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Felix J. Oinas: Heretics as Vampires and Demons in Russia



Heretics as Vampires and Demons in Russia
Author(s): Felix J. Oinas
Source: The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 22, No. 4, (Winter, 1978), pp. 433-441
Published by: American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages

In English, heretic (<Greek hairetikos "able to choose") means "a person who professes any heresy; especially, a church member who holds beliefs opposed to the official church doctrines."' The meaning of the word eretik, "heretic" in Russian is basically the same: "the follower of heresy, a person who deviatesf rom the dogmas of the predominatingc hurch."T he question regarding the Old Believers is not clear: some do and others do not include them as heretics.2P rimarilyi n the Russiann orth, "heretics"h ave developed into a heterogeneousg roup of sorcerers,w itches,a nd vampiresc alled eretik, eretnik, eretica, eretnica, erestun, and others. Zelenin includes heretics (eretnik)a mong sorcerers( Zauberer)a, nd remarkst hat they do not belong to evil forces and do not have tails.3
     In northern Russia and Siberia heretics appear after death as evil, blood-thirsty vampires. Efimenko defines the meaning of the word eretik current in the Senkursk district of Karelia as "a person who does not believe in God and who repudiates his laws, or who is not yet an Old Believer." He continues:
     There were such people, who roamed around at night in villages, captured people and ate them. The eretiki were not alive, but dead. Therefore, if they really got on the nerves of the people, the people gathered at the grave of the one who was known as a sorcerer during his lifetime, opened it up with stakes, took out the eretik who was lying with his face downwards, and burned him in a bonfire or pierced his back with an aspen stick.... The person-magician (kudesnik), wizard (znaxar') or harmer (poreelnik) - who was called a "sorcerer" (koldun) in his lifetime, would become an eretik after his death, if he walks around at night and begins to eat people, as it has been going on for centuries. (186-87.)
     This description shows that the eretiki appear as clear-cut vampires: sorcerers who become vampires after their deaths, devour human beings, and are destroyed by fire or stake.

     According to the Academy Dictionary, the term eretik means "heretic"; "teacher of heresy, who does not believe in the true God and does not follow the church customs and rites"; "one who is associated with the evil spirit; wizard, sorcerer"; and "the spirit of the dead sorcerer." In Siberia, eretik also denotes "vampire." The ideas of the eretik as a vampire are similar to those held in Senkursk: "Eretik ... a dead person who comes out of the grave ... [He] walked around as eretik, but they drove an aspen stick into him, then he stopped." According to the same source, the term eretik, eretnik is used widely in Russia, especially in the north, as a word of abuse.4 In the same function, it has also become known in Ludic and Vepsian.5
     Rybnikov presents a different type of heretic as a vampire (erestun) from Olonec:
     Evil sorcerers do not give peace to Christians even after their deaths and become erestuny (or xloptuny, kloxtuny, Soptuny); they seize the moment when a neighbor is near his death and, as soon as the soul has left the body, they enter the deceased. After that, unpleasant things happen to the family. There are erestuny who "transform themselves," i.e., acquire another person's face and endeavor to sneak into their own or into another family. Such an erestun lives, it seems, as is fitting for a good peasant, but soon people in the family or in the village begin to disappear one after another; the erestun devours them. In order to destroy the transformed sorcerer, it is necessary to take the whip used for a heavily loaded horse and give him a thorough thrashing. Then he will fall down and give up his ghost. In order to prevent him from coming to life in the grave, it is necessary to drive an aspen stake into his back between the shoulders.6
     According to this report, an ordinary person may become a vampire (erestun) if an evil sorcerer enters his body while he is dying. Similar beliefs are held by the South Slavs. According to the Bulgarians, "evil spirits enter into the bodies of villains, robbers, and in general people with depraved inclinations, and they become vampires."7 The Serbian vampire (vukodlak) is a person "who forty days after his death is entered by some kind of demonic spirit, who revives him."8 This revival among the South Slavs refers to the temporary animation of a dead vampire. The Olonecian erestun, on the other hand, is a living vampire who, outwardly a good peasant, pursues his vampiristic activity among the village people like a wolf in a sheepcote.
     The eretica (pl. ereticy), known in the Elatomsk district (east-central Russia), is a variegated figure. The following is part of a description given by Zvonkov:
     It is difficult to tell definitely who the ereticy actually are. According to the majority of accounts, they are women who have sold their souls to the devil during their lifetimes and are now [after their deaths] roaming the earth, turning people away from their genuine faith. In daytime they walk around as ugly old women in rags, by the evening they gather in "heathen" (poganyx) ravines, but at night they enter sunken graves and sleep in the coffins of the impious dead. Sunken graves are often to be found in our churchyards, and each of them is considered definitely to be the dwelling of an eretica. If you fall into such a grave up to your belt, you will wither, and if you accidentally see an eretica there, you will cease to live in this world .... 
     Ereticy walk around only in the spring and late fall. If they do not get into a grave, they go through the chimney to the bathhouse, loudly splash around, and jump and dance to the accompaniment of the devil. One such eretica will later give birth to the Antichrist.9
     Using this description as our guide, we have to agree with Zvonkov that it is difficult to define the ereticy precisely. Their figure is very complex. That they are basically sectarians is seen not only in their name which means "(female) heretic," but also in the fact they they are said to turn people away from their faith. However, ereticy have also acquired numerous traits from witches, as is evidenced by the selling of their souls to the devil, dancing to the devil's accompaniment in the bathhouse, and giving birth to the Antichrist. Gatherings in ravines for the evening and in cemeteries at night are very similar to the witches Sabbat in the West.
     Sleeping in sunken graves and in the coffins of the impious dead tends to link ereticy with a special type of the dead - vampires. The fatal consequences of falling into such a grave or seeing an eretica there (his withering or even dying) is clearly vampiristic. This vampirism appears graphically in an episode further related by Zvonkov:
I was told in Temirev that a peasant's daughter died; he [the peasant] invited his godfather to his house, treated him with food and drink, and asked him to dig the grave. Being drunk, the godfather, who had taken a spade along, strolled directly to the cemetery. He found a sunken grave, descended into it, and began to dig. The spade hit a coffin, and, all of a sudden, through a rotten branch he saw the eye of an eretica. The peasant jumped out quickly and ran home without looking back. When he arrived, he climbed onto the stove, but the eretica was lying there and looking at him with the same evil eye. The man ran to the yard and then to the manger, but the accursed eretica had anticipated him: she was lying in the manger, shaking with demonic laughter. From that time on the godfather began to wither and wither. They held services to Zosima and Savvatij, sprinkled him with holy water, but whatever they did, nothing helped, and the godfather died. (78.)
     In this description, special attention should be given to the detail concerning the eye of the eretica. In Russia and Germany there is a belief that the open eyes of a corpse can draw someone into the grave (Afanas'ev, 162-63). For this reason, the eyes of the deceased are closed at the time of death. The Kashubs believe that when a vampire (vieszcy) dies, his left eye remains open (Afanas'ev, 162-63). Zvonkov's story is an indication that the Russians, like the Kashubs, were familiar with the tradition of the vampire's open eye. According to the Gypsies of Yugoslavia, some parts of the human body, such as the eye, can become vampires.10 The godfather is constantly followed by the eye of the eretica in the story recorded by Zvonkov. Here the eye seems to function as a full-fledged vampire which draws out the godfather's life substance and causes him to wither away.
     While the eye of this eretica is clearly vampiristic, other traits, such as her anticipation of the godfather's movements day and night and her demonic laughter, are not. Laughter is typical of numerous spirits, for instance, water and forest spirits, but we have not come across laughter as typical of vampires.
     To summarize: the examples given here of "heretics" (eretik, eretnik, erestun, eretica) show that the basic meaning of the terms as "the follower of heresy, one who deviates from the dogmas of the Orthodox church" has generally been retained. The term "heretic" has acquired a strongly negative connotation as "a person engaged in black magic, witch, sorcerer, wizard," and is used as a word of abuse. The same term with its different variants has also come to denote various types of vampires: eretik - the deceased who comes out of the grave and eats people; erestun - a living vampire, revived by a sorcerer who has penetrated a person's body at the moment of his death; and eretica - whose eye functions as a full-fledged vampire. The means for destroying heretic-vampires are burning and staking, and, in the case of the erestun, flogging. The heretic as a vampire appears primarily in the Russian north, in Siberia, and in some parts of central Russia.
     The heretic (eretik) denoting "vampire" and a word of abuse appears in Russian literature as well. In Culkov's The Mocker or Slavic Tales (PeresmeSnik ili slavenskie skazki, 1766-68), a rich peasant, a practitioner of black magic, immediately after his death picks a fight with a dog next to his coffin. The priest at first refuses to bury him and to read the burial service "over such an heretic (eretik), who has the devil within him." After he is finally buried, the corpse does not stay in the grave at night, but strolls about the village, seizes people by the back of their heads, throws them out of windows, and drags them by their beards along the street. People leave the village. They dare to return only after a hunter has killed the corpse with a hatchet."I
     The corpse's behavior in this story is not strictly that of a vampire. Like a vampire, he comes out of the grave at night, roams about the village, and catches people. However, he does not eat them, as the Russian hereticvampire does, but abuses and harms them. It is obvious that this modified figure of the vampire is the fruit of Culkov's own fantasy.
     Zelenin suggests that "the idea of the bloodthirsty vampire has penetrated only to the Ukraine and Belorussia (Ukr. upfr; BR vupor) from Western Europe; it is not known to the Great Russians. This idea quickly became familiar here, since it has much in common with the indigenous cult of the unclean dead." (393.) Zelenin's position is not tenable. The vampire has deep roots in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans (Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania), Poland, and among the Kashubs. In the European south the image of the vampire has become almost completely mixed with that of the werewolf, which indicates the great age of this tradition.12 Among the East Slavs, in addition to the Ukrainians and Belorussians, beliefs in the vampire are well-documented among the early Russians. The term "vampire" appears as the name of a Novgorodain prince (Upir' Lixyj) as early as 1047, and resurfaces as a peasant's name (Makarenko Upir') in Novgorod in 1495. This term has also been recorded in western Russia as both personal and place names (Klim" Upir", Upiry, Upirow). The previous existence in Russia of a vampire cult is also illustrated by the fight clerics waged in encyclicals against sacrifices to vampires.13 We have to agree with Tokarev, who states that "the very belief in 'a living dead,' who brings harm to people, existed among all the East Slavs as well as among other peoples."14
     The term upyr', "vampire," has been unknown among the Great Russians during the past few centuries (Tokarev, 41). How are we to explain the curious fact of the existence of the notion of "vampire" among them, and the lack of a special term for it? Our position is that the beliefs pertaining to vampiresw ere transferredt o hereticsa nd the term "heretic"w as extended to also include vampire. As a result, the term upyr' faded away in the sixteenth-seventeenthce nturies.
     The transfer of the notion of vampires to heretics is connected with the extreme cruelty with which the heretics were persecuted in Russia. Hosch writes:
     Russland lebt in der Erinnerung der Nachwelt als Hort einer unbeugsamen und unnachgiebigenO rthodoxief ort, die QuirinusK uhlmann,d en ProtopopenA vvakuma nd eine grosse Zahl Ungenanntera uf die Scheiterhaufensc hickteu nd jede Regungv on Heterodoxie mit brutalen Verfolgungsmassnahmenzu, denen der Staat durch die Jahrhundertes einen starkenA rm lieh, unnachsichtiga usrottenl iess.15
     Since the "heresyt heology"( Ketzertheologiew) as discusseda nd disputedi n the inner circles of the church, the common people were not aware of the theoretical basis of the struggle of Orthodoxy against heresy. They could only witness the hysterical campaign waged against the heretics, their brutal imprisonments and executions. The joining of the ecclesiastical and worldly powers, including the grand princes (later czars), into this drive and the fanfare with which it was done, must have led the people to believe in the extreme danger constituted by the heretics. This danger could have been no less than the greatest sins imaginable - killing of Christians, drinking their blood and eating their flesh - just as the vampires were believed to do.
     In the confusion between the vampires and the heretics, an additional fact should also be considered:t he possibility of the incorruptibilityo f the bodies of both. Some scholars argue that the views of the Roman and Byzantine churches concerning the religious relics were different. If the flesh of relics was found intact, this, in Rome's view, was a sign of sanctity. But, these scholars claim, Byzantium believed the opposite: "the refusal of the flesh to rot was a certain sign of heresy.. ."16 Following this trend of thought, the heretics shared with vampires the quality of undecomposed
flesh, which could have facilitated the transfer of other vampiristic qualities to them as well. In the heretics' garb and under their name, the vampire has continued to live vigorously in the Russian north.
     A parallel can be found on the Greek island of Crete, where the Saracens became demons. Clad in iron, these demons ride wild and ironclad horses and drag heavy chains behind them, frightening people. During the summer and at noon they are seen exhibiting their immense wealth in the sunshine. The demonization of the Saracens in Crete has its origin in the period 826-961, when the island was under the domination of the Saracens, whose religion differed from the Greeks' and who oppressed the Cretans terribly. The demonization process was reinforced by the pirates (also called "Saracens"), who for centuries afterwards raided Crete and neighboring areas. Imellos suggests that the term "Saracen" as the name of demons was substituted in Crete for an original Greek name - a development that parallels the substitution in Russia of such terms as eretik and erestun for the originalu pyr''.
     The term inovercy( "adherentso f differentf aith, creed")h as been used in Russia rather loosely. It denotes those who profess some faith other than Russian Orthodoxy, and such sectarians as Old Believers and Flagellants. Both of these groupsw ere stronglyd iscriminateda gainsta nd, especiallyt he sectarians,w erep ersecutedb y the government.W hent he inovercyd ied, they were identified with the "unclean" dead (zaloznye pokojniki). As such, they were not buried in cemeteries, but were left or thrown into the so-called ubogie doma - special shacks with a large hole in them, or just plain holes made for collecting the "unclean" dead. Their funeral took place only after Semik - the seventh Thursday after Easter. Discarding the corpses in the ubogie doma was forbidden in 1771, but people continued the practice for a long time.
     This method of disposingo f the inovercyh as left its tracesi n the beliefs connectedw ith them. Zelenin states that in popularb eliefs the inovercya re similar to the "unclean" dead. They died without confession, that is, in sin. Since they did not believe in the true God (in the Orthodox view), it is possible that they had served the Devil and were, consequently, sorcerers. It was felt that therew as somethingu ncannya bout the inovercya, nd this sentiment was extended to the places where they were buried. In Nizgorod province, therew as an old cemeteryc alled Mordovskajgao ra (MordvinH ill or Mountain), which had a very bad reputation: "God help you not to be late here or stay overnight. Surely some evil spirit will frighten you, will turn you away from the road, will lead you into a ravine, break your carriage, or something similar. All this was obviously ascribed to the heathen Mordvins who were buried there."18
     Occasionally the deceased inovercy were considered to have caused prolonged droughts, as the "unclean" dead did. In order to bring rain, their graves were opened and the corpses were abused. A leader of the sect of Flagellants, Samborov, was buried with his adherents on Sionsk Mountain (in the Saratov province) in the seventeenth century. During a drought it was decided to exhume his body and throw it into the Volga River. They found, however, only a deep hole where the grave had been - so deep that even the longest rope could not reach the bottom. There was no trace of Samborov - he had vanished into the inferno. It was said that at night black dogs ran barking out of Samborov's grave. In the Tarascansk district, the grave of an Old Believer was opened in 1868, since he also was considered to be the cause of a drought. The people beat the skull of the corpse while repeating "Give rain!" and poured water on it from a sieve. Afterwards they laid the corpse back into the grave. (Zelenin, Ocerki russkoj mifologii, I, 70, 80.)
     In Olonec it was believed that poluviricy (poluvericy), literally "halfbelievers," lived in the forest. The Brothers Sokolov reported that they were evil beings who professed both the Orthodox and, at the same time, the Devil's creed. A poluvirica was naked. She had a long face, long hanging breasts and three braids of hair on her back; she walked with a child in her arms. It was said that a poluvirica had been killed by an old woman who was very bold - she was not even afraid of rapacious beasts or devils. According to a fabulate (byval'sina), a poluvirica, referred to as a she-devil (certovka), had the habit of coming to a peasant's hut in the wilderness at dinner time, after the men had gone to bed. Once when she came - naked, with loosened hair, and a child in her arms-she sat upon the range that the men had heated. She burned her buttocks, and never came again.19 Zelenin lists poluvericy as "petty forest spirits" (kleine Waldgeister) (Russische (ostslavische) Volkskunde, 389).
     The term poluviricy, poluvericy, denoting a kind of female forest spirit, is no doubt identical with poluvericy, used in Pskov and Vitebsk provinces for denoting half-Russified Estonians and Latvians.20 Similar terms, poluvertsiki or poluverniki (Estonian poluvertsikud, poluvernikud), are also used for the Russians in East Estonia-in Rapina, Mustvee, and Alutaguse (northeast Estonia). The majority of these Russians fled to Estonia from Russia in the seventeenth century to escape persecution by the czarist government; some of them had gone there earlier. The faith of the poluvertsiki is a combination of Greek Orthodoxy, beliefs of the sectarians (especially the Old Believers), and Evangelical Lutheranism.2' The term "half-believer" shows that only a part of their creed (the Orthodox) is recognized as the real creed, whereas the other ingredients are considered heretical.
    The religious ideas and practices of the heretics-sectarians differed from those of the majority of the people. This, coupled with the most vigorous persecution by the church and government and the tremendous zeal with which the sectarians themselves pursued their cause, made them highly suspicious in the eyes of the Orthodox and led to their identification with vampires and evil spirits.

NOTES
1 Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (Cleveland and New York: The World Publ. Co. 1964), 679.
2 Bol'saja sovetskaja entsiklopedija, 2nd. ed. (51 Vols.; n.p.: Gos. naucnoe izd., 1949-58), XV, 528. The term "heretic" has also been used in Russia by certain religious groups, primarilyt he Old Believers,t o designatea ll those who do not belong to them. See P. S. Efimenko, Materialy po etnografii russkogo naselenija Arxangel 'skoj gubernii (2 vols.; M., 1877), I, 106, 186.
3 Dmitrij Zelenin, Russische (ostslavische) Volkskunde (Berlin and Leipzing: Walter de Gruyter, 1927), 395.
4 Slovar'r usskogojazyka(9 vols.;S Pb.:I mp.A k. nauk, 1891-1930)I,I /1, 123, 126.
5 Lauri Posti, "Kerettilainen," in Kielenja kulttuurin kentalta: Professori Igor Vahrokselle hanen tayttiessiin 60 vuotta, vuotta, ed. Lauri Posti et al (Neuvostoliittoinstituutin Vuosikirja, 25; Helsinki, 1977), 137.
6 Pesni, sobrannyeP . N. Rybnikovym(3 vols.; M.: Sotrudnikg kol, 1910), III, 189-90.
7 A. N. Afanas' ev, "PoeticV iewso f the Slavs RegardingN ature,"i n Vampireos f the Slavs,
ed. Jan L. Perkowski (Cambridge, Mass.: Slavica, 1976), 161.
8 Vuk Stef. Karadji6S, rpskir jecnik( BelgradeS: tamparijaK raljevineJ ugoslavije1, 935),8 2.
9 A. Zvonkov," Ocerkv erovanijk rest'janE latomskogou ezda,"E tnograficeskooeb ozrenie,
1889, kn. 2, 77-78.
10 T. P. Vukanovi6," The Vampire,"i n Vampireso f the Slavs, 207.
11 A. V. Zapadova nd G. P. Makogonenkoe, ds., Russkajap rozaX VIIIv eka( M.-L.:G IXL, 1950), 99-100.
12 See for exampleM ontagueS ummers,T he Werewol(fL ondon:K . Paul,T rench,T rubner, 1933), 15.
13 KazimierzM oszyfiski," Slavic Folk Culture,"i n Vampireso f the Slavs, 185.
14 S. A. Tokarev, Religioznye verovanija vostocnoslavjanskix narodov (M.-L.: AN SSSR, 1957), 42.
15 Edgar Ho6sch, Orthodoxie und Haresie im alten Russland (Schriften zur Geistesgeschichte des 6stlichen Europa, 7; Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1975), 12.
16 Paul Johnson,A Historyo f Christianity(N ew York: Atheneum,1 976), 165. And Ernest Jones, On the Nightmare (New York: Liveright, 1971), 103-4, writes: ". . . the Greek Orthodox Church - it is said in a spirit of opposition to the Roman Catholic pronouncement that the bodieso f saintsd o not decompose- supportedt he dogma( sic) that it is the bodies of wicked,u nholy, and especiallye xcommunicatedp ersonsw hich do not decompose.
Just as the Roman Catholic Church taught that heretics could be turned into Werewolves, the Greek Orthodox Church taught that heretics became Vampires after death."S ome scholars,o n the contrary,c laim that the non-corruptiono f the flesh is, according to the teachings of the Eastern Church, a sign of the process of Deification. See Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London: J. Clarke, 1957), 222-25, 104, and Arthur Stanley, Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church (New York: Charles Scribner, 1862), 382. Professor Georges Florovsky informs me that the views of the scholarsc oncerningt he incorruptibilityo f the corpsea re contradictorya nd that in this questiont herea re "no unifiedp racticesa nd no commoni nterpretation"(personal communication on 4 March 1978).
17 Steph. D. Imellos, "E demonopoiesis t6n sarakenon en Krete," Anatypon ek tes Epeteridost ou KentrouE reynesE llenikesL aographiasV, ol. K'-Kd (Athens, 1969).
18 Dmitrij Zelenin, Ocerki russkoj mifologii, I: Umersie neestestvennoj smert 'ju i rusalki (PetrogradA: . V. Orlov, 1916),7 6, 293. A forcedc onversiono f the Mordvinsb egano nly in the sixteenth century.
19 Boris and Jurij Sokolov, Skazki ipesni Belozerskogo kraja (M.: Imp. ak. nauk, 1915), xlii, 72.
20 Vladmir Dal', Tolkovyj slovar' zivogo velikorusskogo jazyka (4 vols.; SPb.-M.: M. O.
Vol'f, 1903-09), 677.
21 Ju. Trusman, "Poluvericy," ?ivaja starina, I (1890), 35 ff.; Otu Liiv, Vene asustusest Alutagusel kuni XVIII sajandi esimese veerandini (Tartu: Loodus, 1928), 35-36, 68-69.

Heretics as Vampires and Demons in Russia
Author(s): Felix J. Oinas
Source: The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 22, No. 4, (Winter, 1978), pp. 433-441
Published by: American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages

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