Out of the darkness -- Vampire religionists were feeding off

human energy long before spate of movies, TV's `Buffy,

Angel' made vampires cool

By Angela Aleiss

Religion News Service

LOS ANGELES -- Nicolas Strathloch begins his day early, around 6 or

7 a.m. He rises and showers, dresses in jeans, T-shirt and hiking

boots, and drives to a print shop in northern Los Angeles, where he

works as a foreman.

At lunchtime, he often ventures to a nearby park. There, among the

quiet ambience of nature and a few barking dogs, he will spot

humans and feed off their energy.

"Any time that it's convenient for me, I will draw their life force. It's

almost unconscious," said the 50-year-old father of six children and

former British Army training officer.

Strathloch is a vampire. He is one of 300,000 or so people worldwide

who consider themselves practitioners of a vampire religion.

Strathloch comes from a Welsh father and a Russian/Romanian

mother, but he was raised by his druid grandparents in Wales. Three

of his 14 brothers are also vampires.

It's a good time for vampires in pop culture. `Buffy the Vampire

Slayer' and `Angel' are among the most popular programs on the

WB. `Dracula 2000' opened in movie theaters late last month.

And when E. Elias Merhige's `Shadow of the Vampire,' with its

attention-snagging stars John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe, opens

Jan. 26, it will be at least the fourth time that filmmakers have

resuscitated this particular version of the vampire: Nosferatu, that

disturbingly peculiar and apparently iconic figure created by an odd

little group of Germans 79 years ago.

The premise of Merhige's film is that in making `Nosferatu,' the first

vampire movie and one of the silent cinema's masterpieces, the

legendary director F.W. Murnau employed a real vampire in the title


According to self-professed vampires, vampires come from all walks

of life; many are scholars, artists and teachers, and a few are

members of the clergy. Los Angeles has one of the largest

concentrations of vampires, but many also live in Japan, Rome,

Vienna and London. India has a sizable following of vampires

devoted to Kali, the Hindu goddess of creation and destruction.

Vampires experience a calling to the darker forces and an affinity to

a nocturnal lifestyle. Many claim psychic powers and the ability to

leave their own bodies and take up residence in others. Some say

they can actually fly and enter people's dreams.

A few vampires say they suffer from porphyria, a rare metabolic

disorder whose symptoms may include reddening, pain and blistering

of the skin upon exposure to sunlight. Strathloch has malignant

melanoma, a form of skin cancer caused by excessive exposure to

the sun's radiation.

Vampires consider themselves immortal. They believe that when

they die, their spirit leaves the body in search of a new member.

"The greatest punishment there can be is to lose immortality,"

Strathloch said.

Vampires are predators in that they "feed off" other people's

empathic abilities and emotional energies. They draw their strength,

or life energy, from any human being, whether or not the person

volunteers, but many will only feed off willing donors.

Killing is strictly forbidden, but so is wasting food.

"We wouldn't take [energy] from the sick or ill because it wouldn't

do them any good or do us any good either," Strathloch said in an

interview. "But we are also healers. We give energy as well as take


Most vampires need little sleep and instead strive for a "twilight

existence," a balance between daytime reality and the nighttime


"It's like flipping a coin," Strathloch said of the twilight existence.

"Instead of landing heads or tails, it always lands on the edge."

Strathloch has been a practicing vampire for 40 years. He is a

Vampire Master Adept, the highest grade of recognition within the

Temple of the Vampire. The Washington state-based organization is

an international church with its own hierarchy and strict criteria for


Other organizations like Order of the Dragon, the Vampire Church,

House Kheperu, and the Vampire Grove adhere to similar tenets of

the vampire religion.

The Count Dracula of movie and literary fame notwithstanding,

today's vampires don't bite the necks of unwilling victims and have

no aversion toward garlic or crucifixes.

But many vampires do admit to having a "blood fetish" -- a strong

desire to taste human blood, usually in the context of an intimate


"It was weird," said Vox of her initial experience sharing blood. Vox

is a 30-year-old special effects artist in Hollywood and prefers to

use an anonymous name out of respect for her mother's privacy as

a practicing Roman Catholic. She is currently studying for initiation

into the vampire religion.

Vox is slender with long, dark hair and wears permanent fangs

bonded to her teeth. She traces her blood fetish to her first Holy

Communion as a Catholic. Roman Catholics believe that during

Communion, the bread and wine actually become the body and

blood of Christ.

"For me, it was really intense," she said. "I was really blown away

that I had communed with God, knowing I was tasting his blood."

Vox recalled her experience much later when she first tasted her

lover's blood.

"In my head, I was relating it to being at one with God, being at one

with Christ. Being at one with that person, you sort of have a piece

of that person within you," she said.

But the vampire practice of feeding off other people's energies is

not agreeable to her.

"It's just something I don't prefer to do. I see it as harmful and

selfish," she said.

But selfishness, or self-gratification, is at the core of vampire

philosophy. Strathloch describes the vampire religion as an

exaltation of the ego, a belief in the superiority to humans. Although

vampires are occult practitioners and draw upon the dark energies,

they don't recognize the existence of the devil or a god.

"The only ones we serve are us. [We're] very egocentric,"

Strathloch said.

"They feel they're superior in a supernatural sort of way, not a

racial way," said J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute of the

Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, Calif., and author of

The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead.

According to Melton, much of vampire beliefs and practices grew

out of the Free Masons and other magickal orders of 19th-century

England and France. "Magick" refers to the art of spiritual control

and change.

Melton said Aleister Crowley, a British theoretician of modern

magick, revised the whole magickal worldview into a self-centered

experience. "Magick is [about] becoming a master, becoming a

person who affects the environment, not the other way around,"

Melton said.

Much of Western society has always had a skeptical worldview of

vampires. European folklore portrayed vampires as dangerous,

blood-sucking creatures, and in the 1700s, waves of vampire

hysteria swept across Eastern Europe and Russia. Even today, many

practicing vampires relate stories of intimidation by other religious


"Vampirism has always been opposed, like Satanism, because it was

seen as a parody of Christianity," said Melton.

Strathloch acknowledged that, at least once a year, vampires do

get positive reception.

"But the rest of the year, if it isn't Halloween," he said, "they want

us to stay in the casket."