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vampire.gif (4582 bytes)A vampire is a mythical creature who overcomes death by sucking the blood from living humans. The most common variation of the myth portrays the vampire as a dead person who rises from the grave at night to seek his victim from the realm of the sleeping. The vampire is a popular theme of film makers who have started with Bram Stokers's novel (Dracula) and added a number of variations to the theme, e.g., the ability to fly (like the vampire bat); a lust for beautiful women as victims who then become vampires upon being bitten; fear of the symbol of the Christian cross; the repelling power of garlic or garlic flowers; and death by sunlight or by a special stake driven through the heart, a fitting death for a character commonly believed to be based on the 15th century warrior, Vlad the Impaler. However, according to Elizabeth Miller, author of Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (Desert Island Books, 2000), Bram Stoker did not base his vampire Count on Vlad the Impaler. He borrowed Vlad's nickname (Dracula) for a vampire character he had already conceived (and tentatively named Count Wampyr).

Legends of bloodsucking creatures are found in many cultures throughout history. One of the more popular bloodsuckers of our age is the chupacabra. The vampire is also a popular literary subject. Hence, there are numerous descriptions of the origin, nature, powers, etc. of vampires. What seems to be universal about vampire myths is their connection with the fear of death and the desire for immortality. The ritual drinking of blood to overcome death has been practiced by many peoples. The Aztecs and other Native Americans, for example, ate the hearts and drank the blood of captives in ritual ceremonies, most likely to satisfy the appetite of their gods and gain for themselves fertility and immortality. Also typical were the rites of Dionysus and Mithra, where the drinking of animal blood was required in the quest for immortality. Even today, some Christians believe that their priests perform a magical transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus to be eaten and drunk in the quest to join Abraham's god in eternal life.

We might say we've made progress in our ritualistic quest to overcome death. First, we sacrificed humans and drank their blood to keep the gods alive and happy, or to join them in overcoming death. We later came to substitute bulls or other animals for humans to achieve our goal. Finally, we progressed to a vegetarian menu of bread and wine. Even so, the basic truth is depressing: for anything to live, something or someone else must die. Whether this truth sets you free or not depends, I suppose, on your place at or on the dinner table. Since we are deep into metaphors, we may as well note here that the vampire has become a metaphor for those who define and create themselves by destroying others. People whose lives center on destroying other people's lives by disempowering them, who reduce their victims to dependent subjects to be lorded over, have been called spiritual vampires. Some of the therapists, ministers and gurus I've written about elsewhere in the Dictionary could be called spiritual vampires, very aptly.

This cultural link between vampirism and the quest for immortality seems to have been subordinated in literature and film, where other themes, such as blood for blood's sake, fear for fear's sake, or entrance into the realm of the occult, seem to dominate. One sign of the cultural deterioration of our ancestor's noble quest for immortality can be seen in the modern secondary meaning of 'vampire': a woman who exploits and ruins her lover. Another example of deterioration can be seen in the numerous WWW sites on vampires which appeal to occult or New Age interests such as entering the so-called dark side of reality, gaining power, establishing a unique identity as a special person or selling commercial products and games.

Apparently, role playing and masquerading in vampire costumes is not enough to satisfy the bloodlust of some people, and covens or cults of "vampires" have emerged among some occultists. They seek blood to give them power, a sexual rush, or to establish a unique and special fictional persona based on creating fear and mystery in others. Unlike our ancient ancestors, their power is not sought because of fear based on ignorance and misunderstanding of nature, but on ignorance and misunderstanding of themselves. Like other occult cults these vampire covens are attractive to the young and the weak.*  Just a few years ago, such "vampyres" would have been considered ill or evil. Today, they are said to have an "alternative lifestyle." Some may be misfits who really believe they can draw energy from each other, and who feel a sense of superiority over those who aren't part of their inner group.

* "5 vampire cultists nabbed in killings," reads the headline of a story in the Sacramento Bee (November 29, 1996, p. A28). The five are all teenagers from a self-described "Vampire Clan" in Kentucky. They're wanted for the murders of Richard and Naomi Wendorf of Eustis, Florida. The 15-year-old daughter of the victims is one of the suspects, along with her boyfriend who was described by schoolmates as having boasted of immortality as a vampire.

further reading


Anscombe, Roderick. The Secret Life of Laszlo, Count Dracula, (New York : Hyperion, 1994).

Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality (New Haven : Yale University Press, 1988).

Clark, Stephen. How to Live Forever (Routledge, Inc.: New York, 1995).

Gelder, Ken. Reading the Vampire (London: Routledge, 1994).

Skal, David J. Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen. revised edition (Faber & Faber 2004).


Elizabeth Miller's Dracula Site: A Literature Professor shares her love of Draculania

Vampires: The Origin of the Myth by Adrian Nicholas McGrath

"Staking Claims:The Vampires of Folklore and Fiction" by Paul Barber

Searching for Vampire Graves by Joe Nickell



Vampire rumors spur alert at Boston Latin - on bullying (Boston Latin School headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta issued a notice to parents and students yesterday quashing rumors of vampires at the school....When Boston police went to the school Wednesday on an unrelated matter, their presence fueled yet another rumor: that a vampire was being arrested....One student who contacted the Globe said a male student, rumored to be a werewolf, had threatened on Facebook to bring a gun to school because he was being harassed....One 17-year-old boy said he heard that some students claiming to be half-vampires were draining their blood to make their skin paler or had claimed they could fly.)

Vampire Picture: Exorcism Skull Found in Italy

Last updated 18-Oct-2015

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