A piece of writing advice I see over and over again is “Read within your genre.” This is something I don’t do much, for several reasons. One is that for a long time, like many other (mostly Indie) writers who combine different aspects of fiction, I didn’t know what to call the genre I wrote in. It was only after an early review called The Unquiet Grave “Paranormal” that I decided I fit into that genre better than any other, if I absolutely had to settle on a recognizable genre for marketing purposes.
But another reason I don’t read much Paranormal is that I don’t like it. And the main reason I don’t like it is that it has a bad tendency to fetishize aspects of the Supernatural in which I very much believe and sometimes relate to on a personal level. I’ve talked about this in regard to Witches and Paganism elsewhere. Supernatural creatures like Werewolves, Faeries, Mermaids, Selkies, and especially Vampires, are most often portrayed as hyper-sexualized, alluring, generally misunderstood and mightily abused beings just waiting for the right Mundane to see through their darkness and lead them into the light, often defined as a “more human” existence. And while I do appreciate the theme of finding a commonality of experience in those different than ourselves, I despise the idea that acceptable behaviour hinges on fitting in with the norm–i.e., Vampires who vow only to drink pigs’ blood (unless engaged in sex with their mortal lovers) and Were-creatures who give up hunting and settle down in the suburbs. I cringe when I read a so-called Romance based in coercion and misinformation. I get sick at my stomach when illustrations of nubile, mini-skirted teens with sparks flying from their fingers pop up in my Twitter feed. I hope most respectable authors would think twice about objectifying LBGTQ people or people of another race this way. But I guess most think “It’s okay, because these creatures are fictional.”
I’m not going into what I believe or disbelieve about the objective “reality” of the Supernatural here. I want to speak as a folklorist. I’ve studied Other and belief about Other virtually all my life. My specialty is Faery- and gods-lore, but many of the same ideas apply. The stories we tell about the things that go bump in the night don’t exist merely to scare us. They exist to tell us how to recognize and confront the monsters that pop up in our lives. How to communicate with them. How to avoid them. Because maybe the forms they take in story are objectively “real” and maybe they aren’t, but it’s sure as shit that they exist in metaphor. Unless you’re very lucky, you’ve met people who are fickle and manipulative, who look beautiful until you gain access to an “ointment” that shows you their true nature. People who seem benign until you cross them. People who shift from polite to bestial in the blink of an eye or with the phase of the moon. People who suck out your vital energy until you have nothing left, and maybe you resort to sucking the energy out of others.
You’ve met vampires. And they are charismatic and alluring. They’re also no one you want to be around.
As a Pagan interacting with other Pagans, I’ve heard the term “Psychic Vampire” being tossed around for years and years. And you know, I always thought it was a bit absurd. Hyperbolic. Until I read this article, which deals with exorcizing a vampire in a Pagan context. It blew my mind a bit, because I realized that I had experienced the same things the writer experienced in their group over and over again. But I hadn’t understood what it was. Because, even though I’m a Pagan and I believe in a lot of things other people don’t, I had been pre-programmed to dismiss Vampires as myth. I didn’t get the metaphor. I only saw the blood. But, as my professor friend reminded me, before Bram Stoker took a hand, real Slavic Vampires could be anything. “They can be people, houses, rocks. It’s the stuff that sucks the psychic energy from you.“
And I realized another thing:
I can think of three, maybe four times people in my life have turned out to be psychic vampires, and the pattern is always the same. I get into a relationship with a charismatic, energetic, motivated individual. At first, it’s exhilarating. Before long, we’re sharing deep truths about ourselves. I see that my friend has a dark center–past trauma, usually–and I feel honoured to be entrusted with it. Then the drain starts. It’s subtle. My new friend needs to be the center of attention, and assures this is the case in various ways, maybe by emoting in a vaguely threatening way when she isn’t, maybe by crying and expressing that their needs aren’t being met, maybe by initiating a conversation on social media from which it’s almost impossible to get away. There’s always some kind of crisis in my friend’s life that means I have to be supportive. And the thing is, it’s always a REAL CRISIS. You can’t say it’s made up. A family member contracts a devastating illness, or my friend loses a job, or is about to become homeless. It’s really difficult to say that these incidents are manufactured. Of course, you can’t blame a person for things happening to them or the people around them. But somehow, more and more of my energy is required. And somehow, though my friend reassures me that they will “always be there for me,” it doesn’t turn out that way.
If I’m really lucky and on point, I see what’s happening and get out. More often I don’t understand how drained I am until someone else points it out, or until some Dea Ex Machina event, like meeting a new lover or getting a new job, forces me to extract myself. A time or two, I rubbed my Vampire the wrong way–I set a boundary the Vampire didn’t like or called them on a behaviour they didn’t want to own–and they ran.
My last therapist told me that I keep getting into these relationships over and over again because of some pattern I learned in childhood, and that might be true. I am perfect Vampire Bait.
Psychic Vampires are always at the center of the crowd. At least, it looks that way to me, maybe because of the whirlpool of energy that gets created as they suck the juices from those around them. Anyway, I’m a sucker for attention from anyone who looks like they’re the cool kid to be seen with, the one who picks and chooses who gets to be in the clique. (I think this must stem from all those times being chosen dead last for dodgeball.) I crave recognition, and a Vampire gives it by the simple act of including me in the club. I’m also highly empathic, especially where other people’s fears and pain are involved. I want to make them stop. Consequently, I will listen and support and give my energy beyond the point where it is healthy for me, always hoping to fill the Vampire’s deep well of darkness. I’ve noticed that Vampires often prey on empaths for this reason (and it’s a trope you also see in Paranormal fiction with Vampires of the blood-sucking variety). They COUNT ON us feeling sorry for them and wanting to make it better. A few of the people from my past whom I’ve come to recognize as Vampires have claimed to be empathic as well, but I can’t say I ever saw this borne out. Most of them are too hungry to have a good feel for other people’s emotions. And they also have all the qualities I admire in others and believe I lack. They’re motivated, outgoing, outwardly self-assured. They’re attractive. When I’m the object of their attention, I feel important and loved. I feel like I have worth. It’s a hard trap to extricate myself from.
One of the worst things about having been prey to a Psychic Vampire is no one believes you until they’ve also been prey. Usually to the specific Vampire you’re trying to warn them about, less often to another of the same type. So you can’t say anything. I get stuck in the place of telling myself, “Well, maybe their experience will be different,” because I feel like coming out and saying, “Please watch out for so-and-so. I know you think you’re friends, but it won’t turn out well” makes me look crazy. Plus, over and over again I have tried to speak out, only to be told things like “Oh, shit always happens in bands,” or “She may be bad in certain circumstances, but she’s fun to be with,” or “You’re blowing things out of proportion.” So mostly I hold my tongue, and then I have to watch my friends continue to interact with a person I know to be…ultimately unhealthy to be around, engaging in the whirlwind of activity, talking about what a good friend the person it. It pains me on a deep level. A couple of times, people who have been involved with the Vampire have come to me later and said, “Shit, you were right. They did the same thing to me.” This helps, but it’s not as validating as it would be if, say, people believed me in the first place. If people took my part and told the Vampire, “That thing you did to Kele was really messed up.”
This is why I cannot get on board with the fetishizing of Vampires in fiction. The things that typify Vampire mythology aren’t romantic. They’re damaging. Some people rewrite aspects of Vampire mythology to minimize the horror. They justify. They create a more family-friendly Vampire, one you can marry and settle down with. In my opinion, this is just as repugnant as finding ways to romanticize wife battering or child abuse, and I wish it would stop.
People are fascinated with things that are other. They always have been and they always will be. I understand it. I understand the allure, the wish to explore our own shadow sides by giving then life in the form of dark heroes and heroines. It’s a safe way to touch a place most do not even want to acknowledge. But it’s unwise to forget the meaning behind the symbols, and to fall in love with things who survive on your vital energy.
Reread the old stories and remember the blood.