The "Blood-Libel" Myths and Myth's "Double Structure" (Levi-Strauss)
Level 1: Historical instances of individual parole:
In medieval Europe, many versions of the infamous "blood-libel" myth circulated in Christian communities. The most famous is Chaucer's "Prioress's Tale," a subset of the "Hugh of Lincoln" group. The tale's basic character types, actions, and values, are invariant. The protagonist is an innocent Christian child. The antagonists are Jews, even in nations like England and Spain, from which Jews had been expelled. The location of the story is always alleged to be "recent" and "nearby" in time and space, but the specific persons and places are always ultimately unidentifiable, as in an Internet legend. The antagonists are said to have cruelly killed the protagonist, often by slitting his throat, and usually in order to obtain innocent Christian blood for consumption during Jewish religious rituals. The murder is exposed by divine intervention, often due to the persistent singing or crying out of the dead child who has been miraculously reanimated for that purpose. The culprits are executed.
Level 2: Ahistorical operation within the langue:
The tale's invariant structures appear to be driven by several contradictions which may have deeply disturbed medieval Christians. As is well known, Jewish tradition expressly forbids consumption of human blood (and flesh). Nevertheless, since medieval times when the doctrine of "Transubstantiation" was formalized, Christian tradition began to insist that its most sacred ceremony, the imbibing of Communion wine, involves actually drinking the blood of Jesus. This relates to a second, more profound anxiety in Christian doctrine, namely that its holy texts and many of its practices are, in fact, Jewish in origin. The blood-libel myth helps to mediate these anxieties by projecting them upon the Jews and calling upon supernatural authority to validate itself. The "real" blood drinkers are the "Other," not "Us," and their practices are grounded in a taboo doctrine which is the "Other," not "Our Faith."
Myth and Politics: Culture making and culture breaking (see L-S 173):
In cultures where the Christians encountered no Jews, the tales enable the culture to explain itself to itself in ways that restated and defused the dangerous contradictions the culture contains. Anxieties about religious origins and practices are displaced upon an "Other" whose mythic function is to absorb those anxieties and suffer for them. In cultures where the Christians encountered Jews, the tales routinely spawned bloody "pogroms" or mob attacks upon Jewish communities. Literary works, considered as myth-bearing artifacts, explain cultures to themselves and articulate deep structural rules for understanding the culture's fundamental rules.
N.B.: Structuralism is specifically not interested in non-scientific claims like those of religious faith. It treats all religious narratives equally as "myths" whose fundamental structuring rules may be studied beside those of folk tales and Internet legends. The consequences occasionally may be jarring to believers, but readers of "The Structural Study of Myth" are cautioned to remember that it also analyzes the "House of Cadmus" foundation tales, which were religious doctrine to ancient Greeks, and the sacred stories of the modern Pueblo and Zuni peoples, in exactly the same way.