Glasnik Etnografskog Instituta SANU (Jan 2016)

Water bulls of Balkan and other world’s traditions: Origins of conception

  • Trubarac-Matić Đorđina

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 64, no. 1
pp. 163 – 177


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The efforts to determine the origin of beliefs in the aquatic daimon called water bull (which are ethnographically attested in Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria), and for which there have not been found parallels in other Slavic traditions, led the scholarship to see it as a recidive from the Greco-Roman period. The two major hypotheses tried to link the stories about killing of the water bull with: 1) the Athenian bouphonia; 2) the mithraic scene of tauroctony. The paper discusses these hypotheses and their weaknesses, and proposes a new approach: shifting attention towards other worlds’ traditions in which the water bulls are attested - those of Yakuts, Mongols, Celts, Mapuche, Khoekhoe and San - with the aim to establish the level, and determine the type of the possible similarities between them. The results of the comparative analysis show a very high degree of overlapping of ideas - those that probably were parts of a pristine concept of a water bull. They concern: the appearance, habitat, characteristics, behavior, as well as a number of phenomena associated with water bulls (predictions, thunder, lightning, storm, medicine). This leads the author to conclude that the conception of the water bull is very archaic and probably originating from a same, although uncertain source, which cannot be explained by intercultural contacts. The beliefs and the religious and magical practice of the Khoisan show that water bulls operate functionally - with the fullness of their religious potential - in animistic type of religious traditions (where the origin of the concept should be looked for). This indicates that these animistic ideas might lie at the root of the bull-like features of the storm gods from the posterior polytheistic religions. Further investigation in this direction is proposed. [Projekat Ministarstva nauke Republike Srbije, br. 47016: Interdisciplinarno istraživanje kulturnog i jezičkog nasleđa Srbije. Izrada multimedijalnog portala ‘Pojmovnik srpske kulture’]