Sacrifice, scapegoat, vampire: the social and religious origins of the Bulgarian folkloric vampire

McClelland, Bruce Alexander, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia
Perkowski, Jan Louis, As-Slavic Languages & Lit, University of Virginia
Kononenko, Natalie, As-Slavic Languages & Lit, University of Virginia
Herman, David, As-Slavic Languages & Lit, University of Virginia
Turner, Edie, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

Vampire narratives known in the West from literature and film derive many characteristics from folklore of the Balkan and Carpathian regions of Eastern Europe. It is generally agreed that the folkloric vampire is of Slavic origin, and that the Slavic term vampir gained currency in the First Bulgarian Empire around the tenth century. However, clues in the folklore and the historical record suggest that the vampire was not originally a demonic person who returned from the dead. The dissertation thus seeks to answer the question of what the term 'vampire' may have meant in the Balkan Middle Ages.

Contemporary notions of the vampire are expressions of social and religious conflicts that first arose during a period of intense effort to convert the inhabitants of the Balkans to Orthodox Christianity. Bulgarian folklore about vampires and similar demons is highly ritualistic, involving actions, gestures, and objects that reveal, when viewed in the light of Slavic history and Balkan ethnography, a high degree of religious syncretism. In particular, strong similarities exist between the details found in vampire lore and many pre- christian elements that survive in such Bulgarian customs as funeral rites and feasts known as kurbans, which are based upon animal sacrifice.

The first "vampires" may have been individuals who practiced blood sacrifice, despite open hostility to the practice expressed by the early Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Early Slavic writings by Christian apologists exhibit antipathy first toward sacrifice as a vestige of polytheism and paganism, and later toward the dualist heresies that became prevalent in the Balkans.

Starting with a catalogue of the salient features of vampire folklore, the roots of the folkloric symbolism are sought in the conflict between the Christians and the indigenous population who refused to give up the practice of sacrifice. The idea that the vampire in a Bulgarian agrarian village serves as a scapegoat for calamities or other events derives directly from an earlier social process, whereby pagans were marginalized for their refusal to renounce sacrifice. It is shown how the actions taken to destroy a vampire in fact constitute a form of both scapegoating and sacrifice.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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