Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Evil Dead

I recently mentioned poltergeists as one manifestation of revenants. Here is a description of the 'evil dead' from a paper on Possession phenomena, possession-systems. Some East-Central European examples by Éva Pócs published in Communicating with the Spirits edited by Gábor Klaniczay and Éva Pócs (Central European University Press, Budapest, 2005):

'When we talk about the aggression of the dead against humans naturally we are talking about the "evil" dead: the main form of this aggression is that the dead occupy a part of the human world and bring it under their evil influence. In Medieval Europe folk mythologies were still familiar with the dual nature of the dead: good and evil dead protecting (functioning as guardian spirits) and attacking humans, their own family and community. (---) The appearance of "evil dead" or of hostile ghosts as poltergeists, the abduction of the living during the time of the dead to earthly quasi-other-worlds are phenomena present in a rich cultural variety in contemporary Europe too. Possessing evil house-spirits may be for example the domovoi and kikimora known from modern Russian folk beliefs, and the Romanian moroi (we have similar data on the German goblin): these may appear as noisy ghosts, throwing about things or breaking objects, while the hordes of moroi may appear as havoc causing animals or as fighting cats. In general, however, the category of evil dead is a much broader one than that of the attacking house-spirit/ghost: since the Middle Ages all over Europe in the belief systems of most European peoples, the evil dead are repenting souls who have no status (are not baptized) or could not enter the other world or the purgatory. Such beings are the Hungarian gonoszak, rosszak (evil ones), the Eastern Hungarian and Romanian tisztátalanok (impure ones). According to belief legends, they visit the living especially between Christmas and Epiphany. Besides suspicious noises, clinking, other manifestatioins of the deathly condition replacing the earthly one can be observed when they appear: the force of gravitation is defied, furniture rises, objects fly, head-scarves unfold. Furthermore the spirits cause the illness and death of humans and animals, bother new mothers and steal newborn babies. They can appear as dead but in the form of living people (who bodily possess humans) as well as in animal shape.' (p. 94-5; I have omitted references)

Éva Pócs is Professor at the University of Pécs in Hungary specialising in folk religion, magic, verbal charms, witchcraft, European mythologies and shamanism.

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