After a couple of recent articles that touched upon the topic of real vampirism today, a commenter by the name of Sappho Wolf of Philadelphia offered to provide some additional, more accurate insight into the community.
Sappho Wolf is the founder of VampGeist, a site that sort of acts as a media front for the distribution of facts and information about real vampires today.
In this interview, I ask Sappho some questions that probably most mainstream readers would ask if they’d ever encountered someone that describes themselves as a vampire.
Sappho talks about the definition of vampirism, how society tends to falsely categorize vampires, and a little bit about how to become a real vampire today if you lean in that particular direction.
At this point, I openly admit to holding a long list of beliefs and biases about members of this particular community, so I was very much looking forward to, and welcomed, this intelligent discourse with Sappho.
Ryan: Could you provide some of your background and expertise on this topic?
Sappho: I am one representative and one voice of the vampire community. I have been involved with the real vampire community since 1985. I am looking to continue working for the community, especially by bringing in my professional assets in the media and in publishing. Additionally, I am open to mentoring individuals who feel the pull of the vampire, but aren't entirely certain what they are.
My "awakening", as it were, happened on August 6, 1985--the fortieth anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. I had come into the sphere of the Order of Maidenfear, a vampire sanctuary, months before through initiated friends that seemed to really understand what I was experiencing. On that day, the puzzle pieces of my thoughts clicked into place. I too was a vampire. I decided that I would never deny that aspect of me--in fact, I could never deny it. I would embrace vampirism and my existence as a vampire.
For the following four years I spent a great deal of time at House Maidenfear, the headquarters of the Order in Philadelphia, learning and developing my own abilities. My own initiation was in 1989, once I turned 18. However, I had to take the Maidenfear Way and my own life as a vampire on an adventure. I moved away to college, where I studied history and linguistics and became an expert vampire researcher. I was able to enhance that skill in graduate school in Florida. Wherever I went, I made connections with the local vampire communities. I came home to House Maidenfear in 2001 and I was elected to my current station as Matriarch in 2003.
I came to call myself Sappho after a thorough reading of her poetry. Her words have such an ability to wrench deep emotional energy that I came to regard her as something of a vampire herself.
I'm known affectionately as the "Vampire Philosophe" for the amount of time I've spent in the more cerebral aspects of the vampire existence. Using the Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame created by the late Isaac Bonewits, I’ve helped people avoid entanglement with cult groups. A few of my short pieces have been adopted for use and inspiration by community members. These include Tacrostica, Creed of the Kindred, Second Creed of the Kindred, and the Hybrid Vampire Handbook.
Ryan: How would you define the term 'Vampirism' in general, in a way that encompasses the beliefs of the majority of the community?
Sappho: There exists an entity of living energy all around us and in the universe. This energy is both alive itself and imbues all things with life of one degree or another. A vampire is an adept at energy play, an adept at tapping into this living energy for self-benefit. A vampire knows how to take what energy they want and need and use it for their own purposes.
Ryan: Many people know self-described Vampires as people that cut themselves in order to suck on each other's blood. Would you say that's an accurate description of a majority practice? If so, what is the purpose?
Sappho: If the simple definition of vampire involves the taking of blood, we should add every phlebotomist in the world to our ranks.
People who cut themselves in order to drink or offer blood are suffering from a psychiatric disorder that I’m not qualified to discuss at any length. It stems from something other than the idea of being a vampire
This is a semantic issue that we in the community need to face, and sooner rather than later.
Ryan: Why does the community base its beliefs/name upon a mythological/fictional creature?
Sappho: Let’s look at how mythology is determined. I’ve heard it said that mythology was cutting edge technology and science of an earlier age. Mythology was a way of explaining what could not otherwise be explained in terms an average person can understand.
My mentor was not looking at the vampire as the creature of legend. Instead, she saw a vampire archetype that seemed to be common to human beings around the world. The common denominator when everything was boiled down and examined was a creature that somehow was able to take living energy and life force.
What we call vampire appears in many guises.
---> In the Philippines, the aswang is an extraordinarily beautiful woman by day, but at night, she turns into a flying monster. Her preferred prey are local children, and she does not feast on their blood so much as steal away the energy that keeps them alive.
---> The civatateo of the Aztec Empire were servants of the central god Tezcatlipoca. This status was their afterlife reward for having died in childbirth, which to the Aztecs was as noble as dying in battle. Hideous to look upon, the civatateo were especially fond of feeding on children, perhaps in a kind of revenge for the infants that claimed their own lives. To a mortal, a child would appear to be dying of a wasting illness.
---> Appearing in many Japanese folktales, the kitsune is a shape-shifter. Most often she takes the form of a wild fox or a beautiful maiden. Sex is her device for feeding from a victim. The kitsune is also a great prankster.
---> Lamia was once the queen of Libya. As punishment for some affront, the goddess Hera slew Lamia’s children. As revenge, Lamia abandoned her mortal form to drift through the countryside draining the blood of infants. Later, lamia was any child-killing demon.
---> The rakshasa is an especially powerful vampire in India. Its shape-shifting abilities are unparalleled. At the very least a human can be struck with nausea and vomiting just by passing through the area where a rakshasa has been. A young boy who, for whatever reason, eats human brains will become a rakshasa.
---> Greece has an especially rich vampire tradition, and the common name for these creatures is vrykolakas. They can be created through improper burial, immorality in life, or dying unbaptized. Everyone who is killed by the vrykolakas will then become vrykolakas.
---> I can’t leave this subject without mentioning my personal favorite, the Balkan vampire watermelon. Any object left outside on the night of a full moon was believed to become vampiric, so why not watermelons? Of course, vampire watermelons aren’t to be feared. They don’t have teeth, and if they did, they wouldn’t create much horror by biting ankles. More than anything, they are a nuisance, rolling around and growling at people. I bet you’ll never look at a watermelon the same way now.
Ryan: What is a 'real' vampire in your opinion...does everyone in the community believe vampires (people that can't survive without drinking someone else's blood) are real beings?
Sappho: We never really know what goes through another person’s mind or what intentions they have in their heart. Therefore I’m not one for examining everybody who claims to be a vampire for an empirical list of symptoms that must be present. But I can say with confidence that drinking blood does not make anyone more of a vampire than anything else.
Although I know a few vampires who would disagree heatedly with me, there’s simply no such thing as a physiological need to drink blood. The need, which is very real in some cases, is a psychological one.
But we tend to be an open minded and accepting community. No one is alienated based upon their feeding preferences, provided they are carried out with careful consent and within the guidelines of the law.
Ryan: Medically, ingesting someone else's blood has not been shown to be of any nutritional or medical value (unless you're losing your own blood) - so is there some other spiritual/metaphysical reason for doing it?
Sappho: Transfusions have been a complicated procedure for a very long time, and that is before any patient starts to receive new blood. All along, people have felt that somehow the energy of the donor is somehow passed along to the recipient. It also hasn’t been that long since transfusions between races was forbidden. In any case, the notion of there being more to the blood than just the blood isn’t new.
I can’t give you a personal account of the effects of drinking blood. I can tell you that people have claimed everything from being restored to the attainment of some kind of Nirvana from blood.
Ryan: Most of the mainstream literature about vampires involves darkness, death and murder by Vampires. Do you think this might explain the criminal nature of those elements of the vampire community that make the news (murders, assaults, etc...)?
Sappho: Actually, mainstream literature is turning the vampire into a romantic hero and finding ways to remove the monster from the legend. Vampire romances can’t be written quickly enough to keep up with the demand.
Literature is not responsible for the mindset of the criminal vampire. Generally these are people who are hip-deep in problems in the first place. The interest in vampirism simply masks other problems.
Ryan: It seems that many apparently mentally disturbed individuals identify themselves as a vampire. Is there a way to know if someone is a 'real' vampire from the vampire community? Is there some central organization or registration?
Sappho: Mentally disturbed people do a lot of things. They star in movies, they run for public office, they develop a messianic complex, they hoard Twinkies, they work as flight attendants. How do we pick out the mentally secure ones from the sociopaths? It’s a question facing the vampire community just as it faces society at large.
There are several large organizations within the community (including my own) whose members reflect the ideology of their particular groups. But there is nothing that includes the entire community. This matter is currently being hotly debated and solutions are sought, but so far to no avail.
Ryan: What do you say to people that consider the vampire lifestyle to be delusional, disturbed or just plain 'wrong'?
Sappho: People have a right to think what they want. It’s not likely that anything I could say would change their minds. Sometimes I suggest that following the teachings of a man dead these past two thousand years could be considered delusional as well…but in general I try to keep the peace.
Ryan: Any last words of wisdom or insight about the vampire community for people out there that are sincerely interested in learning the truth about modern day vampires?
Sappho: We all need to forget what we think we know, and instead try to understand people of all types for who they are, even if their existence is somehow beyond our understanding. Individuals should define the community rather than the community defining individuals. And if you have a question, ask!
**Editor's Note** - I would like to thank Sappho for taking the time to take part in such a detailed and thorough interview. This discussion goes a long way toward helping the mainstream understand what the vampire belief system, and the community as a whole, is really all about.
As an aside, many readers might have notice that question 2 was somewhat brief - partially due to a poorly asked question which didn't really focus in on the real point...whether the act of blood sucking really takes place and why. I decided to ask Sappho a follow-up question, in an effort to get some elaboration on that one critical issue that many people - when they first encounter the topic of vampires - focus on. I asked Sappho to elaborate about the blood-consuming practices and the rationale behind it.
What I received in return was a well-written response on just that matter specifically. It is a post-length write-up in itself, so I'm going to publish it in its entirety a little later this week. If you're at all curious about that aspect of vampirism, I think you'll greatly enjoy her elaboration on the topic.