Bathed in Blood

Hematolagnic Ablutophilia. Noun. A macaronic neologism that combines Latin and Greek roots to mean a sexual fetish which evokes arousal when the subject or object is bathed in blood. First usage? This article.

From the terrible recent Aleta: Vampires Mistress to the marginally better Fright Night 2, vampires bathed in blood is a trope in more than a few vampire films — one that finds its origins in the historical figure of Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Báthory. A late 16th / early 17th century Hungarian Countess infamous for having allegedly killed hundreds of young girls, she reputedly bathed in their blood in order to retain her youth.

Countess Dracula (1971)
Ingrid Pitt in Hammer’s Countess Dracula (1971)

As she is depicted in many movies — most notably 1971’s Countess Dracula, starring Ingrid Pitt, (and two more recent offerings, one with Anna Friel and the other, Julie Delpy) — Bathory has become association with vampirism, especially bloodlust in the pursuit of youth.

While testimonies following her arrest — extracted under torture, and often supplied by “witnesses” with connections to those who owed money  to her husband —described how Bathory tortured and murdered young girls (as many as 650 by some estimates), no references to the bloodbaths appeared in the transcripts from her “trial” that surfaced in 1765 (later published in 1817).

So why does legend overshadow the facts of her arrest and subsequent life sentence to confinement in a tower of her castle?

Elizabeth Bathory, c. 1585
Bathory at age 25, in one of the few surviving contemporary portrait of the Countess

The first written account of the Bathory case — Jesuit scholar László Turóczi’s Tragica Historia — was published in 1729 at the height of the alleged vampire attacks in the Habsburg Monarchy from 1725 to 1734. A fantastical account of a blood-craving Countess, appearing at a time when “enlightened” Europeans were exhuming and staking corpses, sealed her fate.

THE PRIEST WHO WROTE THE BOOK ON VAMPIRES

As Bathory’s reputation grew (in works like historian Matthias Bel’s The Castle and Town of Csejte [1742]), so did that of the vampire (Father Abbot Dom Antoine Augustin Calmet’s seminal Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des démons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Bohême, de Moravie, et de Silésie, for example, appeared in 1746).  Bathory’s story and those of vampires thus became intermingled. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Elizabeth Bathory’s name would become synonymous with bloodlust, vampirism and blood itself.

Not only blood, but the blood of virgin girls. It raises questions of not only her mental state, but her gender, even her sexuality.

THE WRITERS WHO RESURRECTED HER

The legend of Elizabeth Bathory waned in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But contemporary historians Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally helped to resurrect her and her reputation in the early nineteen righties. McNally, in particular, in his Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania (1983) suggests that the Bathory legend indeed has roots in antiquated ideas about sexuality and gender. Lust and sadism were thought to be masculine vices. Bloodletting for a woman, then, must be attributed to her vanity, her pride.

THE LEGACY OF LILITH
The Temptation of Adam and Eve by Michelangelo
The Temptation of Adam and Eve by Michelangelo

Curiously, it is exactly the sin of pride (which included vainglory or vanity as far as the Church was concerned) that condemned the Lilith of mythology. In Hebrew Apocrypha, she is Adam’s first wife.  Desiring equality with him — including the option of having sex in anything other than the missionary position — Lilith was rejected by both Adam and God for such independent thinking. Upon a self-imposed exile, she becomes a temptress, seen as a winged demon from Babylonia and Sumerian traditions, and forever associated and intertwined with the serpent of the Garden of Eden. Demonized for her sexuality, Lilith becomes / is a symbol of man’s fear of strong-willed women. Sexual beings with their own desires. Creatures that shed blood, yet are renewed.

The fifth season of HBO’s True Blood featured a character named Lilith. Silent and sinister, she is believed to be the first vampire ever to walk the earth. And she walks completely nude, covered in blood as vampire men and women fall under her intoxicating spell. Her blood is the source of immense power. And she is dripping wet with it.

Something deep in our reptilian brains, it would seem, is repulsed by yet attracted to this potent image of a woman either empowered or ecstatic, bathed in blood.

If blood is the life (Deuteronomy 12:23) and life is power, a powerful woman may have been judged by many an eighteenth-century man to be too bloodthirsty. Depraved. A demon. A vampire. Craving blood.

Perhaps even bathing in it.


For more information about Countess Elizabeth Bathory, visit www.infamouslady.com

For more about Ingrid Pitt, read this blog entry about the Women of Hammer Horror.

Update: See the 2008 film BATHORY: COUNTESS OF BLOOD, starring Anna Friel, for yet another take on the Countess.

 

Lovecraft’s “Shells and Bones of Perished Shapes”

The ocean is a terrible place, full of life still unknown to much of modern science and infinitely more alien than most writers can possibly imagine. Most writers, that is, except for Howard Phillips Lovecraft, one of the twentieth century’s greatest American writers of weird fiction. In Lovecraft’s ocean, monstrous things dwell.

H.P. Lovecraft, art by Sean Phillips for Fatale #1

Having lived the majority of his short, unhappy life in the port city of Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft shows both a fear of and fascination with the sea in his works of short fiction. From the almost comical half fish / half frogs that dwell in Innsmouth to the fish God Dagon to the Kraken-like behemoth that is Cthulhu — a titan from beyond the stars (or perhaps another dimension)sleeping for an eternity at the bottom of the ocean — the monsters sprung from Lovecraft’s imagination are invariably wet and lumbering, gelatinous and oozing — all eyes and tentacles. Awful things deep in the blackest depths. Not only could Lovecraft describe these horrible imaginings, he could impart a palpable dread in language that is fatalistic, reducing mankind to an insignificant speck in the immense expanse of a cold and uncaring universe.

“Vast and lonely is the ocean, and even as all things came from it, so shall they return thereto… On the deep’s margin shall rest only a stagnant foam, gathering about the shells and bones of perished shapes that dwelt within the waters. Silent, flabby things will toss and roll along empty shores, their sluggish life extinct.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean”

Biased as I may be and, like Lovecraft, perhaps even a bit of a thalassophobe with an irrational fear of the sea, you see, you, dear reader might say “ok… so other than the requisite few sharks that inevitably chew up a few international business travelers each summer, what is there really to be afraid of in the ocean? A jellyfish sting? A toe pinched by a burrowing hermit crab? Really.”

Well, Ladies and gentlemen. For your video-viewing pleasure, I give you the clam.

One of the most seemingly benign of sea creatures, the clam — or should I say a particular clam — has become an YouTube sensation this past month with a video now topping a million views in a matter of a week. Watch closely, and if the actions of this mollusk don’t unnerve you, causing your skin to crawl simply by its absolutely alien behavior, then perhaps I have read too much of Lovecraft’s work and am overreacting to what is perfectly natural and normal for mother nature.



 Now, before you go and Google the matter further, finding, as I did, an article from the UK’s Daily Mail explaining the creature’s skin-crawling behavior, I will save you some time and explain that the appendage that suddenly darts out from the deceptively still and otherwise innocuous shell is NOT a tongue. That milky slab of glistening wet seeming muscle is, in actuality, a foot.

Turns out the clam has no head either, and usually has no eyes (scallops being an exception); but a clam does have kidneys, a heart, a mouth and, if you can wrap your head around this one (and if you can, that’s quite disgusting and surprisingly limber) an anus.

Miriam Goldstein, a graduate student of oceanography at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, tells the Daily Mail that the clam is not licking the salt but “probably trying to find a place to dig itself in” (mistaking the salt for sand).

Regardless, the video is more disturbing to me than any horror movie ever could be. A disembodied tongue — I mean, foot — lapping  and/or slapping at an unforgiving surface to no apparent avail — all the while leaving behind it a mucous-like trail — will haunt me for quite some time. No wonder I can’t eat sushi (especially when it’s clam served fresh and wriggling on a bed of rice).

One last thing. Chew on this…

An Arctica islandica clam, caught off the coast of Iceland in 2007, was declared the world’s longest-lived animal by researchers from Bangor University in Wales; they believed Ming — a nickname given to the elderly mollusk to reflect its great age — to be 405 years old.

If you are not in the least bit disturbed by a centuries’ old glob of wiggling goo or the abrupt lunge of a tongue-like foot that struggles to propel what is effectively a rock, then you will never understand the sense of profound unease that comes from imagining what may lie beneath the sea nor will you be able to appreciate Lovecraft’s artistry in having us fear the mysteries of the deep.

By Christopher Michael Davis