Vampires, Pagans & S/M: Power

In the introduction to this feature in the launch issue of Bloodstone, I explained that I felt that these three seemingly discrete areas were linked by the concept of power: power over a lower species; personal magickal power; and consensual power over another person. From the responses I received to my questionnaire, it seemed that I was not alone in thinking this. Many of my respondents quoted power as being a definite factor in their interest in each of the three categories. In this article, the quotes taken directly from my respondents are not set apart from the body of the text: in most cases the informants did not wish to be formally recognised or associated with their views. It is regrettable that laws and social prejudices still force most of us into hiding just to protect our jobs and our families.

Let us start by looking at the power of the vampire. Vampires, as drawn from literature and folklore, seem to be all powerful, the ultimate predator. They terrify and brutalise their victims, draining them of blood, and causing their deaths. As an enhanced human – immortal, invulnerable, faster and stronger than those who try to combat them – they are superlative hunters, and the embodiment of power. But wait... Although their victims can do little to defend themselves against the attacks of these vampires, what is the motivation for the attacks in the first place? The literary/folkloric vampire is driven to attack humans for their blood, to satiate the thirst which compels him to rise from his grave every night. He needs the blood – needs it to survive. Without his victims, the vampire is quite literally nothing; without the energy and lifeforce which is within the blood, the vampire ceases to function or exist. Surely this makes the vampire weak, not strong. It might be truer to say that the classical vampire is the ultimate contradiction, caught on the edge of the ultimate dichotomy we all face: should we be killers or victims?

Perhaps it is impossible to be purely one or the other; perhaps we all – even the vampire – must be both. Whilst almost all of my informants saw the vampire as the ultimate dominator, perhaps the truth of the matter is somewhat more complex. Of course, traditional vampires are only part of the problem. In today's rational, believe in nothing, level-headed society, most people – even many vampire fans – scoff at the idea of real vampires. However, they are all too keen to accept the concept of psychic or sexual vampires. In a world already drained by too much religion, politics, war, terrorism, plague, natural catastrophes and all round misery, is it any wonder that people can believe there are psychic vampires out there, intent on robbing us of our energy and our will? The other advantage of being a psychic vampire – presumably – is that the need for blood has become transformed into a desire for energy, thereby making for a less vulnerable state of existence. Psychic vampires, in terms of the ones I have encountered or heard stories of, are all too mortal, but the psychological and emotional responses they can evince from their victims often seem profoundly supernatural. And though the crucifix and the stake through the heart – though I challenge anyone to survive that! – will not work, the psychic vampire is presumably unable to take energy from a strong-minded, strong-willed individual. We do not all have to be victims, we have the choice to stand up to this particular form of vampirism.

Pagan power is very much an individual concept, as indeed is the religiosity of most Pagans. Paganism is a very broad term which describes a very individualised form of spirituality, a personal response to the esoteric and exoteric divine: through magick and respect of the natural world. As Pagans look without dogma at the world around them, striving to analyse their individual role within the wider framework of the universe and time, they are necessarily aware of the power inherent in themselves and that to be found in the outside world. Paganism encourages self-awareness and self-exploration, and it seeks acceptance in harmony with the forces of the natural world. It is a very free way to live, where prejudice and rules don't enter into the equation. Because there is no book of truths as there is with all other faiths, each believer is able to interpret the divine and the natural as they choose to, in a way which is relevant to them. This is surely the ultimate expression of personal power. The responsibility for all that you do as a Pagan lies in your hands, and the consequences of your actions are bound up in your decisions at all times. You cannot just shrug and say 'The Devil made me do it' or 'It is God's will'.

Most, though by no means all, Pagans also practice magick to some level. Magick too is a supreme symbol of personal power, whether we speak in terms of 'raising the cone of power' in witchcraft or tapping into the natural energy of the world around us. Pagan sacred sites are almost always out of doors, in special forests, stone circles, places of great natural beauty and power. The old practice of performing witchcraft naked (which makes for such routinely spectacular exposés in the sleaze press) is referred to as 'skyclad'. But the key thing to remember is that whatever form the magick takes – high ritual with robes, candles, incense and altars, or the simple act of meditating in a forest or kissing a monolith – it is symbolic of the continuance of power in both the individual Pagan's world, and in the cosmos without.

And so to S/M culture. Even to the uninitiated, this scene's obsession with power is plainly self-evident. The very name of S/M reveals the balance of power which drives the scene and its practitioners along: two sides of experiential pleasure and pain, sadism and masochism. Of the three areas under discussion, this is the most strictly regulated and organised, and no-one acting responsibly within this scene would have it any other way. Whereas vampires and Pagans do largely whatever they want to do, fetishists must abide by certain generic rules in order to maintain the equilibrium of power.

There are Master/Mistresses and there are slaves. As with the vampire and his victims, one cannot survive without the other. How can you be a slave with no Master? And how do you propose to be a Master if you have no-one to exert your control over? It is this balance of power which sustains the scene. It is also the respect for others which guides us onto the proper path. Whilst to outsiders (and those who believe the arrant nonsense splashed across the tabloids!) the scene is all about domination and control, it is in fact never about total domination to the exclusion of desire and freewill. There is complete self-expression in S/M culture: one can be whatever one wants to be, and you choose not only the role of Master but also that of slave. There is no demeaning quality in being a slave – after all, you are an essential part of what makes the Master powerful. On the most basic level, fetishistic acts are about the mutual giving and receiving of power – a vampiric exchange where nobody gets hurt, and everybody gets exactly what they want. The minute the element of consent is taken away it stops being true S/M and becomes mere sexual violence, which is abhorrent and unacceptable to all. S/M represents an energy exchange through sexuality, which becomes to some also a psychic experience of unity and sharing. The intimacy of the interpersonal bond reinforces the roles taken by each practitioner and promotes harmony and positive emotional responses – the very things which Pagans seek in their approach to the natural divinity of the Earth.

Of course there is a darker side to S/M, which is the reason why it so often comes under attack by those who do not understand it. If you are to take sexuality to extremes, and put no boundaries save the simple word 'no' on sensual experience, then there may well come a time when blood-letting, perhaps even blood drinking, will come into the story. One informant declared that the ultimate fetish is to kill or be killed by your partner for pure pleasure. Whilst this is an extreme which most fetishists would decry, it is undoubtedly a part of the attraction (if not the practice!) for some. There is a degree of pain in all S/M encounters, but it is a pain which is chosen by all involved. Blood fetishists desire blood, whether because they believe it will instil greater power in them, or whether it is simply an act of symbolic body exploration, a desire to externalise what lies within. These ritualistic acts may be the very reason that S/M sex appeals to many Pagans, and the would-be vampires get to try out their tastes for blood-letting in a safe arena where there are no real victims, and you aren't called upon to actually kill anybody.

It is unfortunately this darker side to S/M culture which most uninitiates pick up on, creating some crazed idea of sleazy, deranged perverts and trainee psychopaths which could not be further from the truth. Regrettably this is another link between all three areas of this study. Paganism has for centuries fought a battle against those who would relegate it to the position of Satanism and Devil worship, when the reality is that although it has its darker side (the festivals of the dead, Hallowe'en etc) these are balanced by the more joyous festivals which are also a vital part of this belief system. Again, as with S/M culture, only one part of the scene is noticed – the part which can be trivialised and given the tabloid treatment. The hate campaign which exists in the 'normal' world – just remind me again, is that the one which perpetuates wars and global genocide?! – also occasionally targets fans of vampiredom. How many well-balanced articles in newspapers and programmes on TV have there been compared to the exposés and trash campaigns which are far more popular with the 'normal' readership/viewers? Once again, only one side of the story is being seen. An event for 1000 goths and vampire fans which occurred in Whitby last year was written up as an exposé in a well-known British tabloid as '10,000 Blood Sucking Freaks and Paedophiles Invade Seaside Village!' (I paraphrase the headline for the point of satire, but you get the drift.)

Perhaps the true power to be gained from either of these three areas is the power to stand up for oneself, whatever one's beliefs, and stand fast against the misconceptions of those who don't know what they're talking about. Personal power is something which we are largely forbidden to express, and it is to these relative subcultures that we must belong if we want to demonstrate our individuality in terms of behaviour, belief or sexuality. This marginalizing of individual power has done, and continues to do, a lot of damage, and the allure of all these forms of expression must lie at least in part in the hope of a redemption from ordinary reality. Through Paganism, the universe becomes something to be in harmony with, no matter what happens, and there is the power of magick to be tapped into when you want to take a more dominant role in events; through S/M or fetishistic sexual experience the senses can be awakened and expanded in a way which enhances and focuses personal and interpersonal power; and in vampires and vampirism lies the ultimate redemptive aspiration – the ability to live forever. Now who said the darker side of life was trivial?

see also on this site: Intro Part 2 Part 3 Freda Warrington

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