Ask This Librarian – folklore, witches, and vampires

A friend with some plans around fiction writing asks:

I’m thinking of researching the parallels between vampires and witches, mostly from folkloric/superstitious claims (as opposed to historical witchcraft/modern Paganism). I don’t know that there are any resources on both together, but reliable information on both individually, especially where categorized by culture/geographic location, would be glorious and much appreciated.

My answer:

One of the first things that sprang to mind is that Rosemary Ellen Guiley has done a series of encyclopedia-format volumes for Chelsea House (one of the reference book publishers) on related topics. She’s got one on Witches and Witchcraft (focusing on historical lore and practice) and one on Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters (with what looks like a revised edition coming out in 2011. Note that depending on the library, copies may be reference-only, but you may be able to get a circulating copy via Interlibrary Loan pretty easily, or I’ve seen various of her books in used bookstores regularly.

I like her books because she does good summaries, knows her subject well, and includes a pretty reasonable bibliography. She’s writing for a general audience, not an academic one, though.

In terms of other resources – you’re right, there doesn’t seem to be as much out there about vampires and witches in folklore together as you might think. There are some useful options for you, though:

Other ideas:

A number of folklore and mythology departments or anthropology departments¬† include classes on either witchcraft or vampires: when you can find their syllabi online, the reading lists are a great place to start. Searching on “syllabus vampire” and “syllabus witchcraft” (along with “syllabus vampires”, “syllabus witches”, etc.) turns up quite a few worth browsing. The folklore courses are obviously a better fit for your focus, but some of the anthropology and history ones include sources that look like they might be worth digging into.

As you narrow down, you might try searching various of the databases for more ideas. (Am I right in remembering you’re in Hennepin County’s library system?) In particular, I’d suggest trying out JSTOR: you’ll need your library barcode to get in, but you can access it from home. If you’re elsewhere in the metro, your library may have a subscription, or you can register your card at Hennepin for access. I’m seeing a lot of results in the JSTOR searches, so being able to narrow down by an area or particular topic always helps. (JSTOR allows searching of a wide range of academic journals, so the articles also tend to be pretty tightly focused on a particular area, figure, or other tighter topic.)

Where the answer came from:

This is one of those answers where you can probably figure it out yourself, but:

  • My former job had several of Guiley’s books (they were a particularly great fit for some projects that were commonly done in the earlier part of my time there) so I got familiar with them.
  • Syllabi are lovely things for digging into particular kinds of resources. Wading through them is complicated, though, which is why I didn’t pull out specific books (time is a little tighter for me today, as I’ve got a couple of other things that need to get done this evening, or I’d have done a bit more of that.)
  • JSTOR is also an amazing resource, once you figure out how to navigate to what you want. Doing that is far more than a reference question can offer (see my post from last Friday), but I liked the chance to play around a little in the new interface.
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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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