Do Vampires Really Exist? Interview With Michelle Belanger

No community embraces the vampire like the Goth subculture does. Your average club or show is overrun with people who look like they stepped off the set of The Lost Boys and From Dusk Till Dawn, all pasty faces, black leather pants, and the occasional cape fake fangs. This adoration, however, is surprisingly lacking in a lot of advocacy. The prospect of bloodsucking is a foreign concept to even the most devoted coffin flask-touting, clove-smoking, boot-stomping Goths among us. The affection ends where the authenticity begins. Can people sustain an existence on blood and a sunless environment?

Michelle Belanger is a scholar and a participant of the vampire lifestyle and has been writing about it for the better part of a decade, shedding light on its mysterious origins and its contrasts with the big-screen Counts and Countesses. Her many books, as well as various film and television appearances, unearth the real-world nuances of the vampire and how people have thrived as productions of its heritage, without the fictional borders of Hollywood. Belanger’s scribing on the topic (and her own identity) is also informed by her in-depth research into occultism, psychic phenomenon, magic, Paganism, and BDSM.

We asked Michelle a few question about herself and the vampire’s role on Earth. Read on for an introduction to the vampire—without Jonathan Harker’s diary entries or Van Helsing’s scientific mind.

1.  I have heard that you are an author, can you touch on what you’ve written, and who your target audience is? Where could I find your work for sale? 
I’ve been writing professionally for over two decades, so I have a lot of books out there. You can find them in all the standard places, although with the changes in brick-and-mortar bookstores lately, the most reliably place remains – plus, you can always get a bargain there.
One of the most popular of my books is the Dictionary of Demons, which is exactly what the title says – 1500+ names of beings described as demons, fallen angels, or evil spirits collected from grimoires and other books of magic from the 12th through the 17th centuries. Of course, for the vampire community, the two big titles are the Vampire Codex from 1994 (with a second edition published by Weiser books in 2004 as The Psychic Vampire Codex) and Vampires in Their Own Words. The Codex – one version of which has been hosted for free on the Internet almost needs to introduction. It is a book that has helped to define psychic vampirism not merely within our community, but in the writings of many others – even fiction authors like Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton.
I write for a wide range of people. The vampire community, of course, is where my first loyalties lie, but especially with the subject of energy work, so many of the topics  teach about cross over to other places, and I really enjoy bridge-building like that, finding the topics where multiple communities converge. So I also write a great deal for the Pagans, New Agers, so-called “Light Workers,” and paranormal enthusiasts. I also write fiction, and my Urban Fantasy series launches this October through Titan Books with Conspiracy of Angels. That series takes all the different topics I’m known for – energy work, psychic phenomenon, vampires, angels, demons, and BDSM and tosses them into a stew that’s become my creative playground.
2. How did you become interested, or involved in vampires/the gothic community?
I know it’s a terrible cliché, but I’ve had an interest in vampires for nearly as long as I can remember. As far back as first grade, I remember inventing my own version of tag, which I called “Vampire Tag.” Pretty much, I was always “It,” and I got to chase the other kids down. If I caught them, I fed from them. And yes – although it makes me squirm a little to admit it – that involved actually feeding.
But that was done innocently enough. I believe that we carry what we are inside us from birth, and it comes out in various ways long before we become fully conscious of it ourselves. We don’t have to accept our vampirism in order to still display vampiric qualities. By middle school and early high school, I’d hit on the identity of the vampire as something that was more than undead Counts slinking through old Victorian novels. I still didn’t understand it fully, and I had very limited resources in terms of books that talked about vampirism as anything other than either a fiction or a superstition in folklore. Another complication was the fact that I didn’t drink blood. I was aware I was taking something from people – life, or vitality in some form — but all the books portrayed vampires as blood-drinkers, and that didn’t quite fit for me.
I was seventeen or eighteen when I read the Bhagavad-Gita as part of a school assignment, and its mention of prana electrified me. What they were describing struck me as exactly the stuff I felt I was taking from people. By college, I managed to get my hands on another pivotal book: Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense. Although she presents the concept only in a negative sense, that was the first time I’d seen the term “psychic vampire.” Everything she was describing, right down to astral journeys to feed from people at a distance, were things I’d experienced and I hadn’t had words for. After that, I dove into a study of magick and occultism – psychic phenomenon had been somewhat commonplace in my family growing up. But it was the occultists who had written the most about psychic vampires over the past hundred and fifty years.
3. Popular literature and Hollywood has glamorized and romanticized the vampire as mythical immortal blood suckers. In your opinion, are there ‘real’ vampires in modern times? 
If by “real” vampire, you mean immortal, undead, sleeps-in-a-coffin, and subsists wholly on the blood of the living, then I think you’ll be disappointed if you go looking for them. Vampires in fiction and in movies are creative tropes. They are built up for entertainment or effect. They even diverge radically from their folkloric roots. Vampires in fiction are often nobles – lords and counts – but peasants were most of the people suspected of being vampires in the Eastern Europeans countries that defined the term with their beliefs. Fictional vampires are portrayed again and again with an elegant, deathly pallor, while “red as a vampire” is a term inspired by the folkloric vampire who was often believed to gain those ruddy cheeks and swollen visage from all the blood sucked during the night.
The vampire in fiction is a being that evolved from its folkloric roots, and the word as it is used in the modern vampire community represents another evolution still. That evolution is not unlike the changes we’ve seen over the past century and a half with the word “witch.” As recently as the 1950s, many people still thought of witches in terms of storybook villains or – worse – the exaggerated monsters of the witch trials. Now, most people recognize the world of difference between a caricature witch in a pointy black hat with a green face and a warty nose and the modern witches who practice a peaceful earth-based religion. Through the work of people like Starhawk and Laurie Cabot, modern witches went about consciously reclaiming the word “Witch,” keeping the elements that resonated with their practice, identity, and beliefs, while trimming away the clinging pall of negativity from folklore. Modern vampires are doing exactly that – we’re simply a few decades of PR behind the witches.
4. Wikipedia gives the following definition of Vampire: A vampire is a mythical being who subsists by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures. I would expect to find more psychic vampires than people actually consuming blood!  What “life essence” do real vampires feed on? What happens when they do not “feed”? 
The vampire community is comprised of a variety of individuals, each of whom express their identity as vampires differently. There are lifestylers who are not strictly vampiric, in that they do not feed, nor do they need to. But they feel a powerful connection to the vampire on an aesthetic and philosophical level. Think of them as Country Western fans who adopt the look of the cowboy even if they live in the concrete wilds of Manhattan.
Then there are the psychic vampires like myself – sometimes also called energy vampires, or psi-vamps. Psychic vampires connect with the identity of the vampire because they themselves are vampiric. They do not need to drink blood but instead connect to life force. We call this “energy,” but better words are chi, prana, or pneuma and a dozen different loan-words from other cultures. Breath, life, spirit – the vital essence of a being. An important thing many people overlook about psychic vampires – the “psychic” part is as essential to their natures as the “vampire” part. Every psychic vampire is sensitive to this vital energy as it moves through the world and not only can they take it, they can manipulate it, use it to heal or harm, and they can pick up on the information that it carries – especially emotions.
In addition to psychic vampires, there are also blood-drinkers. These are also called “sanguinarians,” which is a term derived from the Latin word, “sanguis,” meaning “blood.” Blood-drinking vampires feel they have a need as real as that of psychic vampires, but that need can only be met by taking small amounts of blood from willing donors. The blood-drinkers in the vampire community are split in exactly how the blood meets their needs. Some feel that what feeds them in the vital essence contained in the blood – essentially the same energy being taken by psychic vampires when they feed. But there are just as many, and possibly more, blood-drinking vampires who believe that what nourishes them is the physical substance of the blood itself – that their need is strictly material in nature and doesn’t involve any of the “woo-woo” psychic stuff.
Finally, there are people who have adopted the term “hybrid,” who feed both on blood and energy. For some, this is a matter of adaptation – they cannot always safely get blood from willing donors, and so they get by through psychic feeding. Others feel that their needs are reliant upon both methods to be properly met. In other words, they require both the physical substance of the blood and the non-physical energy.
Most vampiric people – both psychic vampires, blood-drinkers, and “hybrids,” report experiencing increasing lethargy if they do not regularly meet their needs. This exhaustion gives way to irritability, autoimmune issues, sleep disorders, photosensitivity, and a host of other problems, many of which mimic symptoms of fibromyalgia and MS, but are not diagnosable (nor treatable) as these disorders. The vast majority of vampiric people have gone the route of traditional medicine, seeking some treatment and diagnosis for the symptoms they experience, only to be subjected to endless batteries of tests with no clear answers. When something as simple as a little energy or blood from a willing donor suffices to solve the problems, most find a way to make peace with that and work it into their lifestyle.
5. Is there a scientific way to explain vampires in modern times? Are people with vampiric traits limited to or easily found in the goth community or can they be found in all life style choices? 
I think that, especially in the 1990s, a great many real vampires found themselves attracted to the Goth community because the vampire as an archetype was a romanticized element of the Gothic culture. Vampires were “cool” among Goths, and beyond the ego-boosting appeal of this fact, it had the very significant side effect of making it ok to talk about vampirism. Within the Goth community, many of us could be more open about our identities than we could be in any other public, social space at the time. Goth clubs and other events provided a safe and welcoming space where we could fit more comfortably in our skins, socialize without fear of judgment, and potentially meet other people like ourselves.
As for the science aspect of things, one reason I got involved in the paranormal community was to learn more about the tech used to supposedly measure psychic energy and spiritual activity. While I remain unconvinced that many of these devices do what paranormal enthusiasts believe that they do, there are nevertheless some intriguing theories that I think may eventually lead us to a point where we can reliably measure vital energy. The most promising of these involved ongoing experiments at the Rhine Institute (formerly connected with Duke University) that measure the miniscule amounts of light naturally given off by the human body. Trained energy workers were able to consciously increase the output of this light which is invisible to the naked human eye. When I participated in the experiment, I was able to generate a significant spike in the generation of light – but the equipment also registered a marked decrease in the ambient photons of the dark room when I pulled in energy prior to making an effort to generate energy with my hands as I would if I were doing healing work.
There’s something to be measured. Western science is not merely skeptical but stalwartly resistant to the notion, but in China and many other Asian countries, there’s no debate. Body and energy are both real, and both are intrinsic to states of wellness or disease. I hope, in my lifetime, that my culture will catch up to that notion.
6. Is being a vampire of any sort generally a bad thing, or can there also be positive and productive qualities? 
Being a vampire – or, more specifically, being vampiric – is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It is simply a thing, like having red hair or an allergy to gluten. It has some impact on your life and it may impact you in subtle or in very significant ways, but as long as you understand what’s going on, and you make intelligent choices, it’s no big deal.
Introduction by Zander Buel. Interview by Dustin Frackenstein.