What Is a Vampire?
Katharina Katt is a psychic vampire and also the resident agony aunt for UK magazine Bite Me. She has been active in the vampire community for over 15 years and provides advice to vampires all over the world. Below is a transcript of a letter she received some time ago:
I don’t like sunlight and hate garlic. Does this make me a vampire?
Sincerely, Garlic Hater
Dear Garlic Hater,
Sorry to disappoint you, but no, this alone does not make you a vampire. There are many normal people that do not like garlic and even others that are allergic to it. As for the sunlight, first you have to ask yourself why you don’t like the sunlight. Does it burn your skin too easily? Are you medically photogenic? If your limbs don’t turn to dust immediately when sunlight touches them then I can definitely tell you that you are not an ‘undead’ vampire. However, many ‘living’ vampires still live ‘normal’ lives in the sun. Wearing dark sunglasses will protect your sensitive eyes while using a layer of sun block will protect your skin. This will prevent most pain associated with the sun’s rays. Make sure to purchase the strongest strength of sun block available and apply it one to two times a day for normal contact with the sun. Those who have been diagnosed with a medical photogenic condition should consult their doctor for treatment and ‘day life’ instructions.
No matter how many ceremonies you go to, this will not make you a vampire. Just like no matter how many times a man will put on women’s make-up, it will never turn him into a girl. ‘Living’ vampires, according to the thousands of interviews involving them as to their origins, have given us the theory that ‘living’ vampires are born the way they are. It normally involves an ‘awakening’ point in their lives which makes them aware of their condition. The only sources we have as to the ‘undead’ vampire rising from the grave are the myths recorded in history.
According to myth, there are many things that can turn you into a vampire: being a bad person; working in the sex industry during life; a black cat jumping over your fresh corpse; being bitten by another ‘undead’ vampire; having sex with another ‘undead’ vampire; not being buried correctly or respectfully; dying violently and many other variations of occurrences. We cannot know what is true or not, that is why we call it ‘myth’.
So, what is a vampire? Do you think a vampire is an immortal soul with large fangs that preys on other mortals for blood? Do you think this creature lives by night and shrinks from garlic and crucifixes? Do you think he bursts into flame at the first sight of dawn? Are they amazing creatures with extraordinary powers, who can fly and hypnotise their victims? Or dashing fictional vampires like Count Dracula?
Think again. Authors and film makers over the years have been spurred on by centuries-old accounts of vampires and superstition and have transformed the vampire’s image continually. The vampire of literature and cinema becomes whatever its creator desires. Among traditional folklore vampire beliefs, the variety is almost as great. There are stories in which vampires are corpse-like and horrible, others in which the vampire is indistinguishable from other people until it gives itself away somehow.
Indeed, sometimes discussions about authentic vampires become easier if we assert what a vampire is not. So let us separate fact from fiction and dispel some myths along the way.
Myth: Vampires are afraid of the sun
False. Many vampires are sensitive to sunlight, but sunglasses and sun protection lotions offer sufficient protection. Although vampires are often more sensitive to the sun, this is because they are more sensitive to all forms of energy, and thus need to shield themselves from excess energy, such as in the form of sunlight. Hence, most vampires find the evening more comfortable. Some vampires claim they suffer from photosensitivity, a condition that can be caused by many things, including prescription drugs. Other rare diseases and skin conditions that have been linked to vampirism include porphyria and lupus. With these illnesses the sun’s UV rays cause rashes and blisters on the skin within minutes of exposure and in this way sufferers are often likened to undead vampires, as their skin too reacts severely to sunlight. Despite these similarities, however, people who suffer from these diseases do not turn into dust at dawn like the vampires of folklore.
Myth: a Vampire Can ‘turn’ another person into a Vampire
False. Many people falsely believe that vampires can ‘make’ or ‘turn’ another into a vampire by means of a bite or the blood of another. Although vampires drink blood, it is primarily for attaining energy for themselves and not to convert or ‘turn’ another.
Myth: Vampires are afraid of Garlic
False. Bram Stoker first established this myth firmly in 1897 with Dracula, by suggesting that garlic warded off vampires. Garlic is reputed to make the blood thinner and this belief, added to the strong-smelling properties of garlic, enhanced the myth surrounding vampires and garlic. Many vampires are fond of garlic and use it in cooking.
Myth: Vampires Must drink Blood to survive
False. Vampires drink blood for its energetic properties, but not all vampires seek this type of energy. Some prefer to obtain energy through psychic vampirism, whereby they feed off the energy of others. Those that do drink blood consume very little for their health—about a couple of ounces every few days. In reality, ingesting too much blood will cause a person to vomit.
Myth: Vampires Bite their Victims
False. Fangs or teeth have little to do with vampirism, and biting is not a method used by most vampires to draw blood—primarily as it is painful for the person being bitten and there are easier ways to draw blood, e.g. with a knife, but also because it is illegal. Authors and screenwriters have added fangs to the myth surrounding a vampire—and it is a relatively recent invention, as medieval accounts of folkloric vampires did not mention fangs.
Myth: Vampires are immortal
False. Vampires live a normal life span like humans. No person has ever been scientifically proved to have lived for hundreds of years. The oldest person to date lived to be 122.
Dr. Jeanne Youngson, president of The Vampire Empire—the world’s largest Dracula fan club—has received a great deal of correspondence from vampire fans on the subject of what determines a vampire. Here is one such letter:
Dear Dr. Youngson,
It is urgent to convey the following information to vampire purists everywhere. Fact one: in all my reading about vampires, which is extensive indeed, I have never seen any reference to the carotids, which are the arteries that run up the side of the neck, the very ones vampires go for first. Anyone who has been bitten by a vampire, even though temporarily anaesthetised, will later have excruciating pain and may need cortisone drugs to help the inflammation. Have you ever seen this taken into account in any books or films? Fact two: the idea of vampires being unable to tolerate sunlight came from the fertile imagination of Henrik Galeen, who worked with Murnau on Nosferatu. Fact three: it was Stoker himself who popularised the idea that Dracula could turn into a bat. Very few vampires of folklore were able to shape-shift and almost none turned into bats!
For most people, the word ‘vampire’ brings to mind the folkloric or literary vampire. Both varieties were brought to life in film and spurred on by centuries-old accounts of vampires and superstition, aided by authors’ and screenwriters’ inventions. Folkloric vampires are usually depicted as horribly corpse-like. They shrink from crucifixes, scattered grain and thorn bushes. In the past people believed that the recently deceased could come back to life and feed off them. To prevent this, they placed coins on the corpse’s eyelids to stop it from opening them and being able to see. They even nailed the corpse’s clothing to the coffin to stop it moving.
Real vampires, according to modern findings, are not a supernatural species that belong to the pages of Gothic novels. Rather the vampire is a real, living human and the only difference between the vampire and its fellow human is that the former possesses a different energy form. The real vampire manipulates and absorbs life force, or ‘pranic’ energy—the essence of life—from other living things, especially humans. A vampire is thus a person who does not possess sufficient levels of prana for his or her survival; if they do not acquire this prana, they will suffer from headaches, lethargy and depression. A vampire must therefore find a donor for sustenance—this can be achieved by drinking blood or psychic energy from the donor. Few vampires claim to be immortal or invincible. They have a normal life span and suffer illness. They are bound by natural laws. Although many vampires claim enhanced stamina and resistance to disease, they are all essentially human, not superhuman or supernatural.
There are endless categories of vampires—and many new sub-categories are invented regularly, such as medical vampires and astral vampires. Or the aforementioned wannabees, a.k.a. vampabees. According to Dr. Jeanne Youngson, president of the world’s largest Dracula fan club, wannabees are ‘the creeps who want to be vampires, dress like them, pretend to suck blood or actually do it, etc. Most of them are pretty weird.’
For this book I have limited definitions of ‘real’ vampires to two categories—psychic vampires and sanguine vampires. Psychic vampires are often referred to as ‘psi’ vampires; ‘blood-drinking’ vampires are sometimes called ‘sanguine’ vampires. Psychic vampires obtain the energy they need from absorbing life-force energy, or energy surrounding people. Sanguine vampires feed mostly on blood other than their own and through blood-letting techniques. Some sanguine vampires claim there is a deficiency in their blood that means they need to absorb the missing components in their own blood via a donor. Sanguines use professional sterile equipment to minimise infection and recommend tests for AIDS and other diseases before any blood exchange takes place. Whether in the form of blood or psychic energy, the energy is almost always taken only from willing donors and partners. Donors are often called ‘black swans’ and are treated with great care and respect by the vampire. The definition of a vampire thus effectively comes down to the way in which it obtains its energy. Sanguine vampires or psychic vampires? Blood or no blood?
So what else defines a real vampire? In addition to a craving for blood, real vampires suffer from photosensitivity and have nocturnal tendencies. Many sufferers of vampirism also claim they can ‘feel’ (and absorb) the energy in living things around them.
Of course, with so many definitions of a vampire it is not surprising that some people mistakenly believe they are vampires. But in the world of the modern vampire, natural sharp canines and an aversion to sunlight do not a vampire make. People with naturally pointed canines are likely to have them capped or removed by dentists, as they interfere with chewing.
In fact, fangs appear to be an invention from horror films. The 1958 movie Dracula (US title: Horror of Dracula) starring Christopher Lee was the first English-language film in which a vampire was portrayed with a pair of large pointed canines. As a matter of fact, real sanguine vampires would find fangs more of a hinderance than help. Blood-drinking animals, like vampire bats, bite with their incisors and lap the blood with their tongues, instead of sucking it. Vampire blood-drinkers rarely bite their ‘donors’ with teeth. They use sterile needles, lancets or stainless steel blades instead.
The stereotypical image of the vampire lunging for the neck is therefore a wholly inaccurate one. According to real vampires, biting has very little to do at all with vampirism. Neither does accidentally cutting oneself and licking the blood indicate any vampiric tendencies. Humans used to instinctively lick their own wounds due to saliva’s antiseptic properties, and would probably still do so if anti-bacterial ointments had not been invented.
Random attacks by ruthless vampires on innocent mortals are thankfully very rare and belong to the big screen rather than real life. The vampire of superstition and literature is a world away from today’s safety-conscious and moral vampires, who are actually fussy about whose blood they consume. A vampire’s role has been likened to that of symbiont. In an essay entitled ‘Are vampires predators?’ on one ‘real vampire’ website, Inanna Arthen states:
A parasite which kills its host tends to be inefficient, although most hosts do not thrive under the arrangement. A far more constructive model for real vampires is that of symbiont. The real vampire develops his or her abilities to the point of an equal exchange, a give-and-take of mutual dependency. The real vampire trades healing and revivifying powers for pranic energy, and is able to exploit a wide variety of sources. Ultimately, a real vampire may evolve to the point of being able to live only on food sources that require no living thing to die for the vampire’s benefit. This is the farthest away from a ‘predator’ that you could get.
The Vampire/Donor Alliance is a support group for the entire vampire community, from those who profess a fascination with vampires to those who claim to be real vampires. Mostly American-based, there are two annual Gatherings for all members. When asked ‘How do I become a vampire? Are we turned? Do you embrace people, or what?’ The Vampire/ Donor Alliance reply:
‘Embrace’ is a term from Vampire: The Masquerade™ [a vampire game]. There is no turning, no ‘dark gift’, no crossing over. Either you are a vampire, or you aren’t. Since vampirism isn’t exactly the sort of thing that people talk about at the dinner table, it being a sort of fruitcake kind of thing, a lot of people don’t know that they have this tendency until they encounter another vampire or have a dramatic, earth-shattering experience that makes them suddenly aware of that which they’ve repressed all their lives. I don’t like to use the term ‘awakening’, myself, because it’s twee, but it’s a lot more accurate than ‘turned’.
How do you become a vampire? Simple answer—you cannot. There is no ‘turning’, no ‘dark gift’ nor any ‘crossing over’. Either you are a vampire, or you aren’t. Vampires are born, not made. Many people believe that they are ‘vampire souls trapped in human bodies’. Although vampirism cannot be transferred through one person’s blood to another, the vampire can be helped to understand his vampiric path. For vampires it is a life and not a choice.
True vampires have energy needs unlike those of most humans, and the ability to utilise that energy to maintain their health. A vampire is thus an energy feeder with certain psychic abilities that allow for the manipulation of, and the taking and giving of, the life force energy. Such individuals are born with this energy deficiency and gradually, as they mature, show an awareness of psychic ability.
Vampires do not learn their vampirism. Vampirism is present when a person is born and is dormant until the day that person ‘awakens’ to it and develops his or her abilities. Some vampires discover their energy needs as teenagers; others do so much later, in their forties. In fact, many vampires are not even aware of the condition of vampirism and do not understand fully why they are attracted to the practice of feeding on blood.
‘Awakening’ is the term used to describe the realisation that one is a vampire, and the subsequent lifestyle changes that result. Some vampires claim their awakening took place after an accident or after a traumatic event. Some cannot remember their awakening and instead claim to have been born a vampire. Others are unaware they are vampires until they encounter another vampire or have a dramatic, earth-shattering experience that makes them suddenly aware of that which they’ve repressed all their lives. The most common trigger for dormant vampirism is hormones and many vampires become aware of their nature during puberty. In short, a vampire is born a vampire and his or her body actually runs on autopilot until they awaken properly. When first awakened, the person is known as a ‘fledgling’. During a period of initiation, the fledgling will have a ‘maker’, or ‘sire’. A sire is a vampire ‘parent’ who guides the fledgling to his true vampire nature. Vampires generally adopt a vampiric name, usually a pseudonym derived from literature, such as Lord Ruthven or a historical figure like Vlad the Impaler.
Many vampire societies often have to dispel myths of people who are desperate to become vampires. The London Vampyre Group received this query a while ago—it is typical of a great deal of correspondence that they receive:
I wish to be ‘turned’ into a vampire—how do I go about this?
The London Vampyre Group replies:
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.
Basically, such people are kidding themselves. For us, the vampire as a strong, independent and romantic character is a fantasy and we strive to realise that as a world within to which we can escape. In other words, we can reject what we dislike about the ‘real’ world by using our imaginations. This can take many forms, i.e. some do role play, some have a pseudo vampire/Gothic lifestyle, some write or create artistically, and some are involved in games which involve drinking of blood. You choose your own alternative. We do not have either recommendations or condemnations, it is up to the individual, but we do insist that the choice of others is respected, and that individuals do not get harmed as a result of our activities. If you genuinely believe they are ‘real’ in the same sense as, say, Louis and Lestat in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and that people can be ‘turned’ into vampires, then you do need help, but not the kind we can give. Basically, using your imagination does not have to mean that you become totally gullible.
Sincere best wishes, but keep it real,
Richard Freeman is one of Britain’s few professional cryptozoologists. He has travelled the world in search of mythological creatures. Recently, he searched the remote jungles and caves of northern Thailand in search of the Naga, a giant crested serpent. As someone who has dedicated his life to tracking down mythical beasts, he seems the perfect person to ask about what characteristics might be used to define a vampire. He replies:
There are many people who claim to be vampires. Some sharpen their teeth, some sleep in coffins, some drink blood for ritualistic, sexual, or other purposes. They are NOT vampires.
Like it or not, real vampires look nothing like humans. These would-be vampires would shit themselves if they saw the genuine article. Forget Bela Lugosi, forget the great Chris Lee, and for God’s sake forget Buffy. In reality there seems to be two kinds of vampire. The Chupacabra terrorises Latin America from Argentina to Miami. Powerful hind legs, smaller forearms, a head with large glowing eyes and savage fangs, and wing-like flaps under the arms. These beasts are said to drain livestock (and allegedly humans) of blood and remove organs.
My colleague Jon Downs searched for this horror in 1997. In Puerto Rico a vet showed him film of two Chupacabra victims she had examined. The sheep had been drained of blood and their hearts were not beating, yet two hours after the attack they still seemed to be ‘alive’. They cried out, attempted to stand, their eyes dilated in light. There is no known biological precedent for this. It is like the vampire curse of its victims becoming living dead. Perhaps the monster’s saliva contains a nerve-stimulating chemical.
The second kind of vampire is more ghost-like. It resembles a cloud of mist, sometimes with glowing eyes at the centre. One theory is that these kinds are etheric revenant of the recently dead that can feed on the life force of the living. It is a kind of parasitic ghost rather than a physical being. The most famous case involving this kind of vampire occurred in the US in the 1970s. After the Vietnam War many of the ethnic Hmong people fled the country and emigrated to America. In 1977 many of these settlers in the US began to mysteriously die. Most were young healthy men. No cause could be found. This epidemic was labelled SUNDS (Sudden Nocturnal Death Syndrome). Some Hmong men, however, complained of a feeling of paralysis at night, and the sensation of some kind of entity in the room with them (visual, tactile, auditory or all three). Could there be a connection?
Researchers discovered that back in the mountains of Vietnam there was a tradition of a nocturnal spirit called a Dab Tsog that sucked the life force from the living. Hmong shamen placated the Dab Tsog with animal sacrifice and rituals. When the Hmong came to the US, most of the tribal elders stayed in Vietnam. Hence, the knowledge of the rites that kept this Vietnamese vampire at bay were lost. In latter years the extended families of the refugees came to the US and the knowledge was once more disseminated. With the ancestral knowledge of protection in place the attacks and deaths dropped off.
Different concepts of what constitutes a vampire have changed at different times and in different parts of the world. While many eastern European countries still consider the vampire to be similar to the undead revenant of folklore, the Western world has adopted the Bram Stoker model of Dracula. In folklore, vampires were created in a variety of ways—they might be suicides, blasphemers, children born with hair or teeth, red-haired or left-handed children. Below is a selection of the definitions of a vampire, according to a variety of different people and sources.
‘Noun: (in folklore) a corpse supposed to leave its grave at night to drink the blood of the living. DERIVATIVES vampiric/vampirrik/adjective vampirism noun. ORIGIN Hungarian vampir, perhaps from Turkish uber “witch”.’
(Oxford English Dictionary)
‘All sorts of things happen to people after death. You will sometimes see dark fluid coming from the mouth and nose. It looks like blood, but it’s not, it’s just the body decomposing. Sometimes, if a body is buried with its hands folded across its chest, it will bloat as it starts to decompose, and the hands move. And if moved, a body emits a sound as gas escapes, like a short moan.’
(Dr. Mark Benecke, forensic biologist
and expert in clinical vampirism)
‘You meet vampires all the time but not the blood-sucking variety. Some people have a knack of draining you of energy. They feed off other people’s energy and can leave you completely exhausted.’
(Craig Hamilton Parker,
one of the UK’s leading mediums)
‘A vampire is an immortal creature who can become so cultured, so learned, that they can exceed any mortal limitation. A wonderful cross between someone who has learned over hundreds of years how to play any musical instrument, to speak any language on Earth, but could kill in an instant.’
(Colin from The Vampyre ConneXion)
‘There is a link between premature burial and vampirism in that the famous 18th-century “Treatue concerning the Screaming and Chewing of Corpses in their Graves” by Michael Ranft has been used both as evidence of premature burials (screaming and moaning for help in their coffins and gnawing their fingers and hands in their agony) and as evidence for vampirism.’
(Jan Bondeson, PhD in Experimental
Medicine and author of Buried Alive)
‘What is a vampire? That depends on your definition of a “vampire”. If you mean a revenant who returns from the grave to feed on the blood of the living, or a supernatural being who lives forever on blood … There are people who for one reason or another (ranging from psychiatric obsession to a matter of choice) drink human blood; maybe one can call these people “vampires”, using a very loose definition.’
(Dr. Elizabeth Miller,
Professor of English at
Memorial University of Newfoundland,
an internationally renowned expert on Dracula)
‘There are two main types of vampires: the “living” vampires, and the “undead” vampires. There are many variations to each and vampire research groups are discovering and defining more with each variation they investigate. A “living” vampire is a person who shows symptoms of vampiric traits. This can involve anything from having a hunger for blood, emotion, or energy, to simply being sensitive to light. An “undead” vampire can be a ghost, demon, or animated corpse or a changeling that can’t be killed by normal means. Both “living” vampires and “undead” vampires offer so many variations, it would be hard to give an accurate count of each. However, we can definitely separate them into the “living” and the “dead/undead”.’
(Katharina Katt, agony aunt and psychic vampire
who has been active in the vampire community
for over 12 years)
‘A vampire is a supernatural agent or a living person who has the ability to drain the vital life force from a living thing. Supernatural agents are the ghosts or spirits of the restless dead, and infernal entities such as demons or shape-shifting beings. Living people are those who either deliberately, through magic, or unwittingly, through innate supernatural ability, have a negative effect on the energy, health and mental condition of others by drawing off the vital life force for their own empowerment or benefit. The vital life force is the universal essence that promotes health and well-being, and serves life itself. In earlier times, the vital life force was symbolised by blood.’
(Rosemary Ellen Guiley,
author of The Encyclopedia of Vampires,
Werewolves and Other Monsters)
On the internet, the topic of how to define a vampire is the subject of continuing debate. In one sample essay, Inanna Arthen states:
If there are vampires, they might well be expected to guard their secrets well. Hence those who know say nothing, or what they say is disinformation—intended to mislead. Universally, at the lowest common denominator, vampires are very man-like beings, perhaps a cult, perhaps a separate species of hominids or manlike apes, or they might be the result of infection with some sort of DNA-altering retrovirus.
Did you know that there is even a category of ‘closet’ vampires? These vampires hide their true identities and are fascinated by vampires, visiting vampire websites and reading up on vampires secretly without letting their partners or family know of their interest. Usually closet vampires are closer to wannabees than being real vampires.
And we should not forget ‘unintentional’ vampires. Such individuals take energy needed by their deficit body without their knowing. Sometimes it takes a while for them to realise they have been unintentionally feeding on their partners and friends.
Perhaps you, who are holding this book, are an unintentional vampire? Or a closet vampire? And if so, perhaps it is time to come out of the closet …