They emerge at night. They take your life-essence. They are very difficult to remove. In a particular political party their ruthless ways are highly praised. Yesterday I had occasion to watch the History Channel’s Vampire Secrets. Frequent readers of this blog know of my contention that horror films generally convey religious fears and certainly the vampire is prominent among such hosts of fear. Although superstition has held that actual creatures drew actual bodily fluids from their victims as far back as the Sumerians, today’s perception of the vampire has gone through several transformations. This particular documentary attempts to trace the origins of the modern vampire fascination through its major stages, beginning in ancient times. The writers and editors seem to favor a Far East origin of the concept, but linger for several minutes on the character of Lilith in Jewish folklore. Although Lilith does not really fit the profile of a classic vampire, she does contain a key to understanding the transformations: they are religious in nature.
People have believed in blood-suckers long before the GOP took on its recent transformation; there is no doubt, however, that the blood-lust of the vampire developed in the light of Christian ideas about the crucifixion. The regular imbibing of “blood” was an aspect of early Christianity that led to problems with the Roman authorities supposing this was some sort of precursor to Vampire: the Masquerade. By the time stories began to circulate about Elizabeth Bathory (ironically, at the same time the King James Version of the Bible was being translated) and her famous blood-lust, and after Bram Stoker later selected Vlad Tepes as a fictional model for his Dracula, blood-ingestion had become the singular hallmark of the vampire. In both cases, despite their historical facts, religious elements had entered in.
One of the most disturbing transformations, however, is that whereby religion itself becomes vampiristic. Originally established as a means of propitiating angry deities, religion very early assumed the aspect of blood-letting as a means of accomplishing that propitiation. With the development of religious abstractions, however, literal bloodshed has become distasteful and less common, but the deities still demand sacrifice. Even in the twenty-first century many accepting people are informed of the pecuniary sacrifice desired, commanded even, by the gods. While the occasional poverty-stricken cleric may occasionally appear, many far surpass the status quo in their crystal cathedrals while many of the faithful suffer want. The History Channel found vampire subcultures in the streets of New York City. They might also have found them in just about any town in any country of the world.