Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil

By Peter Day | Go to book overview

Vampire Subcultures

Meg Barker


1. Introduction

This chapter explores some of the functions served by the vampire legend both in the past and, in particular, in relation to one of its most recent incarnations, the real vampire.

First, it is necessary to define what is meant by the term real vampire. This is a phenomenon that any researcher in the area will certainly have come across if they have ever carried out a web search for “vampires.” There are real vampire websites all over the internet. According to this material, real vampires (or sanguinarians or living vampires, as some call themselves) are an expanding group who identify as vampires due to their common experience of a thirst for blood, often accompanied by sensitivity to sunlight and nocturnal tendencies. They typically awaken to their vampire nature during adolescence and describe it as a condition.

On the face of it, the real vampire appears a very strange phenomenon indeed and it seems odd that an ever-increasing number of people would embrace such a bizarre and even frightening identity. However, this chapter will argue that the idea of the vampire has helped people to make sense of their worlds since the earliest recorded stories; it is an extremely adaptable and flexible legend. The folkloric vampire of early modern Europe was a very different creature to the real vampire today, but both beliefs serve important functions, meeting people's need for an explanation for their experiences and also suggesting appropriate actions to take, giving them a sense of agency.

This chapter will briefly examine the early vampire legends, to outline some of the functions these legends might have served for those who believed in them. Then it will explore the accounts of real vampires from their websites to consider the functions that vampire beliefs might serve in the present day. It is possible to suggest that whilst the early European beliefs may have begun with an explanation of a physical experience and grown to provide more social functions, the experience of the real vampire may well begin with explaining a social experience and go on to produce the physical experiences of blood lust, nocturnal tendencies and aversion to sunlight as part of a culturally specific, socially constructed syndrome.


2. Early Vampire Legends

Vampire beliefs were common in Eastern Europe from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. The vampire revenant usually took the form of a person who had died but who then returned from the grave to

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