By Sarah Dorrance-Minch
The new second edition of Michelle Belanger’s Psychic Vampire Codex is, I will be the first to admit, a vast improvement over the original published version (The Vampyre Codex, published in 2000 by the Sanguinarium). It’s not just the additions that make the revised Codex a better read, although of course they help provide perspective. Actually, the many actual changes in the text are what I like the most. Whether Michelle Belanger listened to my loud and vociferous criticism or, as my friend Arthur suggested, the criticism of the editors at Weiser Books; or simply matured as she hit her third decade — in the end, it’s irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that the changes were made.
And welcome changes they were. Gone is the emphasis on death — you have to laugh when somebody tells you “we are essentially avatars of death” (The Vampyre Codex, page 7). Now Michelle talks about the constant cycling of life and death, positive and negative, and the role of the vampire in keeping things flowing. Vampirism is implied to be the liminal threshold point between yin and yang. The more heavy-handed phrases such as “Now we are freed of the life of the body, but we are irrevocably tied to the life we cut away. It sustains us and empowers us”, “Our rules are our own, we accept no others”, and “Life sustains us, but death defines us” (wow, all that on page 5 of the original Codex!) are blessedly missing. Overall, the sensational death-dripping, humanity-dominating, I’m-undead-but-I-won’t-quite-say-it-out-loud tone of the first published version of her work is toned down to a dull roar. Make that a dull mystical murmur.
Another welcome change is the redefinition of the caste system and the tweaking of the term “concubine” to “counselor”. One of the things that bothered me the most about the original Codex was that damned caste system. It seemed based on an ideal of all-powerful (but very hungry) priests administering the temple and lording it over everybody else, feeding on sexy concubines who would be so drained as to require energy from outside sources, and all these hungry priests and sensuous concubines would be protected by loyal warriors. Oh, yes, and these vampires all had missing or damaged chakras due to varying degrees of astral undeath, the priests being the most undead of the bunch and therefore the most qualified to call themselves real vampires. I found that paradigm sickening, especially combined with the notion that vampires were separate from the human race — superior, predatory, all that nonsense.
Now the castes are portrayed as archetypes for most vampires, and as energy-signatures for “Kheprian” vampires (I have some issues with the whole Kheprian thing, but I’ll get there in a moment). Priests are no longer implied to be superior psychically or administratively. It’s still not clear what makes a priest so uniquely suited for administering pastoral care — seems to me the counselor, who supposedly is a natural channel for spirits, and has powerful potential for healing people and for giving energy to the weak, would make a better priest or priestess in the traditional sense of the word. However, the “triumvirate” of energy-creator, energy-shaper, and energy-grounder seems much more balanced than the previous paradigm.
Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, Belanger has finally admitted that taking energy from others does not inherently rob them of life, harm them, or automatically cause them to go into rapture as the result of a deep-feeding “kiss.” I’ve argued myself for many months now that under most circumstances, not enough energy is taken for a subject to notice the loss, and even when the feed is a deep one, usually the end result is that the subject gets a little tired or dizzy and needs to eat and sleep a little extra to recharge. (I am of the opinion that any other effects of feeding, such as orgasm, fainting, heart palpitations, photosensitivity, or what have you, are purely psychosomatic, a sort of shared hysteria that comes about as a result of mutual belief in what “ought to happen” as a result of feeding.) If the transaction is a consensual one between two energy-aware people, it tends to be more of an exchange than a one-sided feeding.
Now that Belanger has included the same observation of mutuality in her book, maybe the vampire community will finally start to let go of its fixation on “taking life” and “let’s all be predators in the darkness.” The more authors shift the focus from predation to mutuality, the less would-be predators will haunt us when they decide to come out of the coffin to themselves. Another nice benefit of this emphasis on mutuality might be that the outside community will think of us as harmless weirdos rather than as dangerous weirdos. Can’t go wrong with looking more harmless and new-agey, can we?
Okay. That’s the good stuff. You didn’t expect an unqualified rave review gushing on about the wonders of Michelle Belanger’s new masterpiece, did you? I hope not. This is me writing the review, for one thing. I’m far too skeptical of metaphysical things to give unqualified praise to a metaphysical treatise. Pseudo-metaphysics such as that found in the Psychic Vampire Codex impresses me even less.
The greatest disappointment about the Psychic Vampire Codex, in fact, is just that: pseudo-metaphysics. The book is several hundred pages longer in its revised format — two hundred and eighty four pages as opposed to sixty six, which I suppose is required of the author if one is to get a book published through a real publishing house rather than through a vanity press or the small press of a friend. However, for all its additional length, it lacks philosophical substance. If The Psychic Vampire Codex were a food item in a philosophical grocery, it would be a jumbo-sized jar of marshmallow fluff.
Belanger rags about how vampire books and websites fail to provide an explanation of why vampires feed or what the actual origin of the vampire is, but the only origin she elucidates is the one specific to her Kheprian vampires — that a legendary figure named Setem-Ansi “was the first to make transition” (you know, that’s how dippy politically correct types describe kicking the bucket, if you’ve ever read the obituaries for fun or profit) and “cut away the umbilical that nourished but tied his spirit down” (page 54, The Psychic Vampire Codex). So instead of Caine, we have Setem-Ansi. Or some of us do, anyway. Oh. Gee.
Meanwhile, why do the rest of us hunger? This treatise on vampirism isn’t much above the “I feed, therefore I am” mentality that she disparages in her introduction. I suppose if you’re a Kheprian there’s plenty of substance in the text, especially as the passages are kept short and telescopic, condensed and lacking in detail in order to “awaken buried memories” (memories that will fill in the blanks between sections?) but mass-produced books written for a general audience should do more than just preach to the choir.
Aside from the lack of explanation about why vampires vampirize — not counting the “unawakened,” who do so out of mere instinct or depletion — and the relative lack of mythology (look, if you want to talk about the origin of the Kheprian Temple, could you elaborate and throw in some more legends or even some history? Even if said history was cribbed from an episode of Stargate? It makes for more interesting reading than hints and tidbits.) I suppose I’m basically disappointed in Belanger’s shallow approach to spirituality. There’s plenty of psychic technique in the latter half of the book (mostly visualizations and the like that are basic common sense and can be found in non-vampiric psychic workbooks for those readers who lack imagination and/or common sense; then again, in the case of psychic healing, wouldn’t common sense suggest that many times it’s easier to take a couple of ibuprofen rather than doing a lot of energy cycling to heal a minor ache?). There’s plenty of talk about how feeding touches the soul and cycles life force all around (well, so does tai ch’i, for that matter). However, and I do hate to be a killjoy by bringing this up, there is more to spirituality than psychic phenomena.
It’s as though Belanger can’t tell the difference between her crown chakra and her third eye. In the original _Codex_, the one that uses the Egyptian system of chakra points (or the equivalent thereof, chakra of course being a Sanskrit term) there are only six chakras instead of the usual seven — the crown and third eye chakras are combined. I found that interesting when I saw it. That system isn’t mentioned in the revision, in fact, she mentions that different people have different systems with varying points of contact, but I think she operates from a system that does not distinguish between the crown (the point of contact with the All, the Divine) and the third eye (the point of contact with spirits and the minds and astral bodies of other people). The closest thing I see to a reference to any sort of “higher power” is her mention of ghosts and disembodied Kheprians — and her description of an encounter with a disciple of the god Ganesh, related in her epilogue.
This is not a deep metaphysical text. Real metaphysics wrestles with questions of deity — does God exist, or not? Is this a matter of faith or proof? What are we supposed to do about the situation? Real metaphysics tackles origin — what is our place in the universe? How did we get here? How did the universe get here? Is it real? Are we real? (Well, she does say we help cycle energy, which makes us snails in the universal fishtank; and she does mention reincarnation, which implies something about the fish in the fishtank, if you’re familiar with the theories of reincarnation; but she doesn’t really talk much about the tank, if you can see where I’m going…)
Mostly what I see in the book is a lot of New Age energy work, repackaged as psychic vampirism. In the “advanced techniques” section she talks a bit about feng shui (feng shui is advanced?) and mentions other energy beings, including parasites and other clutterbuggy type things — oh, joy! Astral fleas! My world is enriched now that these have been brought to my attention! I daresay a lot of psychic vampires already know how to shield, ground, heal, project, etc. and may even know all about feng shui and banishing away things that make one feel creepy. I would even wager that non-vampire psychics know most of the psychic techniques Belanger lists. By the way, I am far from convinced that being a vampire confers massive psychic powers on one. Even if buying a twenty dollar book is supposed to help Awaken you.
I confess I also have some questions about this whole Kheprian thing. Now that she’s described the Kheprian temple as “pre-Egyptian” rather than Egyptian, I can’t fault her on her bizarre interpretation of Egyptian history and religion, although why a pre-Egyptian but nevertheless Semetic (or pre-Semetic, if you will) race of reincarnating beings would resonate so strongly to the Druidic/Wiccan seasonal holidays of Beltain and Samhain is beyond me. If there were similar seasonal sabbats in prehistoric Egypt with different names, could you please use the Kemetic names? Is a little cultural consistency really too much to ask?
Whether the Temple, with its castes, existed and whether its members did also (how many were there, anyway? Was this Kheprian path the state religion of prehistoric Egypt, or was it just one isolated temple with a few people attached to it?) cannot be proved or disproved, either, because it apparently existed before written history, so everything is all speculative, except for the people who experience vivid past-life recollections of having been Kheprian, in which case it belongs to the realm of faith and is beyond such things as proof. How convenient. I really hate it when people hint at things and then don’t elaborate and don’t offer grounds for proof. It gets on my nerves.
It also gets to me on a level of common sense. It’s said that there was this temple, aeons and aeons ago. The temple had a caste system, a real caste system, although after millennia of disuse and repeated reincarnation the caste system has degenerated/metamorphosed into an energy pattern system. Okay. Now, you have the priest caste who administered things and ran the show, and who were so on the threshold of the otherworld that they required constant care and lots of extra energy. (How does this make for effective administration skills?) You have the concubines, er, the counselors, who advised the priests, entertained them, and were good at generating energy so that the priests could always feed. (The earlier Codex hinted that concubines had to prey on ordinary mortals to replenish their own energy reserves; the new Codex wisely leaves ordinary mortals out, and implies that the Temple was a closed system.) Who always had very feminine energy, as apparently even androgynous priests with no particular preferences feed better from feminine energy than masculine energy. You have the temple guardians who keep out the riffraff and who help keep things on an even keel. The ideal balance is a triumvirate. The early _Codex_ said that priests were few and far between, and the new Codex says that the ideal vampire should have a stable of about four donors to keep from depleting any one person over time, so what I’m wondering is how population was controlled. How many priests did this temple have? How many counselors? Warriors? How many new people got accepted into the order, if any? How was it determined what caste they went into? What was the relation of this temple to the rest of the world — did people just wander around, Awakening people by talking or touching or fornicating or biting or whatever? Did they officiate at religious services? There is too much missing here.
That, and to non-Kheprian vampires (if there are any after this book gets widespread circulation among members of the vampire community) this whole Kheprian thing is a bit of a red herring. It distracts us from wondering how we got to be vampires (see point “A” about pseudo-metaphysics). It’s psychologically disingenuous. Of course a person who goes into an occult store, buys a book on psychic vampirism, and reads about all these special Kheprian vampires who “would not bow before the cycle of forgetting” or “accept the limitations of the flesh,” who are now one big far-flung but close-knit Family, will want to identify as a Kheprian vampire. Who wouldn’t? It’s a normal human urge to want to be special.
Note: anyone who wants to be really special should read the first edition of the Codex. In the original, the greater-than-human, powerful-avatar, death-transcending-through-embodying-thanatos agenda is a lot more blatant. I would argue that the Psychic Vampire Codex, the kinder, gentler version, has undergone a Kheprian energy change of a sort, but the information hasn’t been thoroughly cycled and transformed; it’s just been spun in one of the author’s chakras and regurgitated (if the dear reader will pardon the conceit).
Gone is the description of the Greater and Lesser Initiations, perhaps because of the liability issues incurred in discussing feeding from acolytes to awaken them or orchestrating a near death flatline experience and a return to bring about the Great Transformation. The phrase “sundered life” becomes “cutting the umbilical cord from the Universe.” (Like, how else does one cut the umbilical cord except by dying? Inquiring minds want to know.) The vampiric Kiss fades into the background like an old hickey — er, “rosette” — but mention is made that some donors do experience rapture upon being fed from. Vampires are no longer told that they should be above sanguinary feeding and should not mistake the life energy for “mere blood” (right, I forgot, enlightened vampires feed on ectoplasm — Venkman, you get the specimen jar) but apparently energy work can draw blood from beneath the surface of the aura and cause bleeding. And this is real blood, apparently, not an aura manifestation. Sounds a lot messier than sanguinary feeding…
I think the concept of the vampire as an “avatar of death” who feeds on life to stay alive (or whatever approximates “alive” in the case of the psychically undead) is still lurking under the surface. It hasn’t been changed over yet. Not completely. Our “dark” nature is just hinted at now, brushed on, admitted as a yin to the yang of the fluffy-bunny types in the pagan community. (News flash: after reading the psychic techniques and the ethics and so on, I don’t see what makes vampires “dark” to begin with, unless you try to go by the old stereotype of the undead predator.) Our darkness is hinted at in soothing shadows of Byronic moodiness, nothing more. Perhaps this is because the second edition of the _Codex_ is meant to be read by people outside the immediate vampire community. Mustn’t frighten the mundanes.
You can’t have it both ways. Either you’re “dark,” or you are not. Either you are a monster who takes life and preys, or you’re a perfectly normal if bizarre human being who does interesting things with energy. The two paradigms are mutually exclusive, and if you intend to shift to the latter, for goodness sake, get rid of these coy little references to the former. They stick out like bat wings on a chinchilla.
As for the epilogue, “Wish Brings a Guest”, which describes the author’s encounter with a swami who tells her that her energy pattern is astounding and unique and in which she is shown just how many past lives she’s had (Belanger doesn’t tell us after all that build-up, she just says that she’s been around for so long that it’s mind boggling) — all that, and also how she has discovered that her calling is to help Awaken the unenlightened, how she is here because she is a spiritual guide and Kheprians are meant to be similar guides, to a degree. — Well, I won’t argue with another person’s satori, but I have to wonder at the wisdom of sharing said revelation with the rest of the world.
In my limited readings of comparative religion, the real spiritual leaders, whether messiahs, saints, prophets, or bodhisattvas, rarely declared themselves as enlightened. Sometimes they said they spoke for a deity, but that was about it. Generally it was their demented followers who wrote about them and put words like “I’m the Son of God” or “I’m an Enlightened Soul” into their mouths. Has Michelle Belanger never encountered the tongue-in-cheek Zen quip, “If You Meet the Buddha On the Road, Kill Him?” [Sangi note: This is actually the title of a book by Sheldon Kopp.] The last autohagiography I read — make that the only autohagiography I read — was that of Aleister Crowley. The jury is still out as to whether or not he was truly enlightened.
I do have one last, small quibble to get off my chest before I take this roast out of the oven. The bibliography in The Psychic Vampire Codex is fantastic, but there aren’t any endnotes or footnotes or anything like that. What is the point of listing references if you aren’t going to quote from them or otherwise refer to them? Wouldn’t the booklist have been more aptly named “Recommended Reading, If You Are Up To The Intellectual Load?”
Michelle Belanger tells people in the Kheprian Codex (which is essentially the best description of this flawed if brilliant work of art) to seek their own truth. I think this is a good idea. You’ll probably find your truth somewhere else, though.