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Vampires and psychology

Updated on January 5, 2013

Most of you were probably introduced to vampirism through contemporary movies like Bram Stoker's Dracula, Interview With The Vampire, Vampire Hunter D, Underworld, 30 Days of Night, Blade, maybe some books, music, or television series like True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and many more. Anne Rice's Interview With The Vampire surely had the most influence on our current, 21st century perspective of those creatures. In this article, I will not write about contemporary so-called vampires, like "blood drinkers", "psychic vampires", neither goths, nor Stephanie Meyer, but I'll rather present you an evolution of the term with its historical, psychological and philosophical connotations.
First of all, at some point in our lives we might have wondered do vampires really exist? The answer is simple: yes, they do exist, but the question remains: how, where and in what form do they exist?
There are numerous myths that speak about the first vampire. For example, there is a biblical myth about Adam and Eve's first son, Cain, who was a crop farmer and his brother, Abel, who was a shepherd. God rejected Cain's offerings and accepted Abel's, thus making Cain jealous which led Cain into murdering his own brother. When God heard about the murder, he cursed Cain, sending him East of Heaven, to the Land of Nod - and also gave him a "mark" so that nobody could kill him which meant that Cain would roam the land forever as a fugitive. Historically, we know of an ancient Middle Eastern tribe called Cainites who were also marked with a sign, and they were practicing ten-fold blood revenge on those who happened to kill their members. We don't have to think that the myth about Cain is a vampiric myth at all - it probably isn't, although many people try to interpret it as such. Another creature, also from Judaic mythology, was interpreted as the fist vampire. Adam's first wife, Lilith. When Adam chose Eve over her, she became jealous and, using her demons, she interfered with his dreams. She was not a vampire but a succubus - a female demon that messes with man's dreams and drains his sexual energy. The first association to Lilith is, thus, the night, and that leads us to universal beginning of vampire myths - our irrational fear of the dark and the unknown.
Man is naturally afraid of the dark, which is an instinctive fear rooted in our physiology - because our pupils widen in the dark so they could accept more light, which is obscure. People in ancient times had so called mythological consciousness, and that means they used their imagination to explain unknown things, their made-up stories were indeed equal to their reality. They thought that there is a real possibility that some vampire or werewolf will jump at them from some tree, uncertainty is constant and swift death may be a moment away. In middle ages and before that, most towns and villages were settled at the edge of the forests, where dangerous beasts roamed, so that their fear was, at some hand, justified. The myth has roots in our fear, and our mind and culture gave him nourishment.
Slavic people have the richest folklore concerning vampires, even the word "vampir" itself is of Serbian origin! Most of those basic things that we think about vampires today (doesn't like sunlight, can be killed with stake, drinks blood...) were crafted in IX century, during Christianization of Slavic folk. Christianity overpowered paganism, thus making people think that they can use element of Christian faith to fight vampires (holy water, crucifix, ceremonial burial...). That was, of course, just a marketing trick to make people believe that the priests can protect folk from demons, and in return, those priests gained a bigger herd. Western European, later American, and now commercially universal vampiric image originated among Slavic people.
In XVIII century, black plague, rabies and other diseases led to premature burial of many. There are two documented cases which try to prove existence of vampires: Peter Plogojowitz (spelled in serbian: Petar Blagojevic), died in 1724 when he was 62 years old, and was coming back to his son's house to ask for food. When the son refused, the next morning he was found dead and after that even his neighbors died from blood loss. Another example is Arnold Paole, who died while working at the field, and soon after that, cattle and people in his neighborhood started dying. These two cases were well documented and examined. There was also a case of Sava Savanovic, who killed people that came to an old watermill in which he lived. Although this story is more legendary than that of Plogojowitz, this one is not that well documented. The word "vampir" came to Europe via some German report about superstitious Serbs who drive stakes through bodies of their dead. After that, chaos had spread all over Europe, numerous theologians considered the possibility of existence of vampires, people were panic and started digging out their dead, and driving stakes through cadavers. When Mary Theresa had sent her doctor to examine more thoroughly could vampires be the reason for such numerous deaths, he found out that they can not, and then Theresa banned exhumation, ending the "vampire epidemic". But, until then, the whole Western world was noted about vampires and it was just the matter of time when those creatures will find their place in literature and art.

How does a vampire think, what are motives for man to want to become one? Leading psychologists of late 19-th and early 20-century, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung were contemplating about similar questions. To Freud, fascination with vampires has roots in our interest in morbid, which is combined with repressed sexual desires. Jung saw vampires as an aspect of one's "shadow". "Shadow" is a part of Self that can't be recognized by conscious ego because then ego would have to admit that he has a dark side. "Shadow" contains repressed desires, antisocial tendencies and all other things ego is ashamed to acknowledge. Many horror movies, from 1920s and later affected us to think of vampires as seductive, immortal, invincible and evil monsters. When Anne Rice published her "Interview With the Vampire" in 1976, our image of those beings dramatically changed - many of us just longed to be one of them! Louie, the main character, is a moral vampire: he doesn't kill people, lives eternally, practically is invincible, always surrounded by elite people... Both Jung and Freud agreed that fantasizing about vampires satisfy our paradoxical longing for death and immortality. Of course, those psychologists lived in times when vampire were still considered bad. Times have changed, and our conception has changed as well. People are no more pressed to work for common good like animals do. I wouldn't say that the man's purpose is to work only for his own good, but a century of individualism made us believe that working for your own good should and could be the sole purpose of man as a being.

These days, people are civilized and don't live near forests and so. There is plenty of food, we don't have to work so hard for it, our primary needs are satisfied, and now we are ready to go further. It can be said that it is in the nature of man to develop and advance. Food is provided, and thanks to horror movies we gradually became immune to fear. Now we are not afraid of the unknown. When society is able to provide us protection and satisfaction of our basic needs, then the image of vampire becomes attractive because it contains longing for new experiences, immortality, freedom. The sole property of those beings - immortality - speaks of quantity of experiences it can have. It can't be denied that Nietzsche's idea of superhuman affected us to embrace the image of vampire. Superhuman, or Ubermensch is the one who goes on surpassing himself with himself, and overcomes his past experiences. That way, he can get over that constant timeline of past-present-future and live in eternity, in eternal "now". This is a thesis which both Nietzsche, Heidegger, and all mystics agree to.

But, vampires support this idea in both mental and physical plane. They don't have a choice to die, like we don't have a choice to live eternally. They are exiled, but proud and powerful, destined to carry the burden of eternity on their backs. Our backs probably would not be strong enough for that. Myths about vampires are allegory for our endeavor to exceed human limits, in every sense. The concept of eternity in mental and spiritual sense is already discussed among philosophers, and is experienced by some mystics. But physical immortality? Is it just some old belief, based on superstition? Maybe based on fear of death of this body? But there is paradox: you have to die to become a vampire, you first have to die to become an immortal, and yet you are afraid to die - and that's the reason you wanted immortality in the first place. And what is the point of living forever in this physical world, to chase women and kill aimlessly? Unless you use your time to satisfy your curiosity with books about natural and all other sciences, as seen in Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers. Unless you enrich your immortal existence with spiritual, scientific and all other experiences, your life will become a bore. The main prejudice of our modern age is that there is "never enough time", and that prejudice contributed to our fascination with immortality, which is "relaxation" compared to our current time sense which is "tension". We would like to be free from time, then we would be able to not be worried because - eternity, and nothing else, will be ahead of us! Let me ask you, dear reader: if you had unlimited time ahead of you, unlimited funds, and vampiric charm and strength, how would you spend them, what would you do? What would you do, had you that extraordinary chance to be a vampire?


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    • Gentle Fist profile image

      Gentle Fist 5 years ago from Serbia

      Possibly not to turn you into a vampire :) It is a brief explanation of history of vampiric phenomena in our collective minds... now I am excluding Twilight and The Vampire Diaries but it will be coming soon :)))

    • profile image

      Anon 6 years ago

      What was the purpose of this article?