Through a Glass, Darkly

I. Semantics.

Even amongst people who don’t believe vampires exist outside of entertaining fictions, I’ve sensed some hostility against bizarrely particular representations of vampires. They could be urbanites, melanized, and rough-and-tumble like Blade. Oh, no, they must be aristocratic, out of time, pale, foppish, and dangerously seductive like Dracula. They definitely do not sparkle in the sun like Edward Cullen.

“They definitely” nothing. Vampire is just a word.

What’s in a word? I propose that whoever writes the word “vampire” only needs one other reader to agree to the writer’s meaning. If that includes sparkles, then that too is what the word includes in the moment of that exchange, to the participants of that exchange. That’s how words work. Even if we trace the word history back to some ancient Slavic word meaning “to pierce” we can move forward in time and outwards in some other plane to find representations of vampires who simply enter a room and everybody else in there with them begins to feel exhausted for no reason, or they lose memories, or lose some other sort of personal power.

When it comes to meanings, especially the meaning of “vampire”, I kept my agreements to reality and the agreements to fiction very far from each other.

II. Community.

In reality: I’ll get back to this.

In community: Amateur practitioners in psi phenomena would frequently speak up about vampires. That is, first grant psi as a conserved quantity related to life and/or a feeling of well-being, also grant human people adept at manipulating psi, and finally grant the latter can rob the former from people who don’t do that sort of thing (not even to preserve what psi they have.) Refer to this act as vampirism.

People who identified as vampyres or vampires (I mention “identified as” because that aspect is the focus, not because I would impose an opinion that they are “really” something else) or those who spoke up for them, defined vampirism as a predisposition more than an action. Real vamps couldn’t metabolize the life force and mental nourishment of psi that didn’t come from other people. Other people who gave it, wouldn’t miss it. Most other people didn’t need other people’s psi, and those who took it anyway (those described in the immediate preceding paragraph,) in a way that was too harmful to go unnoticed, were not vampires but leeches.

Note the importance of that distinction. When I ask what’s in a word, I definitely wouldn’t contest the idea that words mean things.

III. Modern Folklore

In fiction: Blade is the best vampire of all time ever, I will fight you on this.

Oh, pardon me. In my fiction: Vampires are an entirely other kind of being, as different from humans as a bat differs from its dream of a mosquito. I created a human character who became influenced and aberrated by such alien monstrosities, but who herself embodied a sort of tragically romantic glamour in pining after the sunlight of her fully human days.

That story went nowhere, thank the stars. It would never be as compellingly twisted as Let the Right One In, and could even have been worse developed than Twilight. Presently, I have a novella in the works that involves a psi vamp-leech, hopefully leaving it ambiguous enough about whether this character truly needs to feed but is also vindictive about it because this particular character has been so deprived, or whether the need is a sympathetic lie hiding nothing but unrelated vindictiveness. Despite having once believed it, even despite my probably believing it again one day, this psi-vampirisim just feels like something I included because I found it somewhere and decided it was cool, and because it fit the story both thematically and logically.

I use fiction to explore the spiritual, but some fiction is just fiction.

IIII. How Do You Roman Count

In reality: You know what? Never mind.

In Faery: Vampires are an entirely other kind of being, as different from humans as a bat differs from its dream of a mosquito. How did this happen?

However it did happen, I’d first acknowledge the zoomorphic aspect of vampirism. To examine the development of this folkloric creature through storytelling, perhaps zoomorphic isn’t the right word. But the vampire bat was a bat that was discovered and then named for its resemblance to a folkloric creature that was established to drink blood. Now vampires can’t be represented as able to turn into wolves anymore (they used to be able to) because if they do shapeshift, it must be into a bat. Also, some psychic vampires are really psychic leeches, and leeches are coincidentally another corporeal animal that feeds on blood. You don’t call anybody a psychic pleco.

The most interesting to me is the mosquito. Only the female of the species feeds on blood, and not even for nourishment. Both male and female mosquitoes live on plant sap. Technically, only the yet-to-be-laid eggs are vampiric. One of those almost killed me with dengue hemorrhagic fever, and when I wonder about why, other than “nature” or “survival” the mosquito is simply very strange. It’s considering that strangeness that allows what I feel is a more essential understanding of therianthropy or zoomorphism, that has to do with borrowing symbolic vocabulary from experiences with fellow beings of the corporeal…but that might be for another post. After all, mosquitoes aren’t a popular part of vampire lore.

Apart from sharing a folkloric ancestor with the figure of the werewolf, vampires seem to also have been the Northern counterpart to the completely dissimilar zombie. The unfortunate people who have been drugged by neurotoxins, convinced that they’re deceased (despite being able to sense the world and move around), and then enslaved…those are zombies. Those walking dead that smell of decay, although called zombies, might have had more similarities to early vampires. For that, I should retract the description that they are completely dissimilar. Vampires still have strong associations with death.

Vampires are often portrayed more as predatory than parasitic or symbiotic. The ones that buy from butcher shops or blood banks, who have a glass of orange juice and an iron supplement ready for their still-conscious donor after a feeding session, who eat deer and call that vegetarianism, those would eventually be established in-universe as exceptions or attempts to manage the nature of vampires as harbingers of death. However, fewer sleep in crypts, and hardly any show signs of decay anymore. Vampiric death is more like a rebirth, ironically into an afterlife immortality. Vampires then become more like guardians of memory, history, and time. Not so much death, except perhaps to demonstrate another irony, of that undead meeting another definition of death.

Modern lore has vampire deaths come about in a number of ways. Some of them can be violent, involving dismemberment and fire and baths of holy water or acid or garlic juice–basically whatever has got to work because the characters can’t trust the undead to die. Others are more specific, such as a stake to the heart. My personal favorite is sunlight, because it’s so othering. It’s as if to say that this is our world, our time, as diurnal beings; that we don’t have to do anything to prove that anybody else simply doesn’t belong alive. And no other folkloric being that I know of serves as a counterpart: will-o-wisps and phoenixes and genies don’t die from new moons or the cold of Arabian nights.

In a way, it also feeds back to the death-representation of vampires as keepers of time and history. It’s the hidden histories they keep, if they survive long enough to bear witness, or even if they care to take notice. We keep the times of days to ourselves.

Everything else that a vampire could be, or has commonly been: without a reflection, without a shadow, compelled to count things (this bit of lore is much older than muppets), unable to cross flowing waters, dangerous, sexy, repulsive, unholy, telepathic shapeshifters with superhuman strength and speed, an attempt to glorify a superstition that outlived its purpose of filling in for rudimentary medical knowledge…

…I’ll say maybe. I’m not calling a rabbit a smeerp, after all. The word I use means what it has been used to mean, which is why I use it. Even though what it means has depended more on the container than the label.

But when I write of fay vampires, I mean that they are Unseelie virtues of darkness, neither which mean that they’re bad, maybe they walk in dreams and never sleep, maybe their bloodthirst is metaphorical. Maybe they don’t care about memories and history, as even those concepts as we know them are children of modern times. Maybe their world has vampiric traits among people, flora, and fauna in the same way we in the waking/corporeal world have signs of life in all manifestations of life.