CHAPTER THREE: BLOODLUST
I was not alone. The room was the same, unchanged in any way since I came into it; I could see along the floor, in the brilliant moonlight my own footsteps marked where I had disturbed the long accumulation of dust. In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming, for though the moonlight was behind them, they threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me and looked at me for some time and then whispered together. Two were dark and had high aquiline noses like the Count’s, and great dark, piercing eyes that seemed almost red when contrasted with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, fair as can be, with great wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.
They whispered together, and then they all three laughed. The fair girl shook her head coquettishly, and the other two urged her on. One said: “Go on! You are first, and we shall follow; yours is the right to begin.”
The other added: “He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”
Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Bloodlust is generally taken to mean a love of violence, the desire to kill and maim for revenge, greed or simple sadistic pleasure. Often that’s just what it does mean, but there is a creepy level in considering vampires on which those things are secondary. It is blood itself that the vampire is after as the elixir of its unnatural vitality. The consequences for the victim are secondary. The vampire’s victims are mere prey. Or where there is more than indifference it is a perverted and selfish kind of love, a wish to initiate the victim into the vampire’s own sunless and outcast world.
Vampires not only promise forbidden and otherwise unknowable sensual pleasures, but there is a perverted mystical element to their fascination. The notion of vampirism taps into an ancient reverence for blood as the mystical bearer of life, if not the actual substance of life itself. As Renfield screams dementedly at one point in Dracula ‘The blood is the life! The blood is the life!’
Just as atheists often turn to church ritual for the great rites of passage such as birth, marriage and death, for which their everyday beliefs feel inadequate, so this atavistic belief in the supernatural power of blood continues to shape the emotions of people who have otherwise slipped out of the embrace of organised religion. For all the blessings of rationalism, there are mysteries it fails to address. Love, death, sex and suffering often require a larger vocabulary – the language of symbols.
In the ancient world blood sacrifice was used to propitiate the gods just as much as to pacify the recently deceased. The annual ceremonies centred on the death and resurrection of the Greco-Roman god Attis are a good example. This god originated in Phrygia in what is now Turkey but by the time of the Roman Emperor Claudius his cult had reached Rome itself with a bloody ritual enacted each March designed to secure fertility for the coming agricultural year. Like some gory precursor of the Christian Easter, this began with the cutting and dressing of a sacred evergreen pine tree, this being the form in which Attis had been reincarnated. It was covered with violets, the flowers which were said to have sprung from the droplets of his blood, and then an effigy of the god was fixed to the tree trunk which was raised upon an altar. On the day of the spring equinox this was buried and then two days later came Sanguis, the Day of Blood. Amid an orgiastic frenzy of music and dancing the high priest started events by cutting himself deeply and making a generous offering of his own blood on the altar and tree, his example being followed by the lesser priests and then as many of the congregation as were moved to follow suit. The next day everyone celebrated the god’s resurrection as a result of all this bloodletting and then everyone gradually calmed down and went back to their normal business.
Unsurprisingly, the Aztecs in Mexico had a much bloodier version of this ceremony to encourage the rebirth of their maize goddess Chicomecoatl, which means ‘seven-serpent’ in honour of the serpents that symbolized the crop-nourishing rain (or, some say ‘seven guests’ because she is the goddess of all food and drink, not just maize). According to Lewis Spence’s Myths of Mexico and Peru, this began with a general fast for a week at the start of April, during which the people decorated their houses with bulrushes sprinkled with their own blood from cuts in their hands and feet. Then they went to the maize fields where they plucked stalks of the new maize which they laid in the village hall. A mock battle then took place before Chicomecoatl’s altar after which bundles of maize from the previous harvest were offered to the goddess and then later saved for the next year’s seed. Other food offerings were also made, especially including cooked frogs to encourage the rains.
Then later at the beginning of July another festival was held to celebrate the corn’s ripening. For two weeks there was feasting and dancing and at the centre of the ceremonies was a female slave, usually a captive who had been carefully trained in the dancing-school but kept ignorant of how the dance would culminate. On the final night of the celebration all the village women danced in circles around her, chanting the deeds of Chicomecoatl, then at dawn they were joined by the village headmen who danced the final dance then led the slave to the pyramid of sacrifice. There she was stripped naked and without warning a flint knife was plunged into her chest and her still beating heart was offered up to the maize goddess. Other accounts say she was first decapitated; her blood was then collected for sprinkling in the fields and her body skinned by the high priest, who wrapped the skin around him in the renewed dancing. None of the new corn could be eaten before the virgin’s sacrifice.
Blood has always been one of the most potent of all symbols. The ancient Hebrews were proscribed from drinking animal blood because, the prophets declared, the life of the animal resides in the blood, and that portion belongs to the Creator, whose partiality for blood sacrifices is well demonstrated in the Old Testament. His preference for blood over other offerings was clearly demonstrated early on when Cain’s offerings of the fruits of agriculture were spurned in favour of Abel’s blood offerings of the first-born of his flocks, leading to the famous jealousy that resulted in the first biblical murder.
In other cultures though, the drinking of blood was positively encouraged for recognisably similar though reversed mystical reasons. Norse saga tells of a cowardly prince who was transformed into a fearless warrior through drinking wolf’s blood, and many other ancient warriors, including the Carthaginians, Gauls, the Sioux tribe of America and the Maori of New Zealand, all at some time used to toast victory with a cup of their fallen enemy’s blood in order to steal their strength and also, perhaps, fend off the anger of the dead enemy’s ghost by imbibing some of his essence and therefore in a way becoming one with him. The Hawaiians and young warriors of the Bering Straits would, after killing their first enemy in battle, drink some of his blood and eat a small part of his heart.
Nor was it only enemies who were eaten. Some Australian Aboriginal tribes used to eat their dead in order to guarantee their rebirth within the tribe and Herodotus (History I, 216) in the fifth century BC wrote of the Massagetes people in Armenia: ‘Human life does not come to its natural close with this people; but when a man grows very old, all his kinsfolk collect together and offer him up in sacrifice; offering at the same time some cattle also. After the sacrifice they boil the flesh and feast on it; and those who thus end their days are reckoned the happiest. If a man dies of disease they do not eat him, but bury him in the ground, bewailing his ill-fortune that he did not come to be sacrificed.’
Eating human flesh and drinking blood has widely been imagined to strengthen the consumer in a more than practical way. The Christian communion service can itself be seen as a spiritualization of this practice, in which by eating the flesh and blood of their Saviour, followers hope to imbibe His immortality. As Jesus said in the synagogue at Capernaum: ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him’ (John VI, 53-56).
In the days of Charlemagne at the end of the eighth and beginning of the ninth centuries, this doctrine led to an unfortunate misunderstanding among the newly Christianised Saxons in Germany who took it as encouragement for the ritual eating of human flesh. Strict laws had to be introduced to discourage the practice and anyone suspected of eating human flesh was put to death.
Continued in the published book . . .