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Those concerned about kids getting into vampires may go to opposite extremes. On the one hand, they may simply dismiss the matter as a childish fad (like baseball or Pokemon cards). On the other hand, parents or leaders may panic or exaggerate the matter as a pandemic. Some police departments did in regards to Satanic gangs among teenagers in the late 1980s early 1990s. Panic or offhand condemnation are both very counterproductive. Blaming a brutal murder by self-described "vampires" on vampirism or its role playing games may miss the mark. Each situation needs careful investigation and every individual needs to be heard.
Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (Second Edition) defines "vampire":
- In folklore, a corpse that becomes reanimated and leaves its grave at night to suck the blood of sleeping persons.
- A person who preys ruthlessly on others; an extortioner or bloodsucker.
- A beautiful but unscrupulous woman who seduces men and leads them to their ruin.
- A vampire bat.
Missing here is reference to the large, worldwide cult of those who consider themselves vampires—or are obsessed with playing out vampire fantasies. This growing phenomenon, as evidenced by a profusion of web sites, demands some knowledge of vampires and vampirism.
What we are talking about begins in ancient myth and legend. The ancient Assyrian Ekiminu and a similar Greek god haunted human beings as ghost-like and vampire-like predators. Images, half-human, half-beast, go back to cave dwellers. The medieval werewolf implied the human cravings being fulfilled in animalistic fashion.
The Christian Church fought, and possibly helped spread, the notion of vampires. "Malleus Maleficarium," (1486) described vampires as creatures of Satan that should be eradicated. Still, tales of vampires—with celebrations and identification with such creatures—continued to thrive in Europe through medieval and modern times.Dracula, written by the Irish author, Bran Stoker, was published in 1897. The story was based on Slavic folktales of werewolves and vampires. Dracula was described as an aristocratic, charming Transylvanian count, who changed into a bat at night and sucked the blood of sleeping maidens. According to Stoker, Dracula was a "tall man, clean shaven save for a long white mustache" whose "ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed" and with striking "hairs in the center of the palm. (His) fingernails were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point." Although Dracula had powers to change his form into that of a bat or even a mist, he was vulnerable to symbols both Christian (holy water, wafers, or the Crucifix) and pagan (garlic or stakes). Dracula has, since this writing, been the most famous and popular of vampire characters.
Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was so enthusiastically received in 1976 that it developed into a trilogy (The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned). Angie McKaig describes Lestat as
…the intrepid boy king of the vampire realm. This beloved character created by novelist Anne Rice has taken today’s generation of vampire fans by storm in much the same way as Dracula did all those years ago. Lestat is a vampire, truly, for this secular twentieth century—he is impervious to Christian symbols (crosses and holy water) as well as pagan ones (garlic and stakes). The only thing that can kill him is sunlight, and perhaps not even that…Ricean vampires are not just socially acceptable in their physical form; they are stunning. Their androgynous beauty is one thing that defines them as a race and as individuals.
Psychology Today did an important article on the vampire craze in November, 1989 (v. 23, n 11, pp. 31,5). Written by Katherine Ramsland, it was entitled "Hunger for the marvelous: The vampire craze in the computer age." She dates a new swelling in vampire popularity to 1989—as a craze of the nineties. After noting the Anne Rice trilogy, she notes the waves of new novels, vampire movies ("Nightlife," "Carmilla," "Dracula: Live from Transylvania," "Dark Side," "Rockula" and others). Genre magazines and centers are noted—but Web sites were still to come. But there was the International Association of the Fantastic in Arts as well as academic studies to be noted—and of course, all kinds of products and advertising gimmicks using fascination with vampires and the occult. The article also notes that 40% of Americans believe they have had contact with the dead.
Ramsland quotes Father Greeley’s explanation of the vampire craze:
It’s a hunger for the marvelous. If you give up angels and devils—which I think is an awful mistake—some people are going to turn to aliens, Darth Vader and vampires. Life seems to be dull and unexciting, especially if you’re just a yuppie, so you have to hunger for something marvelous enough to bring back the excitement. (Psychology Today, above)
Stephen King’s explanation of teenage fascination with vampires is also provocative:
(Besides being fun and shocking, there is a release of their pulsing, aggressive sexual fantasies.) Impotency is never a threat, since vampires’ sexual urges are completely oral. They are (therefore) particularly interesting to teenagers who are sexually insecure. (ibid.)
It is important to understand the evolution of vampirism in postmodern times. Vampire are more glamorous and sexy than before. Ellen Datlow, editor of "Blood Is Not Enough," explains:
The vampire in literature and film has developed from a creature ruled entirely by instinct and need into a complex being with an inner life. We show vampires as more human, more accessible, less blatantly evil than before. Once audiences cheered for the vampire’s destruction. Now they often see a vulnerable side and root for him to escape the stake. (ibid.)
Does the notion of vampires symbolize the complex and hidden nature of evil these days? The fact that the vampire is so human is part of its appeal, according to Charles L. Grant (The Soft Whisper of the Dead):
Vampires are so popular because, of all the monsters, they’re the most dangerous…the most human. Their habitat is night, and you can’t tell who’s a vampire and who’s not. Everyone loves vicarious danger. (ibid.)
The loss of authoritative and simplistic answers, along with the loss of control, explains some of the power of video games and horror movies to young people. Professor Pardon Tillinghast (Middlebury College) sees a need today for "never-never-lands of imagination" and "monsters—in a controllable environment."
Terror is what you feel before the bomb goes off. Horror is what you feel after it has exploded and you’re still alive. There may be some blood, but you’re safe. (ibid.)
Stephen Kaplan was director of the Vampire Research Center during the 1970s and 1980s. He divides human vampires into three groups:
- Fetishists erotically attracted to blood.
- Vampire imitators who adopt vampire trappings in search of domination, sensuality, charisma, immortality.
- True vampires who have a physical addiction to blood, drink it, believe it will prolong their lives, and find sexual satisfaction through the blood drinking ritual. (ibid.)
Kaplan’s studies led him to estimate at least 50 true vampires in the United States (third category listed), 300 or more vampires of all types, and some 500 globally. (ibid.)
A prominent web site divides human vampires somewhat similarly:
- Blood vampires who feel a physical and emotional craving to consume blood and regularly do so—mostly from donors or themselves.
- Psychic Vampires or Psi-vampires is a more complex and controversial category. These feel a need to absorb energy from, or "feed" on, vegetables, meat, blood, or another person. These people are developing a separate subculture with their own vocabulary and leaders.
- Vampyre Lifestylers who are a particular subculture of Gothic culture.
- Psychotic Vampires. Unwelcome in all above circles, these psychotic individuals begin to identify with fictional or legendary vampires and to act accordingly.
- Vampire Gamers (RPGers or Role-Playing Gamers)—especially devoted to the role-playing game, "Vampire: the Masquerade."
The popularity of this role-playing game, and the controversy raised in connection with the killings by member of the Vampire Clan in Etis, Florida, calls for special notice. The game is played in homes and other gatherings as well as on the Internet. Like "Dungeons and Dragons" the game assigns names and characterizations to players, begin to take on the identity of their fantasy vampire characters, and are led through a series of adventures by a story teller or game leader. Some young people have called it a chance to try out a vampire identity and see how it feels and fits. Others see the experience as mere fun and adventure.
Historical criminals such as Fritz Haarman (the English, 20th century butcher who killed boys, drank their blood, and made their meat into sausages), Gilles de Rais, the Marquis de Sade, John Haigh, and Elizabeth Bathory have been identified by some scholars and psychologists as vampires. Jack the Ripper may have had vampiric tendencies. More recently, Ted Bundy and Richard Trenton Chase confessed to having drunk the blood of their victims—Chase feeling it would "cleanse him of his sins." David Berkowitz complained that blood sucking demons drove him to kill.
Heather Wendorf (age 15) was not happy with her parents or her situation. Her hair was dyed purple and she wore black fishnet stockings and a dog chain around her neck. She talked to her friends about being a demon in previous lives and communicating with spirits as she was drinking human blood. For two years she dated Rod Ferrell (age 16). He had dyed his shoulder-length blond hair black, wore a black trench coat and boots, and carried a large wooden stick. Rod boasted of being a vampire and immortal. Rod initiated Heather into the game and vampirism.
Rod had played role-playing games since he was in fourth grade. In 1995, he left Flordia for Murray, Kentucky (a small Baptist town). There he lived with his mother, Sondra Gibson, and her boyfriend Kile Newton, a tattoo artist. In vampire circles, "Kile" describes one who has "crossed over" and become "one of the undead." They all played "Vampire" together. Sondra, who would plead guilty to soliciting sex from a 14-year-old-boy—who would therefore become her "sire"—had this to say about the role-playing game.
There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. I played it with him. It’s hard enough to find something you can do with your kids today, and the game was fun. It was something, anyway.
But the game seemed to be an obsession with Rod—as police interviewers have testified. Certainly the game does not explain his actions. With his friend, Scott Anderson (age 16) Rod broke into an animal shelter, stomped one dog to death and pulled the legs off another—according to Sheriff Stan Scott. From this raid they carried off animal blood and entrails.
Heather was running up phone bills of $60 to $80 a month talking to Rod. Finally, her parents refused to accept his collect calls. She was also bothered by their trying to get her to clean up her room. Her sister Jennifer testified that Heather had asked her if she had ever thought of killing her parents, and then said she knew someone who would do it, named Rod.
With a few other teenage friends, Rod decided to kill Heather’s parents. They were brutally beaten to death, the victims’ blood apparently drunk, and an outline of "V" for Vampire with a clan sign burnt into the father’s skin with cigarettes. On that Monday night in late November (1996), when police arrived at their home in Eustis, Florida, they found Richard Wendorf (age 49) and Naoma Ruth Wendorf (age 53) lying dead in pools of blood.
It is not clear if Heather Wendorf witnessed the killing of her parents—or thought they were just going to steal the family Explorer. She is supposed to have told the police, "We were hungry and needed blood." Heather was later cleared of murder charges, Ferrell and Anderson face the death penalty for actually committing the murders, and two other teens are charged as accessories to the crime.
To see the Vampire game as the sole cause of these murders would disregard the acute dysfunction of Rod and his friends. On the other hand, to say that seriously vulnerable youth may not be encouraged to mayhem by role-playing games seems to be another untenable extreme. The obsession with vampires and darkness—and especially the torture and killing of animals—ought to be signs enough that Roderick needed serious treatment.
Any thorough consideration of vampirism, and extended listening to "vampires" will bring up its relationship with many other issues that cannot be discussed here. These are not essential parts of vampirism or necessary corollaries. Each issue is interesting and has a unique relationship to this topic—appearing time and again in interviews and analyses. But they can only be mentioned here in such a brief article:
- Gothic culture.
- Death Rock scene.
- Pagan folklore, beliefs and rituals.
- The occult and possibly Satanism.
- S & M and dominatrix sexual practices.
- Obsession and addiction.
- Fantasy and role playing.
How does someone come to be a vampire—even when many say they wish they were not so. Some human vampires say they have lusted for blood for as long as they can remember. In the mid-1980s a Canadian biochemist, David Dolphin, studied the rare blood disease, porphyria. Those with this disorder suffer a loss of heme, one of the pigments in oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Dolphin suggested that human vampires might be trying to gain heme in order to dispel negative symptoms, but he failed to prove this. Porphyria victims are subject to terrible skin irritation if they go out in the sun. This symptom was a clue for Dolphin’s hypothesis. Instead of remedy, he brought unwanted jokes and scorn to many sufferers from Porphyria who had no inclination toward vampirism. There are no clear answers from science as to the needs and urges that draw so many into a situation most of them would rather not suffer. Even the social factors are too complicated to sort out for any given individual. If there are medical explanations, we do not have them yet.
- How much about vampires and the vampiric lifestyle did you know before reading this article? What impressed you most here? How would you criticize this article’s approach to a very complex and troubling issue? Would you have written this differently?
- If there is a medical explanation for blood lust, if some human vampires feel such tendencies from as long as they can remember, and if some of these would prefer not to be so, will be forced to consider vampire rights in our society? Are they in a similar position to other groups in society breaking from traditional taboos?
- What difference should there be in the way "human blood vampires," "psychic vampires," and "life style or gamers" are perceived?
- How much fun with vampire stories (such as those of Anne Rice) is healthy for children and young people to enjoy?
- Would you—and if so, under what conditions, would you—allow children or teenagers to play "Vampire: The Masquerade?"
- How would you deal with teenagers who are into the "Vampire" game?
- What signs might cause you to be concerned about a young person’s unhealthy dabbling in the realm—or with the ideas—of vampires?
- How do you understand the vampiric subculture among young people and adults?
- What would you teach your own children, high school students, and teenagers in a youth group about vampires when the subject comes up?
- Young adult (12-25) books, magazines, television programs, and movies are filled with vampire themes.
- There is a growing subculture of vampires among teenagers and adults.
- This trend will not be reversed by criticizing its existence or by rules and laws. A positive approach will include caring for people who often feel themselves isolated and having empty lives. It will include working with them in bringing positive rather than negative factors into their lives and community.
Dean Borgman cCYS