Throughout history, fear and superstition have ravaged the hearts and minds of peoples of Europe. Witches, werewolves and vampires were blamed for all manner of atrocities and trivialities. Tied to religious fervor, anti-Semitic sentiment and social control, an estimated 110,000 witch trials took place across Europe; 48% of these ending in execution. (Brian Levack, The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe, 1995.) Today, our fascination with witches, werewolves and vampires is seen in popular literature and film.
Prague was thought to be a magic town where alchemy was practiced. The architecture is said to contain esoteric meaning. Europe was gripped by the fear of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries. The people were superstitious and thought any misfortune was caused by witchcraft.
“Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furrowed brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice or scolding tongue, having a rugged coat on her back, a skull-cap on her head, a spindle in her hand and a dog or cat by her side, is not only suspect but pronounced a witch.” (Kors & Peter (eds.), Witchcraft in Europe, 1100-1700.)
As well as a fear of witches, there was a history of werewolf trials throughout Europe that were overshadowed by, or part of the witch trials that took place, and accusations of werewolfery could bring the same ramifications as those of witchcraft. Accusations could include those of lycanthropy (transformation into a wolf), of wolf-riding or wolf-charming. Wolf charming was a spell causing a wolf attack.
Ways of turning into a werewolf:
- Being cursed.
- Drinking water from a wolf’s paw print.
- Eating meat killed by a wolf.
- Wearing a girdle made of wolf skin.
- Using a magic ointment.
When in human form, werewolves were thought to have hidden their skins somewhere for safe keeping until nightfall, then they would turn into a werewolf again until the dawn.
In the 18th century, as the witchtrials were winding down, fear of vampires was taking hold. 1700 – 1750: there was a wave of vampire hysteria in Bohemia and Europe. It is in this time and location that my novel takes place.
In Czech folklore, vampires are called ‘upir’ and ‘nelapsi’ – revived and rotting corpses of the recently deceased. ‘Upir’, who were thought to be diseased, were said to have two hearts, two souls and to suck their victim’s blood. They could kill with their evil eye.
‘Pijavica’ translates as ‘drinker’ – a human who has led an evil life, if a vampire, is said to be powerful, strong, a cold-blooded killer. If caught when they are awake, they are killed by fire; if caught in the grave they are killed by exorcism. For protection against vampires, mashed garlic and wine was placed at windows and thresholds.
Phtot credit: Prague