A German Vampire? December 6, 2012Posted by Beachcombing in : Modern , trackback
A vampire in seventeenth-century Germany? Perhaps, perhaps not, but something strange was going on here. The year is 1685 and we are in Augsburg. George Schmetzer’s wife had just given birth and suffered back ache. While in the delicate state after child birth: the dreams began. She felt that someone was pressing down on her while she slept and there was also a sharp pain down one side of her body. Who had done this? Who else but the woman who was assisting her while she was ‘lying in’ during the period after birth, Euphrosina Endriss? In fact, Euphrosina Endriss had even made the unusual suggestion that she (Euphrosina) should lie on top of the ailing woman to help her with her bad back: an all over back massage? A second woman, who also used the services of Euphrosina Endriss, Magdelana Hornung felt (while sleeping) a voice telling her to ‘press down, Maggie’ and then, someone tried to bite her neck. Euphrosina Endriss later confessed that she had killed Magdelana Hornung’s child by pressing its skull (Roper 222). She would be killed by Hans Adam Hartman, Augsburg’s executioner.
What on earth is happening here? Euphrosina Endriss was tried as a witch and her confession that she had murdered MD’s child was extracted under torture. So far so easy. But torture cannot explain the two witness accounts given on the same day, 20 Dec 1685: these were clearly not tortured. There it is difficult even to know where to begin. The medical experts of all ages, modern legal systems and even the general public share the idea that ‘lying-in’ mothers are in an exceptionally delicate physical and psychological state. If a mother murders her infant children there will be a national television lynching. If, today, a mother murders her new-born child it will remain an issue for local psychiatric services with possibly a small sad article in the town’s newspaper. Is it possible that women in a delicate state of body and mind began to imagine some form of oppression on them while they slept: a well-attested medical phenomenon which has given rise to all kinds of folklore legends. The other possibility – though this probably comes from watching too many Hammer House of Horror films from the 1970s, is that there was something Sapphic going on here: biting a neck, the all over body massage…
Any other solutions? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
And some reflections on blood drinking…
7 Dec 2012: KR writes with this consideration, There is a third possibility. The young mothers might have visited one another and may have discussed the strange midwife. I can imagine something like this: “Did you think old Euphrosina was strange?” “Well, now that you mention it, I vaguely recall her telling me, right after my child came, to press down.” “Press down? What did she mean?” ”I don’t know, I think I heard her say it whilst I was sleeping. The pain in my side, it was terrible! Why couldn’t she just let me sleep!” “Now that you have said that, I remember the same thing.” “Why would she talk to us whilst we were sleeping, unless she were a witch?” “Maybe not a witch, maybe a vampire! When I awoke, there was a bit of blood on my neck! I felt very weak and strange. My husband said I was very very pale, as if I had no blood left in me! She must have drunk my blood! She wanted to push on my belly! She said she must push on me, even get on top of me! Such pain! I cannot tell you!” “Oh, this is terrible! My boy who she said was born dead, she said his head was too big. She said she had to press his head to get him out! But really, she just wanted to kill my son! She is evil! Yes she is a vampire!” “Oh, Magdalena! This is terrible! Your poor baby! You poor dear! And she bit your neck? She pressed on me! She whispered evil things to us when we slept, in our weakest moment! We must tell someone!” But, Beach, a good midwife would definitely be asking a newly-delivered mother to press down, otherwise the afterbirth might remain inside, causing hemorrhage and death. If a midwife could not be certain the placenta was expelled completely, she would need to do some heavy-duty massaging of the abdomen, especially if the new mother was weak and groggy and unable or unwilling to “press down!” Most of this story can be explained: There’s a half-conscious exhausted-from-long-labour young new mother, to whom all this is very strange, including the idea of some old midwife pressing and massaging, when she is in a semi-conscious “sleep.” In the Hornung case, the baby’s head was probably too large for the birth canal, the birthing stopped progressing, and if she had not “pressed the head” both mother and baby would have died. There was probably serious bleeding, which might explain a remnant of blood on the neck, or most anywhere, for that matter. In the unconscious or semi-conscious “sleeping” state of Mrs Hornung, if the midwife was not tall, maybe getting up on top of her patient to attempt to massage out that stubborn placenta when her patient couldn’t give any further effort to “press down” saved the girl’s life. Again, if the girl was getting too cold, from shock, the warmth of the old midwife’s body might have been part of a Herculean effort to warm her, keep her blood circulating. No, she would NOT have any reason to bite a patient’s neck! But if she were a neck-biting blood-sucking vampire, why just bite one mother’s neck and not the other’s? And why just press the baby’s head, why didn’t she suck out it’s blood? Nope. Sounds as if poor Euphrosina was actually a darn good midwife! Another example of “no good deed goes unpunished.” Thanks KR! Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes in: As for EE the vampire midwife, some midwives also had bonesetting skills and would have known from experience about rubbing backs for pain relief in labor/afterwards. Perhaps an early form of chiropractic treatment? I’m told that Japanese/Far Eastern masseuses (and not the ones in Miss Siam’s Happy Fingertips Spa) sometimes walk on their patients’ backs. That someone pressing down on the women while they sleep night be the Old Hag–a form of sleep paralysis. The neck biting, well, that’s a different matter. Bedbugs or Sapphic? “Press down, Maggie”? I guess if you were a lesbian in 17th century Germany, being a midwife would give you plausible, intimate access to the objects of your desire. But you probably have seen too many Hammer horror films… The killing of Magdalena Hornung’s baby by pressing the skull reminded me of a story told to me by a woman who asked that the town not be identified for reasons that will be obvious. “In the late 1880s my grandmother, when first married, lived in a small village in Ross County [Ohio] . The house where she was living had a staircase closed off with a door at the top. Every night she’d hear a noise—exactly at 9:00—like chains going down that stairway, then out the back door, and ending behind the outhouse. “One time when my grandfather was traveling, she and her twin nephews decided they would see what was going on. The three of them opened the door leading into the closed stairway. They saw something like a ball of fire, which traveled down the stairs and vanished out behind the outhouse. “Grandmother was so upset by seeing this, when Grandfather got home, she told him all about it. It turned out he had heard the weird noise too. My grandfather and some other men dug up the area behind the outdoor toilet. They found bones—the bones of many little babies. And each baby had a hatpin stuck in its skull. “There had been a single woman who lived in the house by herself. She was very heavyset, and she had those babies and didn’t know what to do with them. [or was she a baby farmer?] But what Grandmother wondered was, why chains? This was the noise that they were hearing. She couldn’t understand it. But once they dug up the bodies, and reburied them properly, they never heard the sound again.” Thanks Chris and KR!