The umbrella term “real vampire community” is used to describe “modern vampires” or “real vampires,” terms that refer interchangeably to people who consume human and/or animal blood (sanguinarian), absorb psychic energy (psychic vampire or psivamp) or both (hybrid), and do so out of a need that, according to my study participants, begins to manifest around puberty and derives from the lack of subtle energies their bodies produce.
This self-described nature is a condition for which they claim to be given neither a choice nor the freedom to change. Moreover, should they refrain from feeding on blood or energy, they attest to feeling weak and experiencing an overall diminished health.
What real vampirism is not, however, is the sole adoption of Gothic dress and prosthetic fangs for aesthetic purposes, as though real vampirism were merely a practice or fad that one might adopt one day and discard the next. Such a description denotes an entirely different class of people, which the real vampire community has termed “lifestylers.”
To real vampires, Gothic or dark clothing and fangs are, as I will explain in more detail later, merely supplementary identificatory markers of, or hegemonic modes of group expression for, their inherent condition (much in the same way that same-sex desire, for example, is categorically distinct from, and in no way dependent on, the myriad cultural practices of the gay community).
So when did the real vampire community emerge, and where did it come from? For some, the truth will undoubtedly be stranger than fiction. The terms “vampire community,” “real vampire community,” or “modern vampire community,” as Browning (2014) lays out, did not see use until the late 1990s, and at that point, they referred primarily to a network of online message boards, chat rooms and email groups. Even still, a vastly disjointed network of people who self-identified as a vampire had already existed for at least two decades.
No one knows for sure just how many there were, but in the 1970s, people who openly or secretively identified as vampire began regularly attending the same themed social gatherings and, in so doing, enabled them to begin the process of networking with one another and identifying blood and energy donors.
These social gatherings included Dark Shadows conventions and other vampire fiction and film fan organisations; bondage and S&M events, which were frequented by blood fetishists and others whom real vampires found to be willing blood donors; Goth clubs; as well as variously affiliated pagan groups.
Also appearing at this time in limited print runs were self-printed newsletters (or zines), which were especially helpful towards merging into one interconnected community the individual and small independent pockets of real vampires that peppered the United States of America.
The first research organisations dedicated to the study of vampires emerged in the 1960s. Jeanne Keyes Youngson, for example, founded in 1965 the Count Dracula Fan Club (now The Vampire Empire), an organisation originally dedicated to Dracula and vampire fiction and film.
However, after Youngson began receiving letters from real vampires, the organization’s studies were extended, leading Youngson to publish a casebook of some of her more fascinating correspondence. The most notable early researcher, however, was Stephen Kaplan, who in 1972 formed the Vampire Research Center in Suffolk County, New York.
There Kaplan supervised a “vampire hotline,” which received numerous phone calls (many of them hoaxes) from real vampires. On several occasions, Kaplan made actual house calls to meet with some of his phone responders.
The book in which Kaplan reported his findings remains a canonical, albeit problematic text in the field. Before long, other important figures begin to emerge, like Martin V Riccardo who in 1977 founded the Vampire Studies Society and printed a quarterly newsletter entitled, Journal of Vampirism.
In 1978, the Vampire Information Exchange emerged and was published through to the mid-2000s the Vampire Information Exchange Newsletter.
Other pertinent studies in the field were to follow in the 1980s as well as the 1990s, from scholars like Riccardo, folklorists like Norine Dresser, researchers, and paranormalists like Rosemary Ellen Guiley, journalists like Carol Page, and academic criminologists like Katherine Ramsland.
The 1990s also brought two historically significant events in the growth and expansion of the real vampire community. The first was Anne Rice conventions, which provided closeted and unaffiliated real vampires with a bounty of opportunities for socialising and networking. Of more profound importance during this period, however, was White Wolf’s ‘Vampire: The Masquerade,’ a publication that laid the ground rules for a vampire roleplaying game and provided, if inadvertently, a social space within which real vampires could congregate and network openly.
‘Vampire: The Masquerade’ introduced a lexicon, conventions, protocols, and identifiers that the real vampire community adopted and adapted to its own needs. Thus emerged the predominant and somewhat unifying identity that persists today.
In the last decade, however, it is the Internet to which the real vampire community owes much of its prosperity. Whereas in the past real vampires existed in pockets or as isolated individuals and, to communicate, were therefore dependent on geographically close fan conventions and low-circulation newsletters, the Internet dissolved geographic limitations, made print correspondence almost entirely obsolete and opened up vastly more efficient forums, chat rooms and e-communication.
The 2000s have seen not only new scholarship treating real vampirism but works by actual members of the community itself, including Michelle Belanger, Corvis Nocturnum, and Atlanta community leader Merticus of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance (AVA).
The most important academic work of the last decade, however, as I will elaborate momentarily, has come at the hands of Joseph Laycock, followed by the shorter works of DJ Williams, John Morehead, and myself.
Short popular writings on real vampirism have been so sparse that I am able to give here a near-complete history. As more general works go, beneficial is Hoyt’s (1984) ‘Lust For Blood: The Consuming Story of Vampires,’ which, although focused on the history of supernatural vampires from ancient mythological accounts to twentieth-century accounts in both America and Europe, provides a sampling of modern-day accounts about American vampire “practitioners” and surveys briefly the more famous cases of blood-drinking serial killings.
Melton’s (1999) ‘The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead’ is an invaluable first source, defining in minute detail major as well as minor terms that treat the various aspects of the vampire phenomena.
Finally, Ramsland’s (2002) ‘The Science of Vampires’ offers interviews with vampire “practitioners,” forensic experts and various specialists whose works and personal accounts explore the myths and modern-day realities of vampirism.
These next works are among the earliest to examine real vampirism more directly and served as the basis for much subsequent research. A canonical work in the field, Kaplan’s (1984) ‘Vampires Are’ is a compilation of Kaplan’s findings on “real vampires” before a community existed. Also, Kaplan’s Vampire Research Center was the first of its kind and would provide a model for future research centres and institutions.
Dresser’s (1989) ‘American Vampires: Fans, Victims, and Practitioners’ examines various aspects of the vampire culture in America, from people who experience sexual gratification through blood-letting rituals and consumption to lifestylers (or people who adopt the visual trappings of vampires), to fans merely obsessed with vampire media.
Guiley’s (1991) ‘Vampires Among Us’ uses a more personal approach to present stories about people who identify themselves as vampires, while also considering the folkloric history of vampires and its influence on the modern-day real vampire scene.
Page’s (1993) ‘Bloodlust: Conversations with Real Vampires,’ one of the first studies of its kind and now regarded as a seminal work in the field, offers interviews with and a detailed look at people who self-identify as vampire while discussing the various aspects of their day-to-day lives.
Skal’s (1993) ‘The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror’ explores in one of its chapters the conflation between blood contamination and vampirism during the Regan years and even provides an interview between the author and a modern-day real vampire.
In Ramsland’s (1999) ‘Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today,’ she uses the story of Susan Walsh, who disappeared while investigating vampire cults in 1996, to frame her own investigation into vampiric bloodletting, sexuality and body modification.
And lastly, Youngson’s (1997) ‘Private Files of a Vampirologist: Case Histories & Letters’ examines 11 case studies and 14 personal letters addressed to Youngson by people who self-identify as vampire.
Among the most recent studies (many by actual vampire writers) to begin exploring the vampire community as we understand it today is Guinn’s (1997) ‘Something in the Blood: The Underground World of Today’s Vampires,’ which provides an introduction to the vampire subculture using interviews not only with people who identify themselves as vampires but people who have unwillingly fallen victim to so-called predatory vampires.
Konstantinos’s (2003) ‘Vampires: The Occult Truth’ explores the occult truths behind vampires using first-person accounts that treat of not only the vampires of folklore but also modern-day psychic and sanguinarian vampires.
Nocturnum and Filipak’s (2009) ‘Allure of the Vampire: Our Sexual Attraction to the Undead’ examines in detail culture’s attraction to vampires by tracing their history in folklore, books and film, from ancient mythology to the modern-day vampire community.
Russo’s (2008) ‘Vampire Nation’ dispels the centuries-old myths and rumours behind vampirism, provides accounts of actual vampirism and real-life narratives, and interviews modern-day vampires who reveal their feeding rituals and behavioural practices.
Works by Belanger, who self-identifies as a psychic vampire, have become some of the most important and respected in the field. Her ‘The Psychic Vampire Codex: A Manual of Magick and Energy Work’ (2004) is now considered a canonical work in the field. It examines the history and everyday reality of the real vampire community, its cultural practices and esoteric language, from mere lifestylers to the difference between “psychic” and “sanguinarian” vampires, again the community’s two main divisions.
Belanger’s (2005) ‘Sacred Hunger’ compiles her major essays on the topics of vampirism, Bram Stoker, Dracula, modern-day psychic and sanguinarian vampires, and the history and development of the real vampire subculture.
Finally, Belanger’s (2007) ‘Vampires in Their Own Words: An Anthology of Vampire Voices,’ for which she serves as editor, compiles various essays and personal narratives predominantly by and concerning people who identify themselves as vampires, as well as, to a lesser degree, Wiccans and various other lifestylers who write on vampirism and various facets of the vampire subculture and lifestyle.
This work examines not only real vampires, who, as I have said, report feeling a natural attraction towards blood and energy consumption, but lifestylers as well who have adopted the Gothic aesthetic that has come to be associated with the vampires of media.
Laycock’s book, which has proven to be indispensable in understanding the real vampire community, its infrastructure and its organisational history, now serves as a canonical study in the field. There is also a small body of (problematic) socio-religious writings on the real vampire identity that Laycock (2010) outlines in his more recent work.
Finally, Williams (2008, 2009, 2013), and Browning (2010a, b, 2011), treat of the creative, therapeutic, self-liberating and antinormative nature of real vampirism.