So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vampires in the Carpathians

Vampires in the Carpathians by Petr Bogatyrev

This book was originally published in French in 1929 with a title that translates as: Magical Acts, Rites, and Beliefs in Subcarpathian Rus'. The title Vampires in the Carpathians was added for this 1998 English translation and is really misleading. The last two chapters: "Funerals" and "Apparitions and Supernatural Beings" do make passing references to vampires, but focus mostly on other spirits. So if you are looking for a book on vampires, look elsewhere. What little is said about vampires will be only of interest to the serious scholar who needs to know every possible reference in the literature. The original title, which is the current subtitle, is a much more accurate description of what this book is about. However, Bogatyrev spends over 35 pages talking about his research methodology which he calls the synchronic method. Unless this is what you really want to learn about, I advise you skip the Introduction and Conclusion. His methodology is that he tells us what the ritual means to the people performing it at that time. He does not try to draw inferences back in time or determine origins. He just "tells it like it is" or, in this case, as it was back in the 1920's. What results is very unsatisfying. He tells you a ritual and what it means in village X, then tells you that in village Y they do the same thing, but have no idea why. Then, he relates that in village Z they don't do this at all. He goes through the whole religious calendar relating quaint old customs attached to each religious holiday, then does the same for rituals attached to births, weddings and funerals. We owe this author a debt of gratitude for documenting this snapshot of Carpathian village life. English-speaking folklore scholars will be glad to have access to this work and Americans of Rusyn descent may finally understand what crazy rituals and customs drove their grandparents to leave this rustic corner of Central Europe for the USA and Canada. On the plus side, this is an excellent translation and the biography of Bogatyrev is engaging. Not for any but the most dedicated readers.

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