Bram Stoker: Stoking the Bonfire

Welcome, once again, to the literary crime sometimes referred to as ‘Blather’. It has come to my attention, and of course, to the attention of many others, that a certain backlash has erupted against the works of Bram Stoker, author of ‘Dracula’, and the traditional celebration of Halloween, or ‘Samhain’.

Bram Stoker was born at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, Dublin on November 8th, 1847. Fifty years later, on May 26th 1897, the book with which he attained notoriety, ‘Dracula’, was published. He wrote a total of 18 books, most of which go unread these days, although several are on similar themes to his famous vampiric novel.

Mild celebrations have taken place in Dublin this year, in commemoration of the two anniversaries. The Irish Film Centre had a weekend of vampire movies, the Bram Stoker Summer School took place in July and a stage version of Dracula was recently staged at the RHA Gallery. The Irish postal service, An Post, released a series of Dracula stamps to coincide with Stoker’s anniversary and Halloween. A few giggles were raised by a letter to the Irish Times of October 25th, which read:

‘Sir, – I have just received a letter bearing one of the new Dracula stamps. The stamp has been franked with the message: “Blood donors are always needed”. – Yours, etc.’

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to be taking such a relaxed or amused attitude to the celebration of what some folk seem to think are ‘Satanic’ practices.

In June, The Whitby Dracula Society, North Yorkshire, cancelled their masquerade parade after the council of St. Mary’s Church threatened to take out an injunction preventing participants from entering consecrated land, the site where Stoker is supposed to have conceived the idea for the landing place of Dracula. The vampire arrives in Britain in the shape of a black dog, via the deserted Russian vessel, the ‘Demeter’, which neatly runs aground in Whitby. It is at the top of the 199 steps to St. Mary’s, or ‘The Abbey’, that Mina Harker finds the somnambulistic Lucy Westenra, after Lucy’s throat has been punctured by the Count. Mina later sees a huge bat wheeling about in the sky near ‘The Abbey’.

According to the Daily Telegraph of 12th February, the Rector of Whitby, the Rev Michael Aisbitt proclaimed the ceremony to be ‘incompatible with the nature and purpose of a consecrated piece of land’. In a rather more bizarre slant, Vanda Lee, the president of the Society converted to Evangelical Christianity (for more, see the Telegraph on 12th and 13th June). In Fortean Times 103 (FT103:49), Dr. Gail-Nina Anderson quite reasonably points out that being a member of a Dracula Society and being a Christian are not necessarily contradictory existences, unless, may I add, that one can accuse the work of Bram Stoker of being ‘Satanic’. Nonetheless, celebrations did take place in Whitby, albeit away from the environs of St. Mary’s.

All of this fades to a deathly pallor in comparison with the headline ‘Halloween Stamps Take Licking from Fundamentalist Pastor’ from the Victoria (British Columbia) Times-Colonist 24 Oct. 1997. The Irish Dracula stamps may be popular, but the introduction of goblin, ghost, vampire and werewolf designs for Canadian Halloween stamps has Rev. Ted Yuke of the Rock Church of Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia spitting fire and brimstone:

‘As a nation, we should be promoting something honorable and good, and when we have to stoop to promoting fictitious characters of evil, something is desperately wrong. You can shrug it all off, that it’s just Halloween, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye. We’ve lowered ourselves as a nation by promoting demonic spirits at a time when we need heroes.’

One would be forgiven for assuming that Rev. Yuke might have studied theology from the side of a breakfast cereal box.

The city of Detroit, Michigan, is in the process of extinguishing the name ‘Devil’s Night’, from the ‘annual pre-Halloween arson fest’ according to CNN.

‘We’ve taken the ‘devil’ out of Devil’s Night and given Halloween back to children,’ Mayor Dennis Archer announced at a press conference launching the Angels’ Night campaign.

Expect the Detroit casualty wards to be jammed with harp-related accident victims.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a school in Hillsborough, New Jersey, has banned the use of the word ‘Halloween’, lest it be misconstrued as a religious celebration – deriving as it does from ‘All Hallow’s Eve’. They’re now calling it a ‘fall festival celebration’. They plan to replace St. Valentine’s Day with ‘Special Person Day’. I’m almost tempted to suggest that the entire news report (which appeared in The Nando Times on October 28th) is a prank, it’s not unlike something which one might find that wonderfully shameless publication, The Onion. On the other hand, perhaps the school board also received their educations from the sides of cereal packets, as there is no mention of the Celtic celebrations of Samhain, a feast cunningly veneered with the Christian All Souls Day – on November 1st, All Hallow’s Eve being the night before.

Samhain was the traditional turning point of the year, from the light half, which began at Beltaine (May), to the dark of winter. It was a time when the borders between our world and the next were opened, and the dead were tentatively welcomed back to the fireside. It was seen as a harmonisation between the god Dágda’s tribal skills, and the female Mórrígan, a goddess of war and fertility, and also as a form of ‘last bash’, involving the consuming of the last fresh harvest foods, and the culling of the cattle herds, the Halloween ‘bonfire’ being a compound of ‘bone’ and ‘fire’, the burning of bones and inedible parts of slaughtered cattle.

These subtle origins of Halloween, the community preparation for the dark winter and the battening down of hatches until the light of Beltaine, seem to have escaped some rather excitable individuals.

‘By now you have guessed what is going on. It’s Halloween. To most people it seems like harmless fun. But, beneath Halloween’s candy coating is a history of diabolical evil, evil that is directly connected to the occult and Satanism, evil that you need to be warned of!’

I am left contemplating the conclusion that perhaps Mr. Brown’s philosophies were compiled from too many cereal
packets. . .

Blather wishes all it’s reader a pleasurable and hedonistic Halloween.

Bram Stoker's House at Marino Crescent, Dublin
&copy 2006 Dave Walsh
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Bram Stoker's House at Marino Crescent, Dublin
&copy 2006 Dave Walsh

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Chief Bottle Washer at Blather
Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and "known troublemaker" Dave Walsh is the founder of, described both as "possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River", and "the nicest website circulating in Ireland". Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.