The Vampire

The Vampire (Real Vampires)

(pop culture)

A vampire was a peculiar kind of revenant, a dead person who had returned to life and continued a form of existence through drinking the blood of the living. In popular thought, the vampire was considered to be “undead,” having completed earthly life but still being tied to that life and not yet welcomed by the realm of the dead. The vampire is distinguished from the ghost, a disembodied spirit, in that the vampire inhabited in an animated body. It was distinguished from the ghoul in that the ghoul had no intelligent control, being guided solely by its hunger, and feasted off the body of its victim rather than just the blood. Consuming blood was the most characteristic activity of vampires, so the term vampire has also been used to describe many mythological creatures who drink blood as well as living persons who engage in similar activities. Finally, the term has been used to describe people (and spirits) who engage in psychic vampirism, the process of draining the life force or energy (rather than the blood) of other people.

The Eighteenth-Century Vampire Controversy: In the eighteenth century, Western scholars for the first time considered the question of the existence of vampires as something more than just another element of the vast supernatural world of rural folk culture. The controversy was set off by a series of incidents of vampire hysteria that occurred in East Prussia in 1721 and in the lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1725 through 1732. These cases culminated in the famous events surrounding Arnold Paul, a retired Austrian soldier who had settled in Serbia and was accused of being the source of an outbreak of vampirism in his community. Several of these cases became the object of formal government investigations and reports, and a hastily prepared volume on Paul sold widely around Europe.

The publication of the Paul book led to no less than a dozen treatises and four dissertations, and the controversy over him lasted for a generation. It eventually involved some of the most famous scholars of Europe, including Diderot and Voltaire. The question of the existence of vampires was argued on legal, theological, and scientific grounds. The question became more than academic in that villagers, affected by a belief that vampires were active in their community, opened graves and mutilated or destroyed any bodies showing characteristics believed to indicate vampirism. Although some members of the scholarly community attempted to defend the existence of vampires, the majority concluded that evidence suggested they did not exist. The latter cited a host of natural phenomena that accounted for vampire reports, such as premature burial and rabies (which causes an insatiable thirst in anyone infected). They also attributed the reports to theological polemics in areas where a Roman Catholic Austrian government had been imposed on an Orthodox population.

The most careful defense of vampires came from French biblical scholar Dom Augustin Calmet in his 1746 Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Anges des Démons et des Esprits, et sur les revenants, et Vampires de Hungrie, de Boheme, de Moravie, et de Silésie. The publication of Calmet’s treatise, given his reputation as a scholar, initiated a second stage of the academic controversy, which was largely settled by the end of the 1830s. Even the Vatican ignored Calmet, its opinion that vampires did not exist having been set by the conclusions of Archbishop Giuseppe Davanzati published just two years before Calmet’s book. A decade after Calmet’s book appeared—and in the midst of the controversy it sparked—a new wave of vampire hysteria occurred in Silesia. Austrian Empress Maria Theresa sent her personal physician to investigate the incident. In his report, Dr. Gerhard Van Swieten ridiculed the practice of exhuming and executing purported vampires as “posthumous magic.” As a result, in 1755 and 1756 Maria Theresa forbade church and village authorities from taking any action in cases of reported vampires. Only officials of the central government could respond to such cases. The actions of the Austrian empress finished what was left of any remaining public debate.

Real Vampires in the Nineteenth Century?: From the middle of the seventeenth century until the second half of the nineteenth, no serious attempt to prove the existence of vampires, at least in their folkloric form, was made. An attempt to defend the folkloric vampire was launched in the mid-1800s by the spiritualist community. Spokespersons who emerged during the first generation of spiritualism in Europe, where the tales of vampires were most prevalent, offered a new rationale for vampires—psychic vampirism. In the 1860s, Z. J. Piérart suggested that the phenomena described in the folkloric reports of vampires could be attributed to the astral bodies of either the living or dead, which fed off the life energy of the living. The astral body, however elusive, provided an agent for transmitting vitality to the dead and accounted for bodies that, though lying buried for some weeks or months, did not decay and when uncovered manifest numerous signs of a continuing life. Piérart’s suggestion, which had precursors in previous occult writers, was picked up by spiritualist and theosophical exponents, and accounts of “true vampires” began to appear in occult journals.

Typical of these reports was one of the many published by theosophist Franz Hartmann in the 1890s. The story concerned an alcoholic who had been rejected by a woman with whom he was in love. Dejected, he committed suicide by shooting himself. Soon afterward, the woman began to complain of vampiric attacks from a specter in the form of the recently dead suitor. She could not see him but was aware of his presence. Doctors diagnosed her as an hysteric but could do little to relieve her symptoms. She finally submitted herself to an exorcism conducted by a person who accepted her explanation of vampirism. After the exorcism, the attacks ceased. Today, various psychological theories, shorn of any need to posit the existence of vampires, could account for all of the woman’s symptoms, and steps to deal with her unresolved guilt over the suitor’s suicide could be pursued. However, these were as yet unavailable to the medical world, and the spiritualist perspective gained its share of support.

Increasing reports of vampirism, including accounts of the living vampirizing their acquaintances, at times seemingly without any conscious awareness of what they were doing, led to the discarding of the more supernatural spiritualist explanations of vampirism, in which astral bodies attacked the living. Such theories, although maintained in some occult movements, were for the most part replaced with references to “psychic sponges”, people who were themselves low on psychic energy, manifest by frequent periods of fatigue, but who in the presence of high-energy people had the ability to take energy from them. Many people seemed to know such psychic sponges, individuals who regain their vitality in the company of others even as their companions experience a distinct loss of energy and interest in immediate activities. Although the notion of psychic sponges was a popular one, at least in different metaphysical and psychic-oriented groups, it is extremely difficult to document and has produced only a minuscule literature.

Vampirism as Blood Fetish: While the more benign incidents of psychic vampirism were being reported, accounts of vampire crime began to appear. In the 1920s two cases of serial killers with vampiric tendencies shocked the people of Europe. In 1924 they read of Fritz Haarmann of Hanover, Germany, who killed no fewer than 24 young men. He earned the appellation “vampire” killer by biting the neck of those he murdered and drinking some of their blood. Five years later, Peter Kürten of Düsseldorf went on a killing spree, later confessing that he received a sexual thrill and release while watching blood spurt from his victims.

Rare accounts of serial killers with some form of blood fetish were also reported. One of the more gruesome concerned a series of murders of prostitutes in Stockholm, Sweden, in the period from 1982 to 1987. During this period at least seven prostitutes disappeared from the streets, and their bodies were later discovered surgically dismembered and drained of blood. Eventually arrested and tried in the case were two physicians, Teet Haerm and Thomas Allgren.

Haerm’s arrest shocked many. He was the senior police medical examiner and one of the leading forensic pathologists in the world. His articles had appeared in several professional publications, including the Lancet, a prominent British medical journal. He had even been called in to examine the remains of several of the women he was later accused of murdering. Allgren, Haerm’s best friend, was a dermatologist. In the end, Allgren confessed and gave testimony at Haerm’s trial. According to Allgren, Haerm had an intense desire to brutalize and kill prostitutes. To justify the satiation of that desire, the two had started on a righteous crusade to rid Stockholm of streetwalkers. However, Allgren also discovered that Haerm had a lust for blood and gore and that after the killings he drained and drank the blood of his victims. Eventually, Allgren was turned in by his daughter, who claimed that he had sexually molested her. In the process of talking about her experience, she also described in some detail a murder of one of the prostitutes she had witnessed. The testimonies of Allgren and his daughter were heard at a 1988 trial in which the latter testified that blood lust led Haerm into pathology but he eventually found the work on bodies less than satisfying. Then he began his killing spree.

Both Haerm and Allgren were convicted in a 1988 trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, their convictions were overturned, and in a retrial they were found not guilty, even though the judge wrote in his decision that there was reasonable evidence that they were guilty. Both defendants were freed.

Another recently publicized case of a “vampire” killer concerned Richard Chase of Sacramento, California. The documented nefarious deeds committed by Chase began in December 1977 with the shooting of Ambrose Griffin. A month later, on January 23, 1978, Chase shot Theresa Wallin, after which he mutilated her body with a knife. In that process he collected her blood in a cup and consumed it. A week after the Wallin attack, he killed four people at Evelyn Miroth’s home, including Miroth, whom he also mutilated and whose blood he also drank. Miroth’s baby nephew, who was visiting her, was taken home by Chase, who killed him, drank his blood, and tossed his body in the garbage. According to Chase, he believed that he had blood poisoning and needed blood. He had in the past hunted animals (beginning with small animals such as rabbits and cats and moving on to cows). He killed the animals and drank their blood, and his messiness had led to several prior encounters with the authorities. After such an encounter in 1977, he made a decision to start killing people. A year earlier he had spent time in a mental facility and had manifest a mania over blood. His fellow patients had begun to call him Dracula. Arrested soon after the Miroth murder, he was convicted of the six killings. He died in prison, where he committed suicide in 1980 at age thirty-one.

The examples of Haarmann, Kürten, and Haerm, are only tangential to what traditionally has been thought of as vampirism. They are serial killers with, among other problems, a blood fetish. The blood was not the object of their quest, and the drinking of blood was just one of the more gruesome (and somewhat superficial) practices in which they engaged. Chase was somewhat different and more closely approached true vampirism. Although he was not seeking blood to prolong his life, he sought regular ingestions of blood to counteract the effects of poison he believed he was receiving. In the end, however, his vampiric activity also fell into the serial killing mode, the blood lust being peripheral to the killings.

Some Real Vampires Emerge: During the 1960s, in part due to the Hammer Films, Dracula movies, and the Dark Shadows television series, public interest in vampires increased noticeably, and the first of the present-day vampire fan clubs and interest groups was founded. By the early 1970s the Count Dracula Fan Club, the Vampire Information Exchange, and the Vampire Studies Society (now Vampire Studies) had formed in the United States and the Vampire Research Society and the Dracula Society soon followed in England. As these groups emerged, the leaders began to encounter people who actually claimed to be vampires. In the beginning, devoted as they were to the literary vampire (and not really believing that such things as vampires existed), leaders of the vampire interest groups largely discounted the stories. Among those who did take the reports seriously were Scott Rogo, Sean Manchester, founder of the Vampire Research Society in London, and Stephen Kaplan, founder of the Vampire Research Center in New York.

Rogo, Manchester, and Kaplan each began their research from a point of prior interest with psychic phenomena. During the late 1960s Rogo tried to interest the American Society for Psychical Research in vampirism but was unable to budge them from their more central concerns. Most parapsychologists thought that their field was already far enough out on the fringe. Forced to choose, Rogo soon suppressed his interest in vampirism and during the 1970s and 1980s made his own contribution as a writer, attempting to bring psychical research into the mainstream of the scientific community. Sean Manchester’s Vampire Research Society grew out of his previous leadership role in an occult investigations bureau. The society investigates all aspects of “supernatural vampire phenomena,” a task that has led to a variety of research projects, including the famous Highgate vampire and the Kirklees vampire projects.

Stephen Kaplan founded the Vampire Research Center in 1972. His first interview of alleged vampires was with a couple who introduced him to the nocturnal world of vampires, their alternative sexual practices (in this case sadomasochism), and the existence of donors, people who (for a price) allow vampires to drink their blood. From his early encounters, Kaplan began to develop a working definition of vampires. They were people who met three criteria: they need regular quantities of blood, they believe that the blood will prolong their life and help them remain youthful, and they often find the blood and its consumption to be sexually arousing. Over the years, Kaplan had the opportunity to meet and correspond with other vampires and was able to fill out his picture of them. They do not drink great quantities of blood—only a few ounces a day—but they need that blood daily and will go to extreme measures to receive it. Denied it, they become irritable, depressed, fatigued, and somewhat aggressive. They tend to be nocturnal in their habits, and many profess to be extremely sensitive to light. Otherwise, they appear normal and dress in such a way as not to call attention to themselves. To obtain blood, vampires often engage in various forms of sadomasochistic behavior that lead to some bloodletting. They often exchange sexual favors for blood. Some join groups that engage in ritual blood-drinking. If unable to obtain a willing donor, they will, according to their own testimony, occasionally attack a victim, but, as a rule, will not kill for blood.

The vampires Kaplan studied were neither psychic nor supernatural beings. They were, apart from their blood-drinking activities, somewhat normal human beings. Some professed to be far older than their youthful appearance suggested, but their true age was rarely verifiable. Above and beyond the relatively small number of vampires Kaplan encountered (fewer than 100 in two decades), he discovered hundreds of people he described as vampirelike individuals. These people seek to imitate vampires in various ways to gain some of the positive qualities associated with vampiric existence, from immortality to the ability to dominate others—sexually and otherwise.

As early as the 1970s he was able to locate people who had adopted the vampire persona by wearing black clothes or altering their teeth. They drank blood, but, not liking the taste, they put it in a fruit juice cocktail. Many of the people attracted to vampirism find themselves drawn by the eroticism of the vampires’ life. Vampirism, especially in its literary and cinematic expression, is inherently sexual. The vampire’s bite has often been compared to sexual intercourse, and blood likened to semen. Worldwide over the centuries, blood acquired both a sexual and religious connotation, but the dominant Western Christian religion retained the religious meaning without the sexual element. In the activities of many nonconventional persuasions, such as the contemporary sex magic practiced by the followers of Aleister Crowley, the sexual and religious elements of blood have been reunited. A few have united sex and blood-drinking in more sinister forms.

In the process of his research, Kaplan discovered just how difficult was the area on which he decided to focus. Not only did he face tremendous ridicule, but fear of the legal and medical authorities and an intolerant public caused many of the subjects of his study to back away from any situations that might threaten their anonymity, classify them as lawbreakers, or question their mental competence. No real comprehensive and systematic study of vampires has been possible, and knowledge of them still relies on anecdotes related by their few spokespersons. Most important, no medical data of the kind that could provide any evidence of physical traits shared by people who claim to be vampires is available.

Real Vampires in the 1990s: In the decade since Vampires Are was published, a gothic subculture has emerged across America. The gothic life is centered on eerie, atmospheric, gothic rock music, and nightclubs and theaters that regularly provide a stage for gothic bands to perform. Individual “goths” emulate the nocturnal vampiric life, and many assume a vampiric persona, complete with dark clothes, pale makeup, and artificial fangs. They also advocate life-styles based on androgyny, so central to the character Lestat de Lioncourt, the popular vampire star of the novels of Anne Rice. Almost all forms of sexual expression among consenting adults, from sadomasochism to blood fetishism, are welcomed. Thus, the gothic subculture has created a space in which self-designated vampires can move somewhat freely and mingle without anyone questioning their nonconventional habits.

At the same time, the voices of “nongoths” who profess to be vampires also continue to be heard. Carol Page, in a far less systematic way than Kaplan, has written of her experiences with contemporary blood-drinkers in Bloodlust: Conversations with Real Vampires (1991). Page, who interviewed numerous “vampires,” reached many of the same conclusions as Kaplan:

The blood they drink has no effect on them physiologically. It does not keep them young and they do not physically need it, although some vampires believe they do. It doesn’t make them high, except psychologically, or give them nutrition, since human blood passes through the digestive system without being absorbed. They do not have superhuman strength. They cannot turn into bats and wolves. Some sleep in coffins during the day and dress in black capes or indulge in other affectations inspired by fictional vampires. (p. 15)

Page and Kaplan, as well as other sources, have made the point that vampires—that is, blood-drinkers—do exist and have described their world in some detail. Furthermore, they suggest that these vampires live a camouflaged life in the midst of more conventional society and that, except within the cordial atmosphere of the gothic world or the nocturnal world of their own kind, they do not drop their conforming persona or allow the nature of their life to be known by any they do not fully trust. However, there are enough of them, some of whom live relatively open and accessible lives, that few serious researchers would have much difficulty in making contact with them.

Through the 1990s and the first decade of the new century, the world of “real” vampires continued to evolve. Many first met while engaged in the role-playing game, Vampire: the Masquerade. An initial group of people who drank small quantities of blood, called “sanguinarians” emerged. They were distinguished by a variety of claims about the need of and benefit derived from the periodic consumption of at least a few drops of blood. They were being serviced by a slightly larger group of people who volunteered to donate their blood, usually retrieved by making small wounds on their body.

To the sanguinarians was soon added a larger and increasingly vocal group of energy vampires, or psychic vampires, who claimed to have a regular need to drain the energy of others without which they would suffer a variety of conditions marked by extreme fatigue. In spite of the ethical questions raised by their taking energy from unsuspecting donors, the energy vampires violated no laws and no ready method of verifying their claims has been available. Such vampires soon emerged as the much larger segment of the vampire community. While many associated themselves with the esoteric community, which at least admitted the existence of energy exchange, many were living incognito lives in society, holding jobs, raising families, and even worshipping in mainstream churches.

Most of the early organizations of vampires based their organization on models derived in part from Vampire: The Masquerade, notable for its attempt to imagine a clandestine vampire community operating incognito within the larger mundane human world. These early organizations went under names like house, clan, and coven. Through the 1990s, a New York based organization, the Sanguinarium, served as a focal point of a loose association of local vampire groups.

As the vampire community became more public, there was a call for a code of ethics to guide it. A code, called the Black Veil, was created from the rule used within Vampire: the Masquerade. Its first draft published by Father Sebastiaan of the Ordo Strigoi Vii, was further reworked by Michelle Belanger, one of the most public of the energy vampires. In the meantime, the Internet has allowed people self-identified as vampires to communicate while keeping the degree of anonymity most desired and felt they required. Their community has been most visible in New York City, annually on Halloween in New Orleans where a large gathering is held, and through the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA), in Georgia. The AVA, originally founded to promote unity among Atlanta’s vampire community, has, as a result of its sending out a lengthy questionnaire to the more visible real vampires around the world, resulted in its becoming an international nexus for self-identified vampires. Close to 1,000 people responded to the survey between 2006 and 2009.

The vampire community now exists as what Joseph Laycock describes as an identity community, a very loosely organized community created by the self-identity as a vampire of its constituents. Worldwide it consists of numbers counted in the thousands, the several thousand known to the AVA being its most visible core. At one end of the spectrum of real vampires are the formally organized groups such as the Temple of the Vampire, the Order of the Vampyre, and the House Kheparu. Other vampires gather for periodic gatherings such as the annual Endless Night Festival in New Orleans or show up at designated times in late-night rock clubs. Most, however, exist as individuals known as vampires only to themselves and a few intimate friends.

Most recently, there has been two attempts to organize gatherings for vampires at which the more serious issues facing the emerging community can be discussed and steps to improve the image of the community can be developed. The first of these organizations, Voices of the Vampire Community, founded in 2005, has attempted to bring together representative leaders of the community. The other, the TWILIGHT gatherings, founded in 2007, has included both vampires and outsiders seriously interested in the vampire existence.


Belanger, Michelle A. Psychic Vampire Codex: Manual of Magick & Energy Work. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books, 2004. 284 pp.
———. Vampires in Their Own Words: An Anthology of Vampire Voices. Weiser Books: York Beach, ME, 2007. 288 pp.
Biondi, Ray, and Walt Hecox. The Dracula Killer. New York: Pocket Books, 1992. 212 pp.
Calmet, Dom Augustin. Dissertations sur les Apparitions des Anges des Démons et des Esprits, et sur les revenants, et Vampires de Hungrie, de Boheme, de Moravie, et de Silésie. Paris: 1746. Reprinted as The Phantom World. 2 vols. London: R. Bentley, 1850.
Glut, Donald F. True Vampires of History. New York: HC Publishers, 1971. 191 pp.
Guinn, Jeff, with Andy Grieser. Something in the Blood: The Underground World of Today’s Vampires. Arlington, TX: The Summit Publishing Group, 1996. 204 pp.
Kaplan, Stephen. Pursuit of Premature Gods and Contemporary Vampires. Port Jefferson Station, NY: Charles A. Moreno, 1976. 260 pp.
———. Vampires Are. Palm Springs, CA: ETC Publications, 1984. 191 pp.
Laycock, Joseph. Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism. Westport. CT: Praeger, 2009. 200 pp.
Monaco, Richard, and Bill Burt. The Dracula Syndrome. New York: Avon Books, 1993. 167 pp.
Page, Carol. Bloodlust: Conversations with Real Vampires. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Rept. New York: Dell, 1992. 214 pp.

Vampirdzhira see: Vampire Hunters

Vampire Archives see: Vampire Fandom: United States

Vampire Bats see: Bats, Vampire

Vampire Brides see: Brides, Vampire

Vampire Characteristics see: Characteristics of the Vampire

The Vampire Book, Second Edition © 2011 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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