The Vampires Among Us

Every year David and I spend the month of October watching old horror movies. Lots of silly ones like The Creature From the Black Lagoon or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, plus a few really good ones, like Branaugh’s Frankenstein or Coppola’s Dracula, or Shadow of the Vampire, where John Malkovich plays the obsessed director of Nosferatu and Willem Dofoe plays the vampire. Excellent movie.

We’re gardeners, outdoor types, so maybe this is our way of transitioning from the perfect Portland summers to the dismal, dreary Portland winters—our ritual way of saying goodbye to 80 degrees and glorious so we can embrace a landscape that’s going to look like a set from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the next 7 months.

And, as usual in October, I find myself thinking about the vampire myth. Why are vampires so fascinating? Why have vampires become such an enduring archetype of evil?

Because we all know in our bones—oops, in our blood—that vampires are real. We’ve each been victimized by vampires. We’ve each acted like a vampire from time to time ourselves.

A real vampire doesn’t wear a cape or have eyebrows like Bela Lugosi. A real vampire is just an ordinary, everyday person who goes around sucking the juice, the life force, out of other people. He’s the perpetually disgruntled guy whose mood can subdue a whole room full of otherwise cheerful folk. She’s the one who can’t get enough attention, can’t get enough love, can’t get enough praise. The one who leaves you exhausted and drained after every visit. The one who always talks, but rarely listens. The one grappling for control. The one who tries to mesmerize others into feeding their neediness.

And just like the mythological ones, real vampires are capable of passing their dis-ease on to others, generation after generation after generation.

Here’s how the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism defines ‘vampire’:

The vampire is a monster of either gender that drains the blood of a living person. The English novelist Bram Stoker popularized the vampire in his 1897 Dracula, from which the film versions were made. But the centuries old vampire lore, especially of Central Europe, is echoed in the legends of bloodsucking demons throughout the world.

The vampire is a strange phenomenon of the imagination, a shapeshifter, hypnotist and captivator, erotic and chillingly repugnant at the same time. He or she is often ravishingly, irresistibly seductive. That the vampire is also represented as a form of were-animal, fanged and nocturnal, suggests that as a psychic factor it shuns the light of consciousness, manifesting in the twilight of the subliminal as a sexual compulsion or another form of raw, insatiable hunger that cannot be put to rest and eventually takes possession of the whole personality. Psyche portrays the vampire as one of the most compelling and libido-draining aspects of the inner “other” and part of its paradoxical attraction is that it is potentially dangerous. Some have compared the vampire to the “hungry ghost,” the revenant of unmetabolized deprivation and trauma, which obsesses us, keeping us out of life. The most deadly aspect of the classic vampire is that with each attack it replicates its condition in the victim, who becomes one of the melancholy, exhausted or restless “dead.”

More contemporary portrayals have idealized the vampire as a being of pale, lunar beauty, in whom soulfulness, wisdom and magical powers combine with exhilarating animal instinctuality. In this version, because the vampire lives forever, it can teach us the lessons of history. The human and vampire lovers of the popular Twilight series reflect the youthful romance between consciousness—which involves process and change—and the alluring fantasy of physical perfection, immutability and immortality. But though the vampire can never again become human, a human can become a vampire, suggestive of our vulnerability to the wholly absorbing nature of desire.

The Book of Symbols,  edited by Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin. Germany: Taschen, 2010. Page 700.

Hhhmm… drains a living person… hypnotist, captivator, irresistibly seductive… shuns the light of consciousness… subliminal compulsion… insatiable hunger… a revenant of deprivation or trauma which obsesses us and keeps us out of life… replicates its condition in the victim… the alluring fantasy of physical perfection and immortality… reflects our vulnerability to the wholly absorbing nature of desire…

Yep. I’d say we have a fascination with vampires because vampires definitely walk among us.

But of course they don’t show up when you look in the mirror.