Vampires, Paganism, and You
Author: Morgan St. Knight
I can hear the reaction from some of you now (because I already heard it once when I gave this to someone for feedback) . “What do you mean vampires and me? I don’t have anything to do with that!”
Like it or not, you very may well have something to do with vampires, if only because rarely (but not rarely enough for me) there are news articles quoting authorities who conflate the current trendiness of vampires (Twilight, True Blood) with Paganism. Worse, it’s clear some law enforcement authorities are ready to attribute bizarre or anti-social behavior to Paganism, vampire affiliation or both with careless abandon.
One such story unfolded in October, 2010 in Chandler, Arizona. Firefighters responding to a call at an apartment complex saw a bleeding man fleeing from another apartment. They called police, who arrested a man and woman living in the apartment. The bleeding man told authorities he was staying with them, and that the couple considered themselves to be vampires. He said he had allowed them to drink his blood in the past, but got into an argument with them because he didn’t feel like being a donor that evening, and was subsequently stabbed by the man.
Police later said the couple admitted to the stabbing, but gave conflicting accounts about how and why it happened, with the question of self-defense being raised at one point.
A spokesman for the Chandler Police Department released a statement saying that the couple “practice Paganism and vampirism and follow the vampire cult.” (1) . Of course, police didn’t bother to elaborate on what exactly they meant by a “vampire cult”, and they failed to explain precisely what form of Paganism these suspects were allegedly practicing.
I noted with interest that follow-up reports indicated the victim of “vampires” was arrested himself on outstanding drug warrants, and that this altercation occurred after he and the man who allegedly stabbed him had been drinking. (2) In an interview with a local television station, the man said he felt his “attackers” watched too many vampire films. (3)
I’m not going to weigh in on what I think really happened, because I don’t have enough information to make a fair, unbiased judgment. There are a lot of questions that need answering.
One which burns in my mind is, if the man was stabbed by a couple who repeatedly watched The Passion of the Christ” and “The Ten Commandments”, would police have characterized them as members of a Christian cult? Would religion have entered into it at all? If it turned out they were members of a local church, would they have been identified as Lutherans or Methodists? Or maybe Presbyterians. Yeah, those Presbyterians will shank you in a heartbeat.
I think I know the answer to that one, but it doesn’t get us any closer to the truth about what really went on in that apartment. The truth is these people may very well consider themselves to be vampires.
And–hang on to your besoms, folks–there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in and of itself. I certainly don’t condone physical violence, and if this couple did indeed attack that man, shame on them. They deserve consequences for those actions.
My concern is that the consequences will be far more severe for them than they would be for anyone else who wounded someone with a knife in an altercation, because these people have now been identified as “vampires” as well as “Pagans”.
Some Pagans may say: “That’s their problem. If they think they’re vampires, they brought it on themselves.” But I believe we should understand what we’re talking about before we make rash judgments. If we don’t, we’re no better than small-town cops who blithely toss around the terms Pagan and vampire as if they’re the same thing.
There are people who simply live a vampire lifestyle; some of them just like the mystique, the clothing, the aura of danger and seduction that surrounds literary vampires like Lestat, or some of the characters in Laurel K. Hamilton and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s works. Let’s face it, literary vampires have been made out to be sexy, they make being bad look good, and they can defy the norms of society and still have completely fulfilling and satisfying (un) lives. I see people who adopt this lifestyle as no more dangerous than people who dress up for Renaissance Fairs.
In my opinion, as long as they aren’t hurting any unwilling people or animals (that includes behaving in ways that are detrimental to children and other dependents) , they should be given full respect, and not marginalized if they happen to be Pagan as well.
It is true there is a vampire subculture in this country, as well as several other countries, and by this I don’t mean people who just like to dress up and/or role-play. I mean people who are either blood drinkers or donors to such drinkers. If this thought causes you unease, you’re certainly not alone. But understand that in this subculture there are rules and norms, including not endangering the innocent, not victimizing the unwilling, not exchanging blood if you know you have a communicable disease, taking precautions to ensure that any blood-letting is done safely and does not endanger the donor’s health, and not behaving in a way that would create problems for others in that community.
Yes, it is true that some members of this self-proclaimed vampire community practice various forms of Paganism. It is not that they necessarily believe vampires must be Pagan; rather, I think it is largely because they feel the spiritual beliefs are less in conflict with their true selves than the beliefs of other religions. Odd when you think about it, because our liturgies don’t include “this is my body, this is my blood, take it…” That’s one of those big religions.
Still, Pagans do have way-cool jewelry…. that must be the attraction.
As far as the people in this part of the vampire community, I say: “If it harms none, do what you will”. If they’re playing by their own rules, not harming the innocent and only taking from willing donors, then I wish you all happiness.
But there are also people who say they really do need to drink human blood, or else they suffer physical maladies such as sickness or weakness, even death. Should we as Pagans support their activities (again with the assumed caveats that it involves neither unwilling participants, nor those who are not of age of consent) even if we find them objectionable on a personal level?
It’s an answer each of us has to reach for ourselves, but before making the decision, there are some things to consider. A stated desire to drink blood is likely a psychological need. It may arise spontaneously with no evidence to back it up other than the person’s conviction that he/she is indeed a vampire in the classic sense. Or, the person may believe he/she has a very real and dangerous condition such as porphyria.
Believing that porphyria creates a craving to drink blood is based on a misunderstanding of the condition. This is partly due to some very haphazard links drawn in published literature between the disease and vampirism, as well as lycanthropy. (4, 5) .
There are several different kinds of porphyria, and it’s true that on the surface some of them have symptoms which mirror those of vampirism as described in fiction. Let’s look at some of the connecting points.
About half the conditions classified as porphyria can create sensitivity to sunlight, which might even include skin blistering from direct exposure. It would be easy to see this as an explanation of the vampire’s legendary aversion to sunlight. This category, called cutaneous porphyria, also can cause necrosis of certain tissue such as the gums; this could cause extreme gum recession, which would make the teeth appear longer. People hearing this would immediately think of the vampire’s fangs.
Other conditions fall under the category of acute porphyria. These conditions can cause seizures and rapid and/or irregular heart rhythms, which can prove highly debilitating if not fatal. Seizures, arrhythmia or tachycardia can result in excessive lethargy or even an inability to move.
To the suggestible this might be a clear connection to the death-like state vampires are said to return to during the daylight hours. It might be tempting to draw conclusions from this, but remember, it is also true that such episodes of weakness or paralysis would be more noticeable in daylight hours when other people would be around to see them. Attacks occurring at nighttime in the privacy of the bedroom could easily go undetected if one is alone, or if observed, could be misconstrued as deep sleep or, in the case of a mild to moderate seizure, a troubled sleep.
Where does blood drinking come in? Porphyria is characterized by the absence or malfunction of enzymes involved in the production of heme, which is a crucial component of blood, and which gives our blood its characteristic red color. These days, acute porphyria can be treated with medications that balance out heme levels.
While we have the option of modern pharmacology, what would people who lived in earlier times have done to treat the disease? It would be easy to assume that the condition could cause unusual cravings; many bodily deficiencies do. So you might conclude that without the benefit of medicine, someone with a blood disorder might try to correct it by ingesting large amounts of healthy blood.
It’s debatable whether this would have any effect at all. First, the crucial components in the blood would have to survive the stomach acid and be absorbed into the blood stream in the intestines. Perhaps the iron in the consumed blood would be a small boost to heme and hemoglobin production, but you’d have to consume an awful lot.
Just because education was minimal in many areas back then, doesn’t mean common sense wasn’t rampant. Anyone would know it’s easier, and less socially awkward, to get the blood from livestock instead of humans. Back then, if you slaughtered a farm animal you’d probably use the blood to make sausage, soup, or something else. So if you had a craving for blood, would you attack your neighbor and risk getting taken out by an angry mob, or would you just eat more of that blood sausage from the last slaughter? I think this puts the nail in the coffin (all right, I had to go there!) of the idea that porphyria would drive someone to bite or otherwise injure people to get blood.
Porphyria is far less common in real life than it is in references in literature and on the Internet. How could you determine if someone who claims he/she must drink blood even has it? The only sure way is testing. Porphyria can be diagnosed through blood and urine analysis.
Here’s some trivia for you: the urine of some porphyria victims has the unusual property of becoming dark brown or even purple when exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately it’s poor form in just about every circle, including vampire circles, to ask people to pee in outdoor fountains at high noon as a diagnostic technique. You may just have to take them at their word.
Is it possible that people who feel the need to drink blood today suffer from porphyria? It might account for some cases, but only a small portion. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that most people who fall into the category of blood-drinkers do so for psychological reasons. While some people drink blood to consciously reaffirm their vampire identity (meaning they do it because they want to, and they know they want to) , others may be compelled to do so by psychological needs they can neither understand nor control.
This brings us to a morally grey area, and I definitely have serious hesitations about trying to navigate it. If a person’s craving for blood meets the criteria of compulsory behavior, it is difficult to guarantee whether they will behave rationally and respectfully to meet that need. Admittedly, seeking to take blood from others could be a symptom of a sociopathic disorder. What would separate such serious behavior from a less threatening compulsion? Mostly, the extent to which the person is willing to respect the boundaries of others, understand when someone doesn’t want to become one of their donors, and to accept such refusal maturely.
It’s undeniable there will be “loose cannons” who are unbalanced and think it’s OK to attack someone in a scene out of Blade or The Hunger . But this should not reflect on the vampire community mentioned above in general. Do we allow it to taint our view of the Christian community when one unhinged individual bombs a women’s clinic or kills an abortion provider in cold blood? Do we blame Christianity, or do we blame the individual?
Certainly, the media won’t dare to blame Christianity as a whole, although they typically jump at the chance to blame Pagans whenever anything even slightly bizarre turns up at a crime scene. It’s very tempting to engage in a tit-for-tat response when an outspoken Christian commits some crime in the name of religion, but most of us don’t because we know better.
I would ask that we give the same respect to the vampire community, and not jump to conclusions when we hear that someone involved in a bizarre incident “thinks they are a vampire.” We should judge that person by their actions, not by what they claim to be. It’s the same consideration you would want, isn’t it?
After all, you might be a vampire yourself.
Oh yes, I almost forgot; people who wear lots of velvet and/or drink blood aren’t the only vampires around. There are many other vampires who operate on a different level altogether: the psychic vampires.
That term has two very different definitions. One definition, publicized by (but probably not originated by) Anton LaVey (6) , the late head of the Church of Satan, states that a psychic vampire is an emotionally needy, manipulative person who insinuates themselves into the lives of others, taking up their time, energy, and attention, and essentially reducing the victim’s quality of life. The psychic vampire can be a physically debilitated person who makes others feel guilty for not being more attentive to their needs, or an emotionally needy partner who uses sulking and tears to badger their significant other into submission. They may be a friend or relative who creates a sense of obligation by always doing “little things” for someone, only to remind the person of their largesse at a later time and call in the favor.
But the term as many others and I use it means a person who can take life energy from another individual. Sometimes the self-aware psychic vampire claims to have an underlying physical condition that becomes worse unless they get regular infusions of this life force. In cases where their overall health is fine, they may simply become drained and lethargic without such “feeding”.
A psychic vampire can feed in any public location by taking small quantities of energy from the auras of several people, as well as the ambient energy that surrounds large groups. They may also take it in a more intimate one-on-one setting in which a deeper energy transfer is used. This can include the use of sex, massage, or simply physical closeness (7) . Rarely does the psychic vampire desire to drink even a small amount of the energy donor’s blood, although it’s true that our vital essence is very closely linked to the blood (some believe it is not “in” the blood per se, but exists in a symbiotic state, and therefore can flow out with the blood through any sort of wound or incision) . For a very unusual take on psychic vampires, you may want to read Dion Fortune’s The Secrets of Dr. Taverner. (8)
Certain psychic vampires can feed very well off the emotions of others; these people can posses a predatory empathic ability that can instigate or exacerbate strong emotions, usually those of a negative kind, in others around them. They may consciously do this (the so-called “drama queens” are a perfect example) , but in other cases the person may be totally unaware of this unusual ability to affect others. In these people the ability may be mostly latent unless the person is in dire need of feeding; then the ability awakens, causing an uproar of some sort which very often does not include the person in question, but which happens close enough for them to subconsciously draw in the energy from the emotional outburst.
We’ve all know people who seem to get “caught in the middle” of things on a frequent basis, and usually our sympathies lie with them. Little do most people know that these innocent bystanders may sometimes be the cause of the problem, though not through deliberate malice.
Sympathy, by the way, is a very powerful form of emotional transfer that many energy vampires can take in quite nicely. Some may generate a natural aura of sympathy through their demeanor, but others can use the actual giving of sympathy to set up the transfer. By offering a sympathetic ear or comment, we quite often put another person at ease, and that person offers a subtle, usually unconscious reciprocal energy release. For lack of a better term, it’s the energy associated with feeling gratitude.
As an empath I’ve encountered all of these situations, from people who naturally generate strong reactions by their mere presence or somehow seem to be in the thick of any mayhem that occurs, to others who silently walk through crowded clubs or other large gatherings like athletic events. They keep to themselves, acting like they’re a million miles away, but they are actually soaking in ambient energy. A couple of times I have encountered aggressive energy feeders who attempt to deeply tap people in these group situations without their knowledge, but surprisingly these attempts were clumsy and didn’t seem to work well. The targeted person didn’t seem to exhibit any change as you might expect from a sudden energy drain (from personal experience with willing energy transfers during healing sessions, I can say it often feels like the rapid “crash” after a sugar rush) . I concluded that the targets in these cases had enough natural shielding to prevent an unwanted attack.
Thankfully, like delusional people who attack people physically and try to drink their blood, these aggressive energy-feeders seem to be few and far between. I think it would be rare for any of us to encounter more than one or two in a lifetime unless we live in a large city, and rarer still for us to be the target of such activity.
But I would suggest, just in case, that you become familiar with shielding techniques. There are many good books on psychic self-defense, and it pays to know how to engage and maintain good shields on a daily basis as well as for more dangerous situations.
What if you feel you are a vampire, psychic, sanguine (blood-drinking) or otherwise? A short essay is not the proper forum for dealing with this situation. There are groups and authors who cover this subject much more fully than I can here. I urge you to do careful research and follow your gut instincts about whether you want to actively reach out to others in these communities or whether you’d rather confine your exploration to reading. There will be time to make contacts after you’ve thought about it and done some real soul-searching, but once you make those contacts, you can’t always undo them easily.
Tread lightly if you decide to walk these paths, and be careful before giving your trust too freely. This advice was given to me by actual members of the vampire community who I know and trust. They didn’t sugarcoat it for me, so I pass their words on to you undiluted. It is a lifestyle that is, by its nature, full of shadows. Sometimes the shadows hide beauty and wonder, but sometimes they cover a much deeper darkness. So I say again, tread these paths carefully.
(4) Illis, L: “On Porphyria and the Aetiology of Werwolves (sic) ”; Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, Volume 57, January 1964
(5) Boffey, Phillip M: “Rare disease proposed as cause for ‘vampires’ ”; New York Times, May 31, 1985 (link: http://www.nytimes.com/1985/05/31/us/rare-disease-proposed-as-cause-for-vampires.html )
(6) LaVey, Anton Szandor: “The Satanic Bible”; Avon, 1976
(7) Belanger, Michelle: “The Psychic Vampire Codex”; Weiser Books, 2004
(8) Fortune, Dion: “The Secrets of Dr. Taverner” (reprint) ; Ariel Books, 1989
Copyright: Copyright 2011 by Morgan St. Knight. All rights reserved.