Little vampire

Little vampire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At is a story about a mayor in the Serbian village of Zerozje who warned the villagers of the danger of a vampire in the area. Villagers began to purchase garlic and other anti-vampire products. This story is interesting in revealing the power of folklore to be belief-forming and action-guiding even in an age permeated with science and technology.

Although I do not believe in “undead” vampires, history has had its share of people who enjoyed drinking human blood. One who probably should not be included in that category is the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth von Bathory (1560-1614) whom legend says bathed in the blood of the servant girls she murdered. Although this is pure legend, it is true that she was a sadist who tortured and murdered some of her servants.

What is interesting in contemporary times is the number of criminal cases involving people who self-identify as vampires, particularly in the state of Florida. In 1985, John Brennan Crutchley (1946-2002) was captured after a woman he had held prisoner escaped and was found wandering along the side of a highway. She had been drained of almost half her blood supply, and she said that her kidnapper had drank some of the blood. Crutchely would rape his victims first, drain their blood, drink it, and then murder his victims. He died of autoerotic asphyxiation in prison in 2002, revealing that he has more than one paraphilia. Roderrick Justin Ferrell (1980- ), from Murray, Kentucky, with the help of an accomplice, brutally beat a couple to death in 1996 and carved a “V” into one of the victims. Ferrell believed himself to be “Vesago,” a vampire.  In 2011, there was another murder by a teenaged girl claiming to be a vampire, and another girl bit pieces of the face and lip off a homeless man after telling him she was a vampire. Although not the only state to have such clubs, Florida is among the leading growth states for “vampire clubs,” in which members ritualistically drink small amounts of blood from other members. There is no need to fear the legendary “undead” when living people commit horrific crimes.

Many vampire stories are not fairy tales because their setting is usually in a particular time and place, and often with an actual historical figure as the vampire. Bram Stoker took advantage of legends about the Transylvanian Prince Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476) in his writing his famous novel, Dracula. Yet the vampire stories remain folklore; historically the origin of the legends are rooted, in part, in people’s confusion about the process of decomposition after death. Lips drawing back make teeth look larger and more ominous. Skin pulling away from hair creates the illusion that hair continues to grow after death. The fact that such folklore exists should be no surprise given the clear connection between blood and life—the character Renfield was not totally off base when he quoted the Hebrew Bible and said, “The blood is the life.” Driving a stake through the heart of a vampire makes sense within the secondary world of the legend since the heart is the organ that pumps blood. The older idea of the heart being the center of the self may have helped the folklore develop. The self is, in part, a psychological notion, and there is much contemporary discussion of “psychic vampires,” people with personality disorders such as narcissism, histrionic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder, who seem to feed on the emotional energy of other people.

Montague Summers (1880-1948) was a British writer who claimed to be a Roman Catholic priest  but most likely was not one). He wrote a survey of vampire stories around the world along with a second book focusing on vampires in European folklore. Summers believed that vampires existed, arguing that they are (1) logically possible, (2) could exist with the permission of God, and (3) do actually exist given the extent of legends about vampires throughout human culture.  (1) is true—vampires are logically possible, but so is Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. (2) True, vampires could exist with God’s permission, but so could many other unusual creatures. (3), given the considerable evidence that vampire folklore arose, to a major extent, from mistaken views of decomposition, it is highly unlikely that “undead” vampires exist.

I have always preferred, when it comes to vampire fiction, the traditional evil vampire, the vampires of Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot being an excellent example. Romantic vampires, such as those in the Twilight series, nauseate me—yes, writers can create new traditions, but making some vampires good is tantamount to blasphemy. Hopefully teenagers will soon grow out of this romanticized view of the “vampire with the good heart” (no pun intended) as soon as possible. Throughout its historical manifestations, both good and evil, the vampire remains a powerful symbol, to the point that for some people in Serbia today, it is much more than a symbol—it is a part of literal reality—and it is to be feared rather than loved.