Vampires in New Orleans Mar 31, 2015 21:36:49 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Mar 31, 2015 21:36:49 GMT -5
Vampires in New Orleans
Vampires walk among us. But these people aren’t the stuff of nightmares – far from it actually. Just sit down for a drink with one of them and ask for yourself. That’s if you can find one. They aren’t necessarily looking to be found.
I’ve spent five years conducting ethnographic studies of the real vampires in New Orleans and Buffalo. They are not easy to find, but when you do track them down, they can be quite friendly. “Real vampires” is the collective term by which these people are known. They’re not “real” in the sense they turn into bats and live forever, but many do sport fangs and just as many live a primarily nocturnal existence. These are just some of the cultural markers real vampires adopt to express a shared (and, according to them, biological) essence – they need blood (human or animal) or psychic energy from donors in order to feel healthy. Their self-described nature begins to manifest around, or just after, puberty. It derives, according to the “vampires,” from the lack of subtle energies their bodies produce – energies other people take for granted. That’s the general consensus anyway. It’s a condition they claim to be incapable of changing. So, they embrace it.
The real vampire community, like the legendary figure it emulates, knows few national boundaries, from Russia and South Africa to England and the United States. Particularly in the Internet age, vampires are often well-attuned to community issues. This is true for some more than others though. I found the vampires of Buffalo keen to keep up to date with the global community, while those in New Orleans were often more interested in the activities of their local vampire houses (an affiliated group of vampires usually led by a vampire elder who helps his or her house members acclimate to their vampiric natures). Some houses, and, indeed, entire vampire communities – as in the case of New Orleans – will combine their efforts to organize charity events, like feeding (not feeding on) the homeless. However, despite their humanitarian efforts, real vampires don’t go around advertising who they are for fear of discrimination by people who simply don’t understand them.
Some semblance of the real vampire community has existed since at least the early to mid-1970s, but my own dealings with real vampires began in 2009 when I entered the New Orleans community clinging to my digital voice recorder. I eventually met around 35 real vampires there, but the total number in New Orleans is easily double that. They ranged in age from 18 to 50 and represented both genders equally. They practiced sanguinarian (blood) and psychic feeding – taking energy – using, for example, the mind or hands.
Blood is generally described by my study participants as tasting metallic, or “coppery” but can also be influenced by the donor’s physiology, or even how well he or she is hydrated. Some psychic vampires use tantric feeding, i.e., through erotic or sexual encounters, while others use what could be described as astral feeding, or feeding on another from afar. Others feed through emotion. Afterwards, blood-drinking and psychic vampires feel energized, or at least better than they would have had they sustained themselves on regular food alone such as fruits, fish and vegetables (which they also eat). These vampires described themselves as atheistic, monotheistic or polytheistic and identified themselves as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Some were married, some were divorced and some were parents.
Unquestionably, I found the vampires I met to be competent and generally outwardly “normal” citizens. They performed blood-letting rituals safely and with willing donors only and participated regularly in medical exams that scarcely (if ever) indicated complications as a result of their feeding practices.
Tales of the unexpected. What was perhaps most surprising about the vampires I met though was their marked lack of knowledge about vampires in popular culture. They seemed to know much less than one might expect – at least for vampires – about how their kind are depicted in books and films. By this I mean the people I met and interviewed had not turned to drinking blood or taking psychic energy simply because they had read too many Anne Rice novels. In fact, the real vampire community in general seems to have appropriated very few of the trappings mainstream culture attaches to creatures of the night. Many do dress in gothic attire, but certainly not all the time, and very, very few sleep in coffins. In fact, those vampires who dress a certain way or wear fangs do so long after realizing their desire to take blood. This is what might be called a “defiant culture.” Real vampires embrace their instinctual need to feed on blood or energy and use what mainstream culture sees as a negative, deviant figure such as the vampire to achieve a sense of self-empowerment. They identify others with a similar need and have produced a community based on that need.
But real vampires can also help us understand, and perhaps even shed, some of the ideological baggage each of us carries. They show us how repressive and oppressive categories can lead to marginalization. Through them, we see the dark side of ourselves. More generally, this community demonstrates that being different doesn’t necessarily force a person into the margins of society. Real vampires can and do exist in both “normal” society and their own communities, and that’s okay.
Source: John Edgar Browning, The Conversation, Georgie Institute of Technology, March 25, 2015.