Vampire-imps and dangerous sociality in Mongolia.

This is a chötgör, as rendered by the Aga Buryat (Mongolia) shaman Yaruu. The chötgör are a general class of Mongolian demon/ghost/evil spirit/goblin, but among the Buryat the taken on a vampiric aspect, feeding on human labor, livestock, and eventually human flesh. They resemble people who”have been interred in the grave,” are skeletal (arag yas shig), have long nails, dishevelled hair, and eyes that are either missing or glow red. They are around 20 cm high and between 4 and 15 cm high, and tend to hide in closets, cupboards, milking pails, and hats. They raid pantries at night, consume a family’s herd animals, and “once a household’s livestock runs out, the imps go after human meat.” Those who were “unvirtuous” in life become imps:

at death, unvirtuous laypersons refuse to travel to the heavens and be reincarnated, preferring instead to devastate their families on earth with vampiric attacks. Since people in Bayandun hold that unvirtuous people come from unvirtuous families, they consider that entire lines of consanguineal kin are comprised of vampiric imps. Whole families of vampires may thus spring from one specific person, so that Buryat vampirism operates as a kind of ‘distributed personhood.’ Still, the numbers of Buryat vampires are limited, since the imps only cull from and propagate within their own consanguineal kin lines.

On the dangers of intimacy:

Shamans have regularly detected that spirit ancestors generate problems within the home (e.g. by harming their own descendants) when angry, whereas the spirits resolve those problems if appeased…similarly, vampiric imps instigate household problems in Bayandun. In contrast, shamans often manage interpersonal conflict by removing or returning curses or gossip with curse-like effects, which are propagated by other, local households…more generally, Buryants hold that any person, including a close kinsman, can be a potential suspect for one’s own problems, by propagating cursing, gossip with curse-like effects, or unvirtuous deeds that lead to vampirism. Thus, Buryat sociality in northern Mongolia has been described as ‘an almost magical danger rather than a productive possibility’ where ‘the only thing known for sure was that someone was not to be trusted.’

From Katherine Swancutt’s “The Undead Genealogy: Omnipresence, Spirit Perspectives, and a Case of Mongolian Vampirism” (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute v14n4, Dec 2008).

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