Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hallowe'en Countdown 2018: The Order of the Dragon and the Vampire Ouroboros

Vampires are connected to the ouroboros, an ancient Egyptian symbol linking life and death. This is "an engraving of a woman holding an ouroboros in Michael Ranft's 1734 treatise on vampirrs." Notice the hourglass balanced on its edge in the bottom left corner, and the satyr playing the triangle above the woman. Click to enlarge. Image Source: Wiki.

Welcome to the month of October! Every year, this blog joins dozens of other blogs to count down to Hallowe'en (check out other participants here). I reserve this countdown for topics which are too weird, frightening and creepy to cover during the rest of the year. This month, I will be publishing new Hallowe'en posts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Vampires open the countdown this year. Vampire and other horror stories tie in strongly to modern conspiracy theories. During this countdown, I cover strange and sometimes offensive material. That doesn't mean I personally believe in, or endorse, those ideas.

The Old Vampire Ouroboros: The Order of the Dragon

The German poet and diplomat, Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376-1445), wearing an Order of the Dragon brooch with the serpent eating its tail. Portrait from the Innsbrucker Handschrift (1432). Notice the closed right eye, now a common gesture in photographs of celebrities. Image Source: Portrait in the Innsbruck manuscript of 1432 (Liederhandschrift B)/Wiki.

Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović using two snakes to cover her right eye and neck. Image Source: e-flux conversations.

The word 'Dracula' comes from the title granted the Wallachian rulers of Transylvania who were members of the chivalric Order of the Dragon, a group founded in 1408 to keep the Turks out of Europe.

The order started in Germany and Italy, but spread to the princely houses of Central Eastern Europe. Members of the order carried the signum draconis, the sign of the dragon, later displayed on the coats of arms of certain Hungarian noble families: Báthory, Bocskai, Bethlen, Szathmáry, Benyovszky, Kende and Rákóczi.

Engraving of an ouroboros by Lucas Jennis, in the 1625 alchemical tract, De Lapide Philosophico. Image Source: Wiki.

The Order of the Dragon used the ancient image of the ouroboros, or the serpent eating its own tail. This symbol can be traced back to Egyptian funereal texts. The ouroboros was obscurely depicted in the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I (died 1279 BCE).

Head of the mummy of Seti I photographed in 1889 by the German Egyptologist Émile Brugsch (1842-1930). Image Source: Emil Brugsch/Wiki.

The walls of King Seti's tomb state: "The souls of all the gods reside in the serpents." You can read a PhD dissertation (here) on the ouroboros in Egyptian magic, which was used to bring the dead back to life.

One particular spell featured in Seti I's tomb was intended to force the mummy to open its mouth and breathe, eat, drink, and speak again after death. It was called the 'Opening of the Mouth' ceremony. The ceremony could be performed by a priest, or the dead could perform it on themselves. The incantation from the Book of the Dead requires the dead person to say:
"My mouth is opened by Ptah,
My mouth's bonds are loosed by my city-god.
Thoth has come fully equipped with spells,
He looses the bonds of Seth from my mouth.
Atum has given me my hands,
They are placed as guardians.
My mouth is given to me,
My mouth is opened by Ptah,
With that chisel of metal
With which he opened the mouth of the gods.
I am Sekhmet-Wadjet who dwells in the west of heaven,
I am Sahyt among the souls of On."
There is a sense that one does not gain immortality without violating boundaries and breaking a few natural rules. An exact replica of Seti I's tomb is currently being 3-D printed in Switzerland. Susanne Bickel, an Egyptologist at the University of Basel, declared of the project: "Yes! Absolutely! This is resurrection!"

From the gilded walls of King Tutankhamun's tomb, where the ouroboros is featured twice. Image Source: Soul Guidance.

The serpent was also featured in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun (c.1341 BCE-c.1323 BCE). The serpent eating its tail depicts cyclical time, destruction and regeneration; birth and death united; an orderly society emanating out of, and right at, the borderland with chaos.

The ouroboros in the Papyrus of Dama-Heroub (11th-10th century BCE). Image Source: Look4ward.

The ouroboros has appeared in many cultures. It refers to ancient moon cults and lunar calendars, where the waxing and waning of the moon unlocked the secrets of existence. It is also connected to the Hindu idea of the Kundalini and informs the symbol of medicine, the caduceus.

Esoteric depictions of the ouroboros. Images Sources: here; here; herehere; here.

The medieval Order of the Dragon to which the Transylvanian princes and nobles belonged was modeled after the earlier Hungarian knightly fraternity, the Order of St. George, which also bears dragon symbolism. Both orders paired the ouroboros with the nobility via the cross, the symbol of sacrifice and of the sun. In other words, death and life, moon and sun, lizard and saint, monster and hero, dragon and prince.

Thus, a glance at the word 'Dracula' reveals that the Transylvanian vampire story departs from the fanged blood-sucker we know into unexpected territory. Dracula is not about vampires, exactly, but about the Devil, serpent or dragon as a sign of death, whose power is unlocked to grant eternal life.

The vampire story concerns the ways in which the European nobility conceived of their power as they dealt with the Church, waged war, and learned the mysteries of the dead from ancient Egypt, by way of orders dedicated to Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and alchemy.

In alchemical texts, the ouroboros fused the male (a 'red king') and female (a 'white queen') principles in sulphur and mercury. In other words, transgenderism - the artificially generated hermaphrodite - is a purely occult concept, equated with the alchemical creation of the Philosopher's Stone. The Philosopher's Stone was supposed to be able to turn base metals into gold, but it was also called the elixir of life, a formula for immortality. This was how the ouroboros found its way to the Rosicrucians and the later Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The ouroboros additionally relates to the Tarot's Fool card, where the first step of the journey out of Eden (trump card 0) is also the Fool's last step, or his return to the Garden (trump card 22). In card games, the Fool can be wild, or it can be the lowest- or highest-valued card. The Fool is the Joker or Jester, and the joke of the Major Arcana is that your first step (or breath) is also your last. Every epic journey and each life ends where it began, in a state of innocence. In the words of T. S. Eliot (1888-1965; "Little Gidding" (1942)):
"And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
In the Thoth deck, the connection to the ouroboros is evident in the dragon or crocodile at the Fool's feet, in the bottom left corner of the card (hat tip: Path of the Fool). The crocodile was deified in ancient Egypt and its melted fat used as a chrism to baptise the pharaoh.

The Thoth deck Fool card, with the crocodile in the bottom corner. Image Source: The Tarot of Eli.

All of these ideas evaluate the ebb and flow of life, whether in the ups and downs of daily energy; heaven and hell; the reincarnation cycle, where a soul's last breath is its first breath somewhere else; or the protection (order) and destruction (chaos) of nations.

Out and in, on and off, white and black, high and low, right and left, male and female: duality is the central problem of the human condition. The Dracula story, and the Order of the Dragon, and vampires in general, refer to a really bad approach to solving that problem. The ouroboros solves the problem through autocannibalism.

The Peasants' View

Schäßburg (Sighișoara), in Transylvania, Romania is the last inhabited medieval citadel in South-Eastern Europe. The town was settled by Transylvanian Saxons in the 12th century and was one of six German forts  on the eastern border of Hungary. The Wallachian prince Vlad Dracul (father of Vlad the Impaler, known as ‘Dracula’ in popular culture) was exiled here. For more on the citadel, go here and here. Documentar - Cetatea Sighisoara (10 February 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

All of this was simplified from the peasants' perspective. There is no ouroboros in the peasantry's understanding of vampires.

Peasants viewed the nobility's experiences from the outside. The peasants' priorities were a benevolent master, good crops, healthy livestock, and somewhat safe, brief lives without war, natural disasters, disease or starvation. This is why fictional accounts of Dracula and vampires are so distorted. Between the scattered puzzle pieces about castles, cannibalism, crosses, sex, and sunlight, there is no explanation of the larger mythic architecture. As fact faded into fiction, the body of knowledge which historically motivated the Order of the Dragon remained obscure.

Even when a contemporary vampire tale focuses on the existential angst of vampire characters and their origins, the peasants' faulty witnessing informs the legends that have come down to us. The Dracula story, from the actual account of Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476) on down, speaks of something having gone wrong with the nobility, and the peasants were not sure what.

In the Middle Ages, the night was already a curious time for the peasants. They socialized after they had slept a bit to recover from a day of back-breaking manual labour. They would get up and cautiously visit each other after dark for an hour or two, then return home and go back to sleep before getting up at dawn to start work again. This visiting was done behind locked doors, and peasants had to avoid being waylaid by highwaymen as they hurried between houses.

Vampire Chamber ASMR Ambience (25 July 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Nightmare Music (5 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.

In the Dracula story, something has gone wrong. The peasants know it. Everything is different. The landscape feels wrong, ominous and threatening. It's not just the highwaymen: they dare not go out at night at all. Villagers huddle in a state of siege, gripped by superstition and the fear of something invisible and dark invading their homes. Their shuttered, barred hovels are decked with crosses. Meanwhile, high on the hill, the local castle is blazing with lights at three in the morning. What has gone wrong - what is going wrong - up in the castle?

THE VAMPIRE PRAYER / Hurdy Gurdy (26 May 2011). Video Source: Youtube.
May the Almighty watch our door
That the unholy ones may enter nothing,
And may He keep our children safe
Until the light returns again!

Within the Darkness terrors lie
And in the dark they return
For in the sun they cannot stand
And in its brilliance do they burn.

They live in places black and deep
Where they lie hidden till the end of day
When twilight falls do they come forth
God keep our children safe, we pray.
This performance by Peter Pringle reconstructs a Transylvanian peasant chant to ward off vampires. Pringle has a Youtube channel on which he recaptures historic musical experiences, played on modern replicas of traditional instruments. He writes:
"A neighbor of mine recently hired a highly skilled carpenter from Rumania by the name of Stefan, to do some work on his house. Stefan is from Transylvania. Since I am very interested in folk music, I asked him if he knew any Transylvanian songs or melodies, and in particular anything that might refer to the vampire myths of that region. This video is the song that Stefan gave me. It is a prayer for protection from 'the unholy ones' which, judging from the description in the song, are vampires. The words suggest that sleeping children are in particular danger from these creatures, and the singer is asking God to watch over them through the night.

Since Stefan speaks only Rumanian and French, he wrote out the words in Rumanian and then gave me a rough translation into the French language. I took the French and translated it into singable English. The song has more verses to it than what I sing in this video, but I figured three minutes was probably enough.

Stefan told me he has heard the song performed to the accompaniment of a 'cimpoi' which is a kind of Rumanian bagpipe but he thought the 'lira' (aka hurdy gurdy) would be appropriate."
Báthory crest with ouroboros.
There is a later Hungarian historical account of Countess Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614; see my related post here), who murdered over 650 young women and bathed in their blood to preserve her youthful appearance. The Báthory family also belonged to the Order of the Dragon, and their coat of arms originally displayed the ouroboros. The family's origin story describes a warrior ancestor named Vitus who killed a dragon in 900 CE. This is the excuse for placing the ouroboros on the family shield. But the ouroboros is a much older, more complicated symbol and the origin story has little to do with it. The countess's bloodbaths may have been more germane when considering the design of the family crest.

Elizabeth Báthory supposedly bathed in virgins' blood to preserve her youthful appearance. Image Source: History Collection.

Kim Kardashian's Blood Facial (22 March 2013). Video Source: Youtube. For real (alleged) accusations and fictitious depictions of famous people immersed in blood baths in Millennial pop culture, go herehere, here, here, and here.

The 1897 novel, Dracula, created today's popular vampire trope. The novel's author, Bram Stoker (1847-1912), was Anglo-Irish and friends with members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

In Dracula, there is a similar picture of locals, terrified of their lord. Stoker borrowed from the historical account of Vlad the Impaler to create his toothy villain. Set in the 1890s, the setting resembles the medieval landscape. A British solicitor travels to Eastern Europe visit Count Dracula, because the latter has decided to move to London.

In the novel, the terrified villagers are taken as read. They're there, frightened and barring their doors at night. But what, exactly, has already happened to terrify the community? Why is the European nobleman moving to England? Why are the common people under his authority petrified of him? The novel presents the now-familiar answer: there are three undead vampire women in the castle, and Count Dracula sucks the blood of his victims to remain immortal.

But the central question of how this all came about is never fully answered. The centerpiece of these sagas is about nobles participating in cannibalism. The question is why? Why is there a folklore about cannibalism among the élites? Why do the stories come up at all, and why do they persist? This dark legend is sometimes combined with anti-Semitism; but it is also generally associated with the powerful and wealthy. Some say vampirism describes symptoms of a genetic illness or a virus.

It is enough to say here that there was a larger mythic architecture to the Dracula story. The ouroboros (the dragon, draco, snake, serpent in Eden, Devil, Satan, lizard, reptile, reptilian) as a magical symbol of immortality has long been connected to the idea of the vampire, and both are confounded by sun worship, or Christianity. In my next post, I will explain how the vampire ouroboros has been updated on the Internet.

Image Source: pinterest.

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