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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Is this the (a) missing link between Dracula’s shapeshifting into a bat and folklore?  A fascinating addition to #6 (above) not only connects Italian witches and vampires, but also describes their ability to shapeshift into bats, from an 1878 article on Italian folktales (i.e., fairytales). The following text and footnotes are quoted from Henry Charles Coote, “Some Italian Folk-Lore,” Folk-Lore Record 1 (1878):187-215. Coote was dealing with Italian tales that have French counterparts, using texts drawn from Domenico Comparetti’s compilation, Novelline Populari Italiane (1875). Coote believed that Comapretti’s tales were “the genuine traditions of the country side.” (187). Here are the relevant passages (pp. 213-214):

To their rendezvous the French witches repair, after the fashion of their English sisters, astride upon a broomstick. But the gracefulness of antique mythology still adheres to the Italian witch, who has never degraded herself into electing and utilizing so mean a medium for locomotion, or at least very seldom uses it. Before starting the strega anoints her whole body with an unguent, which turns her straightway into a bat. Her body is left on the ground as inert and lifeless as the clothes of which she has divested herself. On her return from her merry-making she re-enters the accommodating matter and becomes herself again. [footnote: In the “Il figlinuolo del re, stregato,” the witches, while they are rubbing themselves over with the ointment, say, “Ointment, make me go three times faster than the wind.” All then take their seats, and a bat coming out of each one’s mouth, they remain there like dead; at three o’clock the three bats return, re-enter their bodies, and begin to eat their supper. . . . “]

This is, of course, a mere matter of subordinate detail.

There is, however, an additional property which the strega possesses to the exclusion of her French sister. She is a vampire, which the other never has been. She sucks the blood of sleeping people through the little finger, thus inducing an inscrutable and therefore incurable marasmus. [footnote: This is inferrible from the “Il figliuolo del re, stregato” (ante). The king is dying in this way through the witches. When the latter are publicly burnt “there arose a stench from their bodies as of the dead in a churchyard, because they ate the blood of the people of the country. [para] In the “I dodici buoi” (Comparetti, p. 206) the witch sucks a girl’s blood through her little finger. In “La Nuvolaccia” (ib. p. 128) it is through a finger, without specification.]

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