Month: October 2011

The Shadow Lurks: The Vampire Archetype

The vampire archetype is hardly one fit for introduction since they’re all the rage nowadays. It has remained a steadily popular and tired figure that has resurfaced in one form or another through various media, especially nowadays, reflecting the nihilistic mood of not only the country but the world at large.  The most common characteristics of the vampire itself include being a “reanimated” corpse that is only active at night and nocturnal in the day, while feeding on the living in order to maintain its immortality. The victim of the vampire can become one themselves, but only if the victim consumes the blood on the verge of death.

It would be exhausting to list all the different types of vampires since they’re all seem to be neatly compiled in White Wolf’s famous role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade. The  myth of vampires soon became romanticized by the time Anne Rice came on the scene with Interview With A Vampire. Of course, nowadays if you spend any time at all in the pre-teen/tween/teen/young adult women, you’re likely to be aware of the Twilight phenomenon in which is quite easy to deconstruct and mock at its piss-poor pulp, Mary-Sue ridden prose. Yet those who spend lots of time doing so, seem only to be annoyed at the level of success of the devout Mormon, Stephanie Meyer.

For many years, vampire fiction as a whole was regulated to two pervasive categorical themes: the Christian Worldview and Nihilism. The former was relegated to the first conceptions featured in Romantic literature such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, John William Polidori’s The Vampyre, and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. The later would resurface in various vampire fiction authored by the likes of (for example) Christopher Moore, Anne Rice and  Laurell K. Hamilton. Other authors would simply reject both worldviews altogether and explore alternative realities such as Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series, Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series and a lesser known but even more intriguing Miguel Conner’s Stargazer novel and Gabrielle Faust’s Eternal Vigilance series. Movies like John Carpenter’s Vampires, The Lost BoysThe Hunger, A Vampire’s KissBlade and Underworld series, anime programs such as Hellsing and Vampire Hunter D and even videogames such as Castlevania and Legacy of Kain also echo these tropes.

The Christian take on vampires is that they are evil, soulless demons, minions of the devil. That’s why crosses hurt them, holy water melts them, and, in part at least, why they can’t go out in the sun without biting the dust. Nihilism in vampire lore usually features a vampire as the tragic (sometimes not) hero who overcomes conventional morality to create his or her own lecherous morality a midst a world of darkness. Good and evil are created through behavior rather than unchanging standards for good and evil. The current vampire we see in pop-culture today is, however, a cultural reconstruction of the vampire demon that has existed through various countries and religious mythologies. The oldest recorded example of the vampire myth in religious mythology can be found in a Babylonian prayer, thousands of years old:

“Spirits that minish the land, of great strength… knowing no mercy, they can rage against mankind. They spill blood like rain, devouring flesh and sucking their veins. They are the demons of full violence, ceaselessly devouring blood.”

Elsewhere, the vampire archetype resurfaces in Jewish folklore which also continues the myth of the Owl Lady, Innana or Ishtar in the form of Lilith. Lilith herself appears in the third millennium B.C.E. in a Sumerian text called the Inanna, Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree featured in the Epic of Gilgamesh. She is mentioned only once in the entire Bible in a prophecy that states that when the land is turned into a wilderness on the day of Yahweh’s vengeance:

“…the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest. There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate. Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and his spirit shall gather them there. It is he who casts the lot for them, and with his hands he marks off their shares of her; They shall possess her forever, and dwell there from generation to generation.” (Isaiah 34).

Although only mentioned once in the Bible, Lilith was so well-known in 8th century B.C.E. Israel that everyone was afraid of her. Sages wrote about her dangerous doings in the Talmud as men were warned not to sleep alone in a house at night because the Liliths (there were more than one) would conceive demons from their nocturnal emissions. There were also male Lili-s or (Incubi) who mated with the women while they slept. The Liliths or (Succubus) were jealous of married couples and hated the children conceived in ordinary human wedlock. They would attack the little children, suck their blood, and strangle them. It was the Lilith that caused barrenness, miscarriages, or complications during pregnancy and delivery.

The vampire trope can also be found in the Zoroastrian religion, which was the first to posit radical dualism in its approach to religion. Angra Mainyu, the inferior “counterfeit” or “evil” spirit that contests against Ahura Mazda, the uncreated and highest deity in the Zoroastrian religion. Ahura Mazda, unlike Angra Mainyu, is able to create the physical universe and to use it as his instrument in the battle against his Adversary. Since Angra Mainyu or “Arihman” has no  corresponding capability to produce an evil world of his own, he must rely instead on his ability to spoil the good world created by Ahura Mazda. Angra Mainyu and his demons can only participate in the life of the universe in a corruptible, secondary way. He and his fellow demons prey on life in a parasitic symbiosis, vampire-like function rather than existing independently and self-sustained. Yet, the difference between the theodicy and dualism posited by Zoroaster and done by Judaism and Christianity is that Zoroaster focused on a primordial dualism in the realm of spirit while those like Augustine, by contrast, believed that Satan is a creature of God or in other words, the good being responsible for evil.

In apocryphal texts such as the Book of Enoch that are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, vampire-like demonic giants called “Nephilim”, Hebrew for castaways become the premiere villains of the text. The text also reveals that these proto-vampire race as the progeny of the fallen angels known as the “Watchers” who had taken consorts with human women which are comparable to the archons or rulers of fate of Gnostic myth. In this regard, the rebellious angels became synonymous with the archons or rulers that work to enslave the human race through doctrines of “error, fear, misery and ignorance”, thus prolonging their deep ignorance under the sway of astral determinism.

In Gnosticism, the demonic powers of the netherworld ascended daily into the sky with the seven planets, and the earth was subject to the netherworld powers. The Gnostics believed that astrology worked, but they did not seek to know their horoscopes. Quite the reverse! They sought salvation from astral determinism, because they regarded fate as demonic. For the Gnostics, the astrological division of the cosmos into the realm of astral determinism and the transcendent Ogdoad implied that matter and the body were evil, while spirit and the mind were good. Underlying these much-remarked antitheses was another pair of opposites: ignorance and gnosis, “knowledge.” The knowledge under question pertained to the unknowable, transcendent God. This knowledge could only be revealed through revelatory information or “gnosis” within the sleeping spirit of the Gnostic through an intermediary figure of revelation.

As wrongdoers, the archons had to be sinners who were ignorant of God; and since they were deficient in spirituality, they had to be material in composition. The archons who are the gatekeepers of the cosmos also feed off the “psychic” energy from the suffering output of the human race. The Gnostics’ identified the leader of the archons as a Demiurge. The concept of a Demiurge, or world-creating deity, who differed from the ultimate God, originated with Plato and was widespread in Hellensitic culture. In Gnosticism, however, the Demiurge was an ignorant and sinful wrongdoer, who imparted his or her failings to the creation. In some Gnostic systems, the creator of the world repented of his ignorance at some point after the act of creation. According to Poemandres, the Shepard of Men of the Corpus Hermeticum, these archons or “seven rulers” are the stewards who:

enclose the cosmos that the sense perceives. Men call their ruling Fate.

Within the Enochic corpus, the identification of the stars with the lustful, fallen angels becomes explicit when in it states that these same beings:

“seized that first star which had fallen from the heaven, and bound it hand and foot and cast it into an abyss…and fathered and took all the great stars whose privy members were like those of horses, and bound them all hand and foot, and cast them in an abyss of the earth.”

The Apocryphon of John says of the Watchers’ unholy deeds:

“And he [the Demiurge] made a plan with his powers. He sent his angels to the daughters of men, that they might take some of them for themselves and raise offspring for their enjoyment. And at first they did not succeed. When they had no success, they gathered together again and they made a plan together. They created a counterfeit spirit, who resembles the Spirit who had descended, so as to pollute the souls through it. And the angels changed themselves in their likeness into the likeness of their mates (the daughters of men), filling them with the spirit of darkness, which they had mixed for them, and with evil. They brought gold and silver and a gift and copper and iron and metal and all kinds of things. And they steered the people who had followed them into great troubles, by leading them astray with many deceptions. They (the people) became old without having enjoyment. They died, not having found truth and without knowing the God of truth. And thus the whole creation became enslaved forever, from the foundation of the world until now. And they took women and begot children out of the darkness according to the likeness of their spirit. And they closed their hearts, and they hardened themselves through the hardness of the counterfeit spirit until now.”

Before the fall of the angels, they had the intention of ministering to the human race with the message of repentance and obedience to God, but soon fell prey to lust over the women of flesh and produced Nephilim “abortions” or in other words, beings or creatures who were not sired and begot in a natural way and instead were ejected violently. These demonic beings became so ravenous they after they had consumed the majority of all life on earth, including mankind and creatures of all kinds, they had even turned on each other, introducing the concept of cannibalism since they became the first anthropophagites. The Book of Enoch asserts:

When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them; And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, and to drink their blood.

The Manichaean Book of Giants also gives a much more detailed account of the fall and punishment of the angels:

“ … they took and imprisoned all the helpers that were in the heavens. And the angels themselves descended from the heaven to the earth. And (when) the two hundred demons saw those angels, they were much afraid and worried. They assumed the shape of men and hid themselves. Thereupon the angels forcibly removed the men from the demons, laid them aside, and put watchers over them …. the giants …. were sons … with each other in bodily union …. with each other self-…. and the …. that had been born to them, they forcibly removed them from the demons. And they led one half of them eastwards, and the other half westwards, on the skirts of four huge mountains, towards the foot of the Sumeru mountain, into thirty-two towns which the Living Spirit had prepared for them in the beginning. And one calls (that place) Aryan-waizan. And those men are (or: were) …. in the first arts and crafts. …. they made … the angels … and to the demons … they went to fight. And those two hundred demons fought a hard battle with the [four angels], until [the angels used] fire, naphtha, and brimstone.”

The subject of rebel angels and demonic imposters were no stranger to Gnostic consciousness. In fact, most of the texts dedicated to their various nuanced and complex cosmology are replete with them.  The adaptation of many elements from Judaism and Christianity (among other elements from other religious traditions) into the Gnostic milieu was exploited in a transgressive degree, to the point where many of them were actually reversed. The Gnostic approach to the problem of theodicy or evil was the focal point of their rejection of the deficiency and corruptible nature of the material cosmos. The beckoning of the forces of darkness to “intermingle” and corrupt the children of light was a common theme throughout the ancient heretical variations of the ancient Gnostic doctrines. You can see these ideas reflected even further in various choice texts found in the Nag Hammadi codices. The Gnostic text, on the Origin of the World recounts this tale:

“Let us return to the aforementioned rulers, so that we may offer some explanation of them. Now, when the seven rulers were cast down from their heavens onto the earth, they made for themselves angels, numerous, demonic, to serve them. And the latter instructed mankind in many kinds of error and magic and potions and worship of idols and spilling of blood and altars and temples and sacrifices and libations to all the spirits of the earth, having their coworker fate, who came into existence by the concord between the gods of injustice and justice.”

The same text also describes how Eve was once raped by “the Prime Ruler [God] and his Angels” while in paradise, and thus gave birth to a cursed race of demons implied to be that of Cain and his descendants. And in A Valentinian Exposition, it reveals a contention between the angels and the higher god-forms contained in the Logos and Wisdom:

“And there took place the struggle with the apostasy of the angels and mankind, those of the right with those of the left, those in heaven with those on earth, the spirits with the carnal, and the Devil against God. Therefore the angels lusted after the daughters of men and came down to flesh so that God would cause a flood. And he almost regretted that he had created the world […] the consort and Sophia and her Son and the angels and the seeds. But the syzygy is the complete one, and Sophia and Jesus and the angels and the seeds are images of the Pleroma. Moreover, the Demiurge cast a shadow over the syzygy and the Pleroma and Jesus and Sophia and the angels and the seeds.”

The parallels between vampires and the cosmic rulers so prevalent in Gnostic and Hermetic texts contained within the Nag Hammadi Library are vast. This is what gnosis does to a great degree, covertly sneaking messages to us from all directions, in the form of myth, right out in the open care of our own people who perhaps do so unconsciously, but not accidentally.

In the Clementine Homilies 2.22, Aquila and Nicetas claim that Simon Magus said he would never die and in another place in the same writing Simon eats flesh and drinks blood. This is much like the vampire known to the ancient eastern Europeans as Strigoi in Romania, or Vrykolakas of Greece which drank blood and were slain werewolves. This disease was caused by either a sacrilegious life, excommunication, eating sheep killed by a wolf, or burial in an unconsecrated ground. People with red hair and grey eyes were often thought to be vampires just as people with unibrows were thought to be werewolves. There was a superstition about knocking much related to the angel of death. It was said it was best to burn their corpses while they slept on Saturday or something to that effect.

Vampirism can even be seen in Orthodox Christian ritual. Undoubtedly, the most bizarre ritual conceived out of the Roman Catholic Church is that of the Communion rite which symbolically involves the consumption of the flesh and blood of Jesus. Even as a purely symbolic act,  the ceremony’s connotations are barbaric, and seem to have more in common with Babylonian ritual and occultism. The explanation given for the communion is that the practicing Christian consumes the righteous holiness of Christ and his agape spirit bestowed to the believer. This ritual was partly formed due to the fact that in Matthew 26:29, it states:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

Even in Hinduism, Kali the wife of Shiva also seems to embody divine blood-thirst made apparent vampire-like qualities that include protruding, canine fangs and mouth dripping with the blood of her demonic enemies.

Besides all the religious and heretical examples, the vampire archetype is also indicative of psychoanalytical metaphors that both Sigmund Freud and even Carl Jung discuss to symbolize the juxtapositions death and primal sexuality. One example can be found in Freud’s analysis:

“All human experiences of morbid dread signify the presence of repressed sexual and aggressive wishes, and in vampirism we see these repressed wishes becoming plainly visible.”

For Freud, the vampire is largely representative of brutal, primal sexuality coupled with images of death in dark attempts to reach immortality. The vampire to Freud was a very old archetype that compressed one’s projected fears and repressed urges to whatever perverse and depraved inklings. All one has to do is watch a few episodes of True Blood and see this as evident.

Carl Jung viewed the vampire in a similar manner and understood that the vampire image to be representative of the “shadow“, the dark, unconscious aspect of the self that the ego is unable to recognize at first. Within the shadow contains all the shameful vices and desires one person might contain. The vampire shadow in this sense can be synonymous with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, due to its anti-social, predatory and self-absorbed preoccupations while having difficult times with empathizing with others.  The only concern the narcissist is how to bolster their image in efforts to drain and deplete the energy on part of the prey.

While this is by no means a completely in-depth examination of the powerful vampire archetype (a volume tomes would be sufficient for that) this can provide deeper insight into the dark world of the vampire. Speaking of which *Shameless plug alert*, I am putting the finishing touches of my own post-apocalyptic vampire novel, “Crimson Dusk” that will be out sometime in the near future.

I personally find that it is much easier to use fantasy and supernatural themes in fiction which to me are some of the best ways to teach universal lessons and reveal truths or explore philosophies that otherwise would become rather obvious (as far as fiction is concerned). Many of these writers employ folklore and mythology and of course religion. They all remove you from your nice comfortable reality to teach you the truth of that reality through parables and elaborate metaphors for metaphysics, religion, fortean theories, sexuality, pop-culture and even the reality and unreality of the self.