And We Thought Vampires Were The Stuff Of Our Dreams

November 30, 2009 by  

A_-Skarsgard1Do vampires really exist? The answer to this question depends on your definition of the word vampire. If you feel that vampires, such as those creatures depicted in movies such as Near Dark and in books such as Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries, Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview With A Vampire exist, then I would have to say no.

And as much as we want to believe, nay fervently desire, that the Viking vampire Eric Northman and Bill Compton, both vampires from the hit HBO series True Blood, exist; as much as it disappoints me to admit to this, I’d certainly wager that these glamorous creatures do not in fact walk among us. In fact, to date, I have not met or even heard of a verifiable fact that such creature do in fact exist.

spike from buffyIf, on the other hand, you believe that vampires are people who are basically normal with the exception of one or two abnormalities such as hypersensitivity to light, heightened psychic abilities, and the physical need to consume blood, then my answer would be yes, albeit a hesitant yes.

Of course, as fictional or mythological characters, from Stoker’s Count Dracula to Spike to the bewitching Eric Northman, Pam and Bill Compton of True Blood, we have come to accept and celebrate the vampire. But for many people, vampirism isn’t just a literary genre. It’s an identity and a lifestyle. Yes, this even includes the blood-drinking.

And though it may sound incredulous, some experts say that there’s a little bit of a vampire in all of us. As Katherine Ramsland a forensic psychologist and author of Science of Vampires, explains,

“The vampire image is sexy because it’s a trespass […] It’s not just kissing, it’s biting […] the vampire has the ability to make you want it, even though you’re frightened of it.”

According to K. Ramsland, cultures all over the world retain some belief in their folklores that in a vampire like creature capable of sucking the life force. The ‘vampire metaphor’ common in the United States is derived from the Romanian Dracula, she said. But in other cultures, there are variations, for example, some cultures believe that vampires are only female or that they only go after children. Others believe that the vampire emerge only after a suicide, rather than after a vampire‘s bite. Despite the different ways the metaphor is manifested, certain elements remain, regardless of where it appears.

As Ramsland further clarifies,

“Whatever comes and depletes you is a vampiric image […] It’s not always blood. It’s a human metaphor, a representation of a human dread that’s both frightening and exciting.”

And it is hardly surprising, attracted to the powerful and sexy image of, for example, Lestat, Spike, Angel, Ericbill and sookie Northman or Vampire Bill, legions of people around the world have formed subcultures that reflect various parts of the vampire identity.

But according to Ramsland, there is a continuum of responses to the vampire metaphor that draws in members of this subculture. For some, it’s merely an outlet for creativity. For others, it manifests the belief, no matter how mistaken, that they need the blood or energy of another person or animal to subsist. Unfortunately, in very rare cases, Ramsland indicates, it gives structure to paranoia and delusion. Regardless of how it’s manifested, however, it’s a very powerful metaphor, Ramsland explains,

“People can participate in whatever ways they want to […] Some of us are more the blood drinkers or the victim or the hunter. All of us participate in the metaphor in some manner […] It allows for so much elasticity.”

Unsurprisingly, this diversity, of practice and belief systems, makes the exact size of the vampire community difficult to quantify. For starters, apparently, not all real-life vampires drink blood. While ‘sanguine’ vampires say they need to drink human or animal blood to revive themselves. Some sanguine vampires even draw blood from a vein, transfer it to a glass and then drink it. On the other hand, ‘pranic’ vampires claim they do not require blood, saying that they can simply feed off the energy of other humans. The word ‘pranic’ stems from the Hindu notion of prana, or energy. Well, I learn something new every day…

Belfazaar, who works as a spiritual consultant at a shop called Voodoo Authentica, is a ‘sanguine’ vampire, the blood drinking type of vampire. And if you’re wondering, he practices mouth-to-wound feeding. At his most hungry, Belfazza will ingest six ounces of blood but he acknowledges that this can make ‘mundanes’, normal humans in vampire lingo, sick. Whether you choose to believe him or not, Belfazaar maintains, however, that vampire feeding is crucial for him to stay healthy, claiming that it can also provide an erotic experience,

“Even though the vampires are taking from someone there is an energy that we give off […] For some people, they describe it as calming, other people describe it as sensually arousing.”

Belfazaar agrees to demonstrate what he refers to as “a safe blood feed”. In front of the cameras, Belfazaar removes his prosthetic fangs, rinses his mouth with mouthwash and sterilizes the skin of his willing donor, called Bo. Belfazaar used an exacto knife to make a small cut on Bo’s back. As blood flowed, Belfazaar drank it directly from the wound. Apparently, this isn’t Bo’s first time,

“It’s not comfortable, but it doesn’t hurt […] I mean, it’s not any worse than getting a piercing or a tattoo […] It’s a rush of energy. There’s a bond between the two individuals.”

Jade, a tarot card reader in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and considered an elder in the New Orleans vampire community agrees, claiming that she needs to feed on sex and blood. In fact, the more, the better,

“I can do it once a week and stay balanced. I can do it twice a week and stay happy. I can do it daily and just be really happy.”

Doctors, however, claim that there no medical value is derived from a ‘blood feed’. Apart from the obvious danger of ingesting blood tainted with HIV, hepatitis or other viruses, Dr. Jeffrey Hobden, an infectious disease expert at the LSU Health Sciences Centre, explains,

“To ingest the blood, biologically speaking, it has no value whatsoever in making any medical difference [but] The placebo effect can be very powerful […] Not only is the person who’s ingesting the blood at risk, but the person who is donating the blood who was cut is also at risk from infection. “

Belfazaar disagrees,

“I’ve been doing this since I was 13, so that’s 31 years of never being bothered by any of the other infections […] So if there’s something that bothers a normal — what we call a mundane — human, for some reason they don’t bother me.”

As Katherine Ramsland, author of The Science of Vampires, clarifies,

“It’s a worldwide phenomenon […] Some people are misfits […] Some people are just creative people who don’t feel they fit into normal society. Some people find the vampire a very empowering figure and they want to identify with that.”

william dafoe as vampireRamsland also acknowledges that, in some cases, people suffer from clinical vampirism, which is the psychotic delusion that one needs to ingest blood in order to survive. Convinced that they need to drink blood, some people cut their own arteries or have killed loved ones. But as Ramsland emphasizes, this condition is very different from forming a persona around a vampire and participating in a subculture that celebrates it.

E. Mark Stern, an independent psychotherapist and professor emeritus at Iona College in New York, has published widely on psychotherapy. Although he has not studied the vampire subculture specifically, he has dealt with a number of people who have claimed vampire tendencies.

Stern acknowledges that currently, there are certainly manifestations of the phenomenon, noting that some cults have exploited the blood theme to perpetrate fatal crimes.

But aside from these examples, he said, using blood as a way to bond people to a community is not entirely beyond the mainstream.

He cites the example of taking communion in the Catholic tradition which carries the metaphor of receiving the flesh and blood of Christ. However, he acknowledges that the blood bond also exists outside religion,

“When I was 9, we were buddies forever – ‘blood brothers.’ We pricked our fingers, mixed them and sucked them […] In that sense, it’s a way of binding a community beyond the usual forms of understanding. On a rational basis, you can say ‘what the hell are they doing?’ But on an instinctive basis, then we’re bound much more.”

However, Stern cautions that vampirism comes with extremes. In fiction, we are now familiar with the vampire. From the classic novel Dracula to the hit HBO series True Blood, vampires are portrayed as immortal, bewitching predators with supernatural powers such as Eric Northman’s ability to fly or Dracula’s ability to shape shift. On the other hand, today’s self-described vampires do not claim to be immortal or have superpowers. And they say they don’t prey on strangers. They have willing donors, who are often friends or lovers. Now that I know vampires don’t merely belong to my dreams, I can only wish that the True Blood vampires walk among us too.

You can watch some of the clips from ABC’s “20/20” program’s look at real-life vampires here.


Real-Life Vampires:

Coming Out of the Coffin:

Photo credit: HBO, Inc and