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At Twilight, Interview with a Vampire … Expert

BU’s Joseph Laycock on the myth, and the real deal

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In the video above, vampire expert Joseph Laycock (GRS’13) discusses those elusive creatures of the night, and in the video below some Twilight fans riff on why they’re psyched to see the sequel this weekend.

They’ve had November 20 circled on their calendars for months. Fans of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen will flock to theaters tonight for the midnight premiere of New Moon, the highly anticipated sequel to last year’s box office smash Twilight.

For millions of Twilight fans, the saga of young Bella and handsome vampire Edward is nothing more than a love story — a romantic escape from reality. But according to religious studies scholar Joseph Laycock (GRS’13), vampires are more than pop culture icons. They believe they’re as real as Twilight author Stephenie Meyer — and Laycock has written a book exploring the phenomenon.

Vampires Today: The Truth About Modern Vampirism (2009) takes a look at teenagers, stay-at-home moms, grandmothers, and professionals, all unremarkable subjects save for one little thing: they claim to feed off of other people’s energy, and, every so often, they drink human blood.

BU Today: How did a religious studies scholar become interested in modern-day vampires?
Laycock: While I was teaching high school in Atlanta, I found out about the Atlanta Vampire Alliance, which was conducting a 1,000-question survey for people who claim to be vampires. I found it interesting that people were defining their identities through survey data, so I wrote a paper about it and presented it at the American Academy of Religion in San Diego. Two journals approached me about publishing the paper, and then a representative from Praeger asked me to write a book. They knew what I didn’t: thanks to the Twilight series, it’s a seller’s market for vampires.

Your book describes several different types of vampires.
First there are lifestyle vampires, who admire the aesthetic. They may like vampire movies or writer Anne Rice, and they may own a set of prosthetic fangs or wear Victorian costumes to nightclubs. But at the end of the day, they know they’re no different from anyone else because they don’t feed.

Real vampires, on the other hand, believe that their physical, mental, and emotional health will deteriorate if they don’t feed — either on blood or on energy. There are three types of real vampires: sanguinarian, psychic, and hybrids. Sanguinarians feed on very small amounts of human blood, generally just a few drops.

Do they bite people’s necks?
Not usually, because it’s very painful and highly unsanitary. Most sanguinarians use a syringe or a lancet to feed.

How do psychic vampires feed?
People have auras that protect their energy and charkas, and psychic vampires feed by sipping life energy through a tentacle that’s attached to those auras — although of course not everyone can see either the auras or the tentacles. Psychic vampirism has been part of occult literature since the 19th century, and the idea that some people borrow or take energy from others is common throughout Asia.

Is feeding on people’s energy ethical?
Most vampires believe that it’s okay to feed as long as they go to a place where there are a lot of people and they take only small amounts of energy. Venues where there’s a lot of energy, like a rock concert or a Pentecostal church service, are better feeding grounds. A lot of vampires have consenting donors, people who have lots of energy and don’t mind giving some of it away. There’s also tantric feeding, which involves sexual contact.

Did any of your sources try to feed on your energy?
Not that I noticed. A lot of vampires say that ordinary people don’t sustain them. The really good energy comes from creative, passionate types, like artists or religious figures.

Do any common vampire myths apply to real vampires?
Some report having sun allergies. I know one woman who wears welding goggles whenever she goes outdoors, but I know another vampire who went to Thailand and sat on the beach all day. As far as having to be invited in and not being able to cross running water — no one claims to follow any of that.

Do real vampires believe they are immortal?
No.

Do you believe the people you interviewed are real vampires?
I’m a religious scholar, not a scientist. I don’t really care what the truth is. I’m interested in what other people believe, and they believe they are indeed vampires.

What’s the connection between Christianity and vampirism?
The Catholic Church believes in the doctrine of transubstantiation, which is that the communion bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ, even though their appearance does not change. Martin Luther thought this was ridiculous; as a result, most Protestants have a more symbolic understanding about the Eucharist, but the Catholic Church refuses to budge. So Catholics have been criticized for the doctrine of transubstantiation and have even been called vampires.

Why are vampires so prevalent in pop culture?
For years, the vampire has been a symbol of the romantic outsider, the rebel. And because each new generation needs a rebel, there have been many generations of vampires. Back in the 1960s there was a television show called Dark Shadows, which gave us Barnabas Collins, our first reluctant vampire. Then there was the sexy Lestat from Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and the tortured Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And now we have True Blood’s Bill Compton and Twilight’s Edward Cullen.

I’m a little concerned about Twilight, because these are the most unrebellious vampires we’ve ever seen. They are essentially Mormon vampires; the author is Mormon, and the Cullen family has Mormon values. And Twilight is not a cult phenomenon. It’s mainstream. The vampire has gone from being a horrible monster to the kid next door. So we’ll see what happens. Perhaps Edward Cullen will be the last vampire.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu. Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

12 Comments

12 Comments on At Twilight, Interview with a Vampire … Expert

  • Dr. Horrible on 11.19.2009 at 8:10 am

    Twilight “makes the vampire more accessible”. Explain to me what that means. The novel Dracula is perfectly accessible. Even if one cannot comprehend the older written novels, there are many other ideas which stay true to the vampire myth such as the video game series Castlevania. Many of the already existing myths about vampires are little known so if Stephenie Meyes wanted to bring some new concepts to her book, she could have easily done some research instead of creating some sort of crap about vampires who sparkle. Vampires are not supposed to be “hot” in the sense that we think of “hot” people. Vampires are supposed to be seductive, yes, as to capture their prey, not to make love that breaks beds and houses. Twilight ruined the conception of a vampire. People who originally were interested in already existing vampire ideas and stories fear liking vampires because they do not want to be even associated with crap novels like Twilight. Essentially, Edward Cullen is a sparkly abomination to the world. Driving a stake through the Twilight books did not destroy Twilight or Edward Cullen so therefore he can’t possibly be a vampire.

  • Eddie Munster on 11.19.2009 at 11:03 am

    Vampires that… DON’T DRINK COFFEE!!

  • Anonymous on 11.19.2009 at 4:25 pm

    food for thought

    This might explain why I always feel drained after spending time with my (apparently) aura-inhaling mother.

  • Jerome on 11.19.2009 at 8:02 pm

    Energy Drinkers

    How does one get to be a Vampire expert?

    I like this new direction for vampires. THe non blood drinking-energy slurping vampire can be anyone who wants to claim it. We are all cognizant of other people’s energy; it’s justthat some concentrate harder on it. Any teacher can tell you they feel their students energy as soon as they walk into a classroom.

    If you are interested in how people use energy, take a look at Annie’s Gift by Holden Herbert. It is a novel, but there is still a lot to learn there

  • Anonymous on 11.20.2009 at 8:26 am

    Clarify, please?

    “I’m a little concerned about Twilight, because these are the most unrebellious vampires we’ve ever seen.” Why is this concerning? And why does this mean that that Edward Cullen may be the last vampire? Sorry, but while the last paragraph is intriguing (Mormon references), it is also confusing.

  • Anonymous on 11.20.2009 at 11:34 am

    Great article. I’m still obsessed :)

  • Anonymous on 11.20.2009 at 5:48 pm

    I’d take Bill Compton over Edward Cullen any day. Though it’d be tough to pick between Bella and Sookie!

  • Anonymous on 11.22.2009 at 8:45 pm

    Vampires

    Edward Cullen will absolutely not be the last Vampire/Vampyre…and there will be other versions as over time creativity continues to grow. Vampires will always be attractive and alluring creatures. I think you need to get back to your research…….there is a lot you don’t know and obviously don’t understand.

  • Otherkin-relation on 11.22.2009 at 10:37 pm

    Vampyres

    A true Vamp can feed off energy (like my late Mother), or sip raw blood from either humans or animals (my hubby is a donor, & a neighbor gives us freshly shot deer, of which I drink some blood from); there really is no such thing as a “Vampire Expert”; we simply exist, & other, non-Vamps/Otherkins observe & make (often unreal) assumptions about us. Such as garlic….whatever! And some of us develop an aversion to sun…we don’t ask for it: it just happens.
    Vamps don’t have to be rebellious…..that’s an area for teens, not supposed “ancient” immortals….lol.
    Do your own research…those who aren’t Family Otherkin already. See what you find..it might surprise you!

  • Tianca on 12.17.2009 at 3:08 pm

    Real Vampires...

    Do a search on real vampires, and educate yourself!!! There are hundreds of websites to choose from, most tell the truth.

    But I’ll tell you this, a real vampire is NOT going to advertise themselves in any way. How do you think they have survived all this time? By living among us, in plain sight. Your neighbor, your sister, your mother, your aunt, your uncle, your husband, the postman, the baker, the airline pilot, the stewardess, your preacher, your rancher, your farmer, your favorite rock singer, your country guitar player, your kid’s swimming teacher, your organic produce dealer, your pharmacist, your doctor, your nurse. Any one of them could be one, because they don’t want to stand out in the crowd. They just want to live their lives. They have to pay their bills, go to their jobs every day, fix the car, buy gas, pay the rent. All of that ‘normal’ stuff that you and I do every day.

    But that stuff doesn’t sell books, does not get people to go to the movies and spend $20 million to watch Twilight, New Moon. The public are addicted to hype, not the truth, the facts. They want glowing vampires, with bad tempers and long fangs dripping with blood. I have to wonder where all those people have gone to school, or get their education, to buy into that crap. It is so outrageous.

    But if they insist on dressing like the stereotype vampires, I say let them. At least that draws the attention away from the real vampires!! More power to them.

    Talk about ‘hiding in plain sight’!

    Tianca

  • strategy games on 12.22.2009 at 7:49 am

    Nice one.. I think they want

    Nice one..
    I think they want glowing vampires, with bad tempers and long fangs dripping with blood. I have to wonder where all those people have gone to school, or get their education, to buy into that crap.

  • Sarah B. on 11.19.2010 at 10:00 am

    I am a little bit worried about the vampire trend around Tthe success of Twilight … I heard that more and more teenagers imitate the movie and become a kind of “vampire” they bite friends in the neck. Not that good. However, I think it’s gonna end at some point.

     

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