Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Vampire Archetype

from the Library of Bob Johnson

The vampire myth has appeared over the centuries in almost every culture, beginning with the earliest recorded epic from Babylonia, about 2000 years B.C. Although there are cultural variations in the various legends, there is always one defining trait of a vampire: a vampire sucks blood. It consumes another to sustain it's own life.

Blood stands for life, and blood is also the archetypal symbol of the soul (life energy) . Therefore blood is a central symbol in many religions, including the Christian. The central image of all vampire lore is blood.

The image of the vampire is dark. Like an insatiable void, vampires consume another person and suck away their life energy. The vampire story has been a prime carrier of horror, but a remarkable aspect of this horror is the vampire's lack of violence, and except for some of Hollywood's versions, commonly a lack of overt sex. James Twitchell, in his book on incest writes of the vampire, "I cannot think of any other monster-molester in our culture who does such terrible things to young victims in such a gentlemanly manner. He is always polite and deferential, and his victim is almost always passive in return." The violence in vampire movies is committed by the good people, via their horrifyingly, brutal destruction of the vampire.

The vampire does not rip bodies apart or hack people to pieces, or stake them through the heart. He has to be invited in, and often has to persuade his victim to remove her cross before he makes a small, neat bite - a love bite, or the kiss of death, on her neck, so that he can get the blood he needs to live. The audience knows what happens next. He leaves her swooning, but returns night after night while she visibly weakens and seems to die. She is being transformed into a demon herself, who then will seek her own victims. As late as the 19th century tuberculosis was called "consumption" and thought to be the result of vampire attacks.

In studying analytical psychology we can begin to look at the vampire myth in psychological terms. It is a fatal symbiosis and a nourishing of one self with another's vitality (two central points of vampire legends) . These traits are also inexplicable components of many human relationships. We all know people who have the unexplained ability to physically drain us in a relatively short period of time. By being in their presence, we actually experience the sensation of our life energy being sucked away.

The Encyclopedia Brittanica describes the vampire as a "bloodsucking creature, supposedly the restless soul of a heretic, criminal,or suicide." Although there are cultural variations, certain repeated elements of the vampire myth anchor each version to a central tradition. Vampires are called "the living dead," the "Walking Dead" or "the undead, " and sucking blood is their most remarkable trait.

Most psychological interpretations of the vampire legend are Freudian, and see the legend in terms of incest, homosexuality, sadism and masochism. These interpretations miss a core meaning of the vampire, one of our oldest, most recognizable archetypal figures. The vampire has been cursed, denied eternal rest because of some unredeemed sin against collective mores or religious taboos.

The vampire long predates Christianity, although the medieval Christian Church found the entrenched belief in vampires useful in its expansion, especially in eastern Europe. However, in 2000 B.C., the early Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh clearly described vampires. The Ekimmu, or Departed Spirit was the soul of a dead person who for somereason could find no rest and wandered over the earth seeking to seize the living. As inmost later vampire tales, the Ekimmu and its victim had some mysterious psychic connection, which made the victim particularly vulnerable to attack. The Ekimmu could walk through, doors or walls to take up residence in house. It would then drain the life from the household, usually killing the owner and many of his relatives and servants. The epic tells us that among those likely to return as vampires were those who had died violent deaths; those whose corpses had remained unburied or uncared-for, and those who had left certain duties undone. Various magical texts and incantations list the possible connections between the Ekimmu and its victim.

Dr. R. Campbell-Thompson, in his book The Devil and Evil Spirits of Bablylonia, quotes a prayer against evil spirits, which describes these vampires and their habits:

Spirits that minish the land, of giant strength
Ghosts that break through houses... Demons that have no shame
Knowing no mercy, they can rage against mankind.
They spill their blood like rain, devouring their flesh and sucking their veins.
They are the demons of full violence, ceaselessly devouring blood.

In Babylonia, as in Christianity, the vampire archetype describes a collective darkness: a group of heretics and criminals, raging against mankind and ceaselessly devouring blood. The vampire is not primarily a personification of personal darkness of the Freudian unconscious, but a scourge of the community, an archetype from the collective unconscious. Victims experience a mysterious loss of selfness, and they themselves are then lost to the community. The vampire is a religious figure like the Christian devil, but older than Lucifer, and more truly depicting the dark image of Christ. The vampire myth reverses the symbolism of the Eucharist. Therefore, the Vampire archetype and the Redemptive archetype (Christness) are polar opposites of the same archetypal energy. They emerge from the collective unconscious as a dividable pair. One enters the ego space while the other takes up residence in our personal shadow. Both are great forces which we all must bring to consciousness and confront.

Although the association is less clear today, vampires always have been closely associated with religions. In Babylonia, China, Greece, and Egypt, and Christianity, the person likely to become a vampire was one who neglected religious rituals, or defied community mores. By neglecting their proper burial, one might condemn their loved ones to a damned existence after death. By committing suicide, you might lose your own soul. In ancient Egypt, for example, the "ka", a double which lived in the tomb with a man's dead body, had to be bountifully supplied with the proper food or it would come out of the tomb, driven to eat whatever it could find. The ancient Chinese believed a man had two souls, and that the "P'o", the inferior soul, might use any remaining part of an unburied body, even a little finger, to become a vampire.

The medieval Church declared that heretics, excommunicants, and suicides could not be buried in consecrated ground and were therefore denied eternal rest, condemned to return as vampires to ravage their loved ones. Suicide was considered proof of vampirism.

The Church could ferret out vampires. Vampire trials like witch trials, were part of the Inquisition. Vampires put souls at risk, and souls are the province of religion. So the medieval Church began the tradition that only the priest could destroy vampires. The Church had the only effective weapons: the Crucifix, Rosary, and Bible.

The Christian Church does not recognize the dark side of God but in religions where Divine evil also is recognized, sometimes the gods and goddesses themselves were blood-drinkers. The Lamasians of Tibet depict gods who hold flagons of human blood. But Kali, wife of Shiva and namesake of Calcutta, epitomizes divine bloodthirstiness, with her red eyes, huge fanglike teeth, and protruding tongue that drips with blood.

The Spanish priests who joined the Conquistadores in Mexico regarded all native chiefs as vampires. A regular question to those they wanted to evangelize was, "Art thou a sorcerer or a diviner? Dost thou suck the blood of others?" Their question is ironic, however, when we consider that in Christianity, as in the Maya and many other religions, blood is also a divine substance. Remember, the Eucharist, which is the heart of Christianity, is the consumption by the faithful of Christ's blood, which is shed for the world's redemption.

Recent research shows the central place of blood in the Maya religion. It also shows that the human blood sacrifices, which so horrified the Spanish conquerors, in many ways parallel the Christian Mass. As in Christianity, the Maya celebrants (the King and Queen) ritually reenacted the original sacrifice, in which the gods shed their blood to create the world. In Christianity there is also a double sacrifice. The celebrants ritually become both sacrifice and sacrificer, as Octavia Paz, the Mexican poet comments: In the Mesoamerican creation myth, the double nature of the sacrifice appears with absolute clarity. The gods, in order to create the world, shed their blood. Men, in order to maintain the world, must in turn shed their blood, which is the food of the gods.

In the Maya and Christian rituals, there is a blood offering, a symbolic cannibalism, to establish and maintain the reciprocal relationship between god and man. Many Christians balk at a description of the Eucharist as symbolic cannibalism. But Christ says plainly,"Take. Eat. This is my body. This is my blood." John quotes Christ as saying, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." The Christian religion does not require direct blood sacrifices and offerings to feed their god in the same way that the Maya and others so graphically practiced. However, it is hard to get around the symbolism of the voluntary sacrifice of early Christians to lions in the Roman coliseum, or the idea of "Onward Christian Soldiers", or the line from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" which states, "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free". There appears to be a bit of blood sacrifice here for the purpose of feeding the glory or will of the Christian god.

The medieval Church used folk beliefs about vampires to explain the Eucharist in a straightforward way. (The Eucharist, like all religious rituals, is a mystery. It is probably the most complex sacrament because of the inexplicable process known as transubstantiation.) The Church explained that just as the vampire drinks the sinner's blood and possesses and devours his spirit, so the righteous Christian could drink Christ's blood, be filled with His holiness, and be incorporated into His mystical body. In the symbolism of the Eucharist, Christ's blood is freely and abundantly given so that each soul might be replenished.

In Fr. M. Owen Lee's fascinating analysis of Wagner's Parsifal, we are reminded that in the beginning of the opera, Parsifal asks the question, "Who is the Grail?" He does not ask, "What is the Grail?" but "Who?" Lee compares Parsifal's quest to a Jungian individuation journey, with Amfortas as the Senex-shadow of the puer, Gundermanz as the Wise Old Man, Kundry as the destructive and then redeemed feminine, and Parsifal as the Hero who succeeds in joining the masculine spear with the feminine cup. Lee's answer to Parsifal's question is that the Self is the Grail. The Self is the Grail, which holds the divine soul. And the Eucharist is how it is replenished. Of course, the Eucharist is symbolic as is the use of the word "soul". What we call soul is simply life energy: a desire to participate in living, or gas for the psyche if you wish. The Eucharist is symbolic for the ways we actually create this energy through relationships, interests and life pursuits. So, the Self, as well as the individuated ego, holds these activities and pursuits as life (or energy) giving. It is within the context of the Self as the vessel that holds the creative substance of life energy (blood), that we see the vampire myth as a mirror image of the Eucharist. We can see our life energy at risk: at the positive pole, the redemptive agent, which replenishes our vitality, and at the negative pole, the vampire which devours it. Jung described the Eucharist as "an anthropomorphic symbol standing for something other worldly and beyond our power to conceive." Jung could also say this of the vampire: pure darkness is as far beyond our power to conceive as is the enlightenment we attribute to our gods.

In our day the vampire's religious associations have been weakened, and replaced primarily by sexual associations, just as our culture has become secularized and sexualized. The vampire myth is highly erotic because it is about libido (life energy), which Freud equated with sexual energy. The vampire myth is loaded with eroticism because it is about libido and mysterious possession. There are also sexual overtones in the imagery of the Eucharist: "Jesus is the lover of my soul." In the Eucharist, Jesus is received as a woman receives her lover. He enters into one, and by him, one is possessed.

Still, the sexual aspects of these symbols are only one dimension of their meaning. Both symbols are concerned with possession. The Eucharist offers heavenly reward, while the vampire offers earthly power.

Dracula, our most famous vampire, even paraphrases Christ's words at the Eucharist, "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." In the climatic scene of Dracula, Dracula rips open a vein above his heart and forces Mina to drink blood from his breast. As she drinks his blood, Dracula says triumphantly, "Now you shall be flesh of my flesh, and blood of my blood." Both symbols are concerned with interpersonal and intra-personal relationships. Both the Eucharist and the vampire legend speak of the elevation or resignation of our inner most center, the Self.

One feminist interpretation sees Dracula as a myth of feminine liberation and empowerment. Through her encounter with the vampire, Lucy changes from a silly, giggly girl to a powerfully erotic woman. This interpretation sees Lucy undergoing the domesticated compliant woman's encounter with her own sexuality, an encounter Victorian culture deemed evil. In almost a parody of Hades rape of Persephone, Dracula promises to make Lucy "Queen of the Undead." Staking through the heart is called "transfixiation" in the Catholic Church, and seems to be a late addition to vampire lore. In the feminist reading, the collective masculine, personified in Dr. Van Helsing, fears Lucy's liberated power and so must destroy her with the symbolic phallus.

When we use a vampire metaphor to describe an inter-personal relationship, we mean that one person nourishes themselves at another's expense: what one gains, the other loses. In the vampire there are no springs of abundance, or abundant life, as in the Eucharist. Instead, there is lack, greed and death. The vampire metaphor describes one person driven to use another's vitality and life-energy to sustain their own life.

Vampires are "the Living Dead". For some terrible reason they have no contact with springs of life within themselves. They must prey on others. Once vampires were normal human beings, but something has happened to them: an attack, a possession, a curse, etc. Vampires themselves have been victims. We see in many stories that the vampire also suffers, and wishes to be released from his dreadful compulsion to drink their victim's blood.

Vampires are not ghosts, which have no bodies, and not ghouls, which feed off the dead and have never had souls. The vampire once was a perfectly normal human being, who has lost the ability to generate their own Life energy as the result of some incident or series of events. In fairy tales, this may be described as an enchantment. Perhaps the father gave the child to a witch, or the child wandered away and was lost in an evil wood. Legend describes where vampire attacks are most likely to occur. In Gilgamesh, the person who has wandered too far from the community, who is isolated from others, is most vulnerable. Loneliness, physical or spiritual, may allow this complex to manifest. Falling in love is another common way to become vulnerable to this manifestation. Many vampire stories tell of women or men who unwittingly fall in love with a vampire, and after marriage become their victims. The most likely place for the transfer or vampiric energy is in the family unit. Ernest Jones, in a paper called "On the Nightmare," interprets the vampire story in terms of incest. Certainly the story lends itself to this interpretation. Vampire lore suggests incest because the most startling aspect of the folkloric vampire is that he must first attack members of his own family. His victims are preordained to be those he loved most in life. Modern versions do not always include this element, but it is almost universal in vampire folktales. And so we have the vampire father and mother who must first attack those they love.

We are familiar with the mother who lives for and off her child: the devouring mother or negative mother complex. "Little Red Riding-Hood" is one of our most familiar images of this. Grandma! What big teeth you have!" The term for female vampires, lamia, means "child-eater." Blood ties and the breast often are pivotal symbols in vampire tales. This is true in Coleridge's "Christabel," when the maternal vampire gloats to her victim, Christabel, "In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell." In "Red Riding-Hood," the great mother figure is a wolf. Symbolically, the wolf stands for greed and hunger: the hungry, greedy wolf who will eat you up. The mother can devour her child. Little Red Riding-Hood is a girl, but mothers also devour sons. Vampires transform themselves into many animals, particularly serpents, cats, or bats, but often a wolf. The word "vampire" means "wolf". Modern vampires are not just maternal. They can also be sexual. The word "wolf" is our slang for a man who sexually preys on women. Wee identify the vampire with the demon lover: Count Dracula, the Flying Dutchman, Heathcliff. These are destructive animus figures who draw women away from life into death. Behind the image of the demon lover stands the image of the father, and the shadow of incest. Count Dracula and the Flying Dutchman are both attractive, seductive older men of the world who enthrall innocent young girls. It is significant that in Wuthering Heights, there is no mother. It is Cathy's adored father who brings Heathcliff home to her and fosters the fatal relationship. Cathy has a shattering revelation of demonic; psychic possession when she cries, "I am Heathcliff !" In all vampire stories there is an unconscious psychic connection, a fatal symbiosis, a sort of psychic identity between victimizer and victim.In Jungian psychology, Heathcliff is part of Cathy herself, a personification, of the animus, which possesses her psyche. Jung describes this kind of possession in Volume 7. He specifically mentions a vampire, and describes a vampiric process, "When unconscious contents are not realized they give rise to negative activity and personification, i.e. the autonomy of the anima and animus. Psychic abnormalities then develop, states of possession. In this state the possessed part of the psyche generally develops an animus or anima psychology. The woman's incubus consists of a host of masculine demons; the man's succubus is a vampire." Jung continues, "... an unknown something has taken possession of a smaller or greater part of the psyche, and asserts its hateful and harmful existence undeterred by all our insight, reason, or energy... thereby proclaiming the sovereign power of possession." Jung then states, "the archetype fulfills itself not only psychically in the individual, but also objectively." Heathcliff is, of course, Emily Bronte's fiction. However, a vampire archetype can manifest itself objectively, physically, as well as psychically, in someone's life. Jung further states, "The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, a fate." In the lives and deaths of celebrities, we often find literal and eerie parallels to vampire lore. So many external facts about the lives of people such as Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe suggest a kind of literal, objective possession by the vampire archetype. Vampire lore precludes natural death, and suicide is considered a product of vampire possession whether it is slowly or quickly induced.

Writers of the Romantic era often used "the artist as vampire" theme. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Oval Portrait" and Henry James' The Sacred Fount both depict artists consuming people as material for their art. James speculates that in certain relationships, especially between those of the opposite sex, there is an energy exchange. Initially vitality flows between the partners, but eventually the stronger member takes control until the relationship becomes vampiric. We can see this clearly in many Hollywood marriages, but it is just as common in the average American household. Many celebrities also had symbiotic relationships with artistically frustrated mothers. Certainly this was true of stars such as Rose Lee and Judy Garland. Bernard Shaw described the "true artist" as "half vivisector, half-vampire." Perhaps for the artist, those best loved are always grist for his mill. The artist sips at the Sacred Fount.

The vampire myth describes, above all, an aberrant transfer of energy of vitality. How is it that lovers, artists, parents, the insane, trade energy? How do our supposed friends suck energy from us in a short visit?

The vampire archetype is a powerful way to describe these unexplained psychic phenomena. We may resist using the word, but "possessed" is a word that seems most accurate to describe them.

Today we are obsessed with finding out the physical facts of incest, wife-beating, and child abuse. We are hung up on provable physical facts that lend themselves well to use in our legal system. Meanwhile Freud is accused of deliberately turning away from concrete evidence of violence against children, and pretending it was "only" psychic. In actual reality, it is hard to separate outer physical facts from inner psychic happenings. Incest can be physical without being concretely sexual. For example, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's relationship with her father was incestuous, but it has never been suggested that it was sexual. But it was physical. She had a vampiric relationship with a demon lover, a father who consumed her life and vitality. She was ill, weak, and physically unable to get up until she got away from him.

Like Ms.Browning, all victims of vampires do not become vampires. Sometimes they escape, but they need help to do so. Dracula was destroyed, but Mina, his victim, survived to write a book about her vampire experience. Children can escape vampiric mothers or fathers. Men and women can escape demon lovers. No one is required by life circumstances to become vampire. Sometimes the vampire complex seems to live in the family like a curse, almost as if an evil Babylonian spirit has taken up residence.

Sometimes we can trace in a family history what seems to be a perpetuated complex that sucks away the promise of succeeding generations. In Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," the brother and sister seem to consume-one another. Sex is never implied, but excessive spiritual love gone awry has come vampiric. The family is the place we are most susceptible to vampiric energy. Isolation from the community can make us especially vulnerable, and falling in love can also be very dangerous.

D.H.Lawrence wrote many stories on this theme, that falling in love is a battle for self or soul, but that when the process goes awry the lovers become vampires to each other, and one partner sucks the soul from the other. If one is weak, the other will devour them. If both are strong, both may survive. But the love relationship is vampiric, a life or death battle for vitality. Lawrence himself said this:

It is easy to see why each man kills the things he loves.To know a living thing is to kill it...
To try to know a living being is to try to suck the life out of that being.
The temptation of the vampire fiend, is this knowledge.
The desirous consciousness, the spirit, is a vampire.

Lawrence is saying that, to try to know any living being is to try to suck the life out of that being. This is the desire of the vampire complex.


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