By Suzanne Carré
This is an intriguing question, but it is neither obvious nor trivial, because there is no simple answer. The reason for this ambiguity stems from both the source of the myth and what the vampire means to us. Vampires are symbolic, and of all the monsters of our dreams, the vampire has endeared us to the extent we have evolved the creature into a diverse array of manifestations. So far, I have concerned these articles to the development of the vampire known in Western European mythology, but even within this single idea there are numerous interpretations.
What then is a vampire? Vampires are many things, for many reasons, with many forms. But how this happened is a product of our attraction to the vampire, the awakening of the individual, the rise of the modern state, and the progress of science. I have dealt with the historical development of the vampire in a series that starts here but this time I will concentrate on the differences we created in the vampire, and look at some of the reasons why we have evolved the vampire the way we have.
The vampire is one of our favorite creatures of the night. But the lifestyle of the vampire was not always confined to the night. The original goddess of sex, baring fangs and drinking blood, were often glorified in the day with their worship characterized by immolation fires, and thus associating the vampire with pure light. But as the religions dedicated to sex, devoted to female gods, and ritualistic human sacrifice became repulsive in the ancient world, the vampire worship retreated underground into caves, the fires diminished to mere candles, and the lights of the vampire world faded into deep shadows. The vampire entered the night, never to return to the day.
By the middle ages, the Western vampire, assumed the form of the incubus and succubi, and stepped into the dreams of men, so the vampire of the night now influenced our sleep. These dream bearers soon gained the sordid reputation for inducing erotic dreams and via this corruption allowed other demons access to our minds and souls. Association with demons, and especially the Devil, is likely the reason why the vampire lost its image in mirrors and could no longer face the sun. In folklore, the mirror has magical properties, enabling the silvered surface to capture souls, while the sun is the ultimate mirror, reflecting God’s love. The vampire had both its soul, and the ability to walk among angels, stripped away when the impish form frolicked with pure evil. The vampire sunk into the depths of infamy, and would forever be linked with seduction and an unrealized sexual potential.
This sexual quality of the vampire, although it has undergone many changes, from erotica to mere romance, is the one inexplicable curiosity of the vampire in the post-Victorian mythology. The reasons are obscured by the development of the Western vampire of the 1800′s. Why would an animated corpse suddenly become a sex symbol, is indeed puzzling if we only consider the vampire from the last 200 years?
The modern vampire of Western Europe arose in name and nature in the early 1700′s. But the romantic writers of Germany who embraced the Slavic myth of the eternal dead, incorporated many of the properties of the incubus into their newly created vampire. Evidence of this appears in the descriptions of what the vampire meant then – it was a symbol of anti-church and undying love. In the Balkans, the vampire was an ugly, almost ghostly creature, whereas with the finesse of the incubus, the new vampire held the power of immortality and captivating beauty.
And particularly the new vampire, as a mixture of Eastern and Western myths, is male. The bad boy of the preternatural domain, possessing the quintessential elements of all male attributes, takes over from the incubus, but this time is simply irresistible. Both men and women fall victim to the seductive vampire, and this creature of our imagination quickly spreads its influence across Europe. As it does so, the vampire gains supernatural powers and becomes more anti-church. By the time the vampire reaches England, the potency of black magic and the allure of the werewolf become inextricably linked with the vampire. Now perfect evil is all-powerful with a healthy sexual appetite.
Vampires from the beginning of time have consumed the blood of their devotees. The original sex-goddesses offered their blessings in trade for human blood, particularly of innocents. By the time the Roman world dominates Europe, the last fires illuminating these cults of sex have been extinguished and the vampire loses its fangs and its appetite for our blood. In the form of the incubus and succubi, the vampire of our nightmares was not a blood-thirsty entity either, so it is to the imagination of English writers, particularly Bram Stoker who created the typical vampire with a thirst for blood.
Dracula is not simply a Slavic myth, but a combination of the powerful vampire that arrived in the United Kingdom 100 years before the novel bearing his name, some Romanian folklore, and fear of a new scientific uncertainty in the form of disease causing microbes. Science had discovered the source of many diseases, and so this separated sickness from sin. The fires to vanquish witchcraft had long burnt out and so the practice of blaming the dead for curses on the living were so rare, any occurrences garnished headlines. It was the continued practice of vampirism in New England that gained Stoker’s interest in the undead. The idea of the dead returning to the living makes for a powerful metaphor, and I interpret his novel in terms of the great flux of change he lived through at the time.
With the rise of the vampire in the modern form came concurrently the rise of the modern state. Out of the writings of the Romantics we gained the notion of individual rights and of modern democracy. The old Europe was dying, and with wars becoming ever more violent with the innovation of canon and firearms, it seemed only the blood of young fighting men would ever restore its vigor. Despite advances in medicine, disease seemed more prevalent, and for the first time constant, whereas Europeans contented with waves of plague, now the diseases were perpetual. Stoker’s homeland, Ireland was fighting for independence from what was seen as a blood-thirsty monarchy. With these issues at heart, it is not difficult to see why the vampire was a prefect symbol of uncertainty and radical change.
So what is the vampire today? With movies and romance writers, the vampire has taken up the mantel of perfect lover. No longer a revolutionary, the male vampire especially is the ideal of male, the essence of sexual pleasure, and the virtue of love. What will the vampire become? That will depend on what we need. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the romance of a lost era, the impossible nature of the human heart, and sexual awareness has shaped the vampire into a sexy beast once more. We will always call on the vampire if we need some answers to our troubles, and no matter their nature, the vampire will adapt to encapsulate our fears.