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,"
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
"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,"
"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
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,"
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."