Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead

By Krys, Svitlana | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead


Krys, Svitlana, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Bruce A. McClelland. Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2009 (© 2006). xviii, 260 pp. Index. Bibliography. Illustrations. Maps. $19.95, paper.

Bruce McClelland' s monograph, now published in paperback, is a fascinating read for both specialists and fans of vampire folklore and fiction alike. Following in the footsteps of Jan L. Perkowski, McClelland' s mentor and academic advisor, he turns our attention yet again to the Slavic vampire. McClelland traces the manner in which this folkloric entity, who historically never rose above any other Slavic mythological daemon or spirit, achieved such enormous mass appeal when transported to the West European and later North American literary and pop cultures, becoming probably the most exotic and alluring incarnation of evil today (p. 87). What makes McClelland' s monograph significantly different from the works of other vampirologists (such as Perkowski, whose omnibus Vampire Lore was published by Slavica in 2006) is the fact that he does not limit his interest to vampires alone, but considers the vampire slayer who, together with the concept of the vampire, "migrated" from Slavic into Germanic and later Romanic lands, where he finally received his embodiment as Abraham Van Helsing in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. McClelland argues quite persuasively that the slayer and the vampire, while presently situated far apart on the scale of good and evil, originally were not too different from each other. His research on South Slavic (especially Bulgarian) demonology shows that the vampire's mortal enemy may actually represent his mirror image because it possesses some of the vampire's typical characteristics and hence a capacity to become a vampire. McClelland further studies the vampire-slayer pair with regards to their shared connection to the world of the dead (p. 14) and, as a result, detects in them traces of an ancient shamanic figure (see pp. 6 and 120).

Slayers and Their Vampires consists of a preface, ten chapters and an appendix. The latter is devoted completely to the linguistic exploration of the etymology of the Old Slavic term vampir/upir', which first appeared in written form around the eleventh century. As McClelland' s analysis asserts, it was unlikely that it originally had any links to the supernatural realm. Rather the scholar sees in it a reference to pagan groups: "the word vampire was a pejorative name for a group or a member of a group whose rituals or behavior were offensive to early Orthodox Christians" (p. 191). The meaning of the term was later extended also to include members of various heretical sects and Jews - traditional enemies of the church (pp. 31, 34).

The appendix is also connected thematically with the historical chapters 3 and 4, both of which are linked by the subtitle "A Thousand Years of the Vampire." The two chapters investigate various processes out of which this Slavic folkloric entity emerged as well as the elements that over the years formed the underlying structure of the vampire motif. McClelland, for instance, notes that the blood sacrifice and feasting elements of Slavic paganism became ingrained into the concept of a vampire, hence the reference to blood drinking (pp. 36-41, 43, 64-66). Moreover, anathemas, which Orthodox theologians laid upon heretics and pagans over time, helped form the image of the vampire as an outsider, a cursed evil encroaching upon society (p. 49). Such a severe attack, exercised by the Church, led to the fact that the "unorthodox" behaviour and beliefs of the pagan groups, including heretic sects and Jews, were transferred from the sphere of something odd and "unnatural" to the sphere of "supernatural" (p. 5 1). Consequently, the meaning, associated with the term vampire, shifted "from a perverse violator of taboos (child sacrifice, incest) to a supernatural demon who rises from the dead and attacks the living and who tends to function as a scapegoat during inexplicable adversity" (p. …

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