Real vampires study brings this self-identification out of the dark

Reuters and Newsweek have a story out on a recent study regarding people who self-identify as “real vampires”. DN takes a look at the research and ends up with more questions than answers.

It is not easy being a vampire, and even harder to come out of the coffin to a physician or therapist for fear they will misinterpret the habit of ingesting the blood of willing donors or succumb to

Source: ‘Vampires’ keep doctors in the dark for fear of stereotyping: study | Reuters

“Coming out of the coffin” to social workers can be challenging, new research says

Source: Real Vampires Exist, and They Need Counseling Too

A print of the study, published in Critical Social Work, V16 No. 1 is reproduced here in entirety.

Abstract: Helping professionals in multiple disciplines, including social workers, are commonly taught to embrace human diversity, think critically, empower clients, and respect client self-determination. Indeed, much of clinical practice with clients is predicated on such professional values, which are important to the establishment of a strong therapeutic alliance and an effective treatment outcome. This study applies qualitative measures, such as  an open-ended questionnaire and creative analytic practice (CAP) strategy in the form of poetic representation, to provide insights into how people with a specific nontraditional identity, that of “real vampire,” feel about disclosing this salient identity to helping professionals within a clinical context. As a CAP method, poetic representation is valuable in acknowledging participants’ subjective realities and preserving emotional intensity in participants’ responses. Results suggest that nearly all participants were distrustful of social workers and helping professionals and preferred to “stay in the coffin” for fear of being misunderstood, labeled, and potentially having to face severe repercussions to their lives.

The authors, DJ Williams and EE Prior of Idaho State Univ., explain that “real vampires” are those that feel the need to obtain “energy” to sustain themselves, either “psychic” energy or actual blood from a willing human donor (or animal). This self-identification is contrasted to “lifestyle” vampires who enjoy the cultural aspects. “Real” vampires “report that without occasional feeding, their overall health and well-being will suffer.” They contend that this is not a choice but, like sexual orientation, it is part of them.

The purpose of the study in social work was to assess if the vampirism was revealed to the social clinician, how it was received and why or why not they would disclose it at all. The underlying point was that therapists should be nonjudgemental to alternative identities and overcome the myth of vampirism.

11 participants were chosen from a community of people who identify this way. Nine of the 11 considered themselves Pagan or Wiccan, 82% identified with female gender. The authors note that these people are ordinary in real life. The study seemed to be making a point warning against pathologizing based on common social discourse.

The participants were asked to use poetic representation to express their emotion at disclosure to the clinicians. This was seen to be an aide to reflect human compassion. The study results showed that self-identified vampires were very fearful about disclosing their situation to clinicians. “They did not want to be judged as being wicked or evil or viewed as being psychotic, delusional or having a psychological problem.”

So, what’s clear is that this is not like a typical scientific study.

While this condition is interesting, this study in the mainstream news is problematic.

It may be used as evidence vampires are “real”. The study in no way supplies evidence for why someone would physically need to eat blood or feed on nonexistent psychic energy. It deliberately avoids that. But using such terms does legitimize them in the mind of the public. The lead author clearly exudes an affinity for this community, stressing that there are probably more of these vampires than we think. As the Newsweek piece notes, self-identity is a big issue these days with major media events shedding light on transgender and “transracial” people and this vampirism is compared with being homosexual (“not a choice”). While “lifestyle” vampires are interested in role playing and spirituality of vampirism, it’s unclear that there is such a difference between those who dress like vampires and those who adopt feeding behaviors.

This kind of “vampirism” has been part of the occult underground for decades, and has gotten substantial media attention in the past. It feels “real” but is this a condition with a physical basis? Perhaps that something that does not matter to social clinicians but it trips me up.

The authors are trying to make a subtle point about the nature of their profession, repeatedly reminding readers of the need to be understanding to exhibit warmth to marginalized people, but this gets lost because the topic is vampires. You can see this in the media representation.

What is the historical depth of this concept of real vampires? Is it more likely a cultural malady? Were the authors seeking media attention with this piece? The study population is so small and even within it, the authors admit the sample is non-representative. What, if anything, does this tell us about society? It’s not clear to me.

Note: I’m not a social worker, a psychologist, vampire or occultist. Thoughtful thoughts welcome.

An anonymous academic contributed to this piece.

  14 comments for “Real vampires study brings this self-identification out of the dark

  1. spookyparadigm
    July 9, 2015 at 3:22 PM

    Non-representativeness doesn’t bother me on this, I don’t think that really applies in this case. Ethnographic study of very small communities is not that unusual. I wouldn’t use it to to necessarily talk about a larger population, but that’s often not the point of such studies.

    This reminds me of Susan Clancy at Harvard who chose alien abduction as something “non-real” to use as a control in looking at hypnosis, therapy, etc., only to realize she had opened a bigger can of worms than she had initially been investigating. Which of course ended up as her book Abducted.

  2. spookyparadigm
    July 9, 2015 at 3:37 PM

    Also, a lot of the article in question cites the work of Joseph Laycock. His work is quite interesting, he’s been a guest twice on Monster Talk, and most of his work would be of MUCH interest to the typical readers of Doubtful News. A lot of his articles are available online through his academia.edu account, including some that this vampire research is based on. I just read his “Is Nessie a Naga?” article, which I was predisposed to be annoyed by and found to be quite interesting. I’ve bought his book on D&D and the Satanic Panic and look forward to reading it.

    https://txstate.academia.edu/JosephLaycock

  3. Derf Inoccuz
    July 9, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    I am a Social Worker and while I endorse the importance of the non judgmental/non pathologizing stance I am concerned about professionals trying to qualify what the criteria is for a “real Vampire”.
    It has always been my understanding that Vampires are folklore and saying that some one is a “real Vampire” is not accurate since they don’t exist. If some one wants to call themselves a Vampire that’s fine with me and if their need to consume blood does not cause any distress then it’s not a problem. But it seems it’s the same as someone calling themselves a real Psychic. There’s no such thing. The Social Work Profession has enough trouble being taken seriously due to a it’s reliance on subjective measurements and I don’t think this “study” will help.

  4. Kitty
    July 9, 2015 at 6:03 PM

    I would say, having worked with Alien abduction experiencers, while they pass many tests psychologists have as “normal”, there is a truly abnormal aspect about their lives. I never found them “normal”, more “people that could benefit from a good physical and some therapy.” That applies to a lot of us, but blood drinking will probably generate a lot of advice from a physician. The safety of it, and I imagine most doctors would first off like to be assured that they are ingesting safe blood. Then, are they happy doing it? We often do things that make us happy that might be considered “odd” or different. But, is it in our gene pool? It is something we HAVE to do because it’s our identity? Or is it a choice we make, because it makes us feel good? Having worked with a psychologist with alien abduction experiencers, she finds it is often a choice, to identify as special.

  5. Grumpy
    July 9, 2015 at 6:22 PM

    I’m poorly interested in people playing games (even if they “believe”), be it vampirism, faith healing, witchcraft or whatever.

    Yet I’m interested in History and Ethnography and I found this site worth a look (hastening to add that I’ve absolutely no connection with it) if you need a bibliography (very extensive, in many languages) and a list of “historical cases”: http://www.shroudeater.com/

    From their presentation blurb:
    “Almost all of the other vampire sites appear to be dealing with fictional vampires, the type of vampire that can be found in vampire films and vampire novels and stories. Or they may find their inspiration in the fairly recent phenomenon of people who call themselves vampires, who are playing at being vampires, and who – in certain cases – even consider themselves to be genuine vampires. Interesting as all that may seem to some, it is definitely not “our kind of vampire”.

    Our main interest is in the old traditional undead corpse of the European mainland. Unlike fictional vampires like Dracula or Lestat, there is nothing glamorous or romantic about these vampires. Our kind of vampire is indeed a corpse. In most cases – according to the descriptions – it is reasonably well preserved, considering the fact that it has been dead for some time. “

  6. Mark
    July 10, 2015 at 12:51 AM

    I used run in vampire/otherkin circles when I had more pagan leanings. While I personally didn’t believe I was a vampire, I believed those that said they were. I eventually came to the opinion that it all was just a bunch of silly delusional nonsense, believed in part to be more liked by the group and to just feel more interesting as a self-esteem booster.

  7. July 10, 2015 at 9:17 PM

    Firstly, I’m very glad this story is being scrutinised! It has been appearing *everywhere*. You asked: “What is the historical depth of this concept of real vampires?” There is no established evidence for their “existence” beyond the 1960s.

    Stephen Kaplan (1940-1995) was a pioneering vampirologist who studied people who identified as vampires, but his study was based on extrapolating aspects from folklore and trying to “scientise” them, then conducted polls based on his “findings.”

    A cultural history of the “Vampire Community” has been written by one of the more reliable sources within it, but even that shows the community doesn’t really go beyond the 1960s, either. See: https://savampyrenews.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/sang-castles-fangtasies-and-other-tales-by-octarine-valur/

    There is a massive push to impose acceptance of self-identified vampires as just your regular Joes, which is fine, except their claims have not been authenticated through medical science, genetics or psychology beyond early attempts like the “clinical vampirism” tag that didn’t even warrant inclusion in the DSMV.

    What we’re seeing is most likely a variety of ostentation, possibly masking undiagnosed conditions (e.g. pica, sun allergies, etc.) with people seeking answers…and running headlong into a burgeoning New Age/cultural movement that convinces them they’re vampires. The community angles gives them a safe outlet.

    There have even been attempts at “cultural appropriation” by suggesting that self-identified vampires need to take back and reclaim the “vampires” for themselves…even though vampires have been established in Slavic folklore, for hundreds of years, as undead bloodsuckers. “Real vampire” is therefore an oxymoron.

  8. Winged Wolf
    July 10, 2015 at 9:33 PM

    “While “lifestyle” vampires are interested in role playing and spirituality of vampirism, it’s unclear that there is such a difference between those who dress like vampires and those who adopt feeding behaviors.”

    The difference is that folks who feel they are real vampires do not usually dress up like movie vampires. They look no different from anyone else. They actively seek to be unobtrusive, and typically fear being outed.

    As to social workers who have decided that ‘psychics do not exist’ – you are the problem. Reconsider a profession where you need to treat people who do not share your faith with respect.

  9. gmay70
    July 11, 2015 at 12:49 AM

    If you feel that taking a non-judgmental/non-pathologizing stance is called for in this situation, then there’s little wonder your entire field is not taken seriously. Judgment is a critical life skill for all human beings and should be highly developed and focused among experts in any given specialty. Quite obviously these “vampires” suffer from paranoid delusions and are in need of serious treatment. Set aside the very real possibility of this leading to serious bodily harm to other people who are not medically qualified or mentally competent to perform or consent to body mutilation. If these delusions are enabled by so-called professionals who are eschewing not only judgment, but also objective reality, then we have a much larger problem than a few people who think they’re vampires.

  10. Mauro Toffanin
    July 11, 2015 at 12:52 PM

    The study in no way supplies evidence for why someone would physically need to eat blood or feed on nonexistent psychic energy.

    The long time postulate, that linked vampirism to the skin disease called acute intermittent porphyria (AIP), has since been discredited. For the curious minds, there is an excellent Scientific American’s article on the subject: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/born-to-the-purple-the-st/

    Apart porphyria, there aren’t human diseases that can justify the ingestion of raw blood to solve an health problem. Of course, except in the case of severe blood loss, or anemia. The former is a complete non-sense, instead the latter could be a plausible explanation if the subject is affected by some sort of delusional psychological disorder too. However, ingesting raw blood to counter the side effects of anemia is not so effective compared to eating cooked (red) meat. On top of that, feeding raw blood is not quite safe. Actually, it can be quite unhealthy, especially raw blood from animals; that is why I’m skeptic about the subjects’ declaration of “drinking raw blood to boost their physical health and well-being”. The unknown long-term affects are far too risky to justify such acts. Unless you walk in the psychological domain, of course.

    I’m not going to comment on the “feeding on psychic or pranic energy, and pranic energy is believed to be strongly connected to nature, generally, and often breathing, […]” part. That is just plain Breatharianism; a gullible new age idea, which has nothing to do with vampire culture, so I fail to understand the connection between those two worlds.

    “Were the authors seeking media attention with this piece? […] What, if anything, does this tell us about society? It’s not clear to me.

    IMHO, yes, D. J. Williams and Emily E. Prior were seeking media attention by exploiting the gullibility of new age people that have jumped on the I am a real vampire bandwagon. But I admit my bias as a skeptic, and maybe they are in good faith. Especially considering that both the authors have also published two other similar studies on alternative identities and practices (but with BDSM as main topic instead of vampire). There is a study on vampires and BSDM too: http://www.academia.edu/11532033/Social_Work_BDSM_and_Vampires_Toward_Empowering_People_with_Non-Traditional_Identities

    Yet, the lecture of the study was quite compelling despite the questionable non-representative sample. Even the paper about BDSM and vampires was quite interesting. Well, I learn something new every day, and today wasn’t an exception.

    Thanks for sharing this study, Sharon!

  11. Mauro Toffanin
    July 11, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    Apart porphyria, there aren’t human diseases that can justify the ingestion of raw blood to solve an health problem.

    Err… I ment “blood transfusion” instead of “ingestion of raw blood”. Sorry for the confusion 😛

  12. gmay70
    July 11, 2015 at 1:30 PM

    >>>As to social workers who have decided that ‘psychics do not exist’ – you are the problem. Reconsider a profession where you need to treat people who do not share your faith with respect.

    Refusal to accept the claims of a so-called “psychic” is actually a rejection of faith. Rejecting a psychic’s claims is no more disrespectful than refusing to believe a person’s claim to be Santa Claus. None of these are problematic in the slightest.

    What is problematic are people who prey upon the emotions of others for personal gain, or who enable clearly delusional people by accepting their distorted views of objective reality.

  13. Nucular
    July 11, 2015 at 3:38 PM

    Gmay70, you’re mixing up ‘exercising judgement’ and ‘being judgemental’. In this case, I would very much hope that a health professional working with someone who identifies as a “real vampire” would use their clinical judgement and know that it would be deeply inappropriate to be ‘judgemental’ towards their client. Those of us who work in the field of mental health and related areas (I’m a Clinical Psychologist btw, if that matters) are hopefully well aware that our role is to help those in psychological distress – not to be the ‘Thought Police’, nor to inflict our own world views upon others.

    Challenging unhelpful beliefs is a staple of modern psychological therapy; challenging ‘wrong’ beliefs is something else entirely. Good for a hobby I suspect you and I share (arguing with people who hold different beliefs than we do), but as a treatment for mental health problems, worse than useless.

    I would also suggest that your post underlines the importance of a non-pathologising stance better than I could have. You said: “Quite obviously these ‘vampires’ suffer from paranoid delusions and are in need of serious treatment.” What treatment, gmay70? Treatment for what?

  14. gmay70
    July 15, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    Nucular, I’m not inclined to engage in semantic games with you. We’re talking about people with serious psychological problems and a poorly-conducted, science-y “study”. You can quibble with the methodology on how to proceed (which was definitely not what I was addressing), or you can recognize that these people require professional help, and not enabling of their illness.

    If you actually do require an answer to the questions at the end of your comment, I lack the time, space, and – more importantly – the desire break that down for you.

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