Sunday, October 31, 2010


“So he is a good vampire? I mean on a scale of one to ten. Ten being someone who's killing and maiming every night, one being someone who's... not.”
--Willow, about the character Angel, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 7

Here on TTV, we concern ourselves mainly with virtues as they apply to the human realm. This covers qualities honored by cultures of the far-flung past, as well as traits that apply more to groups of people than to individuals.

In our quest to understand Virtue, I think we may need to travel to even more distant countries. So, in coming weeks, we will be visiting the Virtues of Animals, of Aliens (including Martians), of Artificial Intelligences, and even of Imaginary Beings (one of which we've already visited).

In keeping with this ambitious agenda, and in honor of my favorite holiday, Halloween (known to the Catholics as All Hallow’s Eve and to the Pagans as Samhain), break out your passports and pack some extra-strength dental floss: We’re setting a course for “Vamp-irony” to explore the Virtues of... Vampires! (We will also continue discussion of the Shadow, begun last post in our visit to Passion--which, come to think of it, makes a nice segue into the subject of Vampires anyway...)

Admit it: You doubt we can learn anything about Virtue from plasma-sucking, razor-toothed Creatures of the Night who, when they think about us at all, mostly throw us in the category of “pets or meat.”1

Of course in the last few years our media have flooded us with stories about Vampires, giving us new insights into the moral diversity within this little-understood minority. Some vampire protagonists have even managed a Restraint on their bloodthirst. And that starts with the letter “R,” which via some Letterman-inspired magic can change some of those blood-sucking Fanged Fiends into... Fanged Friends. Consider Angel, the tortured, noble vamp from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series--so beautiful and good that Buffy found herself taking him instead of staking him. (Thanks, Letterman!)

Or consider undead Civil War soldier Bill Compton, who falls in love with the winsome ingenue Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’ novels, brought to life in the True Blood TV series. (Her name, for you unhappy few who are not yet fans, is pronounced “SUCK-ee.” Savor the irony.) The Kindliness and Courage of Ms. Stackhouse wins Bill’s unbeating heart, leaving him feeling in a mood more willing than killing. (Go, Letterman, go!)

Still, Bill and Angel qualify as self-admitted misfits within the mainstream of their vampire nations. Can the more routinely people-eating hordes of nosferatu tell us something about virtue? Yes! Over their centuries of existence, these immortals have established a cultural order, occasionally transcending their thirst for blood into a thirst for good, or from a state of moral blight into one of moral... light. (Eeargh! Stop me, stop me! Someone, please stop me before I strike again...)

What, you might ask, constitutes a set of admirable qualities for a vampire? Author Robert Place has an answer. Within his Vampire Tarot, in fact, he has described Seven Virtues of the Vampires, along with their constituent root virtues:

  • Cunning, Virtue of the Trickster and the Hero
  • Strength, Virtue of Heroic Self-Discipline
  • Illumination, Virtue of Integration and Magic
  • Prudence, Virtue of Wisdom and Enlightenment
  • Revitalization, Virtue of Health and Longevity
  • Temperance, Virtue of Balance, Health, and Beauty
  • Justice, Virtue of Truth and Rightfulness

Each of these virtues has inspired a votary candle from Coventry Creations. Their light is UV-free and suitable for your creepy dungeon or mouldy crypt. No more inconvenient bouts of solar-triggered spontaneous combustion!

All joking aside (well, almost all): The Vampire can indeed truly shine a light (no pun intended) on the notion of Virtue. Jungian analysts point out that vampire stories appear in virtually all human cultures. We’re familiar with the legends from Europe’s Transylvania, but what about China’s chiang shih; Malaysia’s penanggalan; the chordewa of Bengal, India; or the asiman of Benin, Africa? To the Jungians, this makes the vampire not just a nifty inspiration for monster movies, but an Archetype that can tell us about the anatomy of the human soul. As the pseudonymously-posting Alex Lucard2 explains in an essay on his surprisingly erudite gaming review site:

For Jung himself, the vampire was the representation of a psychological aspect he called, "the shadow." The Shadow is made of aspects of one's self that the conscious mind and ego were unable to recognize. The shadow was primarily negative concepts, such as repressed thoughts and desires, our anti-social impulses, morally questionable judgment, childlike fantasies, and other traits we normally feel shame for expressing or thinking.

Thus, the Vampire holds up to us a mirror in which we see all our shortcomings: Our brutishness, our lust, our isolation. By contemplating on the Vampire, we learn about ourselves. Lucard goes on to explain that the Shadow “became a mental scapegoat of sorts. It allowed humanity to project the negative aspects of ourselves onto something we could both openly revile and admire without actually acting out the desires and impulses ourselves. The vampire acts in the way humanity wishes it could, but cannot due to social restraints.”

For those interested, April Seville gives a nice exploration of the Vampire as Jungian Shadow in her review of the recently release vamp flick Let the Right One In.

Personal growth author Ken Wilber, who has made a lifelong career of studying and teaching techniques like Zen meditation, has in the past 5 years more vocally emphasized the need to also work with the Shadow. He believes meditation alone cannot get a spiritual practitioner to wholeness, and he suggests techniques for facing, and embracing, the Shadow. (The process may not seem as romantic as Bill and Sookie’s first kiss, but it’s no less compelling.)

I find it interesting, speaking of Bill and Sookie, that in Charlaine Harris’ books, human beings can acquire miraculous healing powers and vitality from drinking vampire blood. Vamp blood becomes a sort of illicit drug, and “blood-runners” snare and drain vampires in order to sell the substance on the black market, destroying the creatures in the process. In fact, the night Sookie meets Bill, she saves him from a pair of “drainers”--putting a nice reversal on the “damsel in distress” paradigm. Later, the drainers wreak revenge on Sookie, beating her to the point of certain death; Bill saves her life by letting her drink his blood. (I’ll spare you the graphically violent footage.)

So I wonder: Maybe we, too, can attain miraculous healing not by regarding our Vampire Shadow with revulsion or fascination--but rather by embracing him, and drinking him in.

May we see the gates of Vamp-irony, and perhaps make a home there.

And: Happy Halloween!

1 I thought about a link to the famous “pets or meat” scene from Roger & Me, but I’m a self-admitted squeamish wussy, so you can read about it here instead. It’s on Youtube as well.
2 “A Lucard” is “Dracula” spelled backwards.

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