By Light Unseen

The New Vampire

Despite all the fictional variations, and some feints at showing the vampire's point of view, or making him an "antihero," through most of the twentieth century, vampires remained villainous. For a real person to be equated with a "vampire" was not a flattering thing. Psychological literature used the "vampire" label to refer to very disturbed individuals who drank blood or practiced cannibalism. Usually these individuals were serial killers, rapists, or other brutal criminals (see "Vampire-like Predators"), but sometimes they were simply pathetic people who craved blood so much they'd gnaw on themselves or cut partners during sex.

In addition to this, there had been various stories for centuries about antisocial groups that allegedly drank human blood in rituals, usually that of babies and children. Medieval Jews were falsely accused of this "blood libel" as it is called, by anti-Semites as an excuse for persecuting and murdering Jewish communities. Similar accusations have been made through history against real or imagined scapegoats like accused "witches" in the sixteenth century or alleged "Satanists" in the twentieth. But these people were rarely called "vampires," and their blooddrinking was just one of many sinister things they were accused of doing.

As the first books about "real vampires" began to be published in the 1960s, they usually combined global folklore trivia drawn from Montague Summers with accounts of historical figures or well-known criminals who claimed to drink human blood. These were the people labelled "real life vampires" at first.

Beginning in the early 1970s, the new idea slowly started to spread that some people--not criminals, not emotionally disturbed, although usually somewhat eccentric--living outwardly ordinary lives, reported a craving to drink blood. These people began to be interviewed in print or on television, with varying degrees of sympathy, usually around Halloween. Some started writing articles of their own for small magazines and newsletters. Very gradually, the general public became aware of the existence of another kind of "real vampire:" living human beings who claimed that they needed to drink blood for some unknown, but legitimate, reason.

Just as this idea began to percolate around, the fictional Vampire Metaphor took a shift that had not been seen before. The fictional vampire began to display a new face: that of a sympathetic hero instead of a villain. The vampire started to appear as something with desirable advantages, and a very appealing image for those who felt unusual or out of place. This led to a new phenomenon: identification with the fictional vampire (without being a highly disturbed person identifying with a destructive, evil image, like the little boy in Richard Matheson's 1951 short story "Drink My Blood"). Vampire-identifiers ranged from people who just wrote fiction and fantasized, to people who role-played vampires, to full-blown Lifestylers--people who believed that by imitating the vampire, they might actually manifest some of the desired traits. Meanwhile, blood drinkers, who had previously been viewed as bizarre and "evil," had a whole new paradigm for what they might be.

By the end of the 1990's, the idea of a "psychic vampire" had also gone through some changes. Formerly seen as occult villains of the worst sort (what could be lower and viler than someone who steals the very life force from another person?) or clinging, selfish, using manipulators (as outlined in Anton Szandor LaVey's The Satanic Bible), "psychic vampires" gained a new dignity. Suddenly they were people who needed extra energy because there was something wrong with them, and they weren't "evil" but afflicted. And some "psychic vampires" began to see themselves as the "true vampires," people who didn't just call themselves that because they liked to drink blood, but who were genuinely different.

The eagerness with which Vampire Identified People redefined themselves doesn't mean their revisionist concept of a "vampire" has been widely accepted by the general public. Vampire Identified People have been earnestly attempting (in interviews, "documentaries," lectures and their own books and websites) to present themselves as ordinary people who are just a little "different" for nearly twenty years now, without making a dent in the attitudes of the average mainstream citizen.

The quantum shift is that the average mainstream citizen in the twenty-first century lives in a world that believes in "real vampires," in a way that wasn't true just a few decades ago. But the average mainstream citizen doesn't trust or like vampires any more than his or her eighteenth century ancestors did. Interviews and documentaries evoke derision and worse, with the Vampire Identified People dismissed as "freaks," "crazy," "sick," or "people who read too many vampire novels." Pop psychologists and self-proclaimed "experts" regularly write about "psychic vampires" and "emotional vampires" as being people with difficult personalities who should be avoided, unfriended, or fired by employers as negative influences. To religious fundamentalists, Vampire Identified People are just another way for Satan to prey on the innocent.

The vampire is used metaphorically in exactly the same way as in 1740. Bankers and financiers are compared to vampires, and former President George W. Bush was lampooned as a cartoon vampire biting the jugular of the Statue of Liberty.

For much more detailed information about the vampires who might be living next door, see "Real Vampires and the Vampire Community."