Monday, August 8, 2022

Vampirism and bloodlust


Ishbosheth is slain (Wikicommons – Maciejowski Bible)


Before the State monopoly on violence, an adult male was expected to spill another man’s blood in the course of life. Such action would be authenticated by the sight, feel, and taste of that blood.



Vampirism is the desire to see, feel, and taste blood. Today, we encounter it in horror movies or Gothic fiction, yet it does exist in real life. A “vampire” derives intense pleasure, bordering on sexual excitement, from the sight, feel, and taste of blood (Jaffé and DiCataldo 1994; Vanden Bergh and Kelly 1964). The following is a classic case:


In 1978, during a two-day rampage in the Mayenne region of France, a 39-year-old man attempted to rape a preadolescent girl, also biting her deeply in the neck, murdered an elderly man whose blood he drank and whose leg he partially devoured, killed a cow by bleeding it to death, murdered a married couple of farmers, and almost succeeded in doing the same with their farm hand. (Jaffé and DiCataldo 1994)


Most of the literature on vampirism comes from societies where the State has long held a monopoly over the use of violence and where non-State violence has long been criminalized and even pathologized. In many parts of the world, however, that monopoly is either recent or ineffective. The average man is still expected to use violence to defend himself and his family against threats that may seem trivial in a State-pacified society.


We need a cross-cultural study of the desire to shed blood. An initial step in that direction was taken by Frantz Fanon, who worked as a hospital psychiatrist in Algeria. He described vampirism as a frequent characteristic of murder cases in that country. The Algerian murderer “needs to feel the heat of blood and steep himself in his victim’s blood. […] A number of magistrates even go so far as to say that killing a man for an Algerian means first and foremost slitting his throat” (Fanon 2004[1963], p. 222).


Additional cross-cultural perspective has been provided by two recent papers. One of them is a case report from Sri Lanka:


A 20-year old single, unemployed male was referred from a drug rehabilitation center to the psychiatry clinic. He presented with poor anger control, impulsive behavior and the urge to drink blood, against a background of multiple substance dependence. He had been adopted in his early childhood and there was no childhood features to suggest developmental delays, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or conduct disorder.


[…] Although he experienced a sense of satisfaction after ingestion of blood, this act was not associated with obsessions, delusions, hallucinations, sexual gratification or paraphilic behaviour. He did not have any other psychiatric illnesses. (Adicaram et al. 2021)


The other paper presents two case reports from Turkey. In that country, vampirism usually takes the form of self-mutilation, if only because personal bloodletting is less likely to invite legal retribution. The authors describe it as following a stereotypical behavioral sequence:


We propose the term "hemomania" to describe an impulse control disorder characterized by impaired functioning due to at least one of the following urges: seeing one's own blood, self-bloodletting, and tasting/drinking one's own blood. We argue that hemomania progresses from an urge to see one's own blood to the urge to drink it (Kandeğer et al. 2021).


The “vampire” responds positively to the sight of blood and is thus driven to spill more blood and ultimately bathe in it and taste it. If this is indeed an impulse-control disorder, it should exist in many apparently normal people, among whom it would be unexpressed and under strong inhibition.


A desire to shed blood may have been much more common before the State monopolized the use of violence—at a time when an adult male was expected to spill another man’s blood in the course of life. In that context, it would be counterproductive to feel nauseated. In fact, one should feel excited. And the final triumph over an adversary would be authenticated by the sight, feel, and taste of that man’s blood.


We still have a word for that: “bloodlust.” There is also the word “bloodthirsty.” Today, we hear and say those words without fully understanding their original meaning. They refer to a mental state that used to be common in another time, but which has since been expunged from normal life … to the point that we now see it as weird and pathological.


A Middle English ballad describes the pleasure that a group of men felt when drinking the blood of a freshly killed deer:


They eat of the flesh, and they drank of the blood,

And the blood it was so sweet,

Which caused Johny and his bloody hounds

To fall in a deep sleep. (Haughey 2011, p. 350)


Those men were breaking a taboo against drinking an animal’s blood or eating its bloody flesh. That taboo went back to Anglo-Saxon times, when meals would bring many men together around the same table. It was feared that consumption of animal blood would excite the male mind and lead to violence, murder and, ultimately, consumption of human blood:


From this savage sharing of raw food with dogs, it is a short logical leap to cannibalism, the ultimate food taboo, for once one is able to devour bloody flesh, one has lost inhibitions concerning food. […] Johny Cock eats raw meat with his dogs, many Robin Hood ballads fixate on the sublimated violence in overblown feast scenes, and uncouth outlaw heroes like Hereward, Gamelyn, and Fulk Fitz Waryn repeatedly break taboos against mixing raw human blood with their meals when they bleed on their plates or tables and insist on continuing their feasts. (Haughey 2011, pp. 29-30)


Many cultural traditions insist on the removal of blood from flesh before it can be eaten. This taboo is described in the Hebrew Scriptures:


But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed.

Genesis 9:4-6


With the rise of State societies, male violence became criminalized in most cases, with the notable exceptions of self-defense and war. Those new circumstances favored a different sort of man, one who would react negatively to the sight of blood. With the marginalization of bloodthirsty individuals, and their gradual removal from the gene pool, there was likewise a removal of bloodlust from real life.


Today, bloodlust survives as a deactivated behavior that normally remains dormant. This is the situation that prevails in long-pacified societies: vampirism has literally become pathological—it is reactivated only by environmental or genetic accidents that cause many other pathologies. The “vampire” looks and acts like a freak.


This is less true in societies that have been pacified more recently. The “vampire” seems more normal and shows fewer signs of mental disorder.





Adicaram, D.R.S., Wijayamunige, E.S. and Arambepola, S.C.A., 2021. Vampires! Do they exist? A case of clinical vampirism. Sri Lanka Journal of Psychiatry 12(2): 38-40.


Fanon, F. (2004[1963]). The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.


Haughey, S. (2011). The 'Bestli' Outlaw: Wilderness and Exile in Old and Middle English Literature. PhD dissertation, Cornell University.


Jaffé, P. D., and F. DiCataldo. (1994). Clinical vampirism: Blending myth and reality. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry & the Law 22(4): 533–544.


Kandeğer, A., F. Ekici, and Y. Selvi (2021). From the urge to see one’s own blood to the urge to drink it: Can hemomania be specified as an impulse control disorder? Two case reports. Journal of Addictive Diseases 39(4): 570-574.


Vanden Bergh, R.L.,and J.F. Kelly. (1964). Vampirism: A Review with New Observations. Archives of General Psychiatry 11(5):543–547.


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Bathory is one example of a Noble who has this bloodlust:

Báthory and four of her servants were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and women between 1590 and 1610.[2] Her servants were put on trial and convicted, whereas Báthory was confined to her home.[3] She was imprisoned within Castle of Csejte.

Stories about Báthory quickly became part of national folklore.[10] Legends describing her vampiric tendencies, such as the tale that she bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth, were generally recorded years after her death and are considered unreliable.[3] Some insist she inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897),[11] although Stoker's notes on the novel provided no direct evidence to support this hypothesis.[12] Nicknames and literary epithets attributed to her include The Blood Countess and Countess Dracula.

FeminizedWesternMale said...

it does put the eucharist and the decline of religion in an interesting parallels.

Truth Seeker said...

Conversely, there are people who actually faint at the sight of blood. I know because I'm one of them. Doctors are unable to draw my blood at medical appointments. I have to lie down, turn away, and then they comfort and reassure me that everything's OK.

Peter Frost said...

Anon and FeminizedWesternMale,

Both of those cases attest to the ancient belief that blood contains a life-force and that you can share in that life-force if you drink it.

Truth Seeker,

With the pacification of social relations, there was strong selection not only to eliminate bloodlust but also to replace it with disgust at the sight of blood. When I give blood, I have to look away. I don't faint, but I feel uncomfortable. I have the same reaction to certain movies.

Santocool said...

Strong domestication, you mean. I don't think pacification is an analogous term. We live in a kind of ''pax romana''.