These are the real-life vampires who drink blood and walk amongst us
Real-life vampires walk among us. They could be the dog walker with the adorable German Shepherd walking on the path in front of you. The lawyer helping you through your court case. The girl who gives her seat up for you on the local bus. In all honesty, they could be just about anyone.
Before you jump to conclusions, I'm not talking about the fictional vamps you've watched, read and heard about. Vampires in the real world bear little relation to those who roam around in capes on our cinema screens. For starters, they don't burn in sunlight, aren't too bothered about garlic and, rather than coffins, they go home to sleep on top of comfy double mattresses, snuggled up under toasty duvets, just like the rest of us.
In fact, the people who believe themselves to be vampires aren't all that recognisable on the grand scale of things and you'd probably have to catch them feeding in order to truly recognise them. Yes, feeding is one of the few things that authentic vampires - who don't identify with those in pop-culture - do have in common with their onscreen counterparts.
But, how exactly does it work in the nonfictional world? From talking to the Atlanta Vampire Alliance - who claim that there are at least 5,000 self-identified vamps living in the US - and other groups from around the world, we know that modern vamps gain their sustenance by making inch-long incisions with a sterilised scalpel on a fleshy part of a person's body and drinking their blood. Initially, it sounds rather murderous. In reality, these feeding sessions are incredibly safe and the blood is taking from a willing donor. In addition, there is a hefty amount of paperwork, with contributors forced to provide health certificates in order to prove the absence of blood-borne diseases. But, regardless of the slightly less glamorous procedure than in the movies, feeding time is sacred to those who call themselves "Sanguinarian vampires", who claim that they "cannot adequately sustain their own physical, mental, or spiritual well-being without the taking of blood or vital life force energy from other sources."
That's not to say some vampires, who live and work in society with us - don't feed directly from the source though. Several have hit the headlines in the past for drinking blood straight from another person, with multiple stories of couples feeding from one another. One online user claiming to be a vampire wrote of the intense thrill of direct dining in a thread called "the first time another's blood trickled through my system" on Vampirism Forum. He stated: "I started at the base of her ankles, letting my tongue glide slowly along the marks, tasting what seemed like the sweetest candy of humanity's makings, and feeling the warmth spread across my mouth and body. The instant it touched, I felt my body change yet again."
That leads us to the second way of feeding available; some vampires out there don't actually feed on blood, instead choosing to dine on something else that many people will find equally as disturbing. Psychic vampires feed on people's auras, in other words the spiritual energy that a person gives out. A vampire could be feeding on your aura right at this second and, aside from feeling thoroughly exhausted afterwards, you would never know. According to online forums, without feeding on either energy or blood, a vampire will become "lethargic, sickly, depressed, and often go through physical suffering or discomfort." Much like the rest of us when we get hangry.
So, how does one become a vampire? It turns out you don't get dragged into a pitch-black back alley and scream as a creature of the night sinks its teeth into you like on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nor do you simply wake up one day and decide to give it a try. Actually, in order to become a vampire, one must go through what is called an "awakening". This is the term that refers to the gradual and rather terrifying process whereby a human being slowly comes to the conclusion that they are a vampire, often in puberty or following a trauma.
One vampire described his all-encompassing awakening in his teenage years as he found himself sensitive to energy around him, afterwards searching online only to find there were others like him, writing: "Every since I was young, I was able to sense spirits but it wasn't until I was in high school that I started noticing that I was different. I have only started fairly recently discovering what I really am....I've been told that it was draining to be around me, but never knew why." Another spoke of how he went to desperate lengths to get blood, posting: "It just happened, and not all at once. I felt the incessant need for blood, which I went at hair-brained lengths to get, but silly me from myself. I have permanent scars on my left hand now because I used blunt edges on the back of it, and my teeth to make myself bleed."
If you're feeling a little grossed out by the concept, you're not the only one. Real vampires, who are regulary studied by researchers, know the public perception of them all too well and if there's one thing they have in common with their silver screen equivalents, it's their reluctance to tell the world about themselves. Vampire communities have existed for decades now, but it's incredibly hard to recognise them as many people in society shun them, regularly claiming that they are suffering from mental illness. Nonetheless, real-life vampires continue to insist that they are incredibly rational, they're just a little different from the rest of you.
Despite their protestations, they still have their detractors with many experts strongly believing that the craving for blood is purely psychological. Katherine Ramsland told Psychology Today: “Vampirism is a delusional notion that he or she is a vampire and therefore needs blood. This arises not from fiction and film but from an erotic attraction to blood and the idea that it conveys certain powers.”
That's not to say they don't have their supporters out there. John Edgar Browning, a researcher who has studied real vampire communities in New Orleans and Buffalo for nearly a decade, states that "vampire" is an unfortunate term for these unique members of the public, who suffer from haematomania, the craving to drink blood. He explained further saying: “The members of this community suffer from the constant conflation of their identity by the outside world with the mythological and filmic vampire. As a result, outsiders generally think of them as being out of their minds. Had they called themselves something else entirely, their reception may have developed quite differently. Regardless, any mention of their special health issues is almost always treated with suspicion by medical professionals; the inclusion of the word ‘vampire’ only intensifies it.”
So, would our perception of these individuals really be any different if they changed their name? Who knows for certain, but it seems likely that the general public will be freaked out by the blood-drinkers, whatever they call themselves. Yet, although the majority will remain unconvinced, most vampires insist they're pretty similar to the rest of us on the whole. A vampire called Merticus told the Guardian in 2015: “We are often among the more intelligent, influential, and creative of the general population. Granted, we may be more ‘alluringly interesting’ or ‘dimensionally complex’ than your typical cubicle co-worker or next door neighbour; but we’re trying to get by in this life just like everyone else!”
Overall, no matter how much they it, it seems real-life vampires will continue to live life in the shadows until public perception changes. Will they ever get the chance to live their lives openly? Who knows. For now, in their absence, we will simply have to stick with the romantic veneer of movies and TV shows, while in the knowledge that they walk among us.
Featured illustration by Egarcigu