The Symbolism of the Vampire

Symbolism of the Vampire

There is a quote by Ivan Phillips from his 2013 article, saying the figure of the vampire has

…drifted and shifted through the pages of newspapers, travel journals, novels, poems, comics and plays for 300 years.

Yet we have seen that the vampire, or something like it, has haunted European fears for far longer than that. We saw a tale from Germany of mortals being visited as far back as 745 AD and archaeological evidence from England and Ireland going back to the 8th Century.

It seems to me that there could be two explanations for this pervasive fascination and fear of the vampire. The first is that they are real.  And if they are real they are not the hunky sparkly type that teenage girls and some older ladies long to kiss, but awful demonic things that stink of corruption.

Or, they represent some kind of archetype.  I have discussed elsewhere that I’m a convert to the idea of Jungian archetypes.  In a nutshell, these are recurrent motifs and symbols, and in fact behaviours motivated by these symbols, that arise out of instincts coded deep in our DNA.  For example birds builds nests and a baby roots for the nipple, and myself  as a little boy, I was fascinated by the women in my mother’s underwear catalogue without knowing why.  So vampires, a fear of the bloodsucking dead, may represent some kind of archetypical image.

If we look at the symbolism of the vampire, we see that it represents whatever idea the writer of that particular article is predisposed to give it. If he’s a Marxist, then the vampire is a symbol of voracious capitalism, if she’s a teacher of Women’s Studies, it may represent the young girl’s fear  and fascination of the sexuality of the male, if a Freudian, then sex or cigars.

The Hunger

Who ever heard of a fat vampire? I think there is a comic novel about one.  But vampires are generally thin, often skeletal – think of Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu, and we have seen elsewhere that they chew in their graves, chew their shrouds, chew their beards, chew their own flesh and eventually chew their way on out to go and feed from the living.  I think we can say therefore that vampires are pretty hungry.

 Vampire Sex

I think hunger trips over relatively easy into sexual desire, which is also a kind of hunger.  So we see vampires transitioning from dirty dead things to elegant gentlemen in dinner suits, such as Bela Lugosi, to sexy dandies such as Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire, into thoroughly modern moody teenage hunks in the Twilight saga.  We know what hunger those guys are suffering , and we know what fruits you girls intend to give them.

It’s still about corporeal desire.  But of course voracious hunger and gluttony and unbridled sexual desire are things we shun in polite society. We don’t want to see either of these things going on when we go out for a meal.  Yuk.

The vampire’s bite on the jugular is a love bite.

Blood was thought to be the essence of life. After all, when someone bled out, he died.  So, vampires are hungry for life.  Eating food is also hunger for life and eating most food ends another life. I say to my vegetarian daughters that even when they eat plants, they are ending the plants’ life.

Being a vampire represents a hunger for life, but in some way the vampire’s burning hunger can never be quenched.  Ann Rice’s books often talk about the vampire’s hunger and the need to go and get more blood as strong as if he needed crystal meth.

Without wishing to profane the sacrament, we note that in Christianity, the central act is to drink the Saviour’s blood and thus be given eternal life.  I think this is a replaying of the same archetype that we see in the vampire myth in darker form.  In Dracula,  Dracula makes Mina drink his blood saying that she shall become flesh of flesh and blood of his blood.  Again, some echo of the Eucharist perhaps

Other Symbols Related to the Vampire

There are lots of other interesting features that have grown up about vampires. We saw from the archaeology that attempts were made to reduce their mobility. They had bricks stuffed in their mouths to stop them chewing their way out of the coffin.  In some German folklore they had scarfs tied around their mouths for the same reason. They had metal spikes thrust through them and sickles and staples holding them to the ground. They had their legs broken and were bound with rope.

Heads were frequently chopped off and put elsewhere, either between their legs, or removed from the rest of the cadaver.  I guess this is simply so they couldn’t see and find their way around!

They were buried upside down to fool them into going down into the ground instead of coming up into the world.  Related to this is the messing around with their leg bones, putting right in place of left et cetera.  Though this would have the practical effect of hindering their movement, there is also the idea of reversal and doing things backwards, which is also associated with evil.

Vampires cast no reflection. Is this because they are not real, or because they are already reflections of us? You will be familiar with the psychoanalytical concept of projection. Sins, guilt and other despicable things we do make us feel too bad to own them ourselves, so we project them out onto the other guy and say it’s him that is evil.  For example, the tendency to blame foreigners and other groups for all our woes, is a projection.  It is related to the Jungian archetype called the Shadow. This dark figure represents all the wickedness we cannot bear to admit to. The Shadow pops up in our dreams and literature and I guess he’d be the one responsible for all that sex and gluttony.

The idea that they cannot enter without being invited in, is another strange idea. As we know from the films, we peasants can deck our homes with crucifixes (a four armed symbol of completeness according to Jung) and garlic (a preservative against corruption) and the darned critters can’t get in.  But there is something about the protective power of hospitality maybe? Hospitality was a sacred duty to our ancestors, and the rules of hospitality were very strong. For example, you couldn’t kill your sworn enemy if he was your guest.  Of course, once you invite Dracula in, he can do what he wants to you, so maybe it isn’t as simple as the sacredness of hospitality.

Maybe it’s something about being tricked by the monster as Eve was by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. His weasel words and honey tongue (forked as it is) are the very can opener of deceit.  There is a deep distrust in our society of those who polish their words.   Hence this rough draft 😉

My Final Thought.

I noted above that the central motif of the vampire story is a hunger for life.  In a previous post, I compared this with the Buddhist idea that the tragedy of human life is caused by desire.  The craving for individual life creates our hungry ghost.  As long as we crave life we are cursed to dwell in the night. When we give up desire, we can enter into the light.





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