Episode 1 Supplemental: The Wizard of Europe

In last weeks episode Tell me Strange Things, we looked at the curious life and works of Montague Summers and explored his odd views on the literal existence of Vampires, Werewolves and Witches. His exploration and translations of works of Inquisitors and Witchfinder generals did not endear him to the prevailing sentiment at the time and now-being that the trial, torture, and execution of witches was a sad and disturbing byproduct of overzealous and misguided Religious charlatans. Although many of the examples produced in the hysteria of the day, like that of the reviled Matthew Hopkins and the Salem Witch trials read like psychopathic horror novels, what is often overlooked is the real cases of witchcraft and devil worship practiced by the supposed enlightened nobles and aristocrats of the Middle ages and Renaissance era.
John Dee, whose calculations helped to form the Georgian Calendar was personal astrologer to Queen Elizabeth, who witnessed Dee’s use of his Shew Stone for summoning astral entities. Count Henry of Bohemia, a Professor at Krakow’s University and favorite of the Polish Court of Ladislaus, was a known necromancer and jailed more than once on accusations of summoning demons. The greatest King of Poland Sigismund the 2nd kept a Necromancer by the name of Pan Twardowski on hand to summon the specter of his dead wife. No less than the Holy Roman Empress Barbara of Cilli and her daughter were accused by the Pope of drinking human blood instead of wine, as a way of profaning the sacrament of communion. These are just a few examples of the degradation and corruption of the Nobility. These same men, and those like them who helped jump start the scientific method and the age of reason also claimed to talk with Angels and summon Demons. Is it any wonder that, when creating the most famous Vampire of all time, Bram Stoker made Dracula a Count?

Perhaps greatest example of this comes to us from in the form of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf the 2nd who Reigned until 1612, known more prominently as the Wizard Emperor for his infamous tower of alchemy, vast patronage of Occult practitioners, and his unending search for the elusive Philosophers stone.
               The Emperor was by all accounts a quiet man, gifted in learning, he had an insatiable lust for art, the occult, and almost nothing else, even to the degradation of his Empire. Despite his enormous wealth as head of one of the largest land empires in Europe, Rudolf consistently emptied his coffers for the privilege hosting up to two hundred different alchemists, astrologers, and Magi, refused to marry after a horoscope casts told him that any children he had would have would be a great burden to him, and consistently started unnecessary wars to raise taxes to fund his innumerable occult curiosities. Some may be vaguely familiar with Rudolf for his connection to Rabbi Judah Loew who lived in the Jewish quarter of Prague during Rudolf’s reign. Loew, you may recall created the legendary Golem of Prague.
               Many legends and myth surround the man and the city he made his capital. It was said that in his Chamber of Art he kept a Bell etched many magical symbols, which he used to raise the specters of the dead. He was also said to have possessed a Seeing Mirror which would show him the future, and always kept in his pocket a magnet that allowed him to read the minds of men at great distances. But the treasure he most wished to possess was the Philosophers stone.
               Considered by proto-scientists to be the perfection of Alchemy, the philosophers stone was a supposed substance that could turn base metal into gold or silver. It could, more crucially, grant immortality or at least prolong life to those who possessed it. Writings of the stone go as far back as 300 AD but legend traces its existence to Psalm 118-the rejected cornerstone of the Temple of Solomon. We wont delve into the esoteric rhetoric of what the stone is or was, only to say that it is linked to the philosopher Aristotle and the concept of Prima Materia, or pure matter. It was said to be made of the stuff before creation, that is, of pure chaos and would perfect all it touched.
               The search for the stone consumed the greatest minds of Rudolf’s the day, and no less than John Dee and Edward Kelly were just as enamored with the discovery of the stone as the Emperor. Kelly, it is said, found a red powder possessing the properties of the Stone while raiding a bishop’s grave in ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, however, was never able to produce more than a token amount of gold as proof of its authenticity. The duo spent a short time in Rudolf’s court, during which Dee’s guardian Angel prophesied a terrible portent to the Emperor.
“Woe be unto the Kings of the Earth, for they shall be beaten into Mortar… Woe be unto the false preachers, yea seven woes be unto them, for they are the teeth of the Beast… Woe unto the Virgins of the Earth, for they shall disdain their virginity, and become concubines for Satan… Woe to the books of the earth,  for they are corrupted.”
Dee and Kelly made little headway with the moody Emperor, who considered his woes his own, and they were banished from the Empire shortly thereafter. This search for the stone would never leave them though, and eventually it would drive Kelly to imprisonment and death, John Dee to poverty and obscurity. But to Rudolf, the ruler of one of the Greatest Empires in the world, it would take from him everything.
               After years of searching for the Stone and for immortality, plunging into the darkest depths of esoteric heretical practices, Rudolf approached his fifties with nothing to show for it but empty coffers and a crumbling Empire. In absence of a diligent and beneficent ruler, Protestants and Catholic uprisings raged. The Ottomans threatened his southern border, and his would be supporters began to abandon him. His lifes work was for naught and he began to crack. At the turn of the century, many in his court wondered if the Emperor had succumbed to the madness that so often afflicted the Hapsburg dynasty. Worse still, he began to show an aversion to holy objects and stopped attending mass, driving speculation that he was under demonic influence or even possessed. When a chamberlain brought a letter on which a wax seal depicting Christ in the form of a lamb, he fell to the ground writhing in pain after touching it. He began to spend long periods locked in his Imperial Garden home reading the Stars, or in front of his precious necromantic bell, spinning it constantly in the vain hope of an answer to his many troubles.
               In the gloom of his melancholic failure, Rudolf first attempted to murder his servents, and when that didn’t succeed he turned the dagger on himself. It was only after those same servents pried the dagger from his hands and posted guards that the Emperor succumb and sat motionless for days on end staring into nothing.
During this time of emotional and mental decline, Rudolf’s son favorite bastard son, Don Julius, seemed to suffer from the same madness that afflicted his father. Despite being provided the best education of the time Don Julius preferred hunting and debauchery to anything else and was sent in virtual exile to a far away castle in Bohemia were he could live out his depravity in peace, far from the prying eyes or Europe. It was here that, after spying a beautiful daughter of a barber in the town, Don Julius kidnapped and raped her. She escaped, but only briefly, after constant threats to her father’s life the beautiful girl reluctantly returned to her tormenter. The next day, Don Julius was found naked covered in excrement, huddled over her dead body which had been hacked to pieces with a hunting knife, her ears have been cut off, her eyes gouged out, her teeth broken.

               Evil, like a cancer spread to all around it. What Rudolf had conjured up in the halls of his Magi may not have been the devils thought of in pop culture, but something far more pernicious and insidious entities were summoned in the search for immortality. The hapless craving for knowledge, the manic effort to stave off death and the insistence that it could be overcome might sound eerily similar to our own day. What price did the men of learning who inhabited Prague pay, in looking for eternity, could it be that they found only despair and damnation? For Rudolf, his price was to see everything he hoped for dissolve before his eyes, like the smoke in his mirror, he could see the future, but was helpless to change it.
               A long-stated prophecy took shape in the form of his hated brother Matthais, who after subsequent military victories against rebel forces within the Empire took the reigns from the mad Rudolf, who died preforming rites designed to undermine the political machinations of his brother.
                Not long after Rudolf’s death, religious tensions between Catholic and Protestant would boil over into what became known as The Thirty Years War, a war that would involve most of Europe and have devastating effect on the continent but especially on the people of the Holy Roman Empire. It is considered one of the most destructive conflicts of human history, resulting in over eight million deaths from violence, famine, and plague; a large majority of victims being the inhabitants of the Empire. To put it into context, the death and destruction was not surpassed in Germany until 1945. It seems John Dee’s prophesy of woe had finally come true.
               In the aftermath of the war, many abandon the search for the stone and immortality, the age of wonder and mystery soon morphed into the age of reason. Those who searched after the truth in earth and legend, turned their heads to the stars, and their ears to rhetoric. The age of Magi died a slow death, but after the war a new evil arose from its grave to drink the blood of the living, when Arnold Paole fell off his wagon and became one of the most well documented cases of Vampirism in history.


The Magic Circle of Rudolf II by Peter Marshall


The Book of Abramelin translated by Steven Guth

Realm of the Vampire: History and the Undead by Daniel J Wood