by Sarah Dorrance
Mysticism is far too easily abused. The gnostic urge in us is very strong — we humans as a species desperately need mystery, but we live in an age when God is either dead or seems to have been appropriated by fundamentalists. Most of our myths have likewise been proven false. I can only think of two ages more cynical in Western history: the late Roman Empire, and the Age of Enlightenment.
The former was a culture that knew on a gut level that it, too, was dying, and alongside royal scandals and mass demoralization so terrible that hereditary classes were created to force the common people to keep their jobs, was a civilization obsessed with mystery cults. These mystery cults included Mithraism, Orphism, and (at the time) Christianity. Belief systems like these replaced the traditional ancestor worship; people were starting to lose their trust in their forebears.
The latter was an age very skeptical about anything smacking of religion, but at least there was an exuberant faith in science; when this decayed, there came a cultural backlash. The eighteenth century became known as the “Age of Sentiment” because right beside a near-worship of the rational was an equal devotion to the irrational. The most popular literary forms were morality novels, “sublime” poetry, revolutionary essays, and Gothic stories of terror, debauchery, and the supernatural. The Romantic movement didn’t just spring up overnight; it was more of a coming-of-age of the era of Sensibility and Sentiment.
Our culture is very similar. We have a lot of cynicism about our governing leaders, about authority in general, and about religion — but we also have a void to fill, and we’re filling it with belief in the supernatural.
Vampire-identified people are by nature apt to jump to the mystical and the supernatural. Think about it. What kind of a person is even likely to think of describing him or herself as a “vampire”? There’s a lot of overlap with the occult community, perhaps even more than with the goth community.
We want the numinous and the mystical — but conventional religion for the most part doesn’t do it for us. Even those of us who follow a mainstream religion (I’m Episcopalian; I know a Catholic vampire and a few more Protestant vampires) often put our own spin on it. I, personally, practice a form of what, for lack of a better word, can be called “magic.” Marsilio Ficino, in the fifteenth century, called it “active imagination”. Scholars called his philosophy “neoplatonism”. Whatever it is, I believe in it. So do the aforementioned friends.
Most of the web pages I’ve seen in cyberspace that deal with real-life vampirism try to put some sort of mystical spin on it. Or what seems mystical, anyway. Certainly it’s mysterious.
The mysterious should not be confused with the mystical. Throughout history, real mystics (Christians like St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, etc; Buddha; Buddhist and Hindu monks; Sufis; whatever) never followed a mystical path because it gave them special powers, or because it made them feel special inside, or because it made them look grand and special and powerful to other people. Real mysticism has always been about dissolving, about losing oneself in that which has been called God, the Tao, Brahma, whatever. It has been about death of the ego. Coming back from the dead is not mentioned as a goal in mystical texts — merely dissolving and being absorbed into the Whole. Fusing with it. Achieving union.
Real mysticism acknowledges that we all have a little piece of the All in us (Atman, the Holy Spirit) but this is acknowledged as akin to a drop of water in an ocean. Real mysticism is not about being a fairy or the incarnation of a totemic beast. It is not about being the spawn of fallen angels. It is not about remembering lots of past lives (most of which were important somehow — nobility, priests, witches, famous people, interesting people like highwaymen…) It is not about anything that feeds and glorifies the ego. All of this is certainly colourful, and adds to a life which is devoid of mystery, but it’s not mystical. It’s not the point of real mysticism at all.
Vampirism is about feeding a hunger — if there is a spiritual hunger in addition to a physical hunger, that spiritual hunger ought to be nourished with real mysticism, not just things mysterious. Prana feeding is in a grey area, to be sure, but I believe that it has a spiritual base and is about desire for a communion of some sort — a terrible intimacy that drowns the soul completely, and will not be satisfied without that intimacy. Which is why nothing but intimacy truly satisfies.
I say beware of anything that makes the vampire out to be oh-so-powerful, or mysterious and supernatural, or otherwise attempts to play certain attractive myths in order to feed the ego. That is the spiritual equivalent of eating Big Macs every day. It’s also fundamentally inaccurate, and it’s based on flattering those who lead that spiritual path.
And there’s a lot of spiritual “fast food” out there.