Good afternoon! Welcome to the AEther Salon’s presentation of “Vampires!”, a discussion of the legend, history, and modern impact of the vampire. I am Angelia Rees – in RL a practising vampire of the sanguinarian type (more on that as we progress!) and well-studied in the myths and legends surrounding vampires and vampirism.
My discussion today will begin with vampires in the ancient world, the impact of vampires and their legends on the modern era, and a brief look into the vampire sub-culture of which I am a part. At the end of my presentation, I will take questions from the audience (if you have any). And with that said, I think we can begin the presentation!
The earliest legends of the vampire date back at least 4,000 years, to the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamians feared Lamashtu, a demonic goddess (the daughter of sky god Anu) who preyed on humans.
It was said that Lamashtu would creep into a house at night and steal or kill babies, either in their cribs or in the womb. Mesopotamians attributed sudden infant death syndrome and miscarriage to this figure.
Lamashtu, which translates to “she who erases,” would also prey on adults, sucking blood from young men and bringing disease, sterility and nightmares. She is often depicted with wings and birdlike talons, and sometimes with the head of a lion. To protect themselves from Lamashtu, pregnant women would wear amulets depicting Pazuzu, another demonic god who once defeated the goddess.
Lamashtu is closely associated with Lilith (from the Akkadian root, lilu, meaning “spirit”), a prominent figure in Jewish texts who bears many similar traits and visual images. Accounts of Lilith vary considerably, but in the most notable versions of the story, she was the original woman.
God created Adam and Lilith from the Earth, but there was soon trouble between them. Lilith refused to take a subservient position to Adam, since she came from the same place he did.
In one ancient version of the legend, Lilith left Eden and began birthing her own children. God sent three angels to bring her back, and when she refused, they promised they would kill 100 of her children every day until she returned. Lilith in turn vowed to destroy human children.
While she is often depicted as a terrifying creature, Lilith also had seductive qualities. The ancient Jews believed she would come to men at night as a succubus and drain them of both blood and semen.
Accounts of Lilith as a child-killer seem to be taken directly from the Lamashtu legend. She is often described as a winged demoness with sharp talons, who came in the night, primarily to steal away infants and foetuses.
Most likely, the Jews assimilated the figure of Lamashtu into their tradition, but it’s also possible that both myths were inspired by a class of Akkadian demons known as lili (male) and lilitu (female), which were disease-bearing wind spirits.
The ancient Greeks feared similar creatures, notably Lamia, (Aristophanes claimed her name derived from the Greek word for gullet: laimos), a demoness with the head and torso of a woman and the lower body of a snake.
In one version of the legend, Lamia was one of Zeus’ mortal lovers. Filled with anger and jealousy, Zeus’ wife, the goddess Hera, made Lamia insane so she would eat all her children. Once Lamia realized what she had done, she became so vengeful that she began sucking the blood from young children out of jealousy for their mothers.
Myths variously describe Lamia’s monstrous serpentine appearance as a result of either Hera’s wrath, the pain of grief, the madness that drove her to murder, or – in some rare versions – a natural result of being Hecate’s daughter (as one of the Empusai).
The Empusai were the malicious daughters of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. They could change form, and at night, came up from Hades (the underworld) as beautiful women. They would seduce shepherds in the field, and then devour them.
Vampire-like figures also have a long history in the mythology of Asia. Indian folklore describes a number of nightmarish characters, including rakshasa, shape-shifters who preyed on children, and vetala, demons who would take possession of recently dead bodies to wreak havoc on the living.
In Chinese folklore, corpses could sometimes rise from the grave and walk again. These beings were created when a person’s p’o (lower spirit) did not pass onto the afterlife at death, usually because of bad deeds during life.
The p’o, angered by its horrible fate, would reanimate the body and attack the living at night. One particularly vicious sort of creature, known as the Kuang-shi, could fly and take different forms. The Kuang-shi was covered in white fur, had glowing red eyes and bit into its prey with sharp fangs to drain them of blood.
Nomadic tribes and travelling traders spread different vampire legends throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East. As these stories travelled, their various elements combined to form new vampire myths. In the past 500 years, vampire legends have been especially pervaded with Eastern European contributions.
As I continue, we’ll look at these creatures, the direct predecessors of the modern vampire.
Vampires In The Modern Era
The Dracula legend, and the modern vampire legend that came out of it, was directly inspired by the folklore of Eastern Europe. History records dozens of mythical vampire figures in this region, going back hundreds of years.
These vampires all have their particular habits and characteristics, but most fall into one of two general categories: 1. Demons (or agents of the devil) that reanimated corpses so they could walk among the living, and 2. Spirits of dead people that would not leave their own body.
The most notable demon vampires were the Russian upir and the Greek vrykolakas. In these traditions, sinners, unbaptised babies and other people outside the Christian faith were more likely to be reanimated after death.
Those who practised witchcraft were particularly susceptible because they had already given their soul to the devil in life. Once the undead corpses rose from the grave, they would terrorize the community, feeding on the living.
By many accounts, these undead corpses were required to return to their grave regularly to rest. When townspeople believed that someone had become a vampire, they would exhume the corpse and try to get rid of the evil spirit. They might try an exorcism ritual, but more often they would destroy the body.
This might entail cremation, decapitation or driving a stake or spikes through various parts of the body. Bodies might also be buried face down, so the undead corpses would dig deeper into the earth, rather than up into shallower ground. Some families secured stakes above the corpse so it would impale itself if it tried to escape.
The vampires in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania (now Romania) were commonly called strigoi. Strigoi were almost exclusively human spirits who had returned from the dead. Unlike the upir or vrykolakas, the strigoi would pass through different stages after rising from the grave.
Initially, a strigo might be an invisible poltergeist, tormenting its living family members by moving furniture and stealing food. After some time, it would become visible, looking just as the person did in life. Again, the strigo would return to its family, stealing cattle, begging for food and bringing disease.
Strigoi would feed on humans, first their family members and then anyone else they happened to come across. In some accounts, the strigoi would suck their victims’ blood directly from the heart.
Initially, a strigo needed to return to the grave regularly, just like an upir. If townspeople suspected someone had become a strigo, they would exhume the body and burn it, decapitate it, or run spikes through it.
But after seven years, if a strigo was still around, it could live wherever it pleased. It was said that strigoi would travel to distant towns to begin new lives as ordinary people, and that these secret vampires would meet with each other in weekly gatherings.
In addition to undead strigoi, referred to as strigoi mort, people also feared living vampires, or strigoi viu. Strigoi viu were cursed living people who were doomed to become strigoi mort when they died. Babies born with abnormalities, such as a vestigial tail or born with a bit of foetal membrane tissue covering the head (called a caul), were usually considered strigoi viu.
If a strigoi mort living among humans had any children, the offspring were cursed to become undead strigoi in the afterlife. When a known strigoi viu died, the family would destroy its body to ensure that it would not rise from the grave.
In other parts of Eastern Europe, strigoi-type creatures were known as vampir, most likely a variation on the Russian upir. Western European countries eventually picked up on this name, and “vampyr” (later “vampire”) entered the English language.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, vampire hysteria spread through Eastern Europe. People reported seeing their dead relatives walking around, attacking the living. Authorities dug up scores of graves, burning and staking the corpses.
Word of the vampire scare spread to Western Europe, leading to a slew of academic speculations on the creatures, as well as vampire poems and paintings. These works in turn inspired an Irishman named Bram Stoker to write his vampire novel, “Dracula.”
The original Dracula was a real person, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who ruled in the mid 1400s. His father, Vlad II, was known as Vlad Dracul (translated as either “Vlad the dragon” or “Vlad the devil”), in recognition of his induction into a society called The Order of the Dragon.
Vlad III was sometimes referred to as Vlad Draculea, meaning “son of Dracul,” but more often he was called “Vlad Tepes,” meaning “Vlad the Impaler.” This was in reference to Vlad’s predilection for impaling his enemies on long wooden stakes.
The real Dracula had a reputation for unfathomable brutality (a reputation his actions against his enemies did nothing to amend), but there is not much evidence showing that people believed he was a vampire.
Stoker’s fictional villain is not closely modelled after the real Dracula, though they are sometimes linked in films based on the book. Mainly, Stoker borrowed the name of the prince, as well as his social standing. Unlike the wandering, homeless strigoi, Stoker’s vampire was a wealthy aristocratic type, hiding out on a grandiose estate.
It is from this novel, and the popular vampire genre that followed it, that we get most of our ideas about what vampires are today. They have become the “anti-hero”, a figure of both danger and romance.
Let’s consider the modern vampire myth and what it offers: 1. Vampires are sexually attractive and charismatic. 2. They have superhuman intelligence and powers, such as the ability to fly and immense strength. They can use mind control and telepathy to get what they want. Vampires can also use their powers to enslave other creatures, such as wild animals to do their dirty work for them. 3. They inspire fear and no one crosses them without suffering dire consequences. 4. Vampires have conquered death and achieved immortality.
The vampire myth is an interesting symbol which has evolved dramatically through literature and film. A great escape into a world that is thrilling, romantic, and mysterious, where real danger and evil is not always so apparent or frightening.
The modern era has pulled the vampire’s fangs, in a sense: the real fear and terror vampires once inspired has passed away into superstition, and been resurrected into an impotent but compelling media genre in little more than 100 years time.
Modern Vampire Subculture
It’s due to this new attractiveness that surrounds the vampire that inspired a new culture within modern society: the vampire subculture. What is a subculture? A subculture is simply an alternative lifestyle that exists within mainstream culture.
The vampire subculture is very “tribally” based, with many members congregated into small clans, usually called covens or houses. Each coven/house has it’s own traditions and rules of vampiric behaviour (which may or may not include laws regarding the drinking of blood). There are also solitary vampires that belong to no group officially, but are still part of the subculture.
Vampires within this subculture are normal people. They don’t believe they are an immortal monster of any kind, but the metaphor and realities of the vampire speaks to them, expressing an emotional or physical truth about their lives and natures. They are not “vampire roleplayers”, but actual human beings engaged in a lifestyle that includes vampiric activities.
This is the only qualifier that separates vampires from Average Joe. It is not a “let’s play pretend” society, but a community of people who share a common lifestyle. All vampires believe that the type of vampirism they engage in is both a necessary and important part of their lives.
(This should not be confused with “vampire lifestylers”, who dress up and emulate the Hollywood version of vampires, and who generally do not practice any form of actual vampirism.)
Real vampirism and vampires also have nothing to do with clinical vampirism. Those that suffer from clinical vampirism, in most cases, are not real vampires. Clinical vampirism is a pathological and delusional disease, fetishistic and compulsive in nature, where a person experiences a psychological need for blood (sometimes with a strong sexual component).
Generally, those that suffer from the syndrome often go through a progression of stages beginning with auto-vampirism (drinking one’s own blood) and progressing to vampirism (drinking the blood of others). The compulsion of the vampirism stage may lead a person to committing criminal acts to obtain human blood, such as stealing blood from hospitals and blood banks or going to the extreme of killing someone.
So what is a “real” vampire, then? The key factor in determining if one is a vampire is if one has a genuine need for life-force energies from outside sources. There are physical “symptoms” associated with being a vampire as well. Some of the physical traits are what might be expected: pale skin, sensitivity to sunlight physically (i.e., sunburn easily) and/or visually sensitive to any light source, better night vision than day vision, heightened senses, able to heal quicker than others.
And some not so expected: feeling hungry and/or thirsty despite an adequate diet, frequent headaches for no apparent reason, not requiring very much sleep, getting sick with “flu-like” symptoms with no medical explanation when forced to go without feeding for a period of time. Real vampires are identifiable partly because they have a majority of these symptoms, not just one or two.
But more significantly, real vampires are distinguished by a certain quality to their energy. While anyone reading a description of the symptoms might find a few that apply to people he knows, or even to himself, real vampires have a way of standing out vividly to everyone who interacts with them.
Within the vampire subculture, active vampirism includes both sanguinarian vampirism, which involves blood consumption, and psychic vampirism, whose practitioners “feed” by drawing nourishment from auric/pranic, emotional, or sexual energy.
Psychic vampires are also often energy mediums. An energy medium is a human being with an inborn ability to influence, channel, manipulate, and transform all types of energy, but in particular biological and aetheric energy, for either good or ill.
Sanguinarian vampires are generally not mediums, but can possess a limited ability to manipulate the energy of those around them. The distinguishing characteristic of the sang vampire is the consumption of blood. And while the medium of exchange is blood, the purpose is the same – to replenish and enhance the vampire’s energy levels.
While some sanguinarians can also feed using a psychic method, many cannot, and those who can will often choose blood regardless, finding it a more satisfying “meal”.
The idea of transferring energy back and forth from person to person is not a new one. Many religions and belief systems hold true that every member of society shares their energy with others as they interact. Indeed, many people feel energized by being around others and by interacting with them. We relieve our stress and enhance our contentment in life by sharing our lives with those around us.
The difference with vampires is that they generate less of that energy than others do and need more of that energy from others. If you have a person in your life whom you like, whom you enjoy being around, but despite that, being with them makes you feel drained, then that person may very well be a vampire.
It should be noted that many sanguinarians define their condition as an objective, if unrecognised, medical syndrome, entirely biological in nature. They are hostile toward “spiritual” explanations for their blood craving, and many reject the idea that it has anything to do with energy. But whatever the reason, the need to consume blood is a very real physical need for sang vampires, with real physical consequences if that need is denied.
That being said, sanguinarians seldom drink as much blood as often as they should for optimal health. The reasons for this include lack of sources, self-denial, and unawareness of their true nature and needs. The amount of blood consumed, and the frequency of consumption, varies, but few consume more than tiny amounts at a time, usually obtained through slight cuts or punctures made by sterile lancets or blades on willing human donors.
Most sanguinarians insist that donors undergo testing for blood-borne diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. Some sanguinarians consume animal blood, but most consider it an inferior (or unacceptable) substitute for human blood.
Whether sanguinarian or psychic, vampires come from all walks of life. Virtually every age, race, religion and profession is represented in the subculture. They are normal, regular people in normal regular jobs: teachers, lawyers, accountants, even soccer moms.
They have normal lives but there is this issue of needing to take energy and/or blood from time to time and in certain ways. And while many teenagers are drawn to the subculture, they are often kept humanely on the fringes, and sometimes actively discouraged.
This is both for the protection of the community (who cannot afford misunderstandings involving minors) and for the best interest of the teens: many teenagers who self-identify as part of the vampire subculture eventually grow out of it.
Mature vampires understand this as a normal part of being a teen and struggling to find who you are. As such, young people generally are not fully embraced into the community until they reach maturity.
While this lecture has only barely scratched the surface of the myths, legends, and realities of the vampire (and there is so much more to learn that a short discussion can never do it justice), I hope it has inspired you to inquire further on your own. The myth of the vampire has influenced human culture, belief, and behaviour since the beginning of our civilisation.
It has served as an explanation for the unexplainable, a cautionary tale, and even a desirable exemplar. The vampire haunts our darkest fears, inspires our wildest dreams, and forces us to probe our own psyches about what it means to be human.
In a way, we all have a bit of the vampire inside us, showing us our reflection through a mirror darkly – both what we hope and fear to become. And whether we embrace the darkness inside us, reject it utterly, or make a truce, it is always with us. Immortal, eternal, and endless.
Thank you for inviting me to speak today, and I hope you enjoyed my presentation. If you have any questions, I’d be pleased to address them now. 🙂
Ceejay Writer: Do you know of any sources for study of Vampires in the states?
Angelia Rees: CeeJay – how so? To study about vampires, or places for vampires to study being vampires?
Angelia Rees: Because there are both 😉
Vernden Jervil: there is a vampire test? aww man
Ceejay Writer: Actually, would like to know of any older history, any suspected vampires, activities in the past for my country.
Angelia Rees: There are actually programs in a number of universities that cover vampires as a source of mythology and legend
Ceejay Writer: Oooh! My typist works at university. Our search will commence!
Angelia Rees: They are also studied briefly in an historical context re: 17th and 18th century hysterias
Magda Haiku: There is a book called American Vampires, but it’s more about how American culture has embraced vampire lore. http://www.amazon.com/American-Vampires-Fans-Victims-Practitioners/dp/0393026787
Magda Haiku: And it’s over 20 years old.
Ceejay Writer: I appreciate the starting leads. I will enjoy learning more. That book intrigues, too.
JJ Drinkwater: I’m curious to know your thoughts on the extensive vampire community (communities?) in SL, Miss Rees.
Angelia Rees: lol Oh no you don’t! But I’ll answer anyway 😉
JJ Drinkwater: I beg your pardon?
Angelia Rees: I feel a majority of SL’s vampire communities tend to focus on the cinematic vampire, and often in some of the most negative aspects thereof. That said, the individual vampires I’ve met in SL have been mostly pleasant people.
Angelia Rees: Not a popular opinion, but the only one I have 😉
Ceejay Writer: (Agreed, Angelia)
Angelia Rees: Darlingmonster? You had a question?
Darlingmonster Ember: I wanted to ask… how you protect the community… given that anyone anywhere can claim to be a member…
Darlingmonster Ember: especially those PortraitBook folks
Darlingmonster Ember checks her detector for crashpire
Angelia Rees: There are a number of things I didn’t cover in my lecture, by which we do so. We have recognition signs we use among ourselves, for instance. We also have a set of rules the community agrees to follow, called the Black Veil. Most outsiders and reporter types don’t know about these, nor much about the history of our community. Real vampires do. 😉
Darlingmonster Ember: aha, excellent work
Angelia Rees: Nathan?
Nathan Adored: So, what percantage of the SL vampires are of the older cinematic type, and how many are of the…. kind that sparkle? oO
Angelia Rees: lol I’d say the Twilight vampires are gaining a bit of ground, but horror type vamps aren’t yet overcome. And the True Blood communities have gained a bit over the Twllighters 😉
Arnold: Which cinema, Nosferatu or Dracula.
Angelia Rees: Cyan?
Ceejay Writer: I beleive there’s also a formidable population of unaffiliated vampires, quietly going about their nights.
Nathan Adored: Well, Nosfuratu (the silent movie) was basically a copycat of Dracula.
Angelia Rees: That’s very true Ceejay, and my clan in SL is one of those
Cyan Rayna: I was curious since you said you were a real vampire what it’s like for you. How you found out, what things you have to do etc?
Ceejay Writer: As was mine, Angelia.
Angelia Rees: Let’s start at the top for that question, Cyan: How did I find out?
Arnold: It is, but Nosferatu did come out first.
Arnold: Movie wise.
Angelia Rees: I was fairly young when I began drinking blood. About 12. I noticed I felt much better when I had blood, even a little, than when I did not. (I was a sickly child) But until I came to the US as an adult, I didn’t know about the subculture or that what I did was normal to anyone but me.
Angelia Rees: What do I have to do?
Angelia Rees: I drink about a pint of blood total each week. That keeps me feeling fit and fine. I drink both animal and human blood, for the record.
Angelia Rees: Marion?
Marion Questi: Your recitation of ancient legends about vampires suggests a connection to a Jungian archetype. Have you explored the psychoanalytic aspects of vampirism?
Angelia Rees: I have, but that is another lecture in and of itself. 😉 Perhaps you’ll ask me back and I can expound upon it a bit more ㋡
Angelia Rees: Nathan?
Nathan Adored: Anyway, my understanding is that the movie Nosfuratu (the original silent movie), they basically took the story of the Dracula novel, without creditting the author, and then changed the way the vampire at the conclusion met its end, from having a wooden stake driven into its heart to being caught by the rising sun and going POOF from that. IN fact, I gather that’s where the “vampires can’t stand sunlight” thing originally came from.
Nathan Adored: CHanged the ending so no one would notice they’d….. borrowed the plot
Nathan Adored: Well, some TV documentary on the history of vampire lore said that, anyway.
Angelia Rees: You’re exactly right Nathan. In fact, Florence Stoker, Bram’s widow, attempted to sue over it.
Nathan Adored: I find it rather amusing that the vampires-can’t-stand-sunlight thing came from a movie trying to avoid being caught out as a ripoff.
Angelia Rees: But the company changed just enough to get the picture made without suits bringing them to ruin 😉
Nathan Adored: It IS considered a classic, anyway.
Angelia Rees: It is, and for all it’s flaws, I quite like it. Count Orlock is the creepiest vampire I’ve ever seen 😉
Nathan Adored: Course, thern someone way more recently did a dark comedy about the MAKING of that movie…. where it turned ou the vampire star of the movie actually WAS a vampire, and the director was covering up for that. LOL
Arnold: A lot of things were stolen and gotten away with in that era sadly.
Arnold: Like that guy with the trip to the moon film.
Martien Pontecorvo: Yes, George Meliere
Angelia Rees: I have time for one more question I think, and then I must depart ㋡
Bookworm Hienrichs: If not, I thank you for coming, and would encourage you to join the AEther Salon group if you haven’t already. Just click on one of the larger posters. You can also supply any tips to help support the Salon by paying one of the smaller posters.
Next month’s Salon will be November 18th at 2:00 PM SLT. Kghia Gherardi will discuss Steampunk literature. Thank you again, Madame Rees!