LOS ANGELES, Nov. 18 (RNS) -- 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 lunch time, 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.

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 claim to 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 it."

Most vampires need little sleep and instead strive for a "twilight existence," a balance between dayside reality and the nighttime supernatural.

"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 membership.

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 relationship.

"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 of 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." Melton was an organizer for "Dracula 97--The Vampire Event of the Century," a convention in Los Angeles celebrating the centennial publication of Bram Stoker's acclaimed novel, "Dracula."

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.

The French spiritualists viewed vampires as reanimated corpses who fed off living people. "What [vampires] really were stealing was psychic energy," Melton said.

Modern satanic groups--the Church of Satan and the Temple of Set--also influenced contemporary vampire religion.

"Psychic vampirism became a very important part of the occult subculture," Melton said of satanic organizations that include vampires. "It grew out of the same worldview."

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 groups.

"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."

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad