Part 1. Vampire — Definitions & Origins
Part 2. The Many Faces of the Vampire
Part 3. Vampires Among Us — Today
I have been fascinated with the Vampire for as long as I can remember. I have read of them, watched them in movies, dreamed of them, met people who claim to be and now I have been asked to write an article about them.
It seems to be a fascination that is shared by thousands, if not tens of thousands of people… why is this so? Is it the sexual aspect that is so popularly associated with the vampyre? The secret and subversive nature of the ‘undead’? Or perhaps the taboo aspect of the consumption of human bodily fluids, that entices?
In this article I shall endeavour to present, without too much ‘frill’, a brief account of the development of, and the place of, vampirism in the human psyche.
1. Vampire Definitions and Origins
- A reanimated corpse that is believed to rise from the grave at night to suck the blood of sleeping people.
- A person, such as an extortionist, who preys upon others.
- A vampire bat.
Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
\Vam”pire\, n. [F. vampire (cf. It. vampiro, G. & D. vampir), fr. Servian vampir.] [Written also vampyre.] 1. A blood-sucking ghost; a soul of a dead person superstitiously believed to come from the grave and wander about by night sucking the blood of persons asleep, thus causing their death. This superstition is now prevalent in parts of Eastern Europe, and was especially current in Hungary about the year 1730.
The persons who turn vampires are generally wizards, witches, suicides, and persons who have come to a violent end, or have been cursed by their parents or by the church, –Encyc. Brit.
2. Fig.: One who lives by preying on others; an extortioner; a bloodsucker.
3. (Zo[“o]l.) Either one of two or more species of South American blood-sucking bats belonging to the genera Desmodus and Diphylla. These bats are destitute of molar teeth, but have strong, sharp cutting incisors with which they make punctured wounds from which they suck the blood of horses, cattle, and other animals, as well as man, chiefly during sleep. They have a c[ae]cal appendage to the stomach, in which the blood with which they gorge themselves is stored.
4. (Zo[“o]l.) Any one of several species of harmless tropical American bats of the genus Vampyrus, especially V. spectrum. These bats feed upon insects and fruit, but were formerly erroneously supposed to suck the blood of man and animals. Called also false vampire.
Vampire bat (Zo[“o]l.), a vampire, 3.
Source: Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.
n : (folklore) a corpse that rises at night to drink the blood of the living [syn: lamia] Source: WordNet ® 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University
It can be seen, therefore, that the common element that binds together these definitions is the concept of ‘taking’ something from another person or animal…but for what purpose?
The generally accepted idea is that this consumption is for feeding purposes, for nourishment. This would certainly hold true in the case of the vampire bat but in the case of ‘real’ vampires there will undoubtedly be other reasons. Dominance, control, sadism, addiction, fetishism and sexual excitement would probably rank amongst the chief reasons for ‘real’ vampires to practice today. There is also, presently, a strong debate under way as to the possible positive aspects of the consumption of blood for general health and wellbeing – can a person draw nourishment or healing properties from the consumption of blood? Do people who regularly consume human blood in fact become healthier/stronger/have greater immunities, etc.? Such questions, to my knowledge, have yet to be the formal subject of study or observation and, until we prove otherwise, who’s to say what may be possible.
I would like to offer another definition, much broader, of Vampire;
Vampire: A person or animal that derives nourishment, personal gain or satisfaction from extracting something from another person or animal.
A little general I know, however, in order to gain the most complete picture of the vampire we must necessarily consider all the forms of vampirism that exist throughout our society and world.
Origins of the Vampire:
The Talmud, the collection of ancient Rabbinical writings constituting the basis of religious authority in Orthodox Judaism, presents us the legend of Lilith. There are various theories put forward as to the vampiric nature of Lilith, ranging from the supposition that she was the first wife of Adam (prior to Eve), and practised vampirism on children in protest at being cast out of the garden for being too sexually dominant, to the theory that she was indeed Eve herself. She has also been associated with being a succubus, a female demon responsible for causing nocturnal emissions (of a sexual nature) in men.
This would appear to be the first organised account of vampirism in the history of writing.
However, when we look deeper, we find ancient Egyptian, Indian and Celtic legends — such as Kali — of deities who consumed the blood, or body parts, of their enemies in order to enhance their own strengths. Indeed, legends of vampirism abound from Denmark’s Mara to the African stories of the Asasabonasam and Obayifo, and from Ireland’s Dherg-dul to the Japanese Vampire-Cats. It seems that nowhere was immune from the perceived threat of the vampire.
Vampirism is also recounted in the demonologies of the Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Assyrians and the Persians. Perhaps the most prevalent amongst such tales were the Striga (plural Striges), blood drinking female night spirits who could transform into birds of prey with huge talons, misshapen heads and breasts swollen with poisonous milk. The Striges, incidentally, became quickly associated with witches and it was not uncommon to find accusations of vampiric activities levelled against many who suffered under the Spanish Inquisition’s ‘enquiries’ into witchcraft.
The Dark and Middle ages, with its witchcraft hysteria, proved a fertile ground for the growth of the vampire legend. With stories such as that of the Stapenhill peasants, the fourteenth century Wallachian prince Vlad Tepes (Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler), Erszebet (or Elizabeth) Bathory, and in western Europe, Leger, Bertrand and Paole, it was certain that the activities of so called ‘vampires’ were never far from public consciousness.
The vampire was beginning to become not so much the stuff of ignorant superstition but was taking on a whole new persona. John Polidori’s ‘Vampyre’ written in 1819 was the first vampyre short story written in the English language and was inspired on the same night, in the same place, as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. The mid 1880’s bought us Varney the Vampyre, immortalised first in the ‘penny dreadfuls’ of the day and, in 1845, in the novel ‘Feast of Blood’. J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker and Montague Summers followed between 1872 and 1928 with their classic novels and cemented the vampires place in literature. What began as legend and superstition was rapidly ascending toward popular cultural fact in the minds of the public — perhaps the penultimate ‘urban legend’.
2. The Many Faces of the Vampire
A popular rock song states, “The world is a vampire…”
If we are to consider the wider ranging definition that I have proposed then we must consider all forms of ‘vampirism’ be they physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and even economic. Could we, for instance, call the confidence trickster that relieves dear old ladies of their life savings by trickery a vampire? Could we call people whose well-being depends on their control and influence over their loved ones vampires? The shades now become less and less distinct. Consider, if you will, the following:
Ms. A, a 42 year old spinster and a devoutly religious person. She awakens on the Sunday morning and after breakfast puts on her best ‘Sunday’ frock before making her way to her local church. Inside she is assailed by those wholly ecclesiastical odours that are peculiar to such places and she immediately feels at ease, she draws comfort from them. She draws happiness from viewing the artifacts and icons that represent her beliefs and throughout the service she becomes increasingly aware of a sense of well-being and strength within herself. This absorption of energy will be enough to see her through until next Sunday. Is Ms. A a psi-vamp?
Miss B, eighteen years of age, single, works at her 9 to 5 job each day of the week and then comes home Friday night. She has been anticipating this all week; she has made plans to go out with some friends. She dresses accordingly, to kill — so to speak. Her body groomed and dressed provocatively, her face made up, and she meets her companions at a local dance club. Inside it is dimly lit, warm, the music pounds, logic gives way to deeper animal passions and the whole ‘tribal’ experience makes her feel happy, sexy, carefree. She parties, with seemingly limitless energy until the wee small hours and comes away with a feeling of euphoria from the experience — from absorbing the energies around her. Is Miss B a psi-vamp?
Mr. C decides to do something nice for his wife, it has been some time since they ate out and so he makes reservations at a restaurant he knows is a particular favourite of hers. Accordingly, at around seven that evening, they are seated by the maitre d’ and are gazing at the menu with obvious anticipation of the delights to come. Mrs. C orders the fish while Mr C orders the rare sirloin, juicy, hot, dripping with the blood of the animal… mmmm, he can hardly wait, his mouth waters as he acknowledges his hunger for the tasty fare. Is Mr C a ‘blood vampire’?
I believe that the ‘vampire’ does indeed wear many faces.
For the purposes of this article I shall dwell more upon the traditional connotations and opinions.
On her website, “By Light Unseen” (http://users.net1plus.com/vyrdolak/index.htm), Inanna Arthen provides us with perhaps the clearest and most concise description of the types of vampire one may encounter. She asserts that vampires, whom she refers to as “human living vampires” ( or HLV’s), fall into two major subdivisions: “Blood vampires” and “Psi Vampires”. In discovering that there are Vampires alive and living amongst us today we must shed the supernatural, stereotypical image of the Vampire. The term ‘Human Living Vampire’ thus becomes wholly unnecessary. It is a fact that modern Vampires are neither undead, hundreds of years old or able to turn into bats and fly about at night. The literary licence and popular ‘Hollywoodism’ have no place within modern vampire communities. Today’s vampires are people just like you — and you will find that the majority do not like being referred to as ‘Human Living Vampires’. Vampires are vampires — it’s as simple as that.
The first category of vampire mentioned, the ‘blood vampire’ or ‘sanguinarian’, is obviously the one that most people associate with the traditional vampire and involves the need, or desire, for consuming blood.
The second category is, as one may imagine, a little harder to define. Indeed, in the time that I have been conversing with vampiric individuals I have heard many different interpretations of the term ‘Psi-vamp’. For my own purposes I define a Psi-vampire as one that feeds from environmental energies; that is, a vampire that draws energy from his/ her surroundings or companions without the need for consuming blood.
Even within this second category we find those who term themselves Empath-vamps, Psychic-vamp, Elemental-vamp, and any number of other names that fit their own definitions of what it is to be a vampire.
There are certain facts, clinical facts, that while not supporting existence of vampirism, do tend to show how physiological afflictions may have been responsible for a great deal of the myth, conjecture and hysteria that surround the vampire. In earlier times the physicians, with their rudimentary understanding of the human body and their limited access to research materials on certain subjects may well have been led to pronounce certain individuals to be vampires. Most certainly such ‘established’ facts played right into the hands of organised religion whose sole aim was to keep the masses under their canonical control.
Conditions such as pemphigus vulgaris, which gives rise to bite like lesions on the skin and morphea which causes violet coloured lesions around the lower lip. Another is a dental condition, which exhibits itself in the elongation of the canines, called hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia. Another disorder named Erythropoietic Protoporphyria, which is held to cause the body to produce an excess porphyria. This can manifest itself in excess redness of the eyes, skin and teeth, but also a receding of the upper lip and cracking of the skin, which bleeds when exposed to light.
(ref: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Chamber/7290/clinical.html [Editor’s note: links to the archived version of the page.])
3. Vampires Among Us — Today.
There can be no doubt that the popularity of the vampire mythology is as strong today as it ever was: television’s ‘Forever Knight’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’; Hollywood slaps us in the face with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula 2000, John Carpenter’s Vampires, — and who can forget George Clooney in From Dusk Till Dawn?
Despite the popularly depicted, wholly evil blood sucking undead freaks that we are so familiar with, there is a pervasive knowledge, deep within most of us that does hark back to olden times, to half-remembered stories and myths that tells us, unequivocally, yes..! Vampires do exist.
There are, for example, many websites that devote attention to the vampire way of life and philosophy. Not as the realm of immortal spirits that rise from the grave to feed upon sleeping innocents but as people who draw energy from various aspects of their surroundings. Taking, as they need, to fulfill a need that they may not wholly understand but nevertheless acknowledge.
Entire communities of vampires have sprung up; we have vampire ‘clans’ interacting on many levels of our social fabric, not only in ‘role playing’ scenarios but also as semi-secretive social groups. A complete and concise list of the vampire clans, and a little history, may be found at http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Zone/7918/myth.html [archived].
It seems that, more and more, there are efforts afoot to change the public perception of the vampire. Efforts by those of the vampire communities to redefine the vampire as something other than the archetypal, classical, blood drinking, soulless evil that we have had foisted upon us for so long.
I would strongly suggest, to anyone reading this, that the next time they are asked the question, “Do you think vampires exist?” — before you answer, take a good, long, hard look deep within yourself. Make sure you don’t fit one of these categories… if you can’t say that you don’t… well then — welcome to the family!
Some Links of Interest[Editor’s note: Some of the pages below are no longer available online, so I have linked to their archived versions at archive.org. — Sanguinarius]
http://users.net1plus.com/vyrdolak/livevamps.htm (404 – not found; link pending url update)
http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Chamber/7290/clinical.html [archived] http://www.nocturnalvisions.freeservers.com/page14.html [archived] http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/demons/vampires/titlepage.htm
http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Zone/7918/myth.html [archived] http://in.dir.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/Mythology_and_Folklore/Fabulous_Creatures/Vampires/