Was There Ever a Real ‘Devil’s School’?

From Francis Barretts ‘The-Magus’ in 1801:a demon rides a dragon. Photo courtesy of Forgotten Books Publishing Company. Copyright 2012.

For anyone who is familiar with the classic horror tale of Dracula there is a particular paragraph that has raised many questions in the minds of readers, ever since the book’s release over a hundred years ago.

In that paragraph of  Dracula,  Bram Stoker alludes to a mysterious ‘devil’s school’ located in Transylvania. There he notes: “The Draculas had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the Devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.” In this fictional work, the vampire himself – Dracula – was one of these scholars; an evil genius.

Transylvania’s Carpathian Mountains, the fabled site of ‘the Devil’s School.’ Photo courtesy of Marie Nouvelle Studio. Copyright 2012.

However, this school in question, according to Emily Gerard’s 1885 article on ‘Transylvanian Superstitions‘ isn’t merely a piece of fiction. Stoker derived his knowledge of the Scholomance from many sources, but it appears that Gerard’s article was a primary source of info. This is what Gerard has to say on this ‘myth’:

“As I am on the subject of thunderstorms, I may as well here mention the Scholomance, or school supposed to exist somewhere in the heart of the mountains, and where all the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all imaginable magic spells and charms are taught by the devil in person.

Only ten scholars are admitted at a time, and when the course of learning has expired and nine of them are released to return to their homes, the tenth scholar is detained by the devil as payment, and mounted upon an Ismeju (dragon) he becomes henceforward the devil’s aide-de-camp, and assists him in ‘making the weather,’ that is to say, preparing the thunderbolts.”

Here we will doubtless stop to ask ourselves: exactly what was this Scholomance, and where did this enduring legend come from?
It helps us to know that Gerard’s version of the story is not a professional anthropological report, but is actually the story of an amateur traveling through the (then) Habsburg territories. The person in question, folklorist, R. C. Maclagan, wrote his report for the journal Folklore in 1897, which included a more accurate version of the story. In it, Maclagan notes:

“Here we find that the drac is the devil in person, who instructs certain persons to be magicians and medicine men in a college under the earth. Of these, one in eight receives instruction during fourteen years, and on his return to earth he has the following power. By means of certain magical formulae he compels a dragon to ascend from the depths of a loch. He then throws a golden bridle with which he has been provided over his head, and rides aloft among the clouds, which he causes to freeze and thereby produces hail.”

Jason Colavito is an author and editor who is internationally recognized by scholars, literary theorists and scientists for his pioneering work exploring the connections between science, pseudoscience, and speculative fiction. His investigations, which have appeared on the History Channel, examine the way human beings create and employ the supernatural to alter and understand our reality and our world. Photo courtesy of Jason Colavito. Copyright 2012.

Of this paragraph from folklorist R. C. Maclagan’s article, renown xenoarchaeologist Jason   Colavito recently made these keen and scholarly observations :

“Notice that now the school is under the earth, which forms one part of the solution to the puzzle of the Scholomance. There are two other parts that complete the picture. To understand this, however, it’s important to remember that before Transylvania was a Christian territory, it was part of the pre-Christian Roman province of Dacia, which before the Roman conquest was culturally affiliated with Thrace. In both regions, priests of the pagan gods retreated to the woods and secret places to learn the secrets of the gods.

Later called the Solomanari (after the supposed connection between Solomon and alchemy), the Zgriminties or Hultan were shaman-priests who claimed control over storms and could summon a balaur (dragon) to ride. Before Christianity, they were seen as benevolent forces able to implore the gods to deliver much-needed rain to fertilize the crops. Christians defamed the Solomonari as devil-worshippers, but in reality they originated as pre-Christian pagan priests. They most likely worshipped the pre-Christian god Zalmoxis or Salmoxis (also: Zalmus), whose power they are able to wield. Remarkably little is known about this god outside of Greek reports, but  the ancients declared that he taught astrology (Strabo, Geography 7.3.5) as well as the doctrine of immortality (Plato, Charmides 156-158). According to Diogenes Laertius, he was the equivalent of the harvest god Kronos (Saturn) (Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 8.1.1), and Hippolytus asserted that those who followed this god as disciples (= scholars) worshipped him in isolated, underground chapels (Refutation of All Heresies 1.2).”

A basic understanding of Transylvania’s (now Romania)  indigenous legends of itinerant wizards who perform those same two miracles (riding a dragon and summoning storms) will help to bring into focus this now rather fuzzy picture from the ancient past…of which current rumors profess continues even today.

Unfortunately for the pre-Christian teachers and their ancient doctrines, Christians – following ‘Biblical authority’ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 10:20) – saw this god as a devil or demon, as they tend to do with all pagan gods. St. Augustine even went on to decree that pagan gods are the “most impure demons, who desire to be thought gods,” (City of God 7.33, parallel to Psalm 96:5).

Perhaps the earliest known account of Zalmoxis can be found in a passage that possibly explains the origin of the Scholomance:  Histories 4.94. In itHerodotus wrote that Zalmoxis was not really a god but was instead a slave of Pythagoras. After being freed and gaining great great wealth  Zalmoxis then:

“prepared a banqueting-hall, where he received and feasted the chief men of the tribe and instructed them meanwhile that neither he himself nor his guests nor their descendants in succession after them would die; but that they would come to a place where they would live for ever and have all things good. While he was doing that which has been mentioned and was saying these things, he was making for himself meanwhile a chamber under the ground; and when his chamber was finished, he disappeared from among the Thracians and went down into the underground chamber, where he continued to live for three years: and they grieved for his loss and mourned for him as dead. Then in the fourth year he appeared to the Thracians, and in this way the things which Salmoxis said became credible to them. (<em “mso-bidi-font-style:=””>Histories 4.94, Macaulay translation)

Herodotus leaves little room for doubt in this passage that this was how the Greeks understood the pre-Christian Romanian god’s story. However,  Colavito has gone on the record to state that he believes that this is a distortion of the actual Dacian religious story, which likely involved the god’s own death and resurrection in an underground chamber: a great hall where he taught the secrets of immortality and of life and death. The Greeks, famous for their  ethnocentrism, then proceeded to interpret this as a version of their own Pythagorean philosophy. In so doing they sought to make the Dacian faith little more than a derivative of a Greek original.

Today, many modern scholars – most notable among them xenoarchaeologist Jason  Colavito – believe the myth of Zalmoxis as Pythagoras’ slave derives from the Dacian and Thracian priests’ forehead tattoos, which the Greeks misinterpreted as slave-traders’ brands (Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras 15; E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 163n.44). For more information on these learned, ancient peoples look up “Celts in Transylvania” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celts_in_Transylvania).  It is a fascinating synopsis on these truly remarkable peoples.

Colavito asserts that the pre-Christian religious teachings of Zalmoxis are what first Greeks, then Romans and later the Christians misunderstood, with the Christians proceeding to slander the old god as the Devil himself, and decreeing his underground chamber – where he taught the secrets of immortality itself –  as the “school of the Devil.”

The $64,000 question remains: was this underground cult center entirely mythical or did it reflect a genuine Dacian or Thracian cult center where worshippers received priestly indoctrination and training? The modern world may never know for certain.

For more information on this subject, please check out:

The Magus, Celestial Intelligencer: a Complete System of Occult Philosophy, Forgotten Books Publishing http://www.amazon.com/Magus-Celestial-Intelligencer-Philosophy-Forgotten/dp/1605065757/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1351495086&sr=1-1&keywords=Francis+Barretts+%27The-Magus

Herodotus’ The Histories,  Folio Society Publishing http://www.amazon.com/Herodotus-Histories/dp/B000R8T51K/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1351496510&sr=1-2&keywords=Herodotus-+Histories

Thanks to xenoarchaeologist Jason Colavito , from whose brilliant and scholarly reports this article is based upon. Please check out his enlightening, amazing newsletter ‘The Skeptical  Xenoarchaeologist, found at http://www.jasoncolavito.com/ 

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Shirley Pena

About Shirley Pena

A native of Southern California, Shirley Pena began her career as a music journalist over a decade ago, writing for her websites "Stars In My Eyes:the Girlhowdy Website" and "La Raza Rock!" and progressed to creating various fan sites on Yahoo, including the first for New Zealand singer/songwriter Tim Finn. From there, she became a free agent, arranging online interviews for Yahoo fan clubs with various music artists (Andy White, John Crawford, Debora Iyall, John Easdale, etc.). She also lent her support in creating and moderating a number of Yahoo fan clubs for various music artists from the 1990s-today. As a music journalist, Shirley Pena has contributed to a number of magazines (both hard copy and online), among them:Goldmine, American Songwriter, the Fresno Examiner, The Blacklisted Journalist and UK-based Keyboard Player (where she was a principal journalist). A self-confessed "fanatic" of 1960s "British Invasion" bands, Classic Rock and nostalgic "Old Hollywood ", she also keeps her finger on the pulse of current trends in music, with a keen eye for up and coming artists of special merit. Shirley Pena loves Los Angeles, and is thrilled to join the writing staff of The Los Angeles Beat!
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