Thursday 21 November 2019


In Slavic culture a white horse was a sacred animal dedicated to the Sun God Svetovid. 

White horses were kept in Svetovid temples and used for divination. I talked about the white horse as a symbol of Svetovid, Slavic sun god in my post "Horseman". White horse was the symbol of the sky. 

Black horse was seen as the symbol of the underworld. What is interesting is that the underworld the domain of Dabog, Serbian supreme god, the main ancestral deity, to whom all the chthonic rituals were dedicated. The same god Dabog who was also Serbian Sun god. Paradoxical I know. I wrote about this in my post "Day star".

In the past in Serbia, if people suspected that someone from their village was a vampire, they would take a black foal to the graveyard, and let it wander among the graves. The grave by which it stopped was the vampire grave. 

Once the horse identified who the vampire was, the villagers would open the grave and stick hawthorn stake through the corpses heart into the ground below. This was done to "tie the body to the ground" 

From "Srpski Mitoloski Recnik - Grupa Autora"

Interestingly, in the past, in Serbia, a stake was used to mark every grave. Probably as magical way of insuring that dead don't turn into vampires. Or maybe... In old Serbian graveyards in villages Brestovac near Grocka and in Dobrača on mountain Rudnik, archaeologists have discovered remains of wooden stakes. There was always one stake per grave stuck at the head of the grave where today we find tombstones and crosses.

In the first half of the 20th century, in Serbian villages Zlokućan i Razgojna,  in Leskovac region, when the person was buried, a stake was stuck into the ground just below the feet to mark the grave. Probably because at that stage the stake which was normally stuck into the ground above the head was replaced with a cross or a tombstone. After the stake was stuck into the ground, the priest emptied the ash from his incense burner around the base of the stake... 

According to ethnographers, in this part of Serbia, stakes were eventually replaced with stone stake-like gravestones. Like these ones in this cemetery in Dići

These look very much like standing stones used for marking Bronze Age graves... 

Were standing stones originally wooden stakes? Or did wooden stakes used as grave markers develop from standing stones only for people to go back to standing stones of sort?

In the first half of the 20th century, in Bosnia a stretcher made from two stakes was used to take the body to the graveyard. After the body was buried, one stake was stuck into the ground above the head and one below the feet...

Among Serbs, the stake on the grave seemed to have represented the dead person lying in the grave. There is a belief in Serbia that if a dead man is taken out of the house he should never be brought back in. If that happens, then the house has to be "secured" using a "dead stake" which is stuck into the house floor...

This symbolic equating of the dead person lying in a grave and a stake stuck in the grave is found in the ancient Serbian cursing ceremony called "prokletija". In it a stake representing a unidentified or runaway perpetrator of a serious crime is cursed and then stoned until a cairn is created around the stake...

That this marking of graves with stakes is an ancient Serbian (Slavic?) custom, can be seen from the fact that in "The Life of Otto, Apostle of Pomerania, 1060-1139" the author Ebbo, talks about the funerary custom of Baltic Slavs (Sorbs) of marking graves with stakes:

 ...and that the Christian dead should not be buried
with the heathen in the woods or the fields, but
in cemeteries, as is the custom of all Christians ; that
they should not place sticks on their tombs, and
should abandon all pagan customs and depraved
practices ;...

In Serbia people believed that the body (flesh not bones) had to decompose within 3 years in order for the soul to reach the otherworld. If it did not, this was the sign that "the god didn't want this person's soul" because it was evil. Which is why these kind of dead turned into vampires. 

This is really interesting considering that it is completely the opposite from the Christian belief that it is the bodies of the holy men (and women) which don't decay. An "incorruptible" body of  Mary of Jesus de León y Delgado...

It is also very interesting that in Serbia vampire was a synonym for werewolf. 

Wolf was totem animal of the Serbs. Serbian Sun god Dabog was also known as Wolf shepherd. And Serbs believed that they turn into wolves when they die...I wrote about this in my post "Wolf feast".

In a view of that, how are we to understand all this?

1 comment:

  1. another interesting detail is a belief in certain parts of Serbia. A young male horse was used to discover vampire graves. They would lead him to the graveyard and where he dug with his hooves, the vampire was. Upon opening the grave to pierce the vampire, special care was paid to avoid a moth to escape. The moth could be related to the pagan Slavic belief in souls migrating into birds or insects?