The Vampires myth originates in pre-Christian Slavic spiritual belief systems, which were passed on in the 9th, or 10th century when Christianity first came to the Slavs.1 Slavic mythology describes vampires as reanimated corpses that feed on living people and animals terrifying humankind. Yet, folklore about vampire ‘types’ existed in many ancient cultures expressed in different ways; Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans myths describe blood-drinking demonic entities and spirits which are considered precursors to Slavic vampires.2 The vampire motif has survived and evolved throughout history because its legends are metaphors for humankind’s fears and anxieties about nature, self, and society. This essay analyses the motif of the vampire and examines humans as cultural consumers of art; literature, film and television. I will discuss Bram Stokers Dracula against a background of modernity and Stephanie Meyers recent Twilight films to prove how our anxieties about the nature of identity and changing values are expressed through the motif of the vampire.
Vampires always have a religious or spiritual identity because they are the ‘undead.’ Unlike humans vampires have the power to transcend this life – they are otherworldly and able to cross boundaries between this life and the next transcending God, nature, and religion. This spiritual or religious element of the vampire motif is what human kind is attracted to in popular culture in literature, film, and television, especially the horror genre. Rudolf Otto’s concept Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans is the most successful explanation as to why many people are fascinated by the horror genre. Otto explains the reason people are both repelled and attracted to supernatural fear;
‘It is this feeling which, emerging in the mind of primeval man, forms the starting point for the entire religious development in history. ‘Daemons’ and ‘gods’ alike spring from this root, and all the products of ‘mythological apperception’ or ‘fantasy’ are nothing but different modes in which it has been objectified.’ 3
By this he means the fear and awe we feel whilst viewing vampires in horror films is in fact that same feeling experienced in many world religions – ‘shock and awe.’ The Oxford Dictionary defines the feeling of awe as ‘overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like: in awe of God.’ It is not surprising to find an increase in human attraction to the vampire motif in post-modern societies as people search for alternative spiritual outlets. Statistically traditional religious belief is declining as people search for alternative ways of expressing their most personal experience. People will often comment that they are spiritual but not religious.4
Up until the late 1700’s many people believed vampires were real this is evidenced in religious scholar, Dom Augusta Camelet, written account of the Slavic vampire in 1746. Camelet was ordered by his superiors to investigate the legitimacy a large number of murders alleged committed by vampires in Europe in 1730’s.5 This tremendous fear of the vampire during the Enlightenment was a reaction against the more rational thinkers of the Age of Reason, which prevented society investigating its own cultural anxieties. Camelet’s writings popularized later vampire literature such as Varney the Vampire and The Vampire.
The huge success of Stoker’s fiction novel Dracula in 1897 reflected societies concerns around the decline of the British Empire and the threat of new religions to Christianity. Interest in new technology, and mass media at the turn of the 20th century, along with a more literate society, were partly responsible for the interest in Stokers Dracula. Stoker’s vampire confronts English society by representing a reverse image of its own imperialist ambitions; Dracula is foreign and ‘Other’6. Many