Helga Ruppe, B.A., M.A., Author, Historian, Linguist, Bookkeeper, Artist

Victorian Folklore The London Free Press ran this paragraph on February 2nd, 1882:

"Today is Candlemas Day, or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin in the Catholic Church. The bear will do his shadow dance, and then we shall have been informed at to the long or short reign of winter."

Move over, Wiarton Willie.

I found this in the London Free Press on a slow news day. Note the date -- 17 years before Bram Stoker published his most famous novel:

"January 31st, 1880.

Medieval Superstitions. How Our Remote Ancestors Scared Themselves. The Magic of the Middle Ages.

Among these last was mandragora, which was supposed to reveal to its possessor hidden things and future events, and to secure the friendship of all men. The root of the mandragora, or mandrake, often divides into two parts, and thus presents a rude resemblance to a human figure. It was believed that this plant could not be found except below the gallows where a pure youth had been hanged. When torn from the soil it was said to sigh, shriek and moan so piteously that it caused whoever heard it to die. To find this plant it must be sought before sunrise Friday morning. The person seeking it should carefully fill his ears with cotton, wax, or pitch, and take with him a black dog without a single white hair. The sign of the cross was to be made three times over the mandragora, then the soil was to be carefully removed, so that it was attached only by its fine rootlets. It was then tied by a string to the tail of the dog, who was attracted forward by a piece of bread. The dog pulled the plant from the earth, but fell dead struck by the shriek of the mandragora. The plant was then taken home, washed in red wine, and wrapped in red and white silk, laid in a shrine, washed on successive Fridays, and dressed in a white frock. If the mandragora is bought is remains with the person who thus secures it, regardless of where it is thrown, until sold again. If kept until death, the person must depart to hell with it.

In the demoniacal fauna of the Middle Ages werewolves played an important part. They were supposed to be men who changed themselves for a time into wolves, and roved about hunting for children. Augustine, one of the most prominent fathers and authors of this time, taught that it was the devil who wrapped a wolf’s hide around a witch. Melanchthon also believed in the doctrine, and the Emperor Sigismund had the question investigated “scientifically” in the presence of theologians, and they came to general agreement that the werewolf is a “positive and constant fact,” for the existence of the devil being accepted, there is no reason to deny that of the werewolf, supported as it is by the authority of the fathers of the church, and by general experience.

Another ghastly superstition of those times was that of belief in vampires. These were disembodied souls, which had reclothed themselves in their buried bodies. In this garb they stole at night into houses and sucked from the nipples of the sleeping their blood. The person thus bereft of his vital fluid was in turn changed into a vampire. The corpse of a person suspected of vampirism, if dug up was found well preserved, and an abundance of fresh blood would flow from its mouth on pressing the stomach. To this horrible belief is ascribed a kind of psychical pestilence, which spread terror in the Austrian provinces even down into the eighteenth century."

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