Today’s vampires don’t fly, levitate or burst into flames in sunlight. They are not immortal nor are they minions of Satan. But they do drink blood.
My escort, Dnash, curled his lips back exposing multiple fangs, and a man moved aside to allow us entry into a large warehouse. A beautiful drag queen sporting cat-eye contacts perched in an antechamber; she detained us for a few preliminary questions and then made us sign something.
Moving into the main room, my attention jerked to the cage in front of me where a young male vampire was tied up and being whipped by a preppy-looking girl. Several older dominatrixes watched, occasionally shifting in their leather corsets and pawing at the concrete floor with their spiked heels. One eyed me as if I had just slipped down the food chain and landed in the ranks of prey.
Velvet-clad guests milled around with capes floating out behind them, looking affectedly bored and aloof. Occasionally, they would smile to show off the craftsmanship of their fangs and let it be known which fang-maker they were aligned with — each has a trademark design. A few males wore rubber suits with chain harnesses binding their chests, complete with metal leash attachments; their masters walked in front of them, leashes in hand. One guest had horns and leather armor studded with metal spikes. All of the guests were very polite and well-behaved, except for one middle-aged man in pedestrian attire — no fangs. His glazed stare gave me the impression that he was fantasizing about chopping me up into pieces.
The occasion was a vampire fetish ball in Manhattan’s notorious S & M club, the Vault. The event was a splendid game of dress-up, of courtly intrigue, a way to see and be seen. The scene was all about sex and adventure, but it wasn’t about real vampires. For some of the guests, the ball was a live action extension of Vampire: The Masquerade, the latest trend in role-playing games. It had that interactive, theatrical feel that depends entirely upon the guests’ simultaneous suspension of disbelief. But according to Dnash (pronounced “nash”), there were only two “real” vampires in attendance; he briefly told me what he knew of them.
Both are female and belong to the Clan of Lilith — more on that later. One of them goes by the pseudonym “Cub.” An attractively statuesque, middle-aged, African-American woman named Vi (rhymes with eye) sired her — in other words: made her a vampire. Vi has recently written a book, Dhampir: Child of the Blood (Mystic Rose Books) about Cub’s creation. Cub is a middle-aged blond, and very intense-looking. We did not actually speak at the ball, but only exchanged a few glances and a forced smile — I don’t think she trusted my journalistic intent. The other woman’s name is Trish; she’s a respected dominatrix and is around the same age as Cub. She recently converted to the Clan of Lilith, and that was all Dnash really knew of her.
Fangs Make The Vampire
Dnash is a fang-maker and also the character whose notoriety in the local vampire scene got this whole story started. He does not claim to be a vampire, but he makes fangs for people who want to pretend to be vampires — and for those who want to take it a step further. There is a sizable subculture of people in the United States — though certainly not limited to this country — who are involved in The Masquerade and indulge their imaginations by dressing and playing the part. Some of these people believe they are vampires, and some just like to pretend. Bands like Type O Negative attract a following of these so-called vampires. “People get kind of sick of their lives. They need some way to escape it, so they put on the black lipstick, dye their hair and pretend they’re immortal for a night,” Type O’s guitarist, Kenny Hickey, offered by way of explanation during a recent interview.
Vampirism is also very sexy, particularly for those who enjoy the fine line between pleasure and pain. I asked Type O frontman Pete Steele whether his rumored blood fetish was real. Smirking down at me he said, “Well, if a particular female wanted to be bitten, I would certainly oblige her.” Not sure of his meaning, I covered my neck and ran for daylight. One couple who went to Dnash claimed that the fangs he made saved their marriage.
In contrast to this subculture based on make-believe, Dnash insists that the real thing does exist. Clear all Hollywood vampire lore from your head so as not to misinterpret the word “vampire” as it is used here. In it’s barest form, vampire means blood-drinker. The “real” vampires in this story drink human blood, which is certainly within the realm of possibility. However, there are other physiological attributes these vampires claim to possess, and analyzing those qualities opens a troublesome gray area.
The “real” vampires Dnash described to me don’t fly, levitate, vaporize in sunlight, melt from holy water, or run screaming from garlic wreaths. They are not immortal nor are they minions of Satan.
However, there is often a particle of truth in every myth. These vampires claim to oftentimes have better muscle control and agility than the average human and the ability to control their body’s release of adrenaline, thereby giving themselves increased strength. Most claim to experience sensitivity to sunlight, particularly after consuming blood. Though not immortal, an extended life span is expected. One of the vampires I spoke with, Tsarvek (pronounced saar-vek), expects to live at least a century. He also says that the aging process has slowed in him; Tsarvek is in his late 40s but is said to look about 20 years younger. Tsarvek lives in Seattle, so I didn’t have the opportunity to verify this first-hand, but Dnash, who is Tsarvek’s fang-making protégé, supports the claim.
The vampire aversion to garlic apparently fits most closely with lore. According to Tsarvek, the taste and smell of garlic in the blood and its aura on the skin is something akin to rotting meat or soured milk for the vampire’s palate.
So if not in Italian restaurants, where are these vampires and how many of them supposedly exist? It’s certainly not the kind of information found in a Reader’s Digest Poll. Dnash knows of none in the immediate area, but Cub does live in Connecticut. Vi moves around a lot but is currently based in Pennsylvania. Tsarvek told me that in the 15 years he’s lived in Seattle, he’s only met three real vampires. However, he estimates that one in every 10 people is capable of becoming a vampire. Many more people are involved in vampirism as vessels — the humans who provide blood for a vampire — and there are people who drink blood but don’t have the other characteristics that are supposedly attributed to vampires like Vi and Tsarvek. This form of vampire subculture is global, like The Masquerade type.
It’s unclear to me how this inner circle of vampires claims to recognize one of their own. Tsarvek and Dnash say that it’s just an inexplicable knowledge. Seeing Dnash’s fang creations, I do understand how the lay person could mistake one of his clients for a vampire. When I first met Dnash, he looked like a musician (which he is); he has long blond hair, a goatee and sideburns, vinyl pants, and three-inch-heeled boots. He’s pale and has that slightly emaciated look that comes from consistent dining on coffee and cigarettes. But then he smiled at me, and I visibly flinched. Dnash has three sets of fangs — upper canine, a shorter set on the bicuspid and lower canine. It’s just fucking scary at first.
Dnash’s fangs are shockingly real; he can eat (though with most sets, you can’t), smoke, drink and talk as if it were perfectly normal to have six very sharp points in one’s mouth. Dnash designed his three sets based on the mechanics of the human jaw. Biting solely with upper canines makes it difficult to hold the prey steady, Dnash explains, and it requires that you pull your lower jaw way back. With three sets, the lower fangs stabilize the prey while the uppers puncture the flesh. The second set of uppers on the bicuspids also help to stabilize the prey and provide additional punctures, which allows blood to flow more easily, he adds. This is for the fun of theory; Dnash does not drink blood and does not approve of his teeth being used for that purpose. (Find out more at his web site, http://www.teethbydnash.com.)
I wanted a set, and Dnash obliged my whim. The process took about 45 minutes. Using a pre-made acrylic cap, Dnash filled it with a combination of liquid acrylic and a colored powder compound matched to the shade of my teeth. Pushing that onto my canine, the cap became custom-molded to my tooth. When it hardened, he removed the cap and filed it by following the shape of my canines to create a natural and aesthetically pleasing form. He selected a subtle length and a sharpness that wouldn’t do too much damage to my lips and tongue if I bit myself getting used to them.
Since I now had the requisite fangs, Dnash suggested that we attend the Vampire Ball. In the days preceding the ball, he explained what he had learned of the vampire subculture so I could appreciate what I would be seeing.
Lilith And Her Clan
Most of Dnash’s personal experience with vampirism, excluding Tsarvek and fang-making, has been with Vi and her clan, the Clan of Lilith. The Clan of Lilith has sects all over the world, and Dnash estimates that they number several hundred. Lilith was the first wife of Adam, and though she has been excluded from the Christian Bible, her story can be found in the unedited versions of the Judaic Old Testament. The Clan of Lilith traces its lineage back to Lilith, just as the Caineites claim Cain as their primogenitor. However, vampire lore is not solely Judeo-Christian; nearly every civilization has a tradition of blood-drinkers. [read more about Lilith here]
The Masquerade uses a version of the Lilith legend, The Book of Nod, as a reference for the game’s clan of Caineites. This book and all information in The Masquerade is considered to be fictitious — even by its creator, White Wolf. However, The Masquerade imitates what is understood to be actual history by some elements of the vampire subculture. According to Dnash, the 13 tribes of Cain roughly imitate the 13 actual vampire clans. Because his focus has been on the Clan of Lilith, Dnash could tell me little about the other clans, except that many don’t abide by a moral code and are completely antisocial with those outside of their ranks. In The Masquerade, powers allotted to players through die rolls are exaggerations of the powers that real vampires claim to have. Legends lend themselves to manipulation and melodrama, but the Clan of Lilith does embrace Lilith’s story as part of its true history.
According to Dnash, it is very important to the Clan of Lilith that each member respect humanity. As Vi explains in her book, unlike the Caineites, Lilith’s clan approaches vampirism as Lilith herself did — as a way to nurture. They have the highest respect for their vessels (the humans they drink from) and their code states that something be given back to these vessels in exchange for their gift of blood. In Dhampir: Child of the Blood, Vi writes, “The female hunts differently. We nurture. Even when we feed, we nurture. Usually only males hunt to kill and these are not the males of our clan.”
I asked Dnash why he believes that Vi is what she claims to be. Dnash related the story of Alexander, an acquaintance that Dnash had contact with shortly after Alexander was bitten by Vi. Alexander was intrigued by vampirism and all its nuances so he requested a friendly bite from Vi. The purpose was not to draw blood or do anything else but appease his curiosity. According to Dnash, however, it caused what is sometimes referred to as an awakening. It can send people who are predisposed to vampirism into a state of rogue, the state of discomfort and confusion between being born and made. Born in this context describes the point at which one becomes aware that they believe in vampires and are destined or capable of becoming one.
Alexander described to Dnash a heightened awareness of himself and his powers. He claimed to be able to control other people and situations and draw people’s attention to himself through the act of willing it. Dnash was at a bar with him one night when Alexander claimed to have his first cravings for blood. Dnash said that Alexander focused his attention on a woman at the bar, and with no other provocation, she came over to Alexander and offered to let him feed from her. Dnash believes that this wasn’t merely a very bizarre coincidence; it was done by controlling the production and release of pheromones, the scent chemistry of animals and humans. After feeding, Alexander complained of a drastically increased sensitivity to sunlight.
According to Dnash, this does not make Alexander a vampire, however. Though he was bitten and might have experienced an awakening of sorts, the process of becoming a vampire is very intentional and is, in many ways, similar to converting to any other religion or culture. Most clans have a code that prohibits them from making vampires of people who are too young or mentally incapable of making a coherent choice to do so. This ensures that entry into a clan is an active decision with complete knowledge of the consequences.
In her book, Vi explains the process of creating a vampire through her personal experience of making Cub. Vi explains that before a “dhampir” (a vampire created from the blood of another vampire) is made, he or she must go through an intense learning process about the vampire culture — the laws, the history, the powers and the dilemmas that come along with it. In her state of rogue, Cub began to drink blood, but not by hunting her own prey or using fangs (which she had not yet acquired) and was supervised closely by Vi and her kin. After about a year (the time varies from person to person) Vi decided that Cub was ready to be “made.” As Vi describes it, a vampire is made when a person feeds on the blood of his or her vampiric sire. Cub drank Vi’s blood and became Vi’s first dhampir.
Cub was then given a set of fangs. Dnash explained that they are referred to as “baby teeth” and are not particularly sharp; they serve more as a symbol of one’s entry into a clan. During this phase, Vi continued to educate Cub about the ways of the clan including the intricacies of feeding — how to bite without scarring or injuring and how to make it pleasurable for both vampire and vessel. Cub was also taught how to recognize certain skin types and persons who are ill, which is important, because, according to Vi and Tsarvek, sickness is tasted in the blood and is absorbed into the vampire’s body (which doesn’t necessarily mean the vampire is “catching” the disease). Cub had an unpleasant experience when she unknowingly bit someone who had cancer.
Vi explains in her writings that because the Clan of Lilith adheres to a strict code of responsibility, it insists that dhampirs understand the ramifications of blood-drinking. According to Vi, vampires are physically and mentally bonded to the people they feed from and need to choose their food carefully. Aside from issues like AIDS (which Tsarvek thinks vampires possibly have a natural resistance to) a vampire needs a reliable food source or the risk of bloodlust occurs. Bloodlust is the overwhelming need for blood and is called The Beast when it becomes uncontrollable. As Vi explains it, this state is not only extremely unpleasant, but it can result in a desperate feeding choice and possible injury to the vampire or vessel.
The Bites of Passage
Things started to get a little weird for me around “The Beast” part of my research. Capitalized phrases referring to out-of-ordinary bodily urges always tend to make me a bit nervous. I felt an intrigued horror most of the time. It seemed a bit crazed to me that in an age when latex gloves are rushed on before dealing with a paper cut, a culture based on voluntary blood-drinking could flourish.
Vi, Dnash and Tsarvek all explained in no uncertain terms the seriousness with which feeding is undertaken. To guard against both disease and bloodlust, feeding circles are formed; they consist of about four to seven people who provide food for a particular vampire. The members usually become close friends and are bound to refrain from any activity that could potentially harm the vampire or other members of the group. According to Tsarvek, only a couple tablespoons of blood a week are necessary and sometimes not even that often. In exchange for blood, the vampire reciprocates by providing what the vessels crave. This could be esteem within a particular group through association with a powerful vampire, a part in the sensuality which Vi claims to be a birthright of her clan, simple companionship, and even eventual entry into the clan.
I couldn’t quite stomach why anyone would choose to be on the food end of the deal, but Dnash explained that within vampire subculture, it is an honor to be associated with a vampire as his or her vessel — at least in the Clan of Lilith. Because Vi and her entourage are also involved with the S & M scene, I would hazard a guess that the vampire-to-vessel relationship is an extension of a master-to-slave relationship and is appealing in the same way. Also, Vi and Tsarvek insist that being bitten is one of the most intensely pleasurable sensations a person can experience.
When Vi and other members of her clan felt that Cub had learned responsibility, her baby teeth were replaced with a set of feeder fangs. These are created by a fang-maker (as were the baby teeth) and are designed to be razor-sharp puncturing tools, although according to Tsarvek, vampires often use a lancet to draw blood from the arm or chest instead. Just as importantly, the fangs symbolize the rite of passage from dhampir to vampire, a mature member of the clan.
The Family Dentist
As the fang-makers, Dnash and Tsarvek hold places of honor within vampire culture. Called family dentists, they usually become the sole providers of fangs for a group of associated vampires. Dnash met Vi and Cub through Tsarvek, their family dentist, while he was apprenticing under Tsarvek. He makes fangs for Vi from time to time and can do so without breaking vampire etiquette because he is Tsarvek’s protégé.
Tsarvek and Dnash both had naturally long canines when they were children. Their families promptly had them filed, but they took their fangs as a sign. Tsarvek believes that vampirism could be genetic, and interestingly enough, his son has extended canines also. Elongated canines are a primitive trait, meaning they were present in our evolutionary ancestors — most recently, the great Apes. It is not impossible that this and other traits, such as well-developed night vision, have been retained by certain individuals, although I would not say that this necessarily makes them vampires, either.
Tsarvek also believes that a virus-like effect in combination with genetic predisposition could be another source of vampirism. I studied biological anthropology in college, and though I never considered the possibility that I would some day be applying its principles to vampire DNA, here is a rough theory on how Tsarvek’s concept might work: When a vampire allows a human to feed from his or her blood, that blood, which contains DNA, enters the feeder’s tissue and therefore, his or her DNA. Just as some blood types are compatible or not with others, the vampire DNA is compatible with that of humans predisposed to accept it. Viruses, in very simplified terms, fit into host DNA like a puzzle piece. If a human’s DNA has the requisite form, a vampire’s DNA will fit into the human’s and in a sense, re-program that person’s DNA. Theoretically then, they can exhibit traits or symptoms of the recombined DNA. Once again, this is theory. I don’t recommend testing its validity on the family dog or anything.
At this level, vampirism begins to sound almost sterile, not so mysterious. And perhaps that’s why we humans prefer our Hollywood and our games. But for those who aren’t just playing — who believe they are really vampires — life among the humans must be difficult. Although burning witches is passé, most of our society is still anti-anything outside of the mainstream.
Within their own culture, however, Tsarvek and Vi are respected figures and enjoy a certain mystique and the power that accompanies it. I asked them if they ever considered choosing not to be vampires. They laughed at me and asked if I had ever considered not being human.
Mother Of All Vampires
If Adam had been happy with his first wife, there wouldn’t be any vampires.
Lilith was the first wife of Adam. She was not made from him as Eve was, but was created by God as an entity unto herself.
Lilith was consumed by an indefatigable desire for knowledge. Adam was not pleased with Lilith and asked God to make him another companion. God and Lilith agreed that she and Adam would be happiest if she went out into the world. God then created Eve and she and Adam sired Cain and Abel.
Cain and Abel were sacrificing to God one day, and Cain’s offering of grain was not accepted. Realizing that he must offer something he truly loved, Cain sacrificed his brother Abel, and the offering was acceptable to God.
However, Adam was furious; he cursed Cain to wander in the darkness, saying, “Let the sun abhor you. Let the Earth not feed you from this day forward.” Cain was cast out in the land of Nod and wandered for days growing weak, but then he came upon Lilith. She tried to feed and heal Cain but food rotted in his mouth and water dried on his lips. Finally desperate, Lilith fed Cain her blood. The blood was accepted by his body, and eventually he healed. In his suffering, Cain had nurtured his resentment of God and Adam. This turned to hatred for the divine and all humankind. Against Lilith’s will, Cain went out to feed from humans whom he then killed to quell his anger. Lilith then, is the primogenitor, the source, of all vampires, and Cain is the progenitor of his lineage, the Caineites.
Copyright © 1997 New Mass Media, Inc. All rights reserved.