Decline of Witches and Rise of Vampires in 18th Century Habsburg Monarchy


Witch persecutions in Hungary had to be ended "from above" by the enlightened measures of queen Maria Theresa, in the second half of the 18th century. How did this important change in judicial procedures and in the wider mentality occur? My article tries to investigate this problem on different levels. First I trace the work of Maria Theresa's court doctor, Gerard van Swieten, and the impact of North Italian enlightened thinkers and the Dutch sceptic tradition upon his campaign against superstitions, and upon a rationalistic worldview to be spread by absolutistic measures. Then, departing from the occurrence that the whole campaign, stopping witch-hunting in the Habsburg Monarchy, has started with some measures provoked by a new style magical being, the vampire, l try to raise the question whether the appearance and the apparent success of vampires in the early 18th century did not contribute to the decline of witch-belief in the same region. I examine how vampires at the same time made more sense to 18th century rationalist, medical and religious mentality and provoked a scandal, undermining the whole magical universe. I compare this change, occurring from the inner contradictions of the popular magical universe, to the similar effects of magical neoplatonism in 16th century England, and of possession scandals in 17th century France, both hastening the emergence of scepticism in the older style witch-beliefs. Finally, I try to point to two ways, in which the later 18th century transformed the vampire belief, once popular all over Europe: to transpose it to a social metaphor of bloodsuckers, or to sexualize this kind of magical aggression, paving the way for the 19th century invention of Dracula.

How to Cite

Klaniczay, G., (1987) “Decline of Witches and Rise of Vampires in 18th Century Habsburg Monarchy”, Ethnologia Europaea 17(2), 165–180. doi:


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Gábor Klaniczay (Eötvös Lóránd Tudományegyetem)



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Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0


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