The alleged slayer of retired Englishwoman Jennifer Mills-Westley is probably not a Christian, despite misleading newspaper reports.  The Telegraph briefly touches on linking Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, to the heresy of Bogomilism, but never ties the strands together.

It’s a bit like saying Josef Stalin was Russian Orthodox all his life because he attended seminary and Adolf Hitler was a practising Catholic because that was the church in which he was raised. Ditto Deyanov with his deranged references to God and Jesus. This leaves the average person thinking, ‘Those Christians are nutters’.

First, the story, which shocked not only people in the Canary Islands, but the Spanish and British as well.  N.B.: If you have children looking over your shoulder or are of a sensitive disposition, please skip this post.

The Telegraph describes this gruesome attack, which took place on Friday, May 13, 2011 (emphases in bold mine):

The retired 60-year-old from Norwich was stabbed to death and beheaded in the horrific attack on Friday.

She alerted a security guard in the social security office that she had been subjected to “threatening behaviour” from an unwashed vagrant.

Her tormentor, a 28-year-old homeless man called Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, was well known in the popular holiday resort for his unpredictable and sometimes violent behaviour

It is unclear whether the Briton, a 60-year-old retired road safety officer from Norwich, was aware of the man’s dangerous reputation. After a few minutes Deyanov left and the danger seemed to have passed.

At about 10.15 on Friday morning Mrs Mills-Westley left the office doorway and walked to a Chinese-run discount store next door. Tragically, she there encountered Deyanov again and he attacked her, with grisly consequences.

Mrs Mills-Westley, who divided her time between Tenerife, Norfolk and France, was hacked to death by the Bulgarian, who reportedly claimed to be “a prophet of God” as he carried out the frenzied attack …

Deyanov had left a psychiatric unit where he was reportedly being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in February …

Before her retirement Mrs Mills-Westley gave cycling safety training to schoolchildren in Norfolk, and also worked on other road safety projects.

In Los Cristianos, at the southern tip of the Canary Islands, eyewitnesses described the scene of the crime as “something out of a horror movie”.

Colin Kirby, a British expatriate working at the Tenerife Magazine said: “I thought someone had fainted and walked on, then I heard screaming and looked behind and saw a scruffy, unkempt man in his mid 20s holding a head by the hair

Another witness told how he saw the man drop a bloodstained woman’s head on the pavement after coming out of the shop …

Dominica Fernandez, a government official, said the suspect had “chosen his victim by chance”. Deyanov was known to be sleeping rough in the streets and in an abandoned house in the resort.

Last night at the filthy location, there was still a Bible and a shrine made out of breeze blocks among scattered possessions. Deyanov was being held at the police station in nearby resort of Playa de Las Americas …

More details emerged on May 16 (CCTV picture of the man at the link):

Deyan Valentinov Deyanov, a 28-year-old Bulgarian, asked the store owner in Tenerife for a large knife and was caught on security camera spreading his arms to demonstrate the size he required.

When asked what he needed it for he said “I’m going to kill someone”, and drew a finger across his throat.

The shopkeeper, who said he recognised the man as a vagrant who slept in a derelict building nearby, refused his request and threw him out of the shop.

Within half an hour, Deyanov had entered another supermarket where he encountered Jennifer Mills-Westley, grabbed a knife from the shelf and cut off her head in a random attack …

Locals said Deyanov had become increasingly aggressive in recent weeks after splitting up with his girlfriend.

As recently as February, when he was discharged from a psychiatric hospital, he had told police that “in God’s name” he was “planning something big”

Others said he was a habitual user of marijuana and was often seen muttering to himself. In one incident he attacked a security guard who was patrolling the beach area, knocking out three teeth.

A shopkeeper described how on the morning of the attack the Bulgarian borrowed a pen to scrawl a note, and wrote: “I am God”. The security video footage shows the man searching the shelves of the hardware section of the supermarket on the seafront in Los Cristianos.

The visit to the shop was at around 10am on Friday. By 10.25am Mrs Mills-Westley … was dead.

Witnesses at the Chinese-run discount supermarket in the Valdes shopping centre … said he had severed her head with a long, thin, very sharp blade, the traditional knife used for carving Spanish ham.

After the attack, involving at least 14 blows of the knife, he severed her head and ran with it from the store carrying it by the hair. Police are examining the footage …

Among the piles of rubbish and old mattresses [in his squat] he had fashioned a makeshift shrine out of breeze blocks and made an icon of Jesus.

On May 17, it emerged that the suspect had lived in Edinburgh before moving to the Canaries:

His former flatmate in the Leith area of the city, Vlad Chmurny, 36, from Slovakia, said Deyan Deyanov, spent hours smoking drugs and “weeping” over his lack of friends.

Mr Chmurny said the Bulgarian left Scotland about a year ago after losing his job in the construction industry, before turning up unannounced three months ago, when he refused to allow him to stay …

Meanwhile in Tenerife, a security guard who was attacked by 28-year-old Deyanov four months ago, spoke about his ordeal.

Fermin Suarez Perez, 45, who lost three front teeth in the unprovoked assault, questioned how it was possible that his assailant had been freed to roam the streets just five days later

Mr Suarez, a former soldier in the Spanish military, said: “He ran up to me with a rock in his hands and tried to smash it into my head”

Deyanov, from the northern Bulgarian town of Ruse, was arrested the same day, but was freed on bail by a magistrate after spending five days in a psychiatric hospital …

It emerged that Deyanov, who has a three year old daughter living in Bulgaria, was obsessed with a medieval Christian sect known as Bogomilism. One of the tenets of the dualist religion, which was founded by the priest Bogomil in tenth century Bulgaria, was that the world was created by the Devil.

Before getting to Bogomilism, I have begun glancing over the discussion page whenever I peruse a Wikipedia article.  I found it particularly fascinating that this heretical perversion of Christianity appears to have so many defenders.  See for yourself.  Also, if you click on the map at the top of this post, you’ll be able to note the link to the Cathars, Albigenses and Waldenses, people who later turned to the Reformed churches.  This might partly explain why there is so much Catholic distrust of Calvinists in France and Italy.  There may be something deeper than the Reformation going on here.  This is a sensitive topic, especially when one reads Huguenot (Calvinist) histories of these mountain dwellers which present them as being martyrs for the faith.  I remain neutral on this but welcome contributions in the comments.

About Bogomilism, of which I’d never heard, Wikipedia says:

Bogomilism was a Gnostic religiopolitical sect founded in the First Bulgarian Empire by the priest Bogomil during the reign of Tsar Petar I in 10th century.[1][2][3] It most probably arose in what is today the region of Macedonia[4][5] as a response to the social stratification that occurred as a result of the introduction of feudalism and as a form of political movement and opposition to the Bulgarian state and the church.

The Bogomils called for a return to early Christianity, rejecting the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and their primary political tendencies were resistance to the state and church authorities. This helped the movement spread quickly in the Balkans, gradually expanding throughout the Byzantine Empire and later reaching Kievan Rus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Italy, France, and to a lesser extent the rest of Western Europe (even as far as the British Isles).

The Bogomils were dualists in that they believed the world was created not by the Abrahamic God, but by an evil demiurge — the Devil. They did not use the cross nor build churches, preferring to perform rituals outdoors.

The article is quite long — and most interesting.  You’ll find out all sorts of fascinating facts, so it’s worth grabbing a cuppa and a few biscuits.  Highlights include the following:

The term Bogomil in free translation means “dear to God”, and ultimately derives from the Proto-Slavic *bogъ (“God”) and *milъ (“dear”). It is difficult to ascertain whether the name was taken from the reputed founder of that movement, the priest Bogomil, or whether he assumed that name after it had been given to the sect itself. The word is an Old Church Slavonic calque of Massaliani, the Syriac name of the sect corresponding to the Greek Euchites. The Bogomils are identified with the Massaliani in Slavonic documents from the 13th century …

The now defunct Gnostic social-religious movement and doctrine originated in the time of Peter I of Bulgaria (927 – 969) as a reaction against state and clerical oppression of Byzantine church. In spite of all measures of repression, it remained strong and popular until the fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the end of the 14th century.

Bogomilism is the first significant Balkan heresy that came about in the first quarter of the 10th century

The constant change of authority over these lands, and the higher taxes during the time of Tsar Peter I, gave birth to a great social discontent at the beginning of the 10th century. Moreover, the corruption of the church as an institution, led to the grave disappointment among its recently converted flock.

The existence of older Christian heresies in the Bulgarian lands (Manichaeism and Paulicianism), which were considered very dualistic, influenced the Bogomil movement. Manichaeism’s origin is related to Zoroastrianism; that is why Bogomilism is sometimes indirectly connected to Zoroastrianism in the sense of its duality …

The Bogomils had a system of altered traditional orthodox beliefs and rituals. The essence behind their teaching was a dualistic doctrine that the world is divided by God and Satan (good and evil). God rules with the spiritual part of the world, and Satan with the material. They regarded every material being to be work of Satan, and therefore sinful. They also opposed established forms of government and church, which brings them close to modern anarchists

They had accepted the teaching of Paul of Samosata, though at a later period the name of Paul was believed to be that of the Apostle; and they were not quite free from the Dualistic principle of the Gnostics

As with other heresies, we see once again the fine line between truth and error and an interesting role for Satan.  We also see the use of magic rituals as well as the rejection of possessions and pleasure (a bit like today’s secular pietists):

The Bogomils taught that God had two sons, the elder Satanail and the younger Michael. The elder son rebelled against the father and became the evil spirit. After his fall he created the lower heavens and the earth and tried in vain to create man; in the end he had to appeal to God for the Spirit. After creation Adam was allowed to till the ground on condition that he sold himself and his posterity to the owner of the earth. Then Michael was sent in the form of a man; he became identified with Jesus, and was “elected” by God after the baptism in the Jordan. When the Holy Ghost (again Michael) appeared in the shape of the dove, Jesus received power to break the covenant in the form of a clay tablet (hierographon) held by Satanail from Adam. He had now become the angel Michael in a human form; as such he vanquished Satanail, and deprived him of the termination -il = God, in which his power resided. Satanail was thus transformed into Satan. Through his machinations the crucifixion took place, and Satan was the originator of the whole Orthodox community with its churches, vestments, ceremonies, sacraments and fasts, with its monks and priests. This world being the work of Satan, the perfect must eschew any and every excess of its pleasure. But the Bogomils did not go as far as to recommend asceticism.

They held the “Lord’s Prayer” in high respect as the most potent weapon against Satan, and had a number of conjurations against “evil spirits.” Each community had its own twelve “apostles,” and women could be raised to the rank of “elect.” The Bogomils wore garments like mendicant friars and were known as keen missionaries, traveling far and wide to propagate their doctrines. Healing the sick and exorcising the evil spirit, they traversed different countries and spread their apocryphal literature along with some of the books of the Old Testament, deeply influencing the religious spirit of the nations, and preparing them for the Reformation. They accepted the four Gospels, fourteen Epistles of Paul, the three Epistles of John, James, Jude, and an Epistle to the Laodiceans, which they professed to have. They sowed the seeds of a rich, popular religious literature in the East as well as the West. The Historiated Bible, the Letter from Heaven, the Wanderings through Heaven and Hell, the numerous Adam and Cross legends, the religious poems of the “Kaliki perehozhie” and other similar productions owe their dissemination to a large extent to the activity of the Bogomils of Bulgaria, and their successors in other lands.

The essence of Bogomilism is the duality in the creation of the world. This is exactly why it is considered a heresy. Bogomils explained the earthly sinful corporeal life as a creation of Satan, an angel that was sent to Earth. Due to this duality, their doctrine undervalues everything that is created with materialistic and governmental goals and that does not come from the soul, the only divine possession of the human. Therefore, the established Church, the state, and the hierarchy is totally undermined by Bogomilism. Its followers refuse to pay taxes, to work in serfdom, or to fight in conquering wars. The feudal social system was disregarded, which on its part was understood as suggesting disorder and propelling destruction for the state, the church by its progenitors, that ultimately eradicated the bogomils.

St. Paul had taught that simpleminded men should instruct one another; therefore they elected their “teachers” from among themselves to be their spiritual guides, and had no special priests. There is a tradition that the Bogomils taught that prayers were to be said in private houses, not in separate buildings such as churches.  Ordination was conferred by the congregation and not by any specially appointed minister. The congregation were the “elect,” and each member could obtain the perfection of Christ and become a Christ or “Chuist.” Marriage was not a sacrament. Scholars agree on that Bogomils refused to fast on Mondays and Fridays, and that they rejected monasticism. It is also held that they declared Christ to be the Son of God only through grace like other prophets, and that the bread and wine of the eucharist were not physically transformed into flesh and blood; that the last judgment would be executed by God and not by Jesus; that the images and the cross were idols and the veneration of saints and relics idolatry

The Legend of Saint Gerard discloses that followers of Bulgarian Bogomilism were present during the early 11th century … They invoked Archangel Uriel, whose name is common in amulets and magic rituals.

As for their the spread of their influence and coming under the attention of the established Church:

The popes in Rome whilst leading the Crusade against the Albigenses did not forget their counterpart in the Balkans and recommended the annihilation of the heretics

The Bogomils were the connecting link between the so-called heretical sects of the East and those of the West.[citation needed] They were, moreover, the most active agents in disseminating such teachings in Kievan Rus’ and among all the nations of Europe. In the 12th and 13th century, the Bogomils were already known in the West as “Cathars” or in other places as “Bulgari”, i.e. Bulgarians (българи). In 1207 the Bulgarorum heresis is mentioned. In 1223 the Albigenses are declared to be the local Bougres, and in the same period mention is made of the “Pope of the Albigenses who resided within the confines of Bulgaria” (see also Nicetas, Bogomil bishop). The Cathars and Patarenes, the Waldenses, the Anabaptists, and in Russia the Strigolniki, Molokani and Doukhobors, have all at different times been either identified with the Bogomils or closely connected with them.

They are also connected with the term ‘buggery’:

An English profanity and the name of a crime emerged from reports of the Bogomils by the Catholic Church. The words “bugger” and “buggery” emerged, by way of the word “bougre” in French, from “Bulgar” (Bulgarian), which was understood to mean the Bogomils, who were believed to be devoted to the practice of sodomy.[8] “Buggery” first appears in English in 1330, though “bugger” in a sexual sense is not recorded until 1555.

Hmm.  Just as an aside, there still exists in France today the expression ‘bon bougre‘, or ‘good old boy’ — a well-intentioned country bumpkin or hillbilly.

Recently, I cancelled a subscription to a travel magazine which began featuring an increasing number of articles on the Cathar region.  I had read elsewhere this year — in an offline publication — about a few secret weekend rituals still performed in the region which attract people from all over Europe as participants.  Very strange.  The article said that these weekends away have initiation rites and that one leaves a ‘completely different person’.

On Balkan religious practice, I do remember my mother and paternal grandmother being rather suspicious of people from those countries, advising me to check what religion they practiced before making friends with them.  Now and then, we met Displaced Persons (‘DPs’) who were resettled in the United States after the Second World War.  If they were Orthodox or Roman Catholic, as all of the ones we met were, there was no problem. However, I was advised to avoid people who adhered to ‘sects’.  It seems that the women of my family might well have had Bogomilism and its offshoots in mind.

Be that as it may, it wouldn’t surprise me if more of the ancient heresies resurfaced in pure form  — to get back to one’s European ‘roots’, as it were.