Excerpts on Bulgarian Vampire Folklore Belief

from “Bulgarian Superstitions,” Twelve Years’ Study of the Eastern Question in Bulgaria London: Chapman and Hall, 1877 pp. 29-33 and 52-53

pg. 29

By far the most curious superstition in Bulgaria is that of the Vampire, * a tradition which is common to all countries of Slavonic origin, but is now to be found in its original loathsomeness only in these provinces. In Dalmatia and Albania, whence the knowledge of this superstition was first imported into Europe, and which were consequently, though wrongly, considered as its mother-countries, the vampire has been disfigured by poetical embellishments, and has become a mere theatrical being–tricked out in all the tinsel of modern fancy. The Dalmatian youth who, after confessing himself and receiving the Holy Communion as if in preparation for death, plunges a consecrated poniard into the heart of the vampire slumbering in his tomb; and the supernaturally beautiful vampire himself, who sucks the life-blood of sleeping maidens, has never been imagined by the people, but fabricated, or at least dressed up, by romancers of the sensational school.

When that factitious poetry, born from the ashes of a people whose nationality is extinct, and from which civilization has reaped its harvest, replaces the harsh, severe, even terrible poetry which is the offspring of the uncultivated courage or fear of a young and vigorous humanity, legendary lore becomes weak, doubtful, and theatrical. Thus, as in a ballad said to be antique, we recognise a forgery by the smoothness of its rhythm and the nicety of its rhyme; so, when the superstitions of a people naturally uneducated and savage are distinguished by traits of religion or of sentiment, we trace the defacing hand of the Church or the poet.

In Dalmatia the vampire is now no more than a shadow, in which no one believes, or at best in which people pretend to believe; just as a London Scottish volunteer will assure you of his firm faith in the Kelpie and Brounie of Sir Walter Scott, or will endeavor to convince you that he wears a kilt from choice and not for effect. Between the conventional vampire and the true horror of Slavonic superstition there is as much difference as

* 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 Romaic.

pg. 30

between the Highland chief who kicked away the ball of snow from under his son’s head, reproaching him with southron effeminacy in needing the luxury of a pillow, and the kilted cockney sportsman who shoots down tame deer in an enclosure.

In Poland the Roman Catholic clergy have laid hold upon this superstition as a means of making war upon the great enemy of the Church, and there the vampire is merely a corpse possessed by the Evil Spirit, and no longer the true vampire of the ancient Slavonians. In Bulgaria we find the brute in its original and disgusting form; it is no longer a dead body possessed by a demon, but a soul in revolt against the inevitable principle of corporeal death; the Dalmatian poniard, blessed upon the altar, is powerless here, and its substitute is an Ilatch (literally, medicine) administered by the witch or some other wise woman, who detects a vampire by the hole in his tombstone or the hearth which covers him, and stuffs it up with human excrement (his favorite food) mixed with poisonous herbs.

We will now give the unadulterated Bulgarian superstition, merely prefacing that we ought to be well acquainted with it, inasmuch as a servant of ours is the son of a noted vampire, and is doing penance during this present Lent by neither smoking, nor drinking wine or spirits, in order to expiate the sins of his father and to prevent himself inheriting the propensity.

When a man who has vampire blood in his veins–for this condition is not only epidemic and endemic, but hereditary–or who is otherwise predisposed to become a vampire, * dies, nine days after his burial he returns to upper earth in an aëriform shape. The presence of the vampire in this his first condition may easily be discerned in the dark by a succession of sparks like those from a flint and steel; in the light, by a shadow projected upon a wall, and varying in density according to the age of the vampire in his career. In this stage he is comparatively harmless, and is only able to play the practical jokes of the German Kobold and Gnome, of the Irish Phooka, or the English Puck; ** he roars

* As when a man is strangled by one of these beings.
** He only resembles these beings in their misdeeds; unlike them, he never does a good turn to anybody.

pg. 31

in a terrible voice, or amuses himself by calling out the inhabitants of a cottage by the most endearing terms, and then beating them black and blue.

The father of our servant Theodore was a vampire of this class. * One night he was seized by the waist (for vampires are capable of exercising considerable physical force) Kodja Keraz, the Pehlivan, or champion wrestler, of Derekuoi, crying out, “Now then, old Cherry Tree, see if you can throw me.” The village champion put forth all his strength, but the vampire was so heavy that Kodja Keraz broke his own jaw in throwing the invisible being who was crushing him to death. **

At the time of this occurrence, five years ago, our village was so infested by vampires that the inhabitants were forced to assemble together in two or three houses, to burn candles all night, and to watch by turns, in order to avoid the assaults of the Obours, who lit up the streets with their sparkles, and of whom the most enterprising threw their shadows on the walls of the

* Poor Theodore is head over ears in love with Miss Tuturitza, the young lady next door, who fully reciprocates his affection, but her parents refuse to sanction the marriage, on account of the vampire father.

Since then, Master Theodore got himself into trouble by running away with Tuturitza’s sister, Marynka. As the story depicts the manners of the Bulgarians, and the morality of the clergy, I am bound to relate it. After the elopement, Marynka’s house was burnt by the peasants, and she was pursued and put into prison, and only released, when, after delivery of the adulterous child, she had killed it, because, had her child lived, it would have become a vampire. The archbishop heard of all this, fined the couple £40, and forced them to marry in the interval. The husband of Marynka, a brigand, then in prison, was released, and so the woman had two husbands. It was however agreed that they should share the wife–such was the decision of the Ecclesiastical Court. Child-murder is not only a common practice, but one ordered by the clergy in the case of illegitimacy. The daughters of the priest of Bana had an “accident,” and the child would have been murdered, had I not told the priest that, if this crime was committed, I would see him duly hanged.

** Of course, sceptical persons may be found who would explain this story by the hypothesis of too much wine and a fall over a heap of stones; fortunately our village does not contain any such freethinkers, and old Cherry Tree will be happy to relate his tale, as we have given it, to any inquirer after truth. To prove its accuracy he can call many witnesses, who will swear to the fact of his jaw having been broken. Old Cherry Tree is alive still, and as great a reprobate in 1876 as he was in 1867.


pg. 32

room where the peasants were dying of fear; whilst others howled, shrieked, and swore outside the door, entered the abandoned houses, spat blood into the flour, turned everything topsy-turvy, and smeared the whole place, even the pictures of the saints, with cow-dung. Happily for Derekuoi, Vola’s mother, an old lady suspected of a turn for witchcraft, discovered the Ilatch we have already mentioned laid the troublesome and troubled spirits, and since then the village has been free from these unpleasant supernatural visitations.

When the Bulgarian vampire has finished a forty days’ apprenticeship to the realm of shadows, * he rises from his tomb in bodily form, and is able to pass himself off as a human being, living honestly and naturally. Thirty years since a stranger arrived in this village, established himself, and married a wife with whom he lived on very good terms, she making but one complaint, that her husband absented himself from the conjugal roof every night and all night. It was soon remarked that (although scavengers were, and are, utterly unknown in Bulgaria) a great deal of scavengers’ work was done at night by some unseen being, and that when one branch of this industry was exhausted, the dead horses and buffaloes which lay about the street were devoured by invisible teeth, much to the prejudice of the village dogs; then the mysterious mouth drained the blood of all cattle that happened to be in any way sickly. These occurrences, and the testimony of the wife, caused the stranger to be suspected of Vampirism; he was examined, found to have only one nostril,** and upon this irrefragable evidence was condemned to death. In executing this sentence, our villagers did not think it necessary to send for the priest, to confess themselves, or to take consecrated halters or daggers; they just tied their

* Since commencing this chapter, we have learned that the village of Dervishkuoi, six hours from here, is just now haunted by a vampire. He appears with a companion who was suppressed by means of the usual remedy, but this one seems to be proof against poison, and as he will shortly have completed his fortieth day as a shadow, the villagers are in terrible alarm lest he should appear as flesh and blood.

** A thoroughly Slavonic idea: in Poland the vampire is also supposed to have a sharp point at the end of his tongue, like the sting of a bee.


pg. 33

man hand and foot, led him to a hill a little outside Derekuoi, lit a big fire of wait-a-bit thorns, and burned him alive. *

There is yet another method of abolishing a vampire–that of bottling him. There are certain persons who make a profession of this; and their mode of procedure is as follows: The sorcerer, armed with a picture of some saint, lies in ambush until he sees the vampire pass, when he pursues him with his Eikon; the poor Obour takes refuge in a tree or on the roof of a house, but his persecutor follows him up with the talisman, driving him away from all shelter, in the direction of a bottle specially prepared, in which is placed some of the vampire’s favourite food. Having no other resource, he enters this prison, and is immediately fastened down with a cork, on the interior of which is a fragment of the Eikon. The bottle is then thrown into the fire, and the vampire disappears for ever. This method is curious, as showing the grossly material view of the soul taken by the Bulgarians, who imagine that it is a sort of chemical compound, destructible by heat (like sulphuretted hydrogen), in the same manner that they suppose the souls of the dead to have appetites, and to feed after the manner of living beings “in the place where they are.”**

To finish the story of the Bulgarian vampire, we have merely to state that here he does not seem to have that peculiar appetite for human blood which is generally supposed to form his distinguishing and most terrible characteristic, only requiring it when his resources of coarser food are exhausted.

* Burning alive is essentially a Bulgarian process. When they have a chance of doing so, murdered people are generally burned.

** They are “idjyn” or tellistim–Turkish superstitions. The “idjyn” is known to those who have studied the Koran. The tellistim is a spirit created by the act of building or making. Thus, cutting down a tree to make it into planks, and then into a table; first you deprive the tree of life, and then, when you make a table, you give it a soul. Every building–palace or ship–has a soul, a tellistim, which is of good or bad disposition according to the shadow which falls upon the foundation-stone. A lamb is sacrificed in order that the tellistim of the new building might be meek in disposition. A stingy Bulgarian having sacrificed a kid instead of a lamb, produced a jumping tellistim, which smashed all in the house, which became uninhabitable. The house is for sale in Misivri at this moment.


pg. 52

Of course, if death occur during the night, burial is put off until dawn; but owing to the terribly hasty plan of interring before the body is cold, premature burial must be frightfully common. Two instances have occurred, in which we were as sure as (not being medical men) we could well be, that the supposed dead men were merely in a state of trance or lethargy, and did all in our power to stop the burial, but in vain. Some years since a man contrived to rise from his shallow grave, came back to his home, and gave his wife a tremendous beating to prove his identity, and to punish her for being in such a hurry to get rid of him. But a few months afterwards he died again, and that time his disconsolate widow took precautions which prevented him ever reappearing to trouble her again. This precaution now is to drive a nail under the left arm-pit into the heart. To this premature burial I attribute the appearance of vampires. In the village of Enekli the child of a woman died, or rather fainted, and of course was immediately buried. Shortly afterwards the mother went to the fountain, which is close to the burying ground; in passing by this she heard moans

pg. 53

issuing from the fresh grave of her child; she then disinterred it and found it to be alive, took it home, and brought it to health secretly. About that time some of the villagers saw the child, the council was assembled, and the child was condemned to death as a vampire. The sentence was executed in this most cruel way: the mother was held down by four or five old women, but so as to be able to see the torture of her child–this being deemed necessary to exorcise the vampire. The child was then killed according to the following process: one woman held the poor little thing’s hands and another the feet, and a third ran it through the abdomen with a bit of thin pointed wood. The person who stuck the child, in relating to me this murder as an act of virtue, said that she had rarely had such bother with a vampire before–it took a full quarter of an hour to kill it, and its screams were most dreadful. The woman who killed the child is still alive, and can be brought to court, if needed.–St. Clair.