By Light Unseen

The Real Vampire Community's Early Days

This article will be expanded with further information as I collect it. I'll be delighted to hear from people who were involved in groups or networks prior to the 1980s and can share their experiences.

As far as I've been able to trace, the term, "Vampire Community" was first used by Sanguinarius in the late 1990s, and primarily referred to the coalescing network of messageboards, chat channels and email groups on the Internet. But a loose and disconnected network of Vampire-Identified People had been in existence for at least several decades by then.

It's impossible to document what may have existed prior to the 1970s. Very few people openly identified as "vampires," and those networks or groups they may have formed were far underground and secretive, like the networks for gays prior to the mid-20th century. The earliest networks evolved out of several related sources.

Vampire fiction or media fan groups (e.g. Dark Shadows fan clubs) attracted some Vampire-Identified People who found or recognized one another.
The BDSM scene had a subgroup of Vampire-Identified People, although it's important to stress that not all members of the BDSM scene who were involved in blood play considered themselves in any sense "vampires."
Satanist, Pagan and magickal groups, especially those that explored the "dark" mystical disciplines, became homes for some Vampire-Identified People.
Finally, as the Goth movement grew and established itself in certain nightclubs or other public venues, many Vampire-Identified People gravitated to their local Goth subculture, even if they didn't really consider themselves Goth or follow the Goth musicians and bands.

Once a few Vampire-Identified People had gathered under the auspices of one of these communities, they frequently formed their own smaller group or organization and kept their shared interest secret from the larger community. They often were conflicted between risking exposure by reaching out to find others, or remaining private and constantly fearing discovery and ostracism. The early groups were like speakeasies: potential new members had to know someone who could introduce them, and/or use the right "code words" and catch phrases to identify themselves.

Before the Internet became widely available, fringe communities of all kinds communicated through thousands of small, home-printed publications or newsletters sometimes called 'zines. Typed or even handwritten (later produced with the earliest primitive word processors and desktop publishing programs), reproduced by mimeograph or photocopier and mailed out to subscribers, these 'zines could run anywhere from two to over fifty pages and featured wildly diverse (and frequently copyright-violating) content. An ephemeral medium, most are now long lost except for those few copies that may have been filed away by their editors or subscribers. They also linked limited circles of readers with little overlap, although the most devoted Vampire-Identified People often subscribed to as many 'zines as they could find. During the 1980s, 'zines were exhaustively catalogued and reviewed in Mike Gunderloy's mind-boggling periodical, Factsheet Five.

In the 1960s, "vampire research organizations" started to appear (usually consisting of one person and possibly a few assistants and reporters-at-large). Dr. Jeanne Keyes Youngson founded the Count Dracula Fan Club in 1965 after a trip to Romania. Originally focused on vampire literature and fandom, especially Dracula, the CDFC amassed a research library of over 25,000 books and in 2000 changed its name to Vampire Empire. Dr. Youngson is intensely skeptical about self-proclaimed "real vampires" (I once met her at a party where she was entertaining attendees with stories about the letters she received amid gales of incredulous laughter). But the CDFC was contacted by so many Vampire-Identified People that Dr. Youngson published a short book about some of her "cases," Private Files of a Vampirologist, in 1997.

Meanwhile, the very eccentric Sean Manchester launched the Vampire Research Society in Britain in 1970. Manchester, a huge admirer of Montague Summers, believed that folklore vampires like those reported in the 18th century panics were real and dedicated himself to detecting and destroying them. He is most famous for allegedly discovering such a reanimated corpse in London's Highgate Cemetery. He had no patience with ordinary people who called themselves vampires, although like Dr. Youngson, he certainly heard from some of them. He got a lot of press, albeit rather derisive, and helped push the idea that "real vampires" actually existed into the public consciousness.

Dr. Stephen Kaplan founded the Vampire Research Center in New York City in 1971 (according to his own book, Vampires Are (1984)) and reported correspondence, phone conversations, and in-person meetings with Vampire-Identified People in response to the Center's listing in the Manhattan phone book. These individuals had collected into small private groups but it's unclear how they communicated outside of their immediate local network, if they did so at all. Many of the "vampires" that Kaplan encountered seemed to be involved with either the BDSM or Satanist subcultures, and Kaplan claimed that some Satanist groups he attempted to investigate killed his dog and threatened his life.

Dr. Leonard Wolf ran advertizements in the late 1960s asking simply, "Are you a vampire?" He reported the response in his somewhat pretentious book about vampire fiction, the vampire's mystique and (mostly) himself, A Dream of Dracula (1971). This was among the earliest commercially published works to describe more-or-less sane and law-abiding people who defined themselves as "vampires" to the mainstream reading public. While neither Kaplan nor Wolf issued a newsletter or helped Vampire-Identified People connect with each other, their published works showed isolated Vampire-Identified People that they weren't alone and others like them existed.

Martin V. Riccardo founded the Vampire Studies Society in 1977 and issued a quarterly newsletter, Journal of Vampirism from 1977 to 1979. Riccardo went on to explore the nature of "psychic vampires," and claims to have invented the term, "astral vampirism." In 1978, Eric Held cofounded the Vampire Information Exchange, along with Dorothy Nixon, after talking to Stephen Kaplan by phone. Both Held and Nixon were intrigued by the idea of "real vampires." The VIE published the Vampire Information Exchange Newsletter (VIEN) from 1978 through the mid-2000s. Despite the interests of their founders, both of these newsletters tended to focus on vampire media and folklore, and did not treat Vampire-Identified People seriously. However, many Vampire-Identified People subscribed to them and attempted to contact the researchers.

During the 1980s, the wave of vampire popularity launched by Anne Rice's fabulously successful books led to a number of non-fiction works being published that explored the roots of vampire enthusiasm. Either tangentially or directly, these books touched on people who defined as "real vampires" and stated that they drank blood. Folklorist Norine Dresser distributed questionnaires to college students and members of vampire fan clubs as she researched American Vampires: Fans, Victims, Practitioners (1989), and opened the book with a discussion of several blood-drinking Vampire-Identified People. Martin V. Riccardo's The Lure of the Vampire was published by the CDFC in 1983 and Stephen Kaplan's Vampires Are was published by a small press in 1984. Olga Hoyt's Lust for Blood (1984) included a chapter about Vampire-Identified People drawn from Dr. Youngson's case histories. For better or worse, the existence of Vampire-Identified People was penetrating the general public's awareness more and more.

During this decade, several Vampire-Identified People and researchers appeared on talk shows or "documentaries," usually around Halloween and often as part of a group that included Pagan leaders like Andras Corban Arthen, Satanists like Dr. Michael Aquino (whose Temple of Set included a subgroup named Order of the Vampire) and self-proclaimed Christian "occult experts" like Mike Warnke. Dr. Kaplan's assistant, Max Toth, made a number of such appearances, and Dr. Kaplan himself gave presentations at New York area fan conventions. These appearances usually included contact information for the guests. A few Vampire-Identified People, such as Countess Misty, "came out of the coffin" publicly, giving interviews, mingling at fan conventions and writing columns for 'zines.

A major shift took place in 1991, and I'm still trying to analyze just exactly what caused it. Perhaps it was simply one of those occasional confluences of coincidences and there isn't a root cause. But it seems to owe a lot to Anne Rice.

In 1991, Anne Rice was at the top of her game. She had published the first three of her Vampire Chronicles (Interview With the Vampire (1976), The Vampire Lestat (1985) and Queen of the Damned (1988)), all of which were enormous best-sellers among mainstream readers, not just genre fiction or vampire fans. Accessible and friendly to her fans, Rice had recently moved to New Orleans. In 1988 she approved the formation of an official fan club that began hosting Halloween gatherings for fans, who often attended costumed and "in persona" as their favorite characters.

What made Rice's books unique was her use of the intimate first-person voice, and the vampire protagonist's point of view. Readers found themselves inside the minds and feelings of vampires, something that had rarely been attempted in fiction before. In essence, by reading Rice's books, readers were "role-playing" the protagonist, and experiencing what it was like to be a vampire, involuntarily. Why so many readers found this so appealing is another question (not everyone agrees that Rice is the world's best writer). But obviously millions of them did, and that created a subtle change in the collective consciousness that both the Vampire Community and conventional wisdom completely fail to appreciate.

Anne Rice and her first-person narratives may have tilled the fertile ground into which White Wolf Games dropped the seed of a role-playing game called Vampire: The Masquerade in 1991. But whatever the explanation, V:tM exploded in popularity almost the moment it was released. Vampire fans no longer were passively experiencing vampirism through narrative: now they could act it out and improvise their own stories. Gaming, Live Action Role Play (LARP) gaming and associated social events became immensely popular almost overnight, especially in large cities. The Gotham vampire club scene in New York City saw a huge burst of activity and membership with the founding of The Sanguinarium in 1993 by "fangsmith" Todd Hoyt. Vampyre Lifestyling, a spin-off from both the Goth movement and the gaming subculture, also grew at a fast pace.

Anne Rice's success is probably the reason that two of the first commercial mass-market books devoted entirely to Vampire-Identified People (rather than including a chapter on them as an afterthought) were published in 1991: Vampires Among Us by Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Bloodlust by Carol Page. Liriel McMahon founded the Vampirism Research Institute in 1991 and began publishing The Journal of Modern Vampirism.

All of this provided positive jungles of protective coloration and camouflage for bona fide Vampire Identified People to become more public and search for others like themselves. Several Vampire-Identified People launched amateur magazines or newsletters in the early 1990s. Inspired at least in part by Anne Rice's novels (certainly the terminology came from there), some small groups settled into "safe houses" or "coven houses," living communally as "vampire families."

But it was the Internet that was about to facilitate an explosion of participation, interaction and change among Vampire-Identified People, as it gave equal access to all and rendered geographical location and restrictive personal circumstances moot.

It's vitally important to understand one thing. During all of this time, all of these Vampire-Identified People, whether online or offline, public or private, were blood-drinking vampires. That was what made them vampires. That was the one thing they had in common. They all stated that they needed, or wanted, to drink blood. No one openly claimed to be a "psychic vampire" (although "psychic vampires" were mentioned occasionally in a very negative context, in accordance with earlier descriptions of them).

That was about to change.