Where are all the vampyres? – Tracing a cultural development

By

Tim

A little history

It started almost five-thousand years before the birth of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth, that much is recorded in Hindu sacred writings. It grew, thrived and multiplied until every single country had some folklore connected with it and it almost paralysed parts of a continent in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In 1858 a Frenchman named Piérart proposed an alternative view of it that was at odds with one of the single most iconic and entrenched mythologies known. Today it is the field of battle between opposing adherents who all claim to “know” what it is all about.

Vampirism, or if you prefer, Vampyrism, it makes no difference but what does make a difference is the vast entity this field of “folklore” has become. The mass media lap it up, the newspapers apply the name wantonly and the movie industry rakes in the profits. So, where does that leave today’s real vampyres, and what’s more to the point, where, from seven thousand years of belief, folklore, legend and life, are all the vampyres?

 

It is a well known fact that in 1819 Dr. John Polidori and George Gordon Lord Byron gave the public their seminal works, The Vampyre: A Tale and The Giaour, respectively.

In 1897 Bram Stoker gave us Dracula. Perhaps not so well known is the fact that between 1748 and 1937 the first wave of vampyre literature propelled the hitherto mainly superstitious beliefs into the limelight and firmly into the public’s consciousness.

People were starting to wonder about the reality of the stories, especially given what were regarded as being “credible reports” going back as far as the Jure Grando tale, from Istria, of 1656; the case of Arnold Paole of 1727 and the subsequent investigations by a Regimental Field Surgeon appointed by the Austrian Emperor in 1731 which “identified” and “dealt with” a total of seventeen “vampyres” out of some 43 exhumed corpses.

 

In 1828, not very far from the site of the Paole case, a man named Peter Plogojowitz died and in the weeks following his demise nine people succumbed to a mysterious illness characterized by “excessive blood loss”. The chief magistrate sent a report of the deaths to the commander of the Imperial forces and the commander responded by visiting the village. The graves of all the recently deceased were opened. The body of Plogojowitz himself was an enigma to them – he appeared to be in a trance-like state and was breathing very gently. His eyes were open, his flesh plump and he exhibited a ruddy complexion. His hair and nails appeared to have grown and fresh skin was discovered just below the scarfskin. Most importantly, his mouth was smeared with fresh blood.

 

In 1892 alleged “Rhode Island” vampire Mercy Brown died at age 19. Her death followed those of her mother and older sister. At the time, her brother, Edwin, was seriously ill and the family was desperate to save him. Family members attributed the deaths to a curse on the family and decided to dig up the bodies of the women, including Mercy, who had been buried for about a month. When Mercy’s body was exhumed, observers noted it appeared to have moved inside the coffin and blood was present in her heart and veins.

There seemed to a period relatively free of “vampyric activity” until 1967.

In 1967 the Vampire Research Society was founded as a specialist unit within the much older British Occult Society. Seán Manchester was responsible for the vampire research unit becoming a self-governing body on 2 February 1970. Also in 1967, Manchester, received accounts from a schoolgirl named Elizabeth Wojdyla and a friend of hers, whom claimed to have seen several graves opening in Highgate Cemetary, London; and the occupants rising from them. Between then and 1970 the sensational “Highgate Vampire” case captured popular attention.

For 311 years the world had been treated to sensational reports of “real” vampyres, the kind that occupied graves by day and came out at night to take blood from the living. The legends were alive and well.

From 1966 the first example of a divergence from the old beliefs became apparent. As far back as 1858 Z.J. Piérart, a psychical researcher on vampirism and professor at the College of Maubeuge in France, proposed his theory of psychic vampirism, suggesting that vampyres were the astral bodies of either incarcerated or deceased individuals that were revitalizing themselves on the living. This work was further reinforced by Violet Mary Firth (a.k.a Dion Fortune) in her related experiences and her books in the early nineteen-thirties. In 1966 Anne de Molay founded the Order of Maidenfear, which still exists today, based in the principles of belief in psychic vampirism. The stage was thus set for a clash of ideologies.

The Late 20th Century

People who claimed to be modern day vampyres were undoubtedly celebrating their ideology from very early on in the piece but it seemed as though the only “vampyres” getting any real attention were those that the newsprint brought into the limelight, people such as Richard Chase, dubbed “The Vampire Killer of Sacramento” and the 1996 case of reporter Susan Walsh who disappeared while writing a story on downtown Manhattan’s mysterious “vampire underground”.

In what was either the biggest boost to, or the biggest disaster for vampyres everywhere, Delphi became the first national commercial online service to offer Internet access to its subscribers. It opened up an email connection in July 1992 and full Internet service in November 1992. All pretenses of limitations on commercial use disappeared in May 1995 when the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the Internet backbone, and all traffic relied on commercial networks. AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe came online. All the pieces of the first global, real time, communication network started to fall into place and a whole new world of information exchange opened up.

In 1993 The Sanguinarium; a integral part of the evolution of the modern vampyre culture, was founded by Father Sebastian Todd. Then, in 1997, hot on the heels of the release of the Black Veil version 1 from the Long Black Veil events at Mother nightclub in New York, the first webpage of Sanguinarius.org appears. This was followed in 1999 when Sphynxcat’s Real Vampires Support Page was established on the internet and Vampire-church.com was first registered in April of that year.

For the first time, anyone who had a computer, or access to a computer could access information on “real” vampyres. They could read about their activities, their thoughts, their opinions. The vampyre became a mainstream interest for a far wider audience than ever before and this, inevitably, led to a burgeoning involvement in the existence and promulgation of the myths, legends and folklore.

A veritable explosion of vampire related internet message boards and web forums sprang up as newcomers to the genre, with all the technology easily at their disposal, discovered a way to tell their stories, or to create them.

Vampyres were no longer exclusively the stuff of superstition, legend and folklore. They were no long a titillating enticement of the literary or movie industry, they were people of flesh and blood who paid homage to the concept of vampirism without the superstition. They discussed the matter as openly and simply as any other daily occurrence and that is when the vampyre began to lose some of the mysterious allure of history. Within the framework of a relatively small group “vampirism” became something “normal” rather than an unhallowed reanimation of blood sucking corpses. The tide was turning and the archetypical vampyre was left in the realms of fiction writers and the movies. Even within these realms the popular concept of the vampyre was being “softened”.

In 1994, Oprah Winfrey convened a prayer circle outside the premiere of the adaptation of Anne Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” and it was also notable that this film was probably amongst the first to cast the vampyre in a more sympathetic light than had previously been adopted. Following this a trend developed of making the vampyre a little more “acceptable” to mainstream audiences and has recently developed an almost romanticized aspect with the film adaptations of the “Twilight” books. Suffice to say that the public perception of evil connotations with the name of the vampyre has been somewhat blunted. Today the perceptions people have of vampyres is influenced by movies, and endless array of fiction books and, of course, the ever recurrent investigative reality and talk shows that take great delight in presenting their audiences with something that challenges the perceptions of “normalcy”. Some members of the vampire community are doing, or have done, great service to the community with their approaches in documentary shows but their efforts come entirely undone when the outrageous, the flamboyant, the insincere and the unpleasant are given the limelight to bring up the ratings.

The situation is not helped, and cannot be helped, by the state of flux that the community seems to be constantly embroiled in, a situation that today mirrors the situation that was apparent as long ago as 1998 to many in the community. Psychic and Energy vampirism had taken root in the sixties and probably played a sufficient role in determining a shift from the sanguinarian premise of the vampyres nature due to “civilized” taboos about consumption of blood. Whether the blood was consumed in an acceptable religious context, metaphorically or for ritualistic purposes, none of which were held to be particularly wholesome.

Perhaps one of the most concise answers to the question, “What is a vampire?” is to be found at the homepage of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance,

Quote:

10. What is a “real” or “modern” vampire?

A. A vampire is a human who is awakened and bears a commonality with other like kind by having an energy deficiency that requires them to seek an outside source of energy or prana in order to maintain a healthy homeostasis. Modern or real vampires primarily fall into two primary categories classified by their feeding method; psychic or psi vampires and sanguinarian (blood) vampires. Vampires are not turned, made, immortal, deathly allergic to sunlight, garlic, crosses, etc. For the most part we blend in with the rest of society and attempt to maintain a balance between what we need and what we take. We are not evil, violent, psychologically unstable, nor lacking of either morals or ethics. Not everyone from our community associates with the term “vampire” but most presently recognize such label as the most widely used descriptor for our condition.

 

And that leaves us…

The community is in a state of flux, once again. There are claims, starting to gather momentum, that Sanguinarians should forsake the identification “vampyre” altogether and should segregate themselves completely from the community. Perhaps, given the steady and subtle erosions that have been visited on the vampyre beliefs over the last forty-five years or so, that is not entirely a bad concept but it does beg a question or two. Energy vampyres have been making much of claims that it is really the “energy” in the blood that the Sanguinarians need without knowing it specifically. There is a core of devoted adherents in each camp but there are also many hundreds, if not thousands, who do not know which way to look, who to listen to or what to believe when reading of the differing positions. We now have a bewildering array of claims to different types of “vampyre”. Without looking too hard we can find Sanguinarians, Empaths, Psi, Psy or Psionic, Astral, Elemental, Sexual, Lifestylers, Clinical, Role-Players, Classical, Genetic Vampires, Night-timers, Inheritors and Symbiont vampyres the permutations are still appearing with terms such as “hybrid” now entering the field where a person lays claim to being two types of vampyre rolled into one. In short, it would seem that much like popular religions, those who adhere to the concepts of modern vampyrism are finding their own “comfort zone” within the overall picture, a concept of their own vampyrism that most neatly fits with their own ethical and moral viewpoint, and in many cases a genuine desire to be divorced from the historical concept and definition of vampyre.

In the statement of purpose contained at its website, the Vampire Church (inaugurated on the web in April 1999) offers the following:

“We do not honor the portrayal of vampirism found in the romantic and power driven films made by the movie industry, nor do we hold any belief in what the gaming industry has suggested. While the fantasy world of vampirism has its entertainment value, we emphasize that bio energy vampirism is a serious condition made no less important with its problems and

Vampirism is about the inherent ability to acquire unique needed life giving energy resources. There are those who draw their strength or energy from prana sources or direct life giving sources such as present in blood and sexual energy and even in your breath. And when these are not present there are those who derive their energy from their empathic abilities, the ability to absorb the emotional energy of other people and other living things such as pets and “feel” other people’s emotions thereby increasing bio energy levels in a positive way thru manipulation of this energy. Then there are also elemental vampires who seek and are able to use the energy of the earth around them such as thru storms and other natural events or thru non living earth elements around them.  

The vampire can have many abilities such as empathic ability and the ability to manipulate the emotional energy of people and picking up on the mental energy of others. Vampires draw their energies off of the energy around them.”

One leading group in the United Kingdom is the London Vampyre Group. At their website they have quite extensive a spread of information including a frequently asked questions section that is somewhat interesting. Two of the questions they repeatedly deal with display the external perceptions of “real” vampirism quite concisely.

Q6. I need to interview/photograph real blood drinkers – can you fix this?

We are tv/video/investigative journalists doing a documentary profile on “vampirism” and, basically, we want the real thing and to be able to both interview and view the taking of blood by humans. You realise this is only to promote greater understanding.

One thing we constantly try to make clear is that a fascination with any aspect of “the vampyre” does not necessitate the drinking of blood, and any such assumption is just trite and obvious. Our researches have led us to think that it is difficult for humans to gain any amount of nutrition from the consumption of blood as it is a) hard to digest and b) incomplete in terms of the variety needed in a healthy diet.

On the other hand we acknowledge that many humans knowingly consume blood in the form of sausage and similar products and in Britain this is known as “Black” sausage – indeed a lot of us have no qualms about admitting eating and liking this. Some societies let blood from their animals to consume it and one example is where Masai tribesmen, who are herders of cattle, will take blood from their animals for nutritive and also rirualistic purposes.

Taking blood from another animal, especially a human, implies several health hazards and precautions regarding the avoidance of disease are obvious. We are aware that there are people who experience an erotic pleasure in sampling blood from a sexual or sensual partner and this is less the business of “drinking someone dry” and more the pursuit of breaking taboos and experiencing symbolic and fetishistic pleasures.

Since this is the business only of people who engage in such mutual pleasuring it is not possible to condemn it, especially in a society which tolerates brutal practices like boxing and dog fighting in the name of sport. On the other hand, we categorically say that, for a person to be interested and involved in the vampire genre does not imply in any way that they need to indulge in blood drinking.

Those who do carry out such private practices have asked us to protect their identities especially since the society we live in is not as tolerant of individualists as our “protectors” would like us to think. Unnecessary exposure has led people into physical intimidation and danger and also loss of employment and livelihood.

For this reason, we will not seek out blood drinkers for the press. If your researchers are any good (and most of them are pretty poor, no?) they will be able to find what is out there.

After all, do you want it on a plate?

Q1. I wish to be “turned” into a vampire – how do I go about this?

I’m looking for a real vampire sire, no RPG or lifestyler. I’ve been looking for years but no luck. It’s been my dream for ever to be a real vampire and be in a clan. I live in Whitehall, PA, in the U.S.A. Please help me, I’m married, have a son, no friends. I know being a vampire will give me the fulfilment I desire and Ii will honor the laws and elders and lord of the clan I join, but Ii need a lot of help to find one to except into it and embrace me. Please write me back as soon as you get time.

Yours truly X [Name withheld]

Dear X, Firstly, thanks for your email. You would be surprised at the number of requests we get along the same lines as yours, and, as usual, we will try to give you a patient and honest response. It is important for you to realise that, in essence, the vampire is a fantasy figure who exists only in the fictional imagination. Out of all the people we have met who claim they are centuries old, get their nutrition from preying on others, and have achieved immortality, not one has a shred of evidence to uphold their beliefs.

I see the modern living vampyre people as just that, vampyres. I do not see a distinction that can be made based on what the “feeding” preference of a vampyre is. I do not see a group distinction that can be made based on an individual’s concept and understanding of their own vampyrism, which as has been said many times before, is a personal thing to each individual and varies from individual to individual. In the publication Real Vampires as an Identity Group: Analysing Causes and Effects of an Introspective Survey by the Vampire Community , the following abstract is to be found;

“”Real vampires” believe that they must either consume blood or feed on “subtle” energy in order to maintain their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Recent scholarship has analyzed vampirism as a religious movement or as a cluster of “vampire religions.” This article argues that vampirism should be viewed foremost as an identity around which social and religious institutions have formed. This model accounts for the mosaic of religious and cultural orientations held by vampires and acknowledges the vampire community’s claims that vampirism is not a choice. It also facilitates a functionalist reading of vampire discourse as validating a new category of person.”

Thus I would suggest that, after a little over seven thousand years of history, legend and speculation and some three-hundred plus years of seemingly reputable reporting we are exactly where vampyres will always be ~ questioning that which makes us what we are. All of us that take the name vampyre, and take pride in it, are self-identified vampyres. I have only ever met one other who has proven that they are a vampyre to my satisfaction. Perhaps being a real vampyre in the modern age is as much a state of mind as a state of being and if that is the case then how can any of us properly and correctly call ourselves vampyres? Is it that the definition has no meaning any longer except what we as individuals attach to it for our own comfort and purpose, is it that, as one author put it;

“The definition of the term “Vampire” has changed over the past few decades.  It no longer stands, as it once did for the mythical or historical vampire.  It is now far more often associated with modern view of the Vampire, which is becoming greatly influenced by the modern Vampire Community / culture, the media and the evolution of the Vampire in popular entertainment.”

Recently, in a strong case put forward in support of the segregation by Sanguinarians, the author of an article entitled A Sanguinarian Treatise: An Argument For Partition From The Vampire Community wrote;

“Sanguinarians for the most part are the ones who have built the foundation of the “vampire” community and by the fact that we feel the need to consume blood have more ownership of the term “vampire.” However, in the context of the community, the term “vampire” has mutated to the point where it no longer describes us.”

If the word “vampire/vampyre” no longer means “vampire/vampyre” what are any of us to call ourselves.

If the world once had mythological vampyres then I would suggest that they would be turning in their graves, if not then we are victims of thinking too much and creating our own realities for ourselves.

If the world once had real vampyres that drew human blood for their very survival then I suspect they are long gone, or if they are still here they are extremely well hidden and of a very low profile for their own security.

If the world never had vampyres of any kind then we are the first and second generations, and perhaps the only generations of modern vampyres that there will ever be.

Being a self-identified vampyre, plain and simple, just vampire is a knowledge that is as surely known as anything else in a persons life. It’s not a “feeling”, it’s not a delusion, it’s a fact. Can anyone prove that they are a modern vampyre to you? No. Do they need to? again, no. Believe or not, that is entirely up to you.

However, don’t worry, the world has at least one “real” vampyre left that I know of.

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