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The Source:

"La Magie Sacrée - ou - Livre d'Abramelin Le Mage"
transcribed, presented and annotated by Robert Ambelain
Editions Bussière, Paris, France, 1975.

The Case:

The first place where I ever found an extremely short mention of this case, was in the above book, which (according to the author/editor Robert Ambelain) is based upon a manuscript with the title:

"La Magie Sacrée que Dieu donna à Moyse, Aaron, David, Salomon, et à d'autres Prophètes, et qui enseigne la Vraie Sapience Divine, laissée par Abraham fils de Simon, à son fils Lamech, traduite de l'hébreu à Venise, en 1458".

In Ambelain's book I found a passage, describing a magical ceremony by which it is said to be possible to force the soul of a dying person to reenter the body. The author, Abraham, who claims to have received his instructions from Abramelin the Magician, first stresses the fact that such an operation should never be carried out for frivolous purposes, but may only be used if there is no other option. After which he casually remarks: "I have only done this twice in my whole life, for the Duke of Saxony, and for a lady who was much beloved by the emperor Sigismund." In a footnote the editor of the book, Robert Ambelain, promises us: "We shall get into this in a future book about the mysteries of Vampires." It seems a safe guess that the book that Mr. Ambelain refers to is his "Le Vampirisme - de la Légende au réel", Editions Robert Laffont, Paris, 1977.

In his book about vampires Robert Ambelain feeds us just a little more information. For a start we learn that his Abramelin book is based on a manuscript that is supposed to be kept in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal in Paris. This manuscript (according to Ambelain) appears to have been copied from an older manuscript that can (or could) be found in the Marciana Library in Venice. The original author (again according to Ambelain) appears to have been the famous Eléazar of Worms, a Kabalist and specialist on Jewish magic.

As mentioned above, Abraham confesses to have performed this necromantic rite to "restore a semblance of life" in a lady that was much loved by the Emperor Sigismund. Ambelain (for reasons only known to himself) identifies this woman as Barbara of Cilli, born in Slovenia around 1377, who (again according to Ambelain) died in Gratz in 1451.

And then there is this:

I wasn't sure if I should mention this, because I find it hard to take it very serious myself, but there is a more recent "source" about this case. In his book "Le Culte du Vampire aujourd'hui", by the hand of Jean-Paul Bourre, you will find a chapter called "La vallée des immortels". This describes how Mr. Bourre and his friend Nathalie travelled to Transylvania in order to perform a necromantic ceremony through which they claim to have raised the "undead" Barbara of Cilli. It is beyond me why they had to go to Transylvania to do this, but then again, who am I ? I guess I am too much of a sceptic. Go on and read the book yourself and see what you make of it.

Another book that is a recent addition to my library, "Histoire vraie du Vampirisme", written by Johannes van Aken, also mentions some of Bourre's Barbara-related adventures. After reading the book I was half-inclined to believe that "Johannes van Aken" is just another nom de plume of Jean-Paul Bourre, if it wasn't for the fact that most parts of the book seem slightly better written and at the same time - sadly - much less entertaining than Mr. Bourre's average output.

The Date:

According to some sources, the Emperor Sigismund is supposed to have been born on 14 February, 1368, in Nürnberg (is it ?), and is said to have died on 9 December 1437, in Znaim (= Znojmo), Bohemia. His first wife, the Hungarian queen Mary of Anjou, died under mysterious circumstances in 1395. In 1396, during a battle against the Turks, Sigismund's life was saved by Herman II of Cilli. And in 1405, Sigismund married Herman's young daughter Barbara.

As to Barbara of Cilli, most sources seem to agree that she must have been born some time around 1390, possibly a few years earlier or later. And she is generally said to have died not in Gratz as Ambelain has it, but in Melnik, on 11 July, 1451. Then again, it could be that Ambelain is referring to Barbara's "first death". These dates, by themselves, line up fine with the publication date of the Abramelin book. Unfortunately the same can not be said about the dates of the Abramelin book's alleged author. According to Ambelain this is Eleazar Ben Judah of Worms, who - elsewhere - is said to have lived from ca. 1165 until some time around 1230.

The Place:

This also is a bit of a mess. We have been given various places, but some of them seem to contradict one another. Especially the information about Barbara of Cilli seems problematical to say the least. According to Ambelain she died or was buried in Gratz. I am not sure if there is a factual basis for this, or if Ambelain is merely saying this in order to make the case fit in with his suggestion that the story is the inspiration for J.S. LeFanu's vampire story "Carmilla". According to other more reliable sources, Barbara died in Melnik. If this is true, then the most likely place seems Melnik (= Milnik) in the Czech Republic, rather than any of the other Melniks which can be found all over the Balkan.

It is clear where the Cilli family comes from. Barbara's father is Hermann II, Count of Cilli Ortenburg (1365-1435). And his Castle can still be found near the town of Celje in Slovenia. Here is a link to Celje: http://www.celje.si 

So far I have found no further information on the alleged resuscitation of Barbara's corpse, but at least I can tell you where she has been buried, after her second death, that is. Her final resting place (and there seems to be little doubt about that) can be found somewhere inside the St. Vitus Cathedral of Prague.

It looks as if we will have to dig much deeper into this case. I seem to be outnumbered by people who think that Barbara is the vampire. For the time being, and until we find more definitive and reliable information, I will move this case to Prague because that is where Barbara is buried.

Personal Comments:

There seems little doubt about the identity of the Sigismund and Barbara that Ambelain refers to, since he gives us dates and all. As to lining them up with Eleazar of Worms, the dates do not fit at all.

Another thing that somewhat puzzles me is the fact that Barbara of Cilli did not die until 1451. The Emperor Sigismund, who was quite a bit older than her, died as early as 1437. To me this means that if we are indeed talking about Barbara, then Abraham's necromantic ceremony must have taken place in or before 1437. Which would imply that the undead Barbara must have lived 14 years, possibly longer, after her "first death". Abraham merely refers to his accomplishment as "restoring a semblance of life". To me, that sounds like a brief illusion (meant to please the Emperor) rather than the production of a true vampire corpse that "lives" on for at least more than a decade. And it is Abraham himself who tells us that the maximum period of extended life for a corpse is 7 years only.

This makes me wonder: is Abraham talking about Barbara when he mentions "the lady who was much beloved by the emperor Sigismund". According to various historical sources old Sigismund must have been a bit of a womaniser, and if we are to believe Eberhard Windecke (member of Sigismund's entourage and author of Sigismund's biography) at one time the emperor was even being suspected and accused of raping an important lady. The point is, there must have been dozens and dozens of women who were "much beloved" by Sigismund. So why does Ambelain think that it had to be Barbara of Cilli ? Never believe what is being suggested. Always keep all the other options open !

Possible Follow-Up:

There is in fact a much earlier edition of the Abramelin book, translated into English by no one less than Samuel Liddell Mathers, of "Golden Dawn" fame. This is a book that has had an immense influence on and throughout the life of Britain's best known occultist, Aleister Crowley. In case you need any evidence, just read "The Confessions of Aleister Crowley". It may be interesting to compare Mathers' version with the one of Ambelain. And of course we should check out the original manuscripts in Paris and Venice. Have they existed ? Do they still exist ? If so, and supposing that we manage to get access to them, then in how far do the texts bear a resemblance to the texts presented by Ambelain and Mathers ? Obviously, we should also find as much relevant information as possible about the Emperor Sigismund, about Barbara of Cilli, about Eléazar of Worms, about Abraham, and about the mysterious Abramelin himself. I think this looks like an interesting case, well worth investigating.

Reactions and further findings:

Ok, that's how far we had got. And then we were very pleased to report that we had been approached by an Italian scholar, Franco Pezzini, who had published an excellent book on the subject. Mr. Pezzini's work extensively covers both Carmilla and the Barbara of Cilli case and the possible link between them. Much additional material and information can be found in this fascinating book, which definitely does deserve to be translated into other languages. If you do read Italian, be sure to get a copy of it.

Franco Pezzini :
"Cercando Carmilla - la leggenda della donna vampira" [2000]
Ananke, Torino, Italy, 2000 - pp.160
ISBN: 88 86626 67 3

And then I found what in my opinion can only be considered to be the definitive version of the Abramelin book. It is called "Buch Abramelin" and the latest German edition was published in 2001 by Edition Araki in Leipzich. Its author, Georg Dehn, has compared all the different Abramelin manuscripts that he could find and after doing that he has written the best Abramelin book ever. In the meantime, a few more years have passed, and we are happy to tell you that Georg Dehn's masterpiece has now been translated into English. So be sure to get yourself a copy while you can !

Georg Dehn :
"The Book of Abramelin - a new Translation" [2006]
Ibis Press, Lake Worth, Florida, USA, 2006 - pp.300
ISBN: 978 0 89254 127 0

And then I received an interesting article by the hand of my long time correspondent Daniel J. Wood, a scholar who knows an amazing lot about history, magic, religion, the supernatural and many other things. Mr. Wood has come up with some interesting and original ideas about Barbara and about the Abramelin book itself. Actually his article had been written for a magazine, and I had to wait until after its publication. But it has been printed now, so - with the author's kind permission - I can put it on our site. You can find it in our section of Source Material. Here then is a link to it: Wood on Abramelin 

In the meantime, I have managed to unearth thousands of pages with information about the Emperor Sigismund, about Barbara of Cilli and her family, and about dozens of other people who may have been involved in this case. I have also discovered some historical material that indicates that Abraham (the author of the Abramelin book) was indeed personally known to Sigismund and was even rewarded for his "special services" to the Emperor. So it means that at least some of Abraham's claims are historical facts. Obviously, it is going to take me quite a bit of time to work my way through all this material. But you can definitely expect to hear more about it.

A lot of mysteries remain unsolved. So why don't you start your own investigation ? To help you get started you may want to know that Barbara of Cilli is called "Barbara Celjska" in her home country, Slovenia. She also appears to go by the name of "Crna Kraljica" or the "Black Queen", although I have wondered a couple of times if they are indeed one and the same person. She also has a reputation of having been an alchemist and sorceress. In Hungary she is known as Cillei Borbála.

And as to Sigismund of Luxemburg, hey, what do you expect ? He was the "Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire", no less ! So you will have little trouble finding an awful lot of information about the old scoundrel. Just don't forget to include the Abramelin book in your investigations. Good luck !

© 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changed 19 November 2009 - Links last checked 9 July 2007
Portrait of Kaiser Sigismund from a 16th Century print from my collection
Photo "Prague Cathedral" © 1994 by Rob Brautigam

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