‘The Goth manifesto’ is dark, romantic, allegorical tragedy—not slash and burn horror (only the ‘Camp’ camp does the slash and burn, but with humor). I can testify that no Goth of the late ‘70s and ‘80s would be caught dead or alive ( ; }) listening to Black Sabbath or Slayer (no disrespect). But they did occasionally listen to Johnny Cash and The Doors (but only as teens; The Doors lost fatalistic luster when angst matured and the glitter of Joy Division, Siouxie, The Cure, and the ultimate—Depeche Mode, appeared). How do you reconcile the vocal cord-grinding, growl-scream of death metal deep-screeches to the dulcet tones of a sensual baritone or contralto? They are opposites signifying opposite concepts.

Berzerker---Not Goth.

Berzerker—Not Goth.

Don’t get the wrong impression—that I am anti-metal of any sort. I find it an interesting (if sometimes painful) art form that is manifested for a reason. I respect that. But that reason doesn’t square with the Gothic manifesto of romantic tragedy. Goth has roots in history, love, tragedy, romanticism and aestheticism. It is rather feminine in its nature (how many people mistake Depeche Mode to be made up of gay men because their lyrics and music encompass all love beautifully?).

Metal’s roots are superficial dark arts occultism, rage and rock. It is extremely masculine. But here is an interesting comparison. Dave Gahan is fourteen years younger than Ozzy Osbourne. He is a legend among rock royalty as far as his past drinking and drugging, just like Ozzy. Dave is rumoured to have extra lives, like a cat and has even collapsed from a heart attack after a show in, of all places, New Orleans! Ozzy has had his own brushes with the Dark Angel. But I challange: pick up an album by Ozzy when he was in his early 50s, and pick of the most recent Depeche Mode, then tell me whose voice, whose songs transport you. Which still tells truth and does so with incredible artistic acuity? I’m not saying Ozzie hasn’t experienced his own journey; it’s just that Goth tells the tale beautifully and deeply, whereas Metal skims the surface.

LONDON - Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode February 20th, 2010 (Photo by Marc Broussely/Redferns)

LONDON – Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode February 20th, 2010 (Photo by Marc Broussely/Redferns)

Ozzy Osborn 2013 Press Association via AP Images

Ozzy Osborn 2013 Press Association via AP Images

Clearly, I’m a DM fan, but I also love Ozzy as a celebrity.  Yet that special truth in the music is a very deep one, because the call of metal is aggression and mayhem. Kill or be killed. It is about horror. And that is the single word that crosses over, because while Goth caresses horror, it’s really about the exquisite seduction of emotional suffering. It’s about the journey through the darkness, shedding fear, walking in dignity with the things that cause horror and befriending them. It is not about violence, which is ultimately just fear thrown outward. The Goth doesn’t fear the darkness and therefore has no need for anger, rage and aggression. He cries, he loves, he feels compassion and has no need to hide his pain in violence. Both adherents seek catharsis in their music, but one seeks it through adrenalin—the other through depth of emotion. One seeks to become the beast outwardly; the other seeks to confront the beast within.

The Dionysian mystery rites used music and drugged libation to enhance a transformative experience which would leave the initiates wiser. That required a process of travel through real and imagined dark places. The music played a large part in that travel; music which helped induce trance or slowly took one down into the subterranean realms of consciousness. Trance-type music is far more likely to induce this than any sub-genre of Heavy Metal.

So, flying through the ages to the mid-twentieth century, since to create a timeline between the dithyramb and our next subject would fill a book, let us acknowledge the 19th century poets and writers along the way: Poe, Shelley, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Wilde, etc. etc.; because they had a direct influence on the genre. A Gothic lyricist must be a poet, and this cannot be said of all songwriters.

Now don’t let ANYONE tell you that Alice Cooper was the Grandfather of Goth. However entertaining, he didn’t have the slightest relationship with pain and loathing or the desire to plumb the deepest depths of the soul. Looking the part doesn’t make it so. Plus, he’s quite clearly in the Heavy Metal genre.

No, there are some bands that are never associated with Goth, yet they are, quite clearly, its parents. Heavily influenced by bad-boy American blues, two examples would be The Animals and (less dark and more romanticist) The Zombies. From names, to sound, to lyrics, to look, these British ’60s bands are pre-Goth. It’s just that no one seems to ever call them that due to the time period! Forget your preconceptions for a moment. For your consideration:

Soon after ‘Pre’-Goth had gestated in the womb of British psychedelic pop/rock, along came the big Daddy, The Doors.

Goth Poet, Jim Morrison

Goth Poet, Jim Morrison

Rick James (WHOA! WHAT?) has recently (wait—isn’t he dead?) written/published a memoir, and in it recounts a tale about his first meeting with Mr. Mojo Risin’. From the ROLLING STONE article: “While staying at Stephen Stills’ place circa 1966, James woke up to find a young guy sitting cross-legged on the floor, “stoned as a motherfucker,” watching blood drip from his wrist, “saying things like ‘Isn’t the blood beautiful? Isn’t that the deepest red you’ve ever seen?'” Alarmed, James woke up Stills, who said, “Oh, fuck, he’s doing it again,” and bandaged the young man up. Which is how Rick James met Jim Morrison.”[2]

If that behavior isn’t Goth, then I don’t know Goth.

Now I digress: I confess there was a period of time during which I couldn’t listen to The Doors without experiencing a major cringe-factor—brought on by remorseful memories of the emotional, mental, and behavioral journeys I took as a troubled teen with that dark music as my life’s soundtrack. Morrison’s poetry sang to me so deeply that I drowned in it. Densmore, Krieger and Manzarek created music that set that poetry into mesmerizing motion. This was all before the official thing known as ‘Goth’. But by 1980, the full scene was set (happening in Europe, mostly). It simply took time to get to all of those who needed it—we didn’t have the information tsunami of today.

But anyway, I mean, come on: The Lizard King? Regardless, I was in love. “Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection!” & “Break on through to the other side” – the common man would scratch his head and say, “WTF? What does that mean? Other side of what?”

Hello Dionysian incarnation that was Jim Morrison!

Well, those drawn to Goth Music know exactly what that means: it’s the consciousness expansion that comes from conquering fear of the dark side and exploring its depths. It is part of the journey to enlightenment, like Dante’s journey through hell, before purgatory and eventually heaven.

And on the subterranean path of Goth Music, it was only a single turn down a darker tunnel that led to Bauhaus.

But right before that turn was a great big cavern, inside which was born ‘Alternative Music’, known as Punk Rock. Officially, Goth was part of that 1970’s litter. While regular punk took off in a fabulous, ugly, masculine “!DESTROY!” guise, Goth became it’s beautiful, brooding, androgynous, even feminine, sibling. It was almost as if (in Dionysian tradition) they tore off equal parts of the rebellious, tragically insane, brilliant creature that was Morrison.

Punk (morphing with heavy metal) went on to become all the incarnations of Hardcore Punk, Death Metal, etc. etc. It is external, masculine, aggressive, violent and angry—it is Yang. Goth is romantic, tragic, sexy and internal—it is Yin.

So in understanding that, how does one reconcile the two as being placed in the same category by some proclaiming to be Goth?

I guess you have to blame it on the color Black.

Here is a beautiful example of my point illustrated on stage. Industrial, dark ambient Nine-inch Nails lead, Trent Reznor, humbly learns at the feet of the Gothic master, Peter Murphy. Trent, a pent-up energy ball ready to burst, is unable to match his guru’s vampiric-cool serenity. Trent cannot contain his angry, kinetic energy, no matter how hard he tries, because he has not yet mastered his monster. Murphy, on the other hand, could lie effortlessly in a coffin for a hundred years, sucking on his smoke, and not give a flying bat-shit . . . because he mastered his monster long ago.

And that is the difference between ‘Metal’ and Goth.

Iucundissima somnia,

Dea

Philosophy of a Dark Fashion

Role Models for a Confident and Happy Mother and Daughter

Role Models for a Confident and Happy Mother and Daughter

 There is a type of philosophy known as ‘Aesthetics’. The term comes from the Greek, αἰσθητικός (aisthetikos, meaning “esthetic, sensitive, sentient”), which in turn was derived from αἰσθάνομαι (aisthanomai, meaning “I perceive, feel, sense”).[1] So with this in mind, how many people do you know who are aware of this, or contemplate it on a regular basis or, even more importantly, consciously live their lives according to their sensitive senses?

Well I would argue that every ‘Goth’ you encounter does. Now, we can view the world comfortably from the Sun-kissed surface, seeing the beauty in flowers and meadows and mountains. But most people don’t have the nerve or curiosity to delve deeper, between the petals where the spiders hide, beneath the grasses where the snakes slither, into the mountain caves where the bats roost. There is fear to be found in the depths of beauty. But that is where aestheticism must eventually lead, because the beauty of the light is only half of reality.

Most of humanity judges light as good and dark as bad. We are trained to fear anything deemed dark. Think of all the black-furred, feathered, skinned & scaled animals you can and then rate them good or bad accordingly (and by the way, this fear holds true in most of humanity, regardless of race or creed).

Interesting, eh? Is a black cat any worse than a tabby?

Simply Dandy

Simply Dandy

The Goth aesthetic is one of depth and courage, which reflects itself as an individual’s taste and preference. From a minimalist, form-fitting, vinyl body suit to a vintage Victorian mourning gown, or from a death-metal rocker’s leather to a vogue vampire’s velvet frock coat, these types of attire do not sit comfortably within the psyche of the normal populace.

Why?

They’re just clothes, after all. Or are they? Consider the darkness and the hold it has over mankind. When you see someone attired in Goth fare, what do you do? You stare because you must and you either appreciate, or judge with dread, sometimes masked as contempt. I submit that there is serious power in causing such a reaction and I also submit that beneath that power is a philosophical depth and courage.

In general, the Goth color choice is black. There usually needs to be some black in the outfit somewhere. Who else wears black? Authority figures: priests, ministers, rabbis, mullahs, imams and ayatollahs . . . judges. Police in many countries used to wear black or still do. The ultimate was the uniform of the evil-incarnate, Schutzstaffel, aka SS. (Interestingly, Vodou mambos and houngans wear white).

What the Goth has done is wrest psychological authority from authority—including the fear-inducement of Death! By embracing the color of mourning, the Goth embraces death and steals its authority, just as it does the authority which ordered society tries to hold over the individual. If such cat-burglary isn’t couragous, I don’t know what is.

Alice and Miss Piggy Bond

Alice and Miss Piggy Bond

But the Goth takes it further by bringing out the luminous in that which most find disturbing, frightening or ugly. In fact, the very act of ‘Gothicizing’ something can make the plain, mundane and even ugly shine with a sapphire beauty. For example, Marilyn Manson is not a beautiful man by most people’s criteria. But there are times when, after he has been ‘done-up’, it is impossible to view him as anything other than striking. Same thing happened with Alice Cooper decades previously (but with less polish). Alice was and is not a pretty man without his aesthetic transformation. Perhaps it’s not beauty in the traditional sense, but it is cause for pause!

Both of these artists seek to disturb with their invented personas. Why? Probably because they HAD to. It was in their blood to do so. Goth aesthetic is a revolt against normalcy. It is a rebellion from deep within against the ugliness of mundanity and ordered authority, which is why it is so much more than just a fashion choice. That rebellion is also why it disturbs polite society. The person who moves against the grain jostles us!

Gothic beauty beckons us to follow down into the potentially fetid bowls of hell . . . or so some would believe. What it really does is ask us to think, to feel, to sense—to tap into our aesthetic source and contemplate the truth of reality, of which half is darkness and all the boogeymen it contains. It asks us to have courage and faith. To dive deep between the petals and admire the spider will bring life to an exhilarating level. In the darkness lies the birth of the universe.

Stylish Couple

Stylish Couple

A young girl who dyes her hair some unconventional color and dons a dress she made of her dead Greek great-grandmother’s mourning clothes, is telling the universe, ‘I embrace ALL your ways, I celebrate them, I am unafraid of them—they are the stuff of my creation’. She is empowered to go into the street, beautiful, and unconcerned that the black-suited men who superficially (and badly) govern her world cannot fathom the depths of her mind. She could stroll through a crowd of them, a half-smile on her blood-colored lips and chin high, daring them to judge her as she flouts their convention. She shows that she will bravely face the pain and loss in life and celebrate for all she is worth, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist and shrink before it when it comes to her.

Yes, a dress can say all that and more. And interestingly, is there any other style that can so easily turn any other type of fashion into its own philosophical statement?

Imagine a Goth version of prep, or business, or surfer, or hipster, or western, or street. There is not a style on earth that cannot be turned into a Gothic statement, whether genuinely, humorously or ironically. Very few styles can lay claim to that. The key is in the details and the intent behind them, which makes it arguably the most creative fashion expression. How many styles exist because of the philosophy and symbolism behind them? More and more people are drawn to this style, which is why Goth has reached such a high state of beauty and creativity, with many subgenres. It is the aesthetes dream style, because it can be so uniquely molded to the individual, whether you’re a classic ‘Souxie styler’ or into Victoriana. Just ‘Google’ Goth Fashion and peruse the many images for sheer variety.

Many will define Goth as requiring black hair and talc-whitened skin (In the 80’s, many Goths used baby-powder!). They will tell you that self-respecting Goths wouldn’t be caught dead with a tan. Well the true Goth will cry ‘Don’t define us!’, because Goth is in the eye of the beholder, as long as it pays attractive homage to the mysteries.

Musidora-Les Vampire

Musidora-Les Vampire

In some ways, it is a desire to bring back the romantic beauty of an earlier age, before modernism’s ugly sterility. It is an attempt to reconnect with the mysteries and the organic. It is a self-expression that says, “I reject your societal norms and the hole you’d put me in. I transend into the darkness between the stars and inside the Earth.”

And in case all this Gothica strikes critics as just a little bit campy:    ; }

 

Iucundissima somnia,

Dea



[1] Wikipedia

Vampires, Conservation and Sir David

Thylacinus cynocephalus AKA Tasmanian Tiger; 1904 National Zoo, DC

Thylacinus cynocephalus AKA Tasmanian Tiger; 1904 National Zoo, DC

You might wonder why anyone would support the conservation of a creature as frightening and dangerous as a vampire. You might wonder why any monster would be put on the endangered species list and what kind of masochistic, bleeding-heart bizarro would even consider such a thing (other than the creature itself). Well, as one of those bizarros, I’ll explain.

Recently, on a Reddit Q & A with Sir David Attenborough (upon whom the Gods should seriously bestow many more years incarnated on this planet so that he might continue to grace us with his elegance and wisdom), he was asked if he thought planet Earth was on the verge of another mass extinction. His reply was blood-chilling:

“Yes, I’m afraid we are,” he wrote. “It’s not possible to reverse the damage we’ve done. We are undoubtedly exterminating species at a speed which has never been known before.”

Note that he says, “. . . we’ve done, and We are . . .” (Sir David wins any argument by default because he is the epic hero who calmly stood atop the mountain of bat guano, calf-deep in crawling cockroaches, centipedes and other creepies in order to bring us knowledge.)

Sir David poses with Amorphophallus titanium AKA Corpse Flower (largest flower on Earth)

Sir David poses with Amorphophallus titanium AKA Corpse Flower (largest flower on Earth)

“But Vampires are myth,” some of you say.

“Oh, really?” other’s might reply.

But here’s something to consider: the Thylacine. Thylacinus cynocephalus, also known as the Tasmanian tiger, the last one of which died in Hobart Zoo the night of September 7th, 1936. This amazing, remarkable beast, which had been around for four million years, was wiped out in a matter of just a few centuries. Its extinction may be placed squarely on the shoulders of ‘Man’, who did it on purpose.

Today, there are American Facebook pages and websites created by and for psycho- and sociopaths who genuinely and gleefully wish for and participate in the extinction of wolves. Even people of the stoutest demeanor will find these sites hard to examine. The savagery seen in the photos and postings is worse than that of the animals they wish to exterminate. And why? Why this astounding ignorance, hatred and belief that they have the right to undo the work of the Universe, or God(s) or whatever is responsible for the long, fantastic existence of such creatures—especially against the will the rest of us.

We desperately don’t want wolves to become creatures of myth like the Thylacine.

So what other supposed ‘monsters’ are candidates for man’s extermination list? Sharks of many species, starting with the Great White, Tiger, Bull, etc; great cats like the Tiger, Cougar, Lion; Bears, like the Grizzly and Polar (unfortunately the white bears’ days are numbered no matter what).

I have watched people attack and kill a Black Rat Snake (harmless, except to rats, which is necessary, right?) as if their very lives and that of all humanity depended on this execution. The snake was merely sunning itself, no nefarious plan in its innocent, tiny brain.

People emit cringe-worthy shrieks at the sight of a tiny spider, 1000’s of times smaller than we naked apes. Its death is all the human can envisage, even though that spider is ridding the house of pests and doesn’t think one iota about the gigantic, lumbering, inedible thing that is ‘man’.

“Oooh, but what if it’s venomous?!” the fearful lunatics whine. Well, so what? Maybe it is—doubtful though. But since the information is easily available, why not CHECK, rather than snuff out a life. If you find them unsightly, easy enough to use a glass and a piece of paper and move the arachnid outside.

Yet there are those who would blindly eradicate every last one of the creatures in each genus these beasties belong to. Fear turns man into the greatest monster the planet has ever been host to.

If a man murders a man, should the entire human race die for it? Is man so lofty—is he the God of Earth that may pick and choose what lives and what dies. If any answer yes, they are quite the fool; much like one who pulls at a thread on his pants and suddenly cannot stop the unravelling. The more pieces you remove, the greater the chance the system will fail. Unfortunately, too much of common man isn’t aware of ‘the system’.

“So how do vampires come into it”, you’re asking. Vampires come into it because they are the myth that represents the deepest primal fear—like that which some experience at the sight of a spider or snake. Kill or be killed.

In the case of the belly-to-the-ground types, that fear is almost always unfounded—in an individual tale of a vampire though, perhaps not so much. But if you were to imagine a world populated with multiple species of blood-drinkers, knowing that their plan was NOT to wipe out the human race, and that their numbers were miniscule compared to the human population (much like the wolf), couldn’t you perhaps muster just the tiniest bit of compassion. After all, it is the god within the human mind that created them, and isn’t that every bit as genuinely awesome (note correct word usage) as that which created the magnificent, but extinct Thylacine?

You can check out the prep for camera work on that ‘Plant Earth’ scene here – Warning to the squeamish! http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00ms0cz

Iucundissima somnia,

Dea

An Immortal Attitude

rbbngmrtlmrtl‘Death Mysterious, ill-visaged friend of weak humanity! Why alone of all mortals have you cast me from your sheltering fold? Oh, for the peace of the grave! the deep silence of the iron-bound tomb! That thought would cease to work in my brain, and my heart beat no more with emotions varied only by new forms of sadness! . . .

Am I immortal?

. . . Thus I have lived on for many a year—alone and weary of myself—desirous of death, yet never dying—a mortal immortal.

. . . Neither ambition nor avarice can enter my mind, and the ardent love that gnaws at my heart, never to be returned — never to find an equal on which to expend itself — lives there only to torment me.

. . . I yield this body, too tenacious a cage for a soul which thirsts for freedom, to the destructive elements of air and water . . .

 . . . I shall adopt more resolute means, and, by scattering and annihilating the atoms that compose my frame, set at liberty the life imprisoned within, and so cruelly prevented from soaring from this dim earth to a sphere more congenial to its immortal essence.’

—Winzy, from Mary Shelley’s “The Mortal Immortal”

WHOA! Is this how everyone feels about being immortal? I think not—just ask the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, whom Anne Rice endowed with a much more ‘go-get-em’ attitude. Or perhaps Eric Northman, Charlaine Harris’ beloved Viking of the modern age. No ‘Poor, Poor me’ for those fabulous gentlemen. Granted, Lestat’s honey, Louis, wasn’t quite as thrilled to be immortal after the novelty wore off—which reminds me that Bill Compton wasn’t exactly the life of the party either. Is this a blond thing? Do they truly have more fun?

Lord Ruthven (both Polidori’s and Berard’s versions) and Count Dracula would beg to differ. Both Raven-haired gents get about their business with particular aplomb—and with absolutely no desire to have their atoms annihilated. In fact, Dracula fights like the dickens to keep those atoms sharing their electrons!

Miriam Blaylock, in “The Hunger”, is hardly morose, and yet there is an ancient melancholy about her stunningly beautiful life. She loves eternally; she needs her companions—but she must live a lie for several hundred years with each one, as she has led them to believe they will retain their youth with their immortality. The lie is a ghastly betrayal. She is no sociopath, merely accepting of her curse—to the extreme horror of those lovers. But you don’t see her wanting death’s sweet release.

And here, only a slight digression –

More recently, a very special offering to the Vampire genre was made by none other than the unique, dark and quietest of the last great Naughty and Delinquent writers, Nick Tosches. He, his agent, his editors and publishers (and even I) would argue that it most definitely shouldn’t be on the shelf with “Twilight”, but “Me and the Devil” IS a Vampire book. If he was playing on the genre for irony or absurdity’s sake, well, fine—and yes, those two books are opposite ends of the spectrum. But he certainly made it a part of the genre with his sensuous, transportive descriptions of food, drink (including blood . . . and milk), sex, clothing, esoteric lore, history, etc, etc, . . . oh, and the insanity and melancholy that accompanies an artist (writer) who knows he is now immortal. After all, when Nick moves beyond the veil, I’ll still have him here with me, in caressingly-tangible hardback.

The smoky, dark, mental paths he attempts to tread with dignity are no different than the symbols he uses, comparing Vampirism with the addictions of cigarettes, alcohol, food, knowledge, experience and women.  . . . and writing. And let me say: he clearly has refined tastes, even if he tries to dress them in a tawdry fashion. (What worries me, and this is a confession, is that I found I resonated rather intensely with far too much the ‘Nick’ of his novel had to say. Seriously Spooky!)

But there is pure Gothic consequence—the only difference being, this ‘vampire’ was able to choose in the end whether his consumption would destroy him, by not engaging in it, ‘a day at a time’. And a little warning—amazing as this book is, I don’t recommend it for the delicate! Modern male writers and their love of C-words and pornographic, rather than romantic, sex differentiates this from real Gothic vampire novels. (XX vs XY?). Just is what it is—although there is a very blurry line between worshipping the female and degrading her (even if it’s himself he’s eventually degrading by doing so).

Anyway, what redeems it is that, unlike Dracula, or even Winzy, this ‘Nick’ can see himself in the mirror and THAT is his saving grace (what with the unexamined life not worth living and all). Regardless, this mortal immortal goes through much of the self-loathing of Mary Shelley’s character, but seems to find some slightly foul, never-the-less real, hope in the end.

So is poor Winzy’s attitude really that hard to fathom. If you read his tale and know all he suffers, you get it. But then, he’s no vampire and has none of their ‘powers’. He was unlucky enough to be the assistant to the notorious alchemist, Cornelius Agrippa, and made a very big mistake: he drank a potion he thought was for love, but was actually an elixir of life. Being young, foolish and devoid of imagination, he chose to spend life with his beloved Bertha, who grew old and died—but not before abusing him from resentment over his non-aging.

Prolonged life sucks. Or does it? Would someone with a tendency towards melancholia lean that way eventually if your powers were just normal and you had a bit of a codependent, obsessive side? Clearly, you’d get lonely without the object of your ardor. In the case of vampires, they can usually make themselves a companion—not so, poor Winzy. But what if he’d bucked up his attitude and looked on the bright side, like the curmudgeonly ‘Nick’?

Well we’ll never know. Shelley had him concoct a wild scheme, which isn’t fully explained, but you’re led to believe he’ll head to perhaps the arctic, like her (and Frankenstein’s) Monster—where ever he’s heading, he’s hoping the journey will kill him, because he can’t bring himself to die by his own hand.

He was really kind of a wuss all the way around—which just won’t do if you’re a mortal immortal. Because after a hundred years or so of moping around, wouldn’t it just get tiresome and old? As with evolution, adaptation is the key, which means ‘change’. Change, or continue the misery . . . unless misery is your thing. But somehow I suspect that were the fantasy of the Mortal Immortal ever to become real, there is plenty of self-help to encourage an infinite state of Nirvana—but wait—if Nirvana is in essence a ‘snuffing out’, well that sounds an awful lot like death. Doesn’t it?

Iucundissima somnia,

Dea

The Importance of Men’s Fashion in Literature

 

Dante in Exile - Domenico Petarlini

Dante in Exile – Domenico Petarlini

As three bearded sages once intoned:

“ . . . silk suit, black tie;
I don’t even need a reason why-y.
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can,
‘cause every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharp-dressed man.”

— Frank Lee, Willie G. and Dusty

Three men, all nearly the same height and build—how do you tell them apart if they’re naked and you’d never seen them before? Would you instantly recognize their famous images if you were told their eyes were brown, green or grey? Perhaps if we added hair and skin color and shape of nose you would know. If you had never seen these men but were expected to know them, what would the identifying marker be?

Original Illustration of Sherlock by Paget

Original Illustration of Sherlock by Paget

If I tell you one of the men is wearing a deerstalker cap and Inverness coat, you would instantly place a pipe in his mouth because you’d know the gentleman is the very fashion-conscious Sherlock Holmes (who, incidentally, wouldn’t be caught dead in London in that country getup. Visual adaptation just doesn’t follow canon!). Sherlock was a stylish dresser, if perhaps a little whacky and unnerving. Still, it was important to him that he look damn fine while brilliant and whacked (in the American sense of the word). I wonder if Conan Doyle had similar leanings in his private thoughts. Unfortunately he looked more like Watson, so he had to be a little more downplayed, I suspect.

John Philip Kemble as Hamlet 1802

John Philip Kemble as Hamlet 1802

Our next fabulous guy might sport a ‘solemn black’ doublet and stockings. His ‘inky cloak’ would be the big giveaway. You’d know him anywhere. You’d plop Yorick’s skull in his hands and he wouldn’t be just any melancholy blond heartthrob (he’d have to be blond, right?). Hamlet had deep and decisive opinions on attire and he certainly may have been the origin of ‘Goth’—with the attitude to match.  Shakespeare must have had a little of that in him to create such an amazing character. Here is how Hamlet disses his mother’s reproach on his clothing choice:

Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not ‘seems.’
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

He loves his mother, but he’s not entirely impressed with her comments . . . or her choice in men.

. . .

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

. . .

Well ok. We know Polonius is supposed to be a windbag . . . but is he really? Because it’s he who says the most important lines (arguably) of the entire play:

. . .

This above all – to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

. . .

So given that remarkable chunk of wisdom, we can also take his axiom that the clothing makes the man to heart. And yes, not all men may want to dress particularly fashionably or, like Hamlet, be judged like a book by its cover. But clearly, if a man wants to be remembered, he’ll take a leaf from a book. Literary outfits clearly mark identity—just ask ape man, Tarzan.

Dante

Dante

The third gentleman wouldn’t necessarily make an impression, other than to perhaps appear woeful and dolorous. After all, In real life he never really got the special girl he wanted and he was shamefully booted out of his hometown that he loved. You’d never recognize him until he donned his medieval Florentine robes—all flowing crimson. Then you’d crown him with a wreath of laurel.  Dante manages to keep up appearances all the way through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. It doesn’t get more grueling than that and yet he does it with grace . . . mostly. He clearly is a bit of a baby in Hell, but then I suspect even James Bond would break down and weep hysterically when the demons and myriad monsters came harassing.

So I’ll leave you with one last quote just to stay within ‘the grand unification theory’. Jonathon Harker writes in his diary:

“I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window and begin to crawl down the castle wall over that dreadful abyss, face down, with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings.”

Iucundissima somnia, and keep looking good boys,

Dea

 

 

 

Stories of Supernatural Plants go waaay back

Is the Goddess depicted in the Burney Relief Lilith?

Is the Goddess depicted in the Burney Relief Lilith?

Hand up if you’ve read “The Epic of Gilgamesh” (be honest). Other hand up if you remember “The Epic of Gilgamesh” (again, be honest). Well, if you’re one of the latter (you can put your hands down now), you’ll remember that Gilgamesh seemingly suffered from both a low IQ and EQ. He was kind of a jerk, a dumbass and extremely prone to bad decisions and subsequent histrionic self-pity. That said, his journey was a lesson for all of humanity about the futile nonacceptance of mortality.

But there was much more to the story that tends to get overlooked and, depending on which version you read, I’m not talking about the terrifically unfair and bogus eviction of Lilith from her tree-house. No, I’m talking about the thing that would have brought Gilgamesh some sense of accomplishment: acquiring the plant of immortality.gilgamesh-plant-al_2465325kAlamy

Of course, Gilgamesh blew that chance, but we’re left with a tantalizing image before the serpent carries it off in its belly: aquatic, thorny, beautifully fragrant, rosy-red . . . it even seems (to me at least) to demand a blood sacrifice as it pricks Gilgamesh when he grabs it. Oooh, exciting!

Well that story is well over four-thousand years old. An even earlier one involving a supernatural plant also comes from the Akkadians and the hero appears to have succeeded in obtaining it.

Like Gilgamesh, Etana is an ancient king, but he’s otherwise very different: he’s pretty bright and seems more mature and together—no mention of using his kingly right to sleep with the virgin brides of his domain. For this, he is eventually rewarded (we think, because the climax of the story broke off of the tablet and is lost) with the plant of birth, or life, and he is able to have a son—Balih—who, according to the Sumerian King list, succeeds him.

AkkadiankingThese plants were critical to the ultimate desires of these two kings and clearly held an imaginative fascination for the people of the time. They represent something divine and much higher than ourselves. Such is the same in later Greek mythologies involving mythic life/immortality giving herbs.

Some  examples are: ‘The Herb of the Gigantes’ which would have saved them had Zeus not stuck his nose into yet another conflict; ‘The Herb of Glaukos’ which turned him from a fisherman into a sea-god; ‘ The Herbs of both Polydos and the Naiad, Moria, which brought back to life a king’s son and a brother.

Ancient peoples were intimately connected to plants—to the point that they imbued them with the most incredibly important powers (which many actually had and still do). Even modern-era humans, right up to the Victorians, had a deep bond with plants (in fact the Victorians ascribed so many meanings to them that there are entire encyclopedias devoted to that). Until the industrial era, humanity understood how critical plants are to our very survival.

How many people do you know live with plants, know about them or have a deep, abiding respect for them? Yet they make the very oxygen we breathe, food we eat, some clothing we wear, and some parts of the homes in which we live and are the source of many medicines—humans could not survive without them. Yet plants wouldn’t shed a tear through their stomata if mankind disappeared. They don’t need us for squat.

Gilgamesh loses to Nature

Gilgamesh loses to Nature

Gilgamesh took the plant of immortality for granted and lost all he’d suffered for; Etana worked incredibly hard, took incredible risks and I assume valued above all else the gift of the plant of life.

The Vitaortus goes a step farther: it needs a ‘human’ to ultimately survive, but it will give supernatural gifts in return. It is a relationship; perhaps one that certain kinds of farmers like viticulturists and orchardists can relate to. Without that special human to care for it, tend it, love it—it will eventually perish. And with it, its special powers that are so vital to other supernatural lives. And in the story of the Vitaortus, those supernaturals are finally coming to learn the lesson Gilgamesh didn’t learn until it was too late—humble conscientiousness in the face of something previously unrecognized.

So the next time you pass those assembly-line plants at Ikea, or Home Depot, think of their ancestral counterparts and all the magic they may hold. With the next glass of wine or juice, think of the vine or tree that produced it. There are mythical tales that were told about so many of the actual plants we live with, that a multi-volume encyclopedia would be needed to hold them all.

Vitaortus was born from a love of those myths. And of course, what better creature to need a supernatural plant than a vampire?

And then there are the plants of Alchemy, mythical and not . . . but that’s for another day.

Iucundissima somnia,

Dea