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November 2014

Ten months ago, when my partner and I first moved to Prague, we accidentally decorated our home with funeral candles. Despite our Gothic predilections, it was never our intent to fill our bookshelves with gifts meant for the dead. We simply discovered our local Tesco stacked high with beautiful red glass lanterns and, impressed by the low price and unfamiliar design, stocked up in the hopes that they would add a little warmth to our mostly empty flat. It was only a few weeks later as we strolled around the stately Vyšehrad cemetery that we realized our mistake: throughout the graveyard, the same red lanterns that now adorned our bedroom were glowing softly in the dusk.

At this time of year, when the veil between life and death is said to be at its thinnest, the simple yet striking image of the red lantern comes into its own here in Bohemia, at the heart of Dušičky.

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This post is the third and final installation in our Monsters of Prague series, leading up to Halloween with the sometimes even more eerie truths behind some of Bohemia’s best loved scary stories. So far we have visited a demon-possessed house and the streets where Prague’s Golem once walked, but this week the lines between fact and gruesome fiction are blurred beyond recognition with a look at the Czech Republic’s vampiric history.

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Vampires are everywhere in Prague, like this waxwork in one of my local bars.

This post is the second in our series of eerie Bohemian stories leading up to Halloween. Last week I took you to a very special house in the center of Prague which, while not haunted per se, is rumoured to have been the scene of some legendary demonic activity… This week we’re taking a stroll through the streets of Old Town, examining Prague’s deeply seated Jewish history, and another world-famous monster…

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A tourist stall in Prague’s Jewish quarter sells golems of all shapes and sizes alongside other curiosities.

This post is the first in a series of three, leading up to Halloween. While Halloween as we know it is not widely celebrated in the Czech republic – All Saint’s Day (Dušičky) remains a sombre affair here, to be explored in a later post – the gathering autumnal chill and early dusks are crying out for some spooky Bohemian stories. Therefore I’ll be telling you three of Prague’s most infamous horror tales, from the places they are purported to have happened…

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This week is quite a significant one when it comes to Gothic literary greats. Saturday, the 4th, was the birthday of Anne Rice and Wednesday, the 7th, will be the anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe’s death. The two are undoubtedly numbered amongst America’s most important contributors to the the Gothic horror genre, with Poe’s ‘The Raven’ considered a benchmark for 19th Century Gothic tropes and Rice’s Vampire Chronicles almost entirely responsible for reawakening vampire-mania in 20th Century mainstream culture. Probing a little deeper reveals certain similarities beyond pure aesthetic, despite the century that lies between the authors – both writers experienced a tragic loss in their personal lives, which manifested itself somehow in their works, and both are noted for having somewhat convoluted relationships with the Christian faith. It is certainly not news that a sense of loss and spiritual turmoil are key themes in the Gothic, but perhaps the personal experiences of these writers has given the genre’s gloomy sense of surrealism a core of raw human emotion – something that has ensured that Poe’s writings withstood the test of time, and doubtless destined Rice’s modern Gothic classics to do the same.

skull-adorned altar-cloth, Romburk museum

Skull-adorned altar-cloth, Romburk museum

Over the years, the human skull has somehow represented almost everything – life and death, perilous danger and good luck. We see it worn by Hell’s Angels and Hello Kitty alike. I am far from a casual observer in this strange fashion phenomenon: even as I write I am surrounded by trinkets and textiles, all adorned with that grim and grinning motif. The skull’s association with the Gothic hardly needs much explanation – a culture that is nourished by an artistic fascination with the dead is sure to find beauty in one of the most consistently used symbols of death – a beauty backed up by centuries of funereal art. However, the fallacy that skull symbolism belongs to fans of the Gothic alone has caught me out before, assuming that skull-wearing acquaintances share a certain morbid outlook with me, only to realise that they are simply following fashions with little thought to the symbolism behind the design.

It’s a Saturday night at Prague’s Palac Akropolis. While the canopy-covered benches outside the somewhat infamous venue never fail to attract a crowd on weekends, tonight something is different: instead of the usual suspects sinking pints to muffled bass beats, I am greeted with a veritable parade of frock coats and corsetry, drainpipe jeans and doublets – even the children are black-clad for the event. What, you ask, is the occasion? A celebration of the Czech Republic’s small yet tenacious Gothic music scene, oddly and wonderfully enough featuring a trio from England’s idyllic Cotswolds – Inkubus Sukkubus.

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10177263_10152082547252672_8819269431177047326_nIt would be madness to run a Gothic blog inspired by a deck of tarot cards, and not address the link between “The Gothic” and the art of tarot.  Of course, if you’re reading this, chances are you already have your own philosophies on tarot, and at least a basic grasp of its story. I know for a fact that at least some of you will be experts on the matter. Thus I dare not attempt to educate you on tarot’s lengthy and often obscure history, but perhaps I can impart a few interesting facts about tarot’s Gothic connection to something I know and love – writing.

Bohemian /bəʊˈhiːmɪən/ (n.)

1. A native or inhabitant of Bohemia.

2. A socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts. [ mid 19th century: from French bohémien ‘Gypsy’ (because Gypsies were thought to come from Bohemia, or because they perhaps entered the West through Bohemia)]

     – The Oxford English Dictionary

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If, like I, you first became acquainted with the word via Queen’s karaoke classic, it may take a moment to connect the geographical region of Bohemia to the notorious artistic ideology.  I consider myself fortunate to be writing this article from the very heart of both definitions – Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, the once Kingdom of Bohemia.  It is impossible to divorce the art of Baba Studio from its surroundings, and the stories and styles of Central Europe are often laced through the studio’s designs – sometimes subtly, sometimes strikingly.  At the same time, we consider ourselves part of an increasingly anachronistic community of “socially unconventional” bohemians around the world – those who look at life through a glass warped by inspiration, and who carry a little art in every aspect of their lives.