Professors lecture on creepy cases throughout history

Category:  News
Wednesday, November 7th, 2018 at 6:45 PM

While no candy was present, audience members got the sweet taste of knowledge during a short lecture on spooky subjects two days before the holiday of a similar nature. 

Four Edinboro University faculty members presented “Crash Course on the Creepy: Vampires, Witches, and The Undead” in room 107A of Compton Hall on Monday, Oct. 29, from 6-7 p.m.

Three of the faculty members were from the history, politics, languages and cultures department — Amanda Frantz-Mamani, Dr. Rhonda Matthews and Dr. Jerra Jenrette — and shared information regarding their own particular subjects. Dr. Lenore Barbian, of the criminal justice, anthropology and forensic studies department, also presented. Topics mentioned included Spanish culture, witches, vampires and more.

Frantz-Mamani was up first with her presentation called “Catrinas, Tantawawas, and Sugar Skulls: Cultures Beyond Borders.” The first topic discussed was El Día de Los Muertos, known in English as “Day of the Dead.” She described what this day is, versus what it is not. Clarifying that it is not a Mexican version of Halloween, it is not gruesome or morbid, nor is it about honoring death, she stated that it is about honoring those who have passed. Nov. 1 focuses on children and Nov. 2 is about adults. 

This holiday was formed over 1,000 years ago and at this point involves marigold plants that help bring spirits home. It also involves the four elements — water, wind, earth and fire — monarch butterflies, paper banners, food for spirits, and of course, sugar skulls, which she does not recommend eating. 

Ultimately, El Día de Los Muertos is not about grief or sadness, but “about family and the cycle of life,” said Frantz-Mamani.

Next, Barbian presented “The Truth About Vampires: Deviant Burial in the Archaeological Record.” She addressed that vampires themselves have become potentially attractive and even desirable through media, discussing Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” and information on Vlad the Impaler, stating that the two hold significantly different backgrounds.

This discussion included how beliefs concerning vampires did not originate around sucking blood, but around diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria taking away life sources, thus resulting in beliefs and worry that those who died from these conditions could come back and harm the living. Therefore, several measures were taken in order to keep them from escaping their graves. For graves themselves, different countries held various practices after the 17th century when these ideas originated, such as placing stones in the mouths of plague victims to prevent chewing on shrouds, and staking. 

Additionally, Barbian shared that in the Victorian era, cages were put over graves to prevent body snatching. 

More unfortunate circumstances were covered by Jerra Jenrette in “The Devil in the Shape of a Woman,” which focused on accusations of women being ‘witches’ and having potentially dangerous supernatural influence. 

For example, the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, in which most of the accused were married women and those above age 40, involved false perceptions of women based on spiritual writings and opinions. This led to brutal torture and in most cases execution by hanging. These practices were eventually stopped later in that year when spectral evidence, or evidence through dreams and visions, was disallowed. 

Dr. Rhonda Matthews shared a different perspective on witches in “The Witches You Couldn’t Burn: Intersection of Witches in Popular Culture.” She made a comparison between “good” and “bad” witches while addressing their stereotypes. 

Good ones maintain stability, can be maternal and are mostly female. Examples of these include Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched,” Glinda from “The Wizard of Oz” and Sabrina from “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” A witch of this type is rarely male, with the exception of characters such as Jesus Velasquez from “True Blood.” 

Bad witches are notoriously difficult and stubborn, and some are sensual like Ursula from “The Little Mermaid,” in which Matthews noted the irony that this character smiles frequently and is more “gleeful” while others typically appear and act more serious. Others like The Wicked Witch of the West and Maleficent have had their stories re-adapted to show experiences that have made them “bad” such as rejection for the former and in Maleficent’s case, rape.

The reality of attempted hexes on politicians and the 2010 controversy regarding politician Christine O’Donnell with her statement, “I’m not a witch,” were addressed, along with the possibility of witches going from nice to bad, as is the case in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Matthews ended the course by encouraging the audience to “work [their] magic and vote” in the Nov. 6 elections.

Amber Chisholm can be reached at

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