In the month of September, I plan to work on a vampire novella that may or may not be submitted under this name – I suppose it depends on how hot it gets while writing it. However, in the process of plotting, I’m already noticing some similarities between this novella and other pieces of vampire fiction I’ve written, notably the intertwine of vampirism and Christianity.
Perhaps it isn’t much of a surprise. While the vampire myth is not exclusively Western, the Western vampire mythology continues to linger on our side of the world with primarily Western imagery paired with it, even if Stoker’s Dracula took place on the edge of Eastern Orthodoxy. Instead, Catholic imagery and mythology is rampant, even in American (wherein Protestantism is more common) rather than European-based vampire stories. Then again, Protestantism doesn’t have the rich, sensual image history that Catholicism has.
Paired with the evil and unnaturalness – deathly pale skin, glowing eyes, sharp teeth and nails, hair on the palms, the ability to shapeshift, and the iconic crimson flow of blood against virginal flesh pierced by corruption – you have the fierce and strange instruments of good that may not pierce the darkness as readily as one might expect – the crucifix, holy water, the Communion wafer, and the almost pagan element of destruction, the wooden stake, often of a specific kind of wood. One thing that can be said for Catholicism in respect to vampires: they provide a spectacular display of concrete and effective imagery to meet and counter the equally compelling imagery of the vampire.
Within the mythology of the Western world, the vampire can be as charming and seductive as the Count or as dead and unappealing as a zombie with the taste for blood. But either way, the vampire occupies the distinct role of the demon, the sons and daughters of the Adversary. The vampire, the blood-thirsty walking dead, the incubus and succubus … all hungry demonic entities walking this earth, to be countered and conquered with the tools of Christendom arm-in-arm (sometimes unintentionally) with the vagaries and varieties of European paganism.
Even in more modern incarnations of the vampire touched by the Age of Enlightenment – a far less superstitious and rational world (at least, according to us) in which perhaps Holy Water and a crucifix will do nothing more than barely avert the vampire if it manages to do so at all – Catholic imagery cannot resist making an appearance. The vampire is the gothic figure, and the crucifix, once the instrument of protection, has instead become a symbol of occasionally tacky darkness that can be worn ironically or perhaps with no irony at all by people in costume fangs (no judging from me, I still have a fondness for the crucifix, regardless of how I feel about Christianity at the moment).
Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that I find it hard to write about vampires without bringing in the religious element as well; three out of four of my vampire works feature a priest. Too, I tend to write sensual to erotic fiction when I write vampires, due, of course, to the inherent eroticism of the demonic entity. (Even when it’s just walking dead in the older vampire stories, the vampire still tended to go after their significant others or members of the opposite sex, and purity was still an important element.)
In addition to the religious perversion of the vampire – the twisting of the sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Matrimony – the Christian religion historically concerns itself with matters of moderation of the appetites, whereas the vampire is all about indulgence, an interesting merger between gluttony and lust. The horror genre feeds off of social anxieties, so it is no wonder when writing a classic horror monster that the anxieties of the Church and therefore the anxieties of (in my case) American societies surface. A priest is confronted with temptation; a priest is called to fight the spiritual battle with evil beings on the physical plane; the purity of an innocent girl is marked by blood on the coverlet, blood from her neck instead of from between her legs; a repressed Christian girl lapses and cuts loose in the overindulgence of the night life and encounters the manifestation of her desires in a passionate, seductive vampire; and so on.
Is it any wonder, then, that Catholic imagery and sentiments – itself infused with an uncharacteristic darkness, sensuality, and grandiosity – find their way into my stories? To say I have religion issues is academic; I have to work through them somehow, and like my associations between sex and horror, the associations between sex and religion as well as religion and horror are just as strong. And perhaps it is only when I bring those elements together in their various combinations that my writing becomes its most honest.
In the future, should any of my pieces get snagged by an anthology or a publisher, I promise to share excerpts and perhaps some deleted scenes. My “Stained Glass” m/m vampire story had the entire backstory of my protagonist removed for the good of the flow, and I loved that backstory so much, especially since it provided that aforementioned tension between religion and sex.