The Scholomance

Habsburg military map, with the location of Iezerul Mare, underneath the peak of the  Cindrel
Habsburg military map, with the location of Iezerul Mare, underneath the peak of the Cindrel

The Scholomance stands for a mythical school where the Devil himself would teach the Dark Arts to a selected number of pupils. According to folklore, only ten disciples were admitted; one of them would be claimed by Satan to be his assistant and ride the dragon that ruled the weather.

 

Stoker copied this tale from Emily Gerard, an English author who travelled Transylvania and reported on such superstitions in an article in The Nineteenth Century:

 

"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

 

A small lake, immeasurably deep, lying high up among the mountains to the south of Hermanstadt, is supposed to be the cauldron where is brewed the thunder, and in fair weather the dragon sleeps beneath the waters. Roumenian peasants anxiously warn the traveller to beware of throwing a stone into this lake lest it should wake the dragon and provoke a thunderstorm. It is, however, no mere superstition that in summer there occur almost daily thunderstorms at this spot, about the hour of midday, and numerous cairns of stones round the shores attest the fact that many people have here foundtheir death by lightning. On this account the place is shunned, and no Roumenians will venture to rest here at the hour of noon."

In his Dracula novel, Stoker made use of Gerard's story and even copied her spelling error "Hermanstadt." Van Helsing states:

 

"The Draculas were, says Arminius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by their coevals to have 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."

 

Alas, neither modern nor old maps show us a lake by this name. McNally and Florescu  proposed Salomon's Rock, but this is a a site near the city of Brașov, far away from Hermannstadt. In his New Annotated Dracula (2008), Leslie Klinger pointed his reader to Bălea Lake, in the mountains south-east of Hermannstadt. But instead of dabbling in Romanian folklore, we better should consult Gerard's text. Admittedly, her article in The Nineteenth Century does not help us much, but in in Chapter 51 of her book The Land Beyond the Forest, we can read that she actually visited Bălea Lake—without menthoning any mythical connection. In Chapter 55, as I discovered, she describied a trip she planned to make to the place where the Scholomance myth originated. Here we find the strange water, which she describes as "Jaeser See":

 

"As on the second morning the rain had stopped, we thought we might venture to proceed on ourway, the next station we had in view being the Jaeser See, a mysterious lake lying high up in the hills, of which many strange tales are told. This Meeresauge (eye of the sea, as all such high mountain-lakes are called by the people) is the source of the river Cibin, and believed by the country folk to be directly connected with the ocean by subterraneous openings. The bones of drowned seamen and spars from wrecked ships are said to have been there washed ashore ; and popular superstition warns the stranger not to presume to throw a stone into its gloomy depths, as a terrible thunderstorm would be the inevitable result of such sacrilege. According to some people, the Jaeser See would be no other than the devil's own caldron, in which he brews the weather, and where a dragon sleeps coiled up beneath the surface."

 

Maddeningly, this "Jaeser See" could not be spotted on the maps of Gerard's time either—for good reason, as I found out later: in Romanian language, the word "jaeser" or "jezer" simply means a lake high up in the mountains, especially a gletscher lake; Gerard must have mixed up the general term with the name of the place she wanted to visit.

 

As bad weather forced her to break off her foot trip, she never arrived at the "Devil's Cauldron." By studying old military maps produced by the Habsburg regime, however, I was able to reconstruct her steps. Her route unmistakenly led to the Cindrel Mountains. Just below the peak of Mount Cindrel, I found a small gletscher lake, around 2,000 m over sea level: Iezerul Mare. When I approached it, after a 4 hour foot march through the mountains, my guide warned me not to throw anything into the water: it might wake up the dragon that sleeps under the lake's surface and so provoke a dangerous storm. As I had not told him anything about the tale reported by Gerard, this confirmed that I had found the place of the mythical Scholomance.

 

Maybe needless to say that Iezerul Mare indeed is fed by subterraneous springs, and that the River Cibin has its origin here: the constantly overflowing water finds its way across the border of the lake, as I was able to witness with my own eyes. Last but not least, the warning for lightning also had its basis in reality: hardly had we reached the lake, the sky grew dark and we heard a distant rumble. Just four weeks before my expedition, a German tourist had been killed by a thunderbolt on a peak nearby.

 

READ MORE:

  • "Fact & Fiction in Bram Stoker’s Dracula—Time for a New Paradigm." Special 2013 Christmas issue of Letter from Castle Dracula, the official news bulletin of The Transylvanian Society of Dracula, pages 2-5. Published on 22 December 2013.
  • "Dracula’s Truth Claim and its Consequences." Journal of Dracula Studies, ISSN 11492-708X. Volume 16 (2014), pages 53-80. Published in October 2014.