Episode 20: Vampires, Ghosts, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night


We got all your vampire subtypes: sparkling, British, and thirsty for the blood of the living. We got a couple of different types of ghosts, including hungry ghosts and dybbuks. And we got discussions of ghost stories that appear in both Noh drama and Chinese opera. All that, and we also talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s what you need today, so come and listen!

Annotations and Corrections

1/ Vampires that sparkle = Twilight. Vampires with appealing British accents = Spike (James Marsters) from Buffy, although apparently a lot of films have British vampires, since the villains in American films tend to be British anyway…and vampires are supposed to be kind of sexy and kind of evil… (c.f. The Hunger, where David Bowie plays a vampire.)

Jesse’s reference to a film called The Batman: Robert Pattinson (who played Edward in Twilight and who actually is British) is scheduled to play Batman in it. I have to admit, while listening to this I totally forgot that Pattinson was British and was trying to track down a Batman film starring James Marsters (who is American but famously played a British vampire, as discussed above). [James Marsters is definitely the best British vampire. And he only sparkled metaphorically, which…seems better. Vampires are soulless, and sparkling suggest divinity somehow. But maybe not in the Twilight franchise! I haven’t read them.–JN]

2/ Religions that have a Hell without a heaven: the Ancient Greeks [and Romans], although their Hell was kind of subdivided in different ways depending on who you are. [To be fair, it’s not “Hell;” it’s the afterlife. Everyone goes there, and some people end up in good places, some people in bad places, and some people end up in boring places.–JN]

3/ We got a question from an alert listener about how well The Seventh Seal reflects the actual Middle Ages. I don’t think Jesse gave too direct of an answer, other than “it’s a good film, you should watch it.” [The movie reflects the Middle Ages excellently in many ways, especially philosophically and artistically. See note 7 below!–JN]

4/ Materialism: The idea that there’s no soul, you’re just driven around by your brain.

Note: this is different from dialectical materialism, which is a Marxist idea about how labor, class, and economic status interact to form social structures (meaning, here, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, I guess).

5/ The Clockwork Monk episode of Radiolab.

Rather more famous automated owl. [Yes! All hail Harryhousen.–JN]

The film Hugo features an automaton that was inspired by Henri Maillardet’s automaton.

Article on Maillardet Automaton and the film.

Wikipedia article on the Maillardet automaton (with pictures).

The Antikythera mechanism. Unclear whether anyone put it in a bag of rice when they fished it out in 1901.

6/ The story of Hildr resurrecting the soldiers, also known as Hjaðningavíd, or the Saga of Hild.

7/ The terracotta soldiers were not just Qin dynasty, they were placed in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China and founder of the Qin dynasty (which went from 221 to 206 BCE). Note that “China” was not synonymous with the China we see on maps today. You can see the soldiers if you travel to Xi’an (which–I think it’s about 24+ hours by train from Beijing; it’s certainly at least a 12-hour drive, so it’s a bit of a schlepp), or there’s a touring exhibition that we both saw when it came to the Field Museum in Chicago. [SO AMAZING!!!!–JN]

The use of mercury may have been a Taoist thing–I can’t find any evidence one way or another, but they did a lot of weird alchemical stuff. Or it may have been used as traps, or just because it looks like water. There are also, according to legends, crossbows aimed at people who might break in.

Jesse: A memento mori is anything that reminds a living person of death (the phrase means “remembrance of death”). Usually this is portrayed as a skeleton (or skull) confronting a living person. Hamlet’s speech to Yorick’s skull is a great example. The point is never to forget that we all end up dead, so we’d better make our lives count (and not do evil, petty, stupid things). One of my favorites is the image that inspired Bergman’s Seventh Seal–a painting of Death playing chess with someone. It was painted by Albertus Pictor (c. 1440–c. 1507) in the Täby kyrka (Täby Church) in Sweden, and we actually see Pictor in the process of painting it in the Seventh Seal.

8/ In Buffy, the cross is what drives away vampires, regardless of the religion of both the person holding the cross and the vampire (or vampire’s former religion?). In at least one episode of Doctor Who, the person’s belief in another thing or person is what is protective, rather than the actual physical symbol (e.g., season 26’s The Curse of Fenric). Also, I watched the scene in 30 Days of Night, and she doesn’t actually have a cross, so while the vampire gets to deny the existence of any deities, it’s unclear whether having the actual cross would have made a difference (warning, that scene is a bit creepy).

Also, here’s a scene of a vampire being staked from Dracula: Dead and Loving It (this scene is not especially creepy). [Ha! Love it. –JN]

Jesse: Anne Rice’s vampires can go out during the day, but not in the movies as I recall.

9/ Saul Epstein and Sara Robinson, “The Soul, Evil Spirits, and the Undead: Vampires, Death, and Burial in Jewish Folklore and Law,” in Preternatural: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural, v. 1, no. 2(2012): 232–251 Link.

[37:00] “A Jewish woman died, and she wasn’t buried for three days…” It is traditional in Judaism to bury people as soon as possible after death, for a variety of reasons. Nowadays the reason is usually given as “Jews don’t practice embalming, so it’s necessary,” but obviously the tradition is a lot older than embalming and has a lot of interesting roots.

[For Joshua Trachtenberg on estries, see Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition, 38–39.–JN]

Vlad the Impaler / Vlad Dracula: the ultimate freedom fighter vs terrorist–depends on whose side you’re on.

Lilith: famed namesake of Lilith Fair. Apropos of the next note, she also turns up in Sandman a bit.

Neil Gaiman, “Parliament of Rooks,” Sandman vol. 40. It’s in vol. 6 (Fables & Reflections of the collected Sandman. This is the same collection that contains “Three Septembers and a January,” which is about Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States, and is extremely charming.

A midrash is a story told by rabbis to explain weird or contradictory or missing things from the Torah. [Yes–the middle wife becomes a memento mori even though death didn’t exist yet. Hmmmm.–JN]

Founder of Aikido: Morihei Ueshiba. “Osensei” is an honorific meaning “great teacher.”

Wole Soyinka, Death of the King’s Horsemen. Summary here. Egungun is a Yoruban masquerade carried out as part of ancestor worship.

Junji Ito is the maga horror artist. The short story is “Gentle Goodbye” in Fragments of Horror.

10/ We recorded this episode in early September–Zhong Yuan Jie was Sept. 2nd this year.

Hungry Ghost Scroll

Hungry ghost detail picture

Atsumori is mentioned in episode 17 (see note 7).

[56:00] “And this is all based on real wars…” The ghost part may or may not have been an exaggeration. [Yes, yes, I do not claim the ghost part is real, but the wars sure were!–JN ]

11/ Tomoe Gozen. Whether she was an actual historical person or not seems to be a question, but there are a number of other actual female warriors, aka onna-bugeisha, in Japanese history. [In fairness to Tomoe, “not proven to be historical” is one of those things people say about women who did incredible things but cannot be 100% verified. Joan of Arc is so over verified there’s not much to be done to discredit her, although people try. More recently, there are people trying to argue that a Viking warrior proven via DNA to be genetically female wasn’t actually a warrior, because whhhhhhaaaaaaaaa, women just didn’t DO those things! Except Valkyrie in myth, of course. And so on. –JN]

Tomoe (Noh play).

12/ Guan Hanqing (c. 1241–1320), The Injustice to Duo E / Snow in Midsummer. This play was also discussed (more briefly) in episode 15 (see note 14).

Confucianism is notable for putting into place this exam system by which anyone (well, probably only men, and probably only men of a particular class or above who would have had time to become literate and study for them etc.) could get a post in the government–an early attempt at a meritocracy, call it. The Temple of Literature in Hanoi, which dates from 1070, is dedicated to Confucius and features stelae in the shape of turtles carved with the names of everyone who passed the exams between 1442–1779. So just remember, grad students: no one except your mom and your advisor probably read your whole thesis, but someday if you’re lucky you can become a footnote in the bottom of someone else’s thesis. Or in their podcast notes. [Yes! A *true* honor.–JN]

Also, Em was wrong–the last civil service exam in Viet Nam was held in 1919, not “after WWII.” It was the last country to hold Confucian civil service exams. [Wow, that’s still amazing.–JN]

13/ Bakemono-no-e. (For non-American listeners, BYU = Brigham Young University, which is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They probably own it because their church has such an extensive history of proselytizing everywhere. But their website on the stroll is pretty extensive though, so check it out.)

14/ Takeda Izumo II, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryu I, Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees. [Kitsune–the awesome fox. –JN]

15/ Legend of the White Snake.

Jesse: For more on White Snake, see episode 15, note 14. About halfway through the note you’ll reach a paragraph with good White Snake info and videos.

Em: Talking to a Taiwanese friend, it seems it’s not totally clear that the Legend of White Snake is actually a Daoist legend, despite what the above-linked Wikipedia page claims (the Wiki page concurs with my assessment–a Daoist legend, although White Snake is not one of the eight immortals, and the villain is (disguised as) a Buddhist monk). It’s such an old story, it is totally possible that Daoists later retold the story in a way that cast Daoism as the prime mover, as it were.

16/ Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly had a very complicated relationship with her father, and I find it pretty fascinating, so buckle up. The man who raised her was (actual) famous philosopher William Godwin. (NOTE: Not the Godwin of Godwin’s Law–that’s lawyer Mike Godwin.) As you might guess from her name, Mary Shelly was the daughter of famed feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, a book that dared to argue (in 1792!) that women were not naturally inferior to men, they just seemed that way because they were unvalued and uneducated. Anyway, MW and WG had a sort of bohemian relationship, including living in separate houses after marriage to retain their independence. But he adopted her daughter Fanny from another relationship and then she died eleven days after having Mary, so he wound up raising both girls rather suddenly. A while later he remarried to a woman with two children of her own (Charles and Claire Clairmont) and had another child with her (William the Younger). The children were all well-educated, although Godwin thought that Mary was especially bright. PB Shelly was a romantic poet who happened to be married (to a woman named Harriet, with whom he had a child and while she was pregnant with their second) when he ran off with his mentor’s daughter Mary, who was SIXTEEN. Like–literally they ran off to Switzerland together, and brought her step-sister Claire (also sixteen) along, who would go on to have a child out of wedlock with Lord Byron. And Harriet did eventually commit suicide–while pregnant (a third/later pregnancy that may have been by a different man). Also, Mary’s elder half-sister, Fanny, may also have been in love with Shelly and eventually committed suicide (and he wrote a poem about it). Also, Godwin was constantly in debt and Shelly gave him money. Anyway, when Frankenstein was initially published it was anonymous, but because PB Shelly wrote the introduction and the book was dedicated to Godwin, everyone assumed he was also the author. BUT actually it was another Shelly. Speaking of which, when Em says “Shelly’s mother attempted suicide, but wound up dying in childbirth later”–she means Mary Shelly’s mother, not PB Shelly. Apologize for any confusion.

So, there’s your soap opera for today.

Episode 17: Dance Like Nobody’s Watching


Dance dramas are theatrical presentations that use dance (and sometimes words, but mostly dance) to tell a story. Em and Jesse look at dance dramas from around the world, from Mesoamerica before and after the Spanish invasion to Japan. With a number of digressions involving Prince, Irish step dancing, Alvin Ailey, and the movie Being John Malkovich.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ A shout out to Manual Cinema in Chicago. Here’s the Candyman trailer.

We talked about Kara Walker in episode 10 (see notes 16 and 24).

2/ The theatre in the Water Tower is Lookingglass Theatre. Mr and Mrs Pennyworth (trailer here) was a Lookingglass Theatre production with Manual Cinema. If you’re in Chicago, we recommend them both.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival is here. They’re doing workshops at the end of October/through November 2020 online, and more will undoubtedly pop up. Check them out.

Also, check out the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta–great programming for kids.

3/ Dance drama! We talked about this a little bit at the end of episode 12 (note 30), in the context of Aztec and Mayan dance dramas.

Misty Copeland is the first African American woman to become a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre, which is one of the biggest ballet companies in the US (if you are like me/Em and don’t understand what a principal dancer is–it’s like having a fifth degree black belt in dance, I guess). For his own purple reasons, Prince hired her to dance on top of his piano (and throughout his stage show) back when he was still alive and touring. [Heart.–Jesse]

Race in ballet is a complicated topic, but it is worth noting that until relatively recently, it was common for non-White ballerinas to powder their skin while performing to appear paler, while some roles were danced by White dancers wearing blackface. In addition, there are traditional standards for what ballerinas look like that privilege the look of white bodies. Finally, ballet is expensive to train in if you’re not being paid–think $200 per month for pointe shoes.

The Richmond, VA woman who took up Irish dance is Morgan Bullock and video of her can be found here.

Ballerinas changing the Lee statue in Richmond (and much more!): Brown Ballerinas for Change.

Alvin Ailey founded his own dance troupe and choreographed a landmark piece called “Revelations.” More about “Revelations” here.

An excerpt from Dada Masilo’s Swan Lake. NYT write-up.

2/ Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz (1648–1695). Wrote the Loa for the (Auto Sacramental of the) Divine Narcissus. See episode 12, note 30 and following.

Of women elsewhere in Europe doing amazing things during this time, look no farther than Sophia of the Palatinate (1630–1714), who became electress of Hanover and was mother of (the British) King George I. Had seven children who lived to adulthood and had Gottfried Leibniz as her librarian and personal friend before dying age 83. Her descendants now occupy all seven European thrones and Luxembourg.

Anne (1665–1714) was also queen of England during this period (beginning 1702).

3/ Nahuatl is an interesting language. Here are some words in it you already know or might recognize: chipotle, coyotl, axolotl, chocolotl. [English likes to import food words. Lots of other words too, English is a very spongy language, but definitely food words.–Jesse]

The Chester play was discussed in episode 8 (see note 26).

The Spanish-style morality play discussed here is a last judgment play (titled Final Judgment) in Nahuatl. An English translation can be found in Stages of Conflict edited by Taylor and Townsend. Sor Juana de la Cruz’s Loa and the Mayan Rabinal Achi can also be found in translation in this excellent collection.

A slightly fuller explanation of the sexism of the Final Judgment: The priest stops our heroine, Lucia, from confessing(!!!) and accuses her of not accepting the seventh sacrament, holy matrimony. Presumably the point isn’t just that she’d been sleeping around but that she may have been married in an Aztec ceremony, which of course wouldn’t count. I refrained from mentioning in the podcast that Christ himself appears (it’s the Last Judgment, remember) and berates Lucia, helping to thrust her into Hell(!!!!). Again, the play is horrifically sexist and excruciatingly colonialist, but it’s a fascinating study.

“You have to be allowed to confess everything, that’s the point.” See also Michel Foucault’s History of Human Sexuality, vol. 1 on the link/transfer between confession to priests and confession to analysts in modern society. [Oooooo, yes!–Jesse]

[24:21] “They have a God…” They actually have a couple of gods–Quetzalcoatl, and the one I am struggling to name, Coatlicue (“Snake Skirt”). (“Coatl” means snake in Nahuatl; -tl or -tli are absolutive singular suffixes for non-possessed nouns, I hope Dou are glad I looked that up.)

Jesse: Interestingly, Coatlicue is a mother goddess, so it’s possible that an indigenous audience would have seen Lucia actually turned into Coatlicue after (as a reward for?) the horrors Christ and the Spanish attempt to visit on her. Probably not the ending the Spanish intended.

I’d also like to give a shout out here to contemporary lesbian, Chicana, playwright Cherrie Moraga. Check out The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea and Heart of the Earth: A Popol Vuh Story to get started.

4/ The Mayan dance drama Rabinal Achi was also discussed in episode 12 (see note 30).

5/ On the ritualistic language of courtrooms:

(Thanks to this site)

But also there are specific things that people DO in courtrooms and ways that they act (the swearing in, the way the judge and jury are addressed, the times of standing and sitting) are incredibly ritualistic.

6/ This discussion is about Christ’s trial scenes in the York Cycle plays. Henry IV had the Archbishop of York, Richard Scrope, convicted of treason and executed. However, it took two judges to do the job (the first judge refused). In the York Cycle, Pilate is unwilling to condemn Christ in his first trial before Pilate, but in the second trial before Pilate, Pilate is more than happy to condemn Christ. Pamela King has demonstrated that these two scenes from the York Cycle clearly represent the real events of the Archbishop’s trials and consequently draw a connection between Pilate and the government of Henry IV. See Pamela King The York Mystery Cycle and the Worship of the City (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2006); pgs. 189–200. Amazon link.

Over the course of Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV Act IV, we see the Archbishop of York (Richard Scrope) arrested for treason and summarily executed.

Links to the York Cycle, The First Trial before Pilate, and The Second Trial before Pilate.

The Revello Passion Play or La Passione di Revello. Sacra rappresentazione quattrocentesca di ignoto piemontese edited by Anna Cornagliotti (Amazon Italy link. If you read Italian, check out WorldCat!

The Mayan warrior at the far left in the middle has a shield and a raised club/battle axe. (This is an image from the Dresden Codex.) For more codices, see this site.

Here’s a statue of a Mayan warrior with a shield (presumably the club or axe is missing from the open hand).

From Dennis Tedlock’s Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice, p. 131.

Just for fun, a Mayan statue of a young corn god (Mayan and Aztec culture definitely intermingled!).

Mayan sacrifice by decapitation (Close up on the axe, middle/left.)

The intersex servant is referred to as a slave but clearly has a fairly important ceremonial position.

The change of number in the warriors’ names from 13 Yellow (or Golden) Eagles and 13 Yellow (or Golden) Jaguars to 12 happened before the script was written down in the extant version. Nonetheless, the symbolism of the numbers makes it fairly clear that this is a change–one that was apparently made quite early, presumably as part of the process of adapting Rabinal Achi slightly in order to be allowed to continue performing it under the Spanish. (Of the many other dance dramas that existed, this is the only one we still have.) This is a change that would have aligned nicely with the new performance date of St Paul’s Day and other similar syncretic adaptations.

7/ Atsumori. And here’s a full performance. Watch times if you don’t have time to watch the whole performance: entrance of waki/priest 6:00–8:00; entrance of shite/Atsumori disguised as a common grass cutter 18:35–20:20; entrance of kyogen/townsperson 41:20–42:00; entrance of Atsumori as ghost-warrior self 1:00:00–1:01:40; Atsumori dances out his death 1:18:20–1:21:20 and 1:26:00–end (notice the use of the sword).

Zeami Motokiyo wrote it and a lot of other stuff.

8/ [1:07:35] Em should have said “Chinese-speaking people” rather than “Chinese people.” We regret the error.

9/ Beyoncé (feat. Kendrick Lamar). Still super iconic.

Jesse: I purposely ignored black/brown/yellow/redface in my comments on “full face makeup,” because while racist makeup is an extremely important thing to discuss, it should NOT be used as an excuse to explain why the so-called West seems to have given up on full face makeup and/or masks. These issues are partially related, but also separate.

10/ Being John Malkovich. Still one of the most surreal films I [Em] has ever seen, I think.

Basil Twist and Stickman–a marionette performance that will make you cry.