Beyond Dracula: A Brief Look at Vampires and Vampirism

Now, before I go into any detail, let me make one point very clear (because I get asked this question repeatedly): Yes, I do believe in the existence of vampires.  What I do NOT believe in are the concoctions of fiction spawned by old cinematic special effects.  Having said that, let’s first examine what a vampire is.

Vampires, by all historical accounts, fall into one of two categories: the Living, and the Revenant (dead).  Living vampires have never been dead.  They’re most likely not going to be harmed by anything WE wouldn’t be harmed by.  They can be super-fast, and super-strong, but they’re certainly not going to be turning into sand, bats, rats, or what-have-you.  The most common type of Living vampire is known as a Psychic Vampire.  Some psychic vampires don’t even know they ARE vampires.  These people feed off of the energy of others, leaving them emotionally, mentally, and spiritually drained.  Have you ever been around someone, and when you left, you just felt like you needed to go home and sleep for 24 hours?  If this happens repeatedly with the same person, chances are good that person may be a psychic vampire.  These are, by far, not the only Living vampires, but they are the most prevalent.  There are Living vampires who drink blood, as well (though why, no one is certain.  The live human stomach is full of acids that break down and render blood useless), and even some types of cannibals fall under the category of Living Vampire.  Contrary to some belief, vampires are not categorized solely by whether or not they drink blood.  They are categorized by the fact that an encounter with one leaves you missing some vital bodily force, whether that be energy, blood, or flesh.

Fiction’s more common vampiric friends and fiends are the Revenant, or Risen, vampires.  These are the corpses of people (and animals) who have died.  Contrary to most popular fiction, being bit by a vampire will not instantly turn you into one, and nor will drinking their blood.  By historical accounts, turning into a Revenant vampire has more to do with the manner of your death and burial than it does ever encountering another vampire.  A violent death, leading to a desire for blood vengeance, or an improper burial can cause a body to rise as a vampire.  Yes, being drained by a vampire can kill you, and perhaps even instill that need for vengeance, but the concept of being bitten and becoming a vampire are not mutually exclusive.  Also, drinking a vampire’s blood isn’t likely to do much (see above where I referenced blood in the living human stomach), and though transfusion of vampire blood might, in theory, turn someone, there is no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to support this (there are no documented cases, since the development of blood transfusion, that note any vampiric tendencies after a transfusion).  Another point that’s supported by historical evidence is that vampires are not confined merely to the physical plane.  There are vampiric entities and spirits which are not corporeal (physically present) on our plane.  They often behave in a manner similar to ghosts, except that they drain spiritual/physical energy from their victims.  These often fall into the “vengeance” category of the Revenant vampire.

If you are interested in finding out more about vampires, please check back for information on my webinar “Beyond Dracula: Myths and Evidence of Vampirism in History and the Modern Age”

“I Solemnly Swear…” – Fiction Writing and the Pitfalls of Promise

As an author, there’s one rule I hold sacred above all else in my writing — Be careful what you promise.

I’m not talking about deadlines.

I’m not talking about telling people when a book will be out.

What I’m talking about are the promises we, as writers, make to our audience. Promises about circumstances. About events. About characters. About relationships.

These are sacred promises. We have asked our audience to put their faith in us. To willingly, and with absolute trust, follow us along a twisting path through our characters’ lives, to learn about them, to laugh with them, cry with them, fall in love with them, and perhaps (in some cases) die a little with them.

Along the way, we have to be careful of the pitfall of “I promise…” Unless we are prepared to follow through — to perhaps abandon our entire creative endeavor based on a bridge we swore to never set foot upon, to never cross, and certainly never demolish behind us.

We can never promise what we are not prepared to deliver, or are uncertain our characters can deliver. We are the most honest of all deceivers, for we peddle in truths based upon lives that are only, at best, half reality. But this does not give us permission to lie to our audience.

We do not get to make promises we are either incapable of or unwilling to assure the outcome of.

image by hotblack

image by hotblack

Personally, I don’t make promises regarding characters or situations, other than that the situation will eventually be resolved.

The quest will reach an end.

A resolution will, sooner or later, arrive for every situation.

Beyond that, I make no promises. I have no idea where the path might twist and turn, or how my characters will arrive at the resolution. I assume they will be changed, but I have no idea how, no matter how much plotting I do. I do not even promise they will all arrive there alive.

However, if you do decide to make a promise regarding your characters or situations, be aware, you are toying with a trust you must be very careful of.

Audiences do not respond well to being tricked, to having their emotions manipulated by empty promises. They are unlikely to trust your motives, or your storytelling, again, if you offer them something you can’t deliver on.

Once you make a promise, you simply can’t change your mind. At that point, you are committed to a course, and you will have to see it through.

Paranormal Fiction Mistake #6

I Love You, I’ll Kill You

Paranormal Hunters & Love Affairs

            This is a fun area, likely to get a lot of protest from the Paranormal Romance community simply because it’s one of the least-researched problems of paranormal fiction.  But after reading hundreds of books in which “Buffy” (an exaggeration for example only) falls for the very creature s/he is hunting so avidly, I decided something had to be done.

             The pairing of Hunter and Prey is one of the most implausible in all of the Romance industry.  Why, you ask?        It’s simple, really.  Hunters are a special breed, whether they’re human, or Stregoni Benefici (a vampire-hunting vampire), or any other kind of creature.  What makes a Hunter so special is his/her obsessive dedication to the eradication of an entire group of paranormal creatures.  This very trait is also what makes it highly unlikely s/he would ever fall for his/her prey.  The idea is a lot like a female cop who’s dedicated her life to ridding the streets of every rapist falling in love with a multiple-conviction offender.  That’s going to take a huge leap to even consider, and as a reader, you’re not likely to buy it, even then.  My advice to paranormal authors looking to create a love affair between a Hunter and his/her Prey is to forget the idea of succeeding within a single title – not unless you have one hell of a plot device or character twist up your sleeve.  Getting a Hunter to fall for his/her prey is a series commitment, if I ever saw one.

             Now, let’s tackle some of the basics of a Hunter.  First off, they’re not all buff, athletic types with gun/sword master skills (though woe be to the Vampire Slayer who doesn’t at least know how to use a sword, even if they haven’t mastered it).  Hunters come in all shapes and sizes, a variety of ages, and a literally limitless pool under the “walk of life” category.  What sets the Hunter apart is his/her dedication.  Without exception, they’re dedicated to their cause – which is invariably the extinction of some form of paranormal being or another.

             Hunters aren’t alone, either.  Along with them come Investigators, and what I like to call “Collaborators.”  A Hunter may start his/her paranormal career as an Investigator or Collaborator (though this is in no way a requirement), and may even continue to investigate other forms of the paranormal while Hunting one type.  By the same token, at any point in his/her career, a Hunter may become, either buy choice or necessity, a Collaborator with another group of paranormal beings, in order to better hunt his/her prey.

             It’s possible for an Investigator who is not a Hunter to fall for a paranormal being s/he is investigating.  It can come with the territory to be fascinated with and even obsessed with the idea of interacting with a particular entity or type of creature.  In this same vein, it’s more than likely that a Collaborator will form at least some kind of connection to those they collaborate with.  They are the most likely of all to end up in love with a member of the paranormal society they empathize so well with.  However, it’s almost unheard of for a Hunter to fall for prey.

             The case of the Hunter/Prey love affair leaves an author who insists on doing it with only a few choices: write a single title that’s likely to have either very flat/inaccurate characters, write a series with a lot of traumatic upheaval that’s going to eventually, over time, wear down your Hunter’s resistance (and ergo require tons of research over the course of the series), or admit that the idea is more involved than you first thought, and change the Hunter to either an Investigator or a Collaborator. 

             Oh, and as a final note, if your Hunter at any point works with the paranormal being in question against someone else, that instantly makes him/her a Collaborator, which a Hunter would never willingly do with chosen Prey.

Paranormal Fiction Mistake #5

It Pays To Be Dead

What’s undead, and what’s just cheating

            This may seem like an odd subject and an obvious issue, but you’d be surprised how often it comes up in paranormal fiction.

             The obvious part is that, in order to be “undead,” one must first actually be dead.  This is a condition authors often skip over completely.  The most frequent area for this kind of cheating comes with the Revenant Vampire, and with modern cinematic myths about how one becomes a vampire, it’s quite easy to do, especially if you lack an understanding about the history of vampires and vampirism.  I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs of that particular topic, here, but if you want to know more, view “Beyond Dracula” at http://wildflowerpara.wordpress.com

            Revenant Vampires become the primary victim of this mistake because everyone assumes the transition from human being to vampire is instantaneous.  But Revenant Vampires are undead, which means they must first be dead.  Medical science tells us it takes at least 6-10 minutes for true biological death to occur.  But historical and anecdotal evidence suggest the process of creating a vampire included improper burial, which means it likely takes anywhere from 24 hours to as much as a week (maybe even more, in some cases), before the decedent rises as a Revenant Vampire.  Be careful of making the “moment of death” mistake with vampires.  While there are Living Vampires who claim to have been “turned” at a near-death moment, they are not undead, as they’ve never been dead (hence the term Living vampire).  And Living Vampires are much more complex than Revenant ones, in that the “turning” involved is one of conscious choice to become a vampire, not the effect of being bitten by a vampire, or of drinking vampire blood.

            Most of the common mistakes made in reference to the undead are in the actual reference, so here’s a brief run-down of what is and is not considered undead:

            Ghosts – They’re dead.  Period.  End of Story.  Don’t refer to them as “undead,” because they’re still dead.

            Dragons – They’re living creatures.  They’ve never been dead, so they can’t be undead.

            Mummies – These are animated dead.  That qualifies them to be undead.

            Zombies – These, too, can be animated dead, which qualify as undead.  However, there are also those known as living zombies – these are the unfortunate souls who run afoul of a practitioner of Vodun.  This is a much more complicated area, and requires more time than I have to devote to it, here.  I’ll be running a lecture on Vodun through the Morphean Academy at some point in the near future, and I’ll get into more discussion of different variety of zombies, as well.  For the point of most fiction authors out there, however, there’s a definite preference for the undead variety.

            Demons/Angels – These are also considered living creatures, believe it or not.  They’re spiritual, but they’ve never been dead (primarily because they don’t experience life the same way we do).  Please do not refer to either as “undead.”

            Theriomorphs (including lycanthropes) – These are living creatures.  They’ve never been dead.  Please don’t refer to your lycanthrope as being undead.

            Living Vampires – Obviously, these are still living, and therefore not considered undead.

            Revenant Vampires – Risen dead.  Definitely considered undead.

            Elves, pixies, or any other Fae folk – Considered living creatures, and therefore not qualified to be labeled “undead.”

            There are others, of course.  If you have any question about the classification, I’m always available to ask, but most times a little research will answer that question, as well.  Just remember that the first rule for being undead is that first you must actually be dead.  The second is that your body must actually somehow be involved in your rising from the dead.  Keep these two simple rules in mind, and with research, you’ll never run the risk of mistakenly calling a living creature “undead.”

Paranormal Fiction Mistake #4

Pythagoras Would Be Proud

Physics and the Paranormal in Fiction

             This is perhaps one of my favorite parts of this lecture, no matter how many times I give it.

             We’re all familiar with superheroes like Superman.  Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound (which has evolved over the years into pure flight, rather than the actual leap of early incarnations in the 1930s).  Over the years, first the comic book industry and then, in an odd twist, the paranormal fiction industry, have taken this to mean that the laws of physics cease to exist.  What everyone forgets is that Superman has always been an alien, no matter how human he appears.  In being alien, he has a different physiology, and therefore different laws of physics apply to him than to anything which is born, created, or risen from the dead on Earth.

             Earthbound paranormal beings must operate by Earth’s physical boundaries.  This isn’t to say that magic isn’t available or usable, but that even magic has certain natural laws by which it must abide.  There are very few paranormal beings credited, through either historical evidence or mythology, to have the ability to fly unaided by wings – in fact, only spirits (which includes any non-corporeal being, not just ghosts) are given carte blanche to come and go as they please, and levitate unassisted by either incantation or wings, and this is explained by spirits being non-corporeal in the first place.  If you can reach through it, and still see it clearly, then a different set of rules are naturally going to apply.  However, even ghosts do not arrive as fogs, mists, sandstorms, flights of bats or birds, or swarms of insects of rodents.  Nor do they turn into these things before your eyes or when attacked.

             Let’s take the vampire as our example again, here (although the recent surge of mummy-oriented movies has left a similar bad taste in my mouth to that of Dracula).  Everyone who’s ever read the book or seen the film of Bram Stoker’s Dracula can likely recall at least one of the transformations I just listed as taking place.  What few people take into consideration is that not only is Bram Stoker’s research questionable (namely, whether or not he did any, as he appears to have totally botched some of the historical facts surrounding Vlad Tepes), but he also lived and wrote in an era that had a very flawed understanding of physics or the mechanics of flight, or even physiological limitations.  Today, we watch the stage magicians that so awed the Victorian age, and we’re aware that the things they do are illusion and distraction.  We may not know how they do it, but we know there is an explanation.  If someone is sawed in half on stage and still waves at us, we know it’s an illusion, because if a person was truly severed at the waist, they’d die a very quick death of trauma-induced shock.

             The same concept holds true for paranormal beings.  If this planet, with its very specific physical limitations, gave “birth” to the being, then the same basic laws of physics that apply to us must also apply to them.  The only way to break this connection is through use of the astral, or spiritual, realm, where anything truly is possible.  Be careful, however, when using this in fiction that you thoroughly research what it involves, and also that you make the distinction between what happens on the physical plane and what happens on the astral plane clear in your work.  As long as you follow the rules, and understand that physics and natural law still apply, this is a very easy mistake to avoid.

Paranormal Mistake # 3

Poof of Smoke

Paranormal Creatures and Natural Phenomena

 

          This next segment is part of what I like to call the paranormal author’s catalogue of natural disasters.  These are often overlooked by readers, mostly because as a culture we’ve become programmed to accept this incorrect information, as well as to believe the impossible to be not only possible, but required.

             What are these natural disasters?  Put simply, they’re things which happen or occur regularly in Nature without ill effect to us, but which, for inexplicable reasons, have been turned into deadly pathogens to paranormal creatures.  To illustrate, I’ve chosen two of the most common ones, though these don’t even skim the top of the barrel when it comes to these natural-paranormal pairings.

             The first, and most common, of these two cases is that of the vampire’s aversion to sunlight.  While it is possible (and indeed, seems logical) for a vampire to be wary of sunlight, the idea that when exposed to even a minute trace of sunlight, a vampire will suddenly and horribly spontaneously combust or disintegrate into a pillar of dust, is just ridiculous.  Why, you ask?

             Natural mechanics alone show the flaw in the sunlight theory of vampire destruction.  Nearly every mammal on the face of the planet has some physical requirement for sunlight.  Even many nocturnal animals gain some small exposure to sunlight in the course of their lives, if only for minutes at a time.  Humans, especially, are programmed to need sunlight.  We absorb certain vitamins from sunlight that science has proven are required to promote optimum health and a sense of well-being. 

             Even a Revenant Vampire, while being risen dead, shares one very important physiological factor with the rest of us – namely, that they still have a human body.  If you put a dead body out in the sunlight, what would happen to it?  Science says that exposure to sunlight alone would have less effect on the rate of decomposition than other environmental factors, such as water, scavenger and insect activity, wind/sand erosion… the list is lengthy, with sun far at the bottom.  Given that, medically, the excessive exposure to sunlight causes dehydration in the human body, the more plausible effect of sunlight on a dead body would be a form of mummification.  So, instead of bursting into flames, it would be more plausible that your vampire would suffer extreme dehydration rather rapidly (say hours as compared to days) and expire (again) from an advanced form of heat stroke, unless they somehow obtained the necessary liquids to combat dehydration. They’re certainly not going to explode, burst into flames, or turn into a pile of ash or dust – not any more so than you or I would.

            The other paranormal creature which is the victim of over-enthusiastic (and under-researched) natural disaster is the lycanthrope.  The second natural myth that’s been whole-heartedly (and wrongly) embraced is that of the Full Moon Transformation.  This theory, used repeatedly in paranormal fiction and cinema, is a modern creation with little to no supporting references from historical, mythical, or any other format.  It states that the Full Moon is the first, and primary, cause of the lycanthropic shift. 

            In my lectures on theriomorphy, I explain that there is little to no historical evidence to suggest that the phase of the moon has any real effect on a theriomorphic change.  In fact, the only evidence to suggest this at all comes from more modern psychiatric writings, which connect the rise in psychiatric activity (relapses, new cases, violent outbursts) to the change of the moon phase.  The modern connection of the Full Moon to lycanthropes seems solely to deal with a false perception that wolves only howl with/at the Full Moon.  In historical and mythological references to lycanthropy (and, indeed, almost every form of theriomorphy involving a human to animal transformation), everything from potions, to adornments, to magical incantations, to pure choice and meditative states are listed as methods of transformation.  But few even make mention of the moon, and I’ve yet to find any references, in all my years of searching, that directly blame the moon’s phase for the transformation of a lycanthrope.

             As with all other aspects of the paranormal, it is of great benefit to an author to thoroughly research the chosen creature/being’s culture.  The more you know about their history, mythology, and cultural beliefs, the more accurate your portrayal of the creature and what effects it will be.  

These are only two of many such mistakes made in connection to natural events, when dealing with the paranormal.  If you’d like further information regarding a specific paranormal entity or phenomenon, please e-mail me  directly.

Paranormal Fiction Mistake #2

WHO, ME, NAKED?

 Common Misconceptions of Theriomorphy

            Vampires may be a red flag category in paranormal fiction, but there’s another creature that suffers even more from being under-researched and inconsistently presented.  This is the fate of the theriomorph – what too many writers have taken to lovingly butchering as “shape-shifters” or “were-(insert animal here).”

             Without getting into the nitty-gritty of why I don’t like the terms “shape-shifter” or “were-whatever” (for that, you can read my blog on theriomorphy in parapsychology at http://wildflowerpara.wordpress.com ), theriomorphs are one of the least-researched and most often incorrectly portrayed of paranormal creatures in fiction.  Especially the Lycanthrope, which suffers from the Hollywood stereotype – which is nowhere near to accurate, as Hollywood doesn’t even seem to have researched what real wolves are like.

             If you’re going to write about Lycanthropes – or indeed any animalistic theriomorph – my first and primary suggestion is research the animal you’re basing your theriomorph around.  Find out everything you can about the animal your character is going to become, or shares traits with.  I guarantee that, for the most part, you’re going to be highly surprised by what you learn.  Lycanthropes, especially, have suffered bad press for centuries – most likely because the wolf itself has suffered bad press, portrayed as a ruthless killer who hunts men and tears their throats out.  Anyone who’s studied wolves, or researched them at all, knows this is false.  Wolves are extremely loyal, playful, and try to avoid human interaction whenever possible.  I can’t imagine how they perceive us, but I’d be willing to bet we’d be the monsters, since humanity has actively hunted wolves, without cause, for centuries.  But I digress…

             Once you’ve done your research on the animal in question, then turn to the character him/herself.  What nationality/cultural group are they from?  Does this culture have specific mythology/traditions about theriomorphy?  There are very few cultures on the face of the Earth who do not have some kind of historical, mythological or cultural beliefs about theriomorphy.  It’s a common mistake of paranormal fiction authors to believe that every theriomorphic transformation must be physical.  In point of fact, there is little historical or anecdotal evidence to suggest this, and more evidence to suggest that the changes are spiritual or psychological.

             Which brings me perfectly to my next point – clothing.  In the case of many theriomorphic stories I’ve read, it seems the issue of clothing is never addressed.  So, as we did with the vampire, let’s create a generic theriomorph to use as an example.

             Meet Jake.  He’s a North American lycanthrope.  I won’t go into any more personal detail at the moment, because it’s not important.  So, let’s first look at what we discussed above, referencing wolves and lycanthropic traditions.  Since we know wolves aren’t scary creatures who eat helpless grandmothers and little girls in red capes, Jake’s going to have a wary disposition, be fiercely loyal to his small, close circle of friends, be interested in finding a mate for life, not sleeping around (sorry, wolves are monogamous, so cross out that “player” thought process with your lycanthrope – he most likely wouldn’t understand the concept), and he’s going to have a playful, mischievous side.  He’ll likely be tolerant of children (wolves love their cubs – and the cubs in a pack are everyone’s cubs, not just the biological parents).  Given that he’s from North America, we’ll look at the Native American traditions a little bit.  Now, each one has a slightly different take on theriomorphy.  Some (such as the Navajo and Hopi) believe that theriomorphs are sorcerors with evil powers who change into animals to trick the unwary.  Others, such as the Huron, Seneca, and Iroquois, have legends that talk of great shamans who protected their tribes through the use of theriomorphy.  So, let’s go with that, and say Seneca.  

             And we’ve run into our first problem.  Native American tradition doesn’t ascribe any real differences between animals and humans.  The animal kingdom is intricately connected to the human world, in their traditions, and all animals are our brothers and sisters.  Also, few Native American legends tell of actual physical transformations from human to animal or vice versa.  Most traditions and legends, when they speak of theriomorphy, speak in terms of the Otherworld, where great shamans changed into other creatures in order to learn from them, or to travel the Otherworld in search of knowledge and guidance.  In essence, the transformation was spiritual, sometimes even to the point that the shaman would go to live as, or act as, the animal in question, for a time. 

             Hopefully, you’re beginning to see my point.  But let’s be stereotypical for a moment, and say that Jake does physically change form.  As a wolf, he is free of his clothing (this is the case in most theriomorphic stories).  But what happens when he changes back?  Amazingly, his clothing suddenly reappears, completely unaffected by his transformation.

             Sounds ridiculous, right?  Unfortunately, it happens way too often in paranormal fiction.  It’s fine to have clothing magically appear and disappear if you’re working in fantasyland, or some other completely fictional world you’ve created (I have a lycanthrope in one of my series who uses magic to remove his clothing and replace it as he’s changing form – but this is part of the definitions I set in place for a fantasy world, and I make it quite clear what he does, and stick to that).  Just be conscious that the rules you create, you still have to stick to.  But if you’re working in our world, you don’t have the luxury of playing with physics.  If Jake dumps his clothes with his transformation at point A, he can’t have them back when he turns human again at point B.  He’s going to be naked.  So either he’s going to have to be prepared somehow (and please make it believable), or he’s going to have to walk around naked for a while.