Vampires, Pagans & S/M: Sex

In the first part of this article I looked at the similarities between the use and abuse of power in the realms of the vampire, Paganism and S/M culture. A pattern was established whereby the links were self-evident.

The most basic interpretation of the results is to say that all three groups use power but it is only really the vampire that could be seen as abusing it as well. Though that of course depends on whether you’re a 'fluffy' Pagan casting disparaging eyes on those who use the full force of dark magick as well as light magick! But in Paganism, as in S/M culture, there is generally a strong sense of balance, of equilibrium. What can light magick mean without an understanding of, and respect for, the darker side? What is a Master without his slave? All these relationships require power play, which need not always be a conflict of wills. More often than not it is this tension which creates the best magick, or the best bond between Master and servant.

And therein lies the essence of this second part of the article. Sex is, on virtually all levels of existence, about power play. The male and the female are diametric opposites drawn together by an attraction which in many non-sexual environments simply does not exist. Most of us have at one time or another experienced lust or desire for someone we don't actually like as a person: it's the underlying reason why women fall for the 'bad guy'. And what more terrifying 'bad guy' exists than the vampire? In countless films the vampire has been portrayed as a sexual aggressor, his seduction being a means to an end just as it is with mortal men, except that the vampire's prime focus is blood not orgasm. But then look at the whole culture of female virginity – something so prized by men that they developed a religion utterly obsessed with it. What is this about if not blood? The barbaric custom of hanging the sheets of a newly married woman out for the world to see the spot of blood that marked her transition to womanhood – and by definition her virginity before that night – was a staple part of most of mediaeval society, from the highest echelons of ruling power right down to the peasantry. This custom is said to still survive today in certain areas of the world. And sex, spoken of in terms of ruptured hymens and submission on the part of the female, clearly relates to the S/M ethic of controller and controlled. Take the analogy one step further, and we could interpret the sex act of penetration as just another variant of the impaling of a vampire which is so familiar an image to us all today. Look at the fuss caused about female vampires being staked in films of the 'liberated' 60s: why would anyone have cared what this looked like if it didn't have a dangerous sexual undertone? And wasn't it just this dark sexuality that appealed to the cinema-goers in their millions?

All this points to a very clear link between sex and blood, providing an obvious metaphor for the vampire as sexual figurehead which is thoroughly exploited in all vampire films through the bite, the orgasmic cries of the vampire as s/he is impaled on a stake, and the hypnotic allure of the vampire which makes their mortal victim offer themselves up, even when they know what they are and what they want. This grand seduction is a staple part of vampire fare, and it is one of the most powerful sexual images there can be. Freud made reference to vampires in his work on sexual fantasy and desire; Jung saw the vampire as one of the great archetypal figures which rule our dreams. Blood is life, but it also means sex, and sex on one level at least means life – it is all interlinked around this central theme.

S/M culture is predominantly a sexual culture. The clothing and appearance of those who are part of the genre do tend towards the sexually significant, whether that be in terms of provocative and revealing clothing made of slinky fabrics like rubber which cling to the skin, or power dressing in uniforms reminiscent of control and domination. The Mistress with her whips and chains may be a popular stereotype, but it is an image which does have validity in certain areas of S/M culture. Whilst it would be unjust to state that all sado-masochistic acts are inherently sexual in nature, it is fair to say that most contain an element which is sexually motivated. It may not be everyone's idea of sex to have someone piss all over your naked body, but to some people it obviously is a turn-on. Sexuality can be expressed in any way in S/M culture, holding true to the link which we found before with the Pagan ethic of 'Do what you will, if it harm none'. If people want to be pissed on, then let them get on with it. It harms no-one else. If people want to be whipped and hung upside down from a cross then who really cares? So long as nobody is being forced into it, it shouldn't be a problem for anyone. S/M culture does in fact have very strict rules regarding the etiquette of joining a 'scene' in a club, whereby the permission of all involved – even the slaves – must be sought before involving an additional element. This is clearly the S/M equivalent of the Pagan ethic.

This leads us neatly into an evaluation of where ritual becomes sexual. Much is made in the sleaze press of ritual nudity, without any substantiating information as to what this signifies for the practitioners. Although some early Wiccans like Gerald Gardner, and even the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley, used sexual magick at the heart of their deepest occult mysteries – the Great Rite involving sexual union between High Priest and High Priestess – for most modern practitioners it is usually not at all about sexuality in terms of the other members of the coven or circle; it is more usually a symbolic gesture of approaching the divine as an innocent, open receptacle, a pure channel for celestial or animistic power. Ritual nudity is often referred to by practitioners as being 'skyclad', and is a state of naturalness, and oneness with Nature. The sleazy implications dragged into it by those who do not understand it are familiar to anyone into vampires (Do you drink blood? Do you sleep in coffins?) or S/M acts (Do you draw blood? Do you like pain?) If done properly, it shouldn't matter whether ritual is performed skyclad or not – it is just another way of dressing apart from the normal world. Some circles do it, some don't. Again, it's all a matter of choice and freewill. There's no pressure to do things by the book – there is no book to follow – and if anyone in the circle does apply pressure for members to do things they don't want to do then it smacks of abusive religiomania and not true Paganism!

Although Paganism is a pacifistic religion or belief system, it is interesting that most of my respondents thought of Pagans as dominant rather than submissive. Most religions can be seen as submissive in that they are bound by traditions and rules which promise pain and torture, even damnation, if you do not toe the party line. Paganism has a stronger freedom of expression – there is no real idea of a right and wrong way to behave as codified in a bible, as right and wrong are natural concepts which we understand intrinsically. Vampires similarly are seen as dominant, though as pointed out in the first part of this feature they are also submissive to a degree, as they are dependent on their food source for their survival. Inherent predators, they are primarily dominant however, and this is the opinion of those who know and those who only view from outside the crypt!

The key sexual link which all three possess is in the idea of taboo. Some respondents report that their S/M activities are something they keep well hidden from family and 'normal' friends; likewise with many Pagans they feel it is something which non-Pagans would find disturbing or offensive. As regards vampires, this is usually seen as a joke and laughed off. In some extreme cases all three fields of interest do come under fierce attack from fundamentalists who believe that anything which deviates from the monotonous path of 'normality' is evil and corrupt and that therefore followers (who they frequently see as brainwashed, and redeemable) should be lambasted in the press, hounded from their jobs, home etc, have their children taken from them, and generally abused and insulted everywhere they go. This has happened with Pagans all too often, and it is also sadly a phenomenon which is growing in the S/M world as it leaves the underground and becomes more mainstream. The vampire is largely excluded because it has such a strong literary, therefore non-real and less threatening, persona – we are relatively safe from attack because what we believe in can be scoffed at and ridiculed. The typical ignorant rubbish about blood-drinking cults and sex in coffins is usually as bad as it gets for most of us!

The sad fact is that sex itself is taboo in some minds still, so it naturally follows that any 'perverted' opinion or practice – like S/M, bondage, sexual magick, ritual nudity, blood-letting, blood-drinking etc – is doubly taboo. Most informants confessed that there was at least one part of their three interests they felt compelled to hide. Whilst all three remained a subculture of the 'norm' this was a fairly easy thing to do, but is there a price to pay for pushing these interests into the mainstream? As Paganism becomes the fastest growing faith in the UK, as witchcraft shakes off its old associations with demonology, as S/M leaves the fetish clubs and moves into the high street, as vampirophiles become every more outrageous and decadent in their search for self-expression, is it not inevitable that we will suffer for our beliefs even more than before? For most of my informants, the idea of going openly public with their views is the final taboo. This is not to suggest that they are ashamed or afraid of what they believe in – dominance prevails in all our fields of interest, as we have sufficiently proven – but we are still so obsessed with society's image of us as freaks and weirdos that for many of us the shadows are still preferable to the spotlight.

Sexuality pervades the realm of the vampire perhaps most obviously of all. S/M sexuality is something which is not for everyone. Paganism only calls those who are ready for it, and need not involve a sexual element at all. But vampirism is the ultimate expression of sex through blood. While human beings struggle to get to grips with their own mortality, vampires are free to enjoy and experience everything that the darkness has to offer. And although traditionally seen by literature as sterile, sexless, even genderless beings, the new breed of vampires are baring their fangs to a whole new world of experimentation, that of sexual vampirism. For some of us, that change has been eagerly awaited for centuries...

see also on this site: Intro Part 1 Part 3 Freda Warrington

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