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Vampires, Pagans & S/M: Death

In previous issues of Bloodstone, I have looked at the controversial cross-overs between vampires, Pagans and S/M culture in the areas of power and sex. However, there is one final taboo to break: that of death.

Death is central to the concept of the vampire, as must be immediately apparent to anyone, for in order to become a vampire you must first face your own physical death, and be reborn into the form of something other than human. The vampire awaits us in the mythology of reincarnation and immortality, a physical interpretation of the usually rather less material ghosts and spectres. The transition from mortal to immortal is the ultimate challenge for anyone to have to face, and much has been written in vampire fiction of the angst of realising what immortality truly means. The lure of becoming a vampire may be strong and seductive, but the human mind can hardly grasp the concept of living beyond your allotted time; of seeing everything around you change and remaining static and the same yourself for all of time. Armand, in Anne Rice's 'Interview with the Vampire' declares that few vampires have the stamina for immortality, and mourns the loss of past centuries before technology took over and destroyed so much of the purity and innocence of former ages. That vampires still have such appeal today surely speaks volumes for the disillusionment many people have with the technological maelstrom that is the latter 20th century. On the crux of a new millennium, is it any wonder that people long for what they perceive as the relative calm and romance of olden times, particularly as depicted in vampire fiction?

Reincarnation is a central theme of much Pagan faith too, but the key here is not a desire for physical immortality but a belief in spiritual eternity. The physical body may die and return to the Earth which gave it birth, but the spirit and the soul live on, to return to physical reality one day again. In Buddhist thought, the soul reincarnates over and over until it is purified and advanced enough to gain admittance to the perfect realm of Nirvana. Wiccans and other Pagan faiths share this idea, believing that each incarnation is another opportunity to advance along the path to the Goddess and the God, and the earliest magicians and witches of all time. These ancient ones are believed to be perfect souls transmuted into the celestial realm to dwell with the deities. Paganism is the fastest growing religion in the UK, and across much of Europe and the rest of the world, again speaking clearly for a dissatisfaction with what conventional Western religion has to offer. The idea of being sent to heaven or hell is repellent to many of us, particularly with the hypocrisies involved in this belief system. It is apparently acceptable for someone to live an evil life for years and then confess and seek redemption on their deathbed this person will enter heaven. Whilst the person who spends their life in abject poverty, doing what they can for others above themselves, and struggling against the society which ignores them this person will go to hell, because they did not die kissing the hem of the priest's robes. A repulsive idea! There were some fundamentalist Christians who declared that Princess Diana would burn in hell because she had died unshriven a sentiment which disgusted every sane person who heard it. In traditional Christian thought, anyone who died by their own hand was automatically cursed and therefore subject to becoming a vampire, werewolf or other demonic entity likewise anyone who died whilst committing 'sin' or without seeking final benediction from a priest. A belief system like Wicca enables the individual to be accountable for their own actions, and their own ultimate destiny. We can choose to be good or bad, but obviously if we are wilfully bad knowing the difference between right and wrong, and choosing wrong we should be ashamed to face our deities, and unable to call ourselves Pagan. This does not preclude the use of 'black' magick against an enemy who deserves to be punished the idea of being sweetness and light to everybody in the world smacks too much of idealised Christianity to appeal to many Pagans. Justifiable anger is acceptable to many, and the old bugaboo of 'the three fold return' simply will not hold water any more.

S/M culture has, on the face of it, little to do with such weight ideas as reincarnation and immortality, and this is the one weak link in the chain. Power and sex are inherent in S/M culture, but death is not. It is the one thing which is beyond the line of endurance or tolerance. S/M followers have suffered over the years owing to misunderstandings, in much the same way as vampires (or those who believe in them) and Pagans have done. The mainstream which dictates what is acceptable behaviour, and what is taboo, simply have no conception of the real issues in these three areas of interest. The accusations of Satanism levelled at many Pagans are a classic response to what is not understood. S/M followers have attracted this kind of negative publicity due to ignorance as well. Because sexual taboos are being broken by the idea of dominant and submissive personalities, Masters and slaves, most people in the mainstream seem to think that there are no boundaries to S/M practice. As was shown in the Sex part of this article, this is hardly the case. S/M practitioners often have a far clearer notion of morality and human rights than do people outside of this sphere. Those who indulge in sexual power play must always know where the line is drawn, and must never step over it. Stepping over the boundaries of what is mutually agreeable can lead to rape and genuinely unwanted pain. It is probably this same sensitivity which informs much thought in S/M circles about death.

Blood fetishism is a strong contender for one of the 'unhealthiest' extremes with S/M practice, and as such it does not belong to this classification at all. But since it does involve power dynamics, often contains a sexual element, and links in with vampiric notions of consuming another's energy and essence, it deserves a mention in this feature. Blood is the physical reality of life, and its consumption or spilling has always had a profound psychological effect on the human race generally. It signifies power or weakness, depending on who is doing the bleeding and who is being bled. It can denote sacrifice, submission, domination and surrender in a variety of different uses. When blood fetishism is included in sexual role playing, or taken into a prosaic relationship to become a part of normal life, it is often seen (by those not experiencing it or unwilling to understand it) as an indication of mental disorder or psychological disturbance. This kind of paranoia leads to witch-hunting, and is a regrettable result of the mainstream legislating over matters it knows nothing about. The few who take blood fetishes to extremes do tremendous damage to the majority, who are sane and well-adjusted enough to keep control over what they do. The rare cases of vampire wannabes attacking people are just that rarities. Most people who consider themselves vampires, or aspire to be vampires, would never dream of assaulting another to gain their sustenance. This breaks the unspoken code of conduct which governs all alternative beliefs, including S/M practice.

Death is the last great taboo of the human race. We all have to face it at some point even if you do believe you'll enter heaven or hell, reincarnate into something finer, or come back as an immortal and it is the inability of any of us to be objectively sure of what will happen when the lights go out that instils such apprehension and dread in so many of us. Faith in a return, whether physical or spiritual, can provide some courage during the peak of life, but when illness sets in or old age slows us down, who can tell how we will feel about facing the great beyond? It is surely no coincidence that more people adopt religious fervour and fundamentalism as they grow closer to their graves. Vampirophiles are usually intrigued by the processes of death far more than young people normally are (or should be, according to society). This makes them outsiders, a situation which many Pagans and S/M practitioners can relate to. Because we face death with a morbid curiosity, we are considered deviant somehow; because we want answers instead of relying on empty faith, this makes us weird.

For Pagans, an acceptance of death as a part of life is essential, and death can be cause for celebration as much as can birth. Ritual occasions for magick are often strongest at times of grief, loss or pain than when everything is running smoothly. Reputedly the most magickal time of the year is also the start of the Celtic Pagan year Samhain or Hallowe'en. At this time, dead ancestors and friends are honoured by moonlight, and offerings made at shrines to those who have gone before us to the Goddess and the God. It is not a tragic occasion more one of celebration and remembrance. The equation of remembering the dead with tragic woe is the curse of the modern world we have been taught to believe that it is wrong to celebrate the past, the dead, the ancient ones who came and went before us. This in effect stamps out true remembrance, and makes death and the dead a taboo which is best not discussed, dealt with or thought about. How many graves lie forgotten within a year or two of their occupancy? By putting death back into the great cycle of life, Pagans find a reason to laugh with happy memories of the dead, to communicate with the dead in some way, and to honour death as profoundly as they do birth.

S/M culture promotes a great self-awareness concerning death as an extension of 'bad practice'. The one thing that should never happen under the aegis of S/M is death. This does not make it a taboo (which implies that it is not to be mentioned): death is implicit in every act of wilful domination over another person. Those who indulge in S/M practices are not glorifying pain or death at all, but they should be keenly aware of the dynamics of their actions. Death is not so much tabooed as outlawed, and the extremities of physical death have been largely sublimated into the 'little death' of orgasm. If this is so, then everyone who plays S/M games of whatever nature is looking to death as the ultimate experience, the irreplaceable conclusion to their scene. As such they are treading on the same path which unites vampires and Pagans.

We are all of us on the same road, we just walk along a different section, and view the road differently. For vampires, mortal death is but the beginning of their true existence, the immortal life which beckons. For Pagans, the road is a circular one, and death is a turning point which mirrors birth, and indeed leads again into birth. For those of a fetishistic bent, death represented in the orgasmic death is the ultimate end, which can be experienced over and over again at different times and in different ways. These groups of people share an acceptance or tolerance of death as an essential part of life, and as such are better adjusted to cope with darkness, fear and all the attendant worries of the final end. Vampires stand alone in that death is the transition to another state from which there is no escape (immortality) unless by a second, final, death. Pagans and S/M folk see death as one spoke on a wheel, a constantly revolving cycle which allows growth to fall into decay, and to be resurrected into a new form. For Pagans this is a spiritual and physical rebirth, whilst S/M acts use sex within one lifetime to denote stages of death and rebirth.

I began this feature back in the Launch Issue of Bloodstone by saying that the initial plan was to draw comparisons between vampires and Pagans, and that the similarities with S/M culture came in at a later stage. How ironic, and perhaps fitting them, that I should end with the conclusion that Pagansim and S/M culture are actually on a far closer wavelength than are vampires. Vampires in so many ways stand alone unique, mysterious and remote from the ordinary experiences of everyday people. For those of us who share an interest in all three fields, the vampire is the least accessible, the toughest to understand, the hardest to relate to. It is the one which presents the greatest challenge, as there are no certain ways of becoming vampire. S/M culture is open to anyone with an imagination to seek it, Paganism calls to an intuitive yet pragmatic streak which runs through most of us, but to become a vampire is to truly take a step into the unknown, a step from which there can be no turning back.

see also on this site: Intro Part 1 Part 2 Freda Warrington

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