Sunday, March 19, 2006

Walpurgis Night, St. George's Day and Blue Flames - oh my!

Lovecraft in Dreams of the Witch House has the rat and the witch hovering and tittering on Walpurgis-Night Sabbat. "Children had been taken that way every year since she could remember."

This is usually April 30th (the day before May Day*).

Obviously Lovecraft has playfully merged magic and quantum physics, and illustrates that the "violet" plasma opens portals - which I believe lightly alludes to Stoker's Dracula. It is a bit more explicit in Darcula's Guest (1914).

'Tell me, Johann, what is tonight?'

He crossed himself, as he answered laconically: 'Walpurgis nacht.' Then he took out his watch, a great, old-fashioned German silver thing as big as a turnip, and looked at it, with his eyebrows gathered together and a little impatient shrug of his shoulders.


Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel. ... this was the place where I was alone—unmanned, shivering with cold in a shroud of snow with a wild storm gathering again upon me! It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright.

However, we see in the comprehensive notes of Leonard Wolf's edition of Dracula [1] Stoker later moved the date to St. George's Eve (May 6) when buried tresure burns with a blue flame on this one night of the year. It is a staple of gothics (of which HPL loved to poke fun) especially Ann Radcliff and Monk Lewis. The swamp gas flourescense was known as ignis fatuus or fool's fire. In the US it is know as will o' the wisp. It appears this is a major means of Dracula's wealth and is a great obsession.

Subsequently, Dracula acquires a baby for the women to devour [2], though little is made of it in Wolf's notes. Lovecraft, influenced by Cult of the Witchcraft makes more of baby snatching.

"We are in Transylvania, and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things. Nay, from what you have told me of your experiences already, you know something of what strange things there may be."

"... I asked him of some of the strange things of the preceding night, as for instance, why the coachman went to the places where he had seen the blue flames. He then explained to me that it was commonly believed that on a certain night of the year, last night, in fact, when all evil spirits are supposed to have unchecked sway, a blue flame is seen over any place where treasure has been concealed.

"'That treasure has been hidden," he went on, 'in the region through which you came last night, there can be but little doubt. For it was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon, and the Turk. Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders. '

"The Count smiled, and as his lips ran back over his gums, the long, sharp, canine teeth showed out strangely. He answered. 'Because your peasant is at heart a coward and a fool! Those flames only appear on one night, and on that night no man of this land will, if he can help it, stir without his doors. And, dear sir, even if he did he would not know what to do. Why, even the peasant that you tell me of who marked the place of the flame would not know where to look in daylight even for his own work. Even you would not, I dare be sworn, be able to find these places again?'

"'There you are right,' I said. 'I know no more than the dead where even to look for them.' Then we drifted into other matters.

1 Bram Stoker, The Essential Dracula, ed. Leonard Wolf, 1975, 2004, p.29, n7
2 op. cit. p. 53, n52.

*Just so the HPLblog is a one stop shop, "May Day" the universal cry for help has nothing to do with May. It is a corruption of the French imperative "m'aidez" pronounced mayday since the last syllable is accented, and it means "help me" or perhaps more litterally, "aid me".

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