Could there have been vampires in Iron age Yorkshire?
It is certainly the case that Eastern Europeans would use sharp objects to pierce the bodies if suspected vampires or revenants. The piercing allowing gases to escape, making the bloated corpse deflate and look more ‘dead’. Which, obviously, led to the ideas in Vampire stories about a stake through the heart. The story here seems to suggest something similar in the UK during the Iron Age.
The Eastern European belief is that plagues and bad luck in an area were linked to the restless dead feeding. So, to end the bad luck they would dig up the last person buried (as the most likely candidate) and perform various rituals to lay them to rest – including using iron nails and even fence posts to impale them. Most of the time they would find a corpse that looked like it had gained weight and was showing signs of hair and nail growth*, which added to the evidence that they were still alive and feeding on the blood of the living. Piercing of any form would release the gases and the corpse would look more like you would expect it to. If the bad luck didn’t go away, they would go back and do more rituals that went up to cremating the body.
Is this case an example of the same thing? This is certainly a bizarre burial. The corpse was found pierced with 9 spears – some bone, others iron. There are theories. One being that it was because he did not die in battle – the postmortem injuries inflicted as a way to ensure a warrior’s death. Though this does not explain the head injury described in the article. Another theory is that it was a ritual killing similar to the bog burials, where the victim is knocked unconscious or killed with a blow to the head before being ritually murdered. However, the theory that is catching the imagination of most people is the vampire one – that there was some reason they feared his return as a revenant. Or even went back to perform the stabbing ritual after he was buried due to some bad luck or plague, the same as the Eastern European folklore. This, along with the sacrifice option, may explain why the spears were left in place – to ensure he did not get up.
We may never know the real reason why this bizarre ritual was performed but it does highlight some interesting parallels in folklore. Similar ideas appear in different cultures. Obviously, the conspiracy theory answer to this is ‘Vampires are real and many cultures encountered them’ but more likely this was because there was actually more travel and communication between cultures than used to be considered possible. Briton at this point may have been primitive but Rome (due to invade in another 250 years or so) was already a Republic and starting to form an Empire. Burial could in theory spread over Europe. It is, however, very likely too much of a stretch to link this practice with that of Eastern Europeans in the 1800s.
Instead, let us consider the coincidence of an iron age vampire being found in the same county as Whitby – the place where Bram Stoker had Dracula’s ship land on his journey from Transylvania.
*Due, as we now know, to the skin shrinking back from the hair follicles and nail bed rather than any actual growth.
The tale of the ‘Winchester Mystery house‘ is an intriguing one that plunges into the heart of the mythology of the Old West. It is also unusual in that the subject of this article is not just in itself haunted but rather was built (allegedly) because of a haunting.
Sarah Winchester was the wife of William Wirt Winchester, widowed when her husband fell victim to Tuberculosis in 1881 and therefore heiress to his vast fortune and a significant number of shares in the company that manufactured the Winchester rifle. The story goes that the grief of losing both her husband and daughter (who died in 1866) led to her consulting a medium who informed her that her family was haunted by the ghosts of all the Native American and Civil war soldiers who had been killed by the Winchester rifle. The medium’s advice was to travel to California and build a house ‘to house the spirits’ in order to appease them. So long as the house kept being built they would leave her in peace.
The RMS Queen Mary is an interesting paranormal site to study. Listed as one of the top ten most haunted sites in the US, it is intriguing to see such a quintessentially British artifact inhabiting a site in California. But, of course, being a trans-Atlantic vessel, she has always been a daughter of two worlds and I suppose it is fitting that a ship born in the UK should end her days in the US.
For those who are not aware of the history, the Queen Mary was one of two cruise ships (the other being the RMS Queen Elizabeth) built by Cunard and launched in 1934 to make trans-Atlantic crossings. She did this with style and elegance for several years, with a brief spell painted gray for military service as a troop carrier in WWII (renamed the Grey Ghost), before finally being retired in 1967. Another ship (the QM II) took over the name in 2004 when that ship replaced the now retired QE II (launched in 1969) as flagship of the Cunard fleet.
After retirement, the Queen Mary was converted into a hotel and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California where it is still permanently moored and has played host to holidaymakers, museums, the Walt Disney Corporation (who owned it in the 80’s)* and even a Roller Derby team (Long Beach Derby Gals who used it as a venue but now seem to have moved elsewhere).
And, if the rumors are to be believed, ghosts…
This is reblogged from my Lurking Musings blog where it featured as part of my Vampire Month special event. On Thursday this week, Johnathon will be talking in more detail about the Vampire Killing kit that the museum has in its collection.
Today we have an interview with Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. He recently gave a talk entitled ‘How to kill a Vampire’ which I was lucky enough to attend and it was this talk which led me to approach him about a slot in Vampire month.
As someone born in the North East of England, I am no stranger to either coal mining or the need for Unions to protect the rights of workers. This story therefore has a lot of resonance with me, even if the coal mining in question took place over 130 years ago and several thousand miles away in Pennsylvania state.
The story goes that in the 1870s a group of Irish coal miners, all part of an Irish Pro-Union organisation called the Molly Maguires, were accused of murder. It is such a well known tale that there was even a movie about it starring Sean Connery. Accounts agree that the circumstances of their arrest and trial between 1876 and 1878 were somewhat shady with an investigation carried out by the Pinkerton Detective agency (a private concern) and arrests made by the Coal and Iron Police (a paid militia run by the companies that owned the mines). There were also suspicions of Jury tampering (the composition of the jury was composed of ethnic groups such as German and Welsh immigrants who had a distaste for the Irish) and the judge was reputed to have a heavy anti-Molly bias.
The Loch Ness Monster has been one of the most enduring myths of the last two centuries. In fact, the legend may be even older if you take into account the supposed sighting by St Columba in the 6th Century Ever since the first modern age sighting of a ‘log like’ object by D MacKenzie in 1871 speculations about what might be lurking in the depths of the 263 thousand million cubic feet of water that constitutes the largest body of water in the whole of the United Kingdom. Attempts to discover the truth of the matter have even extended so far as to an ambitious one million pound (~$1,524,674) project to scan the entire Loch using sonar called Operation Deepscan.
They say that in space no one can hear you scream… Well, the producers and marketing teams of the Alien franchise of Sci Fi films said that and it became one of the more well known movie taglines of all time. You may not be able to scream in space but it is certainly the most likely place where you might spot aliens.
Of all the supernatural creatures that are known about, I reckon that Vampires are quite possibly the most well known.
The literary creation of John William Polidari (one time physician to Lord Byron) and popularized by Bram Stoker, the Vampire has blazed a trail through books, movies, cartoons, comics and theater productions for much of the 20th century and is still going strong in the 21st. YA fiction in particular has adopted the vampire with gusto, turning them from blood sucking horrors that lurk in the night to sexy, angst ridden anti heroes. Needless to say, everyone knows all about Vampires.