Bulgarian vampires

Bulgarian beliefs concerning undead vampires are quite varied. Bulgarian names for an undead vampire include: Vampir, Vorkolak, Ouber, Ustrel, …

The pure Bulgarians call this being by the genuine Slavonic name of Upior;  the Gagaous (or Bulgarians of mixed race) by that of Obour which is Turkish; in Dalmatia it is known as Wrikodlaki, which appears to be merely a corruption of the Romain. It seems that the names vampir and obour as used in Bulgaria often mean the same thing.

In one account from Bulgaria translated and quoted in The Darkling by Jan Perkowski, the vorkolak is said to be the soul of an outlaw who perished in the mountains, or in the forest, or along a country road, and whose corpse is eaten by crows, wolves, or some other such scavengers. This soul cannot enter heaven or hell, and so it remains on earth. This vorkolak haunts the place where he was killed. At night, this spirit strangles and drinks the blood of anyone who comes by. The way to rid a place of a vorkolak, is to erect a cross, bless water, and hold a church service at the spot where the outlaw died.

In another account from Bulgaria quoted in the same book, a vampir is a corpse which returns from the grave. A person who died a violent, unnatural death or whose corpse was jumped over by a cat before burial becomes such an undead vampire. (This belief is found all over Eastern Europe where there is belief in undead vampires.) In a case mentioned in this report, a man became a vampir as the result of a fatal fall from a roof. The bones turn to gelatin at first and during the first forty days after burial he performs mischief such as releasing animals from their pens, scatters house hold items, and suffocates people. If not destroyed within the first forty days, the vampir develops a skeleton and becomes even more fierce. At least during the first forty days, the vampir can be destroyed by a Vampiridzhija (a professional vampire hunter) or devoured by a wolf. The report doesn’t make clear what it takes to destroy the vampire after he develops a skeleton.

Another example of Bulgarian beliefs about vampires is given in Twelve Years’ Study of the Eastern Question in Bulgaria by S. B. G. St. Clair and Charles A. Brophy (London: Chapman and Hall, 1877). Much of what the authors say about Bulgarian beliefs in vampires is given as an excerpt in the The Vampire in Europe by Montague Summers (originally published in 1929, last reprint: Random House, 1996). The name used for an undead vampire here is obour .

According to St. Clair and Brophy, the Bulgarians in the village that they themselves were then currently living in believed that nine days after a person predisposed to become an obour is buried, “he returns to upper earth in aeriform shape”, invisible except that in the dark he gives off sparks “like those from a flint and steel” and in the light he casts a shadow. His harm is confined to such activities as roaring out in a loud voice or calling out cottage dwellers in endearing terms and then beating them black and blue, and entering cottages to turn things topsy turvy like a poltergeist, spit blood on the floors, and smear cow dung everywhere.

But St. Clair and Brophy add that, after forty days from burial, the obour arises from the grave in bodily form and is able to pass himself off as an ordinary mortal human being “living naturally and honestly.” They give as an example what was alleged to have once happened in the village they themselves were living in. According to the tale, a stranger arrived in the village, established himself, and married a wife. The newly wed wife’s only complaint was that every night he stayed out until dawn. It was soon noticed that there were many dead horses and cattle about, partially eaten. This came to an end, but then cattle grew sick and died, and it was noticed that the blood had been drained out of them.

When the villagers learned from the stranger’s wife that he was always out all night, they suspected that he was a vampire responsible for the animal deaths. They examined him and found that he had only one true nostril – a sure sign that he was a vampire. So, they bound him, took him to a hill outside the village, made a big fire of thorn bushes, and burned him alive.

Later in their book, St. Clair and Brophy state that:

“Since commencing this chapter (III), we have learned that the village of Drvishkuoi, six hours from here in now haunted by a Vampire…he will have shortly have completed his fortieth day as a shadow, the villagers are in terrible alarm lest he appear as flesh and blood.”

St. Clair and Brophy also describe a procedure which professional vampire hunters used to destroy an obour who was still in the first stage of his life. First, they would put some of his “favorite food” (i.e., human excrement) in a bottle. Then they would chase the obour using a holy Orthodox Christian icon. And drive him towards the bottle. When the obour entered the bottle, they would promptly cork it. Then they would toss the bottle into a fire and the vampire was thus destroyed.

Another type of Bulgarian vampire, the ustrel is described in the original, unabridged Golden Bough by Sir James Fraser. Here, the ustrel is an infant who had been born on a Saturday and who had died before receiving baptism. Nine days after burial, the ustrel claws its way out of its grave. It then finds a herd of cattle to satisfy its thirst for blood. It then returns to its grave. But on the next day it returns to the herd and never returns to its grave. It then resides in the horns or a bull or the hind legs of a milk cow.

It feeds first on the fattest cattle and then works its way on down as the poor animals whither and die. The way to rid a herd of cattle of the ustrel is to perform the ritual of the need fire. On a Saturday morning, all the fires in the community are extinguished. Then two bone fires are created at a crossroads. The cattle are then led between the two fires. The ustrel drops onto the crossroads from the animal whose horns or hind legs it had inhabited when that animal passes between the two fires. The ustrel cannot leave the crossroad and is eventually devoured by wolves.

In his book I Searched for Death (John Long Ltd., 1940), Gordon Cooper describes a ceremony he witnessed in Razlog, Bulgaria called The Second Burial. This involved the reburial of the corpse of a man who had died five years previously during the time between Christmas and Epihany ( January 6) – the same period called Yule Tide and The Twelve Days of Christmas in England. Bulgarians called this time the Unclean Days and believed that the forces of evil hold sway over the world during this period. Any person who died during this time would become a vampire unless precautions were taken. In this case, the man, before he died, made his relatives swear that they would exhume and re-bury his body on the day of his patron saint on the fifth year after his first burial. This re-burial was what Cooper observed. It was a full-blown Eastern Orthodox funeral conducted by a priest. The relevant excerpt from Cooper’s book is reprinted in The Natural History of the Vampire by Anthony Masters (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972).

Bulgarians believed that a person sired by an undead male vampire had the power to see vampires invisible to others and was frequently employed as a vampire hunter. As in the case of the Gypsy and Serbian dhampir, this power was inherited by the person’s children, grand children, etc.