"They are not easy to find, but when you do track them down, they can be quite friendly," writes John Edgar Browning, of the Georgia Institute of Technology for Discover Magazine’s The Crux blog. He's writing about his study subjects—real-life vampires.
These communities of people live all over the world, from New Orleans to Russia to South Africa, and the reason they're friendly is that they aren’t truly the supernatural bloodsuckers of legends. They don’t rise from the dead to feed on the living. They aren’t even people who others have accused of being vampires, like the individuals throughout history whose bodies were exhumed and desecrated because someone thought they were undead.
But they do consume blood. Browning writes:
Their self-described nature begins to manifest around or just after puberty. It derives, according to them, from the lack of subtle energies their bodies produce – energies other people take for granted. That’s the general consensus anyway. It’s a condition they claim to be unable to change. So, they embrace it.
Vampirism been studied before, in the form of clinical vampirism or Renfield’s syndrome, but hasn’t been recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the official psychiatric reference. Browning describes something different. He has visited communities in New Orleans and Buffalo to document and understand what being a modern day, real vampire means. Importantly, he notes that these communities generally preform safe blood-letting rituals with willing donors.
A real vampire community has lived in New Orleans since the early to mid 1970s. Browning writes that he has met about 35 people there, ranging in age from 18 to 50. Some consume human or animal blood; some claim to absorb psychic energy; and some do both. They also eat regular food. Browning writes in Palgrave Communications:
Moreover, should they refrain from feeding on blood or energy, they attest to feeling weak and experiencing an overall diminished health. What real vampirism is not, however, is the sole adoption of Gothic dress and prosthetic fangs for aesthetic purposes, as though real vampirism were merely a practice or fad that one might adopt one day and discard the next. Such a description denotes an entirely different class of people, which the real vampire community has termed “lifestylers”. To real vampires, Gothic or dark clothing and fangs are, as I will explain in more detail later, merely supplementary identificatory markers of, or hegemonic modes of group expression for, their inherent condition (much in the same way that same-sex desire, for example, is categorically distinct from, and in no way dependent on, the myriad cultural practices of the gay community).
Unsurprisingly, the rise of the internet has fostered the growth of the real-vampire community. But Browning notes that the people he talked to were not "obsessed" with vampires as depicted in popular media. "In fact, the real vampire community in general seems to have appropriated very few of the trappings mainstream culture attaches to creatures of the night," he writes.
But why study real vampires? Browning explains that they make up a real and rich subculture, worthy of study. Even if the idea seems strange, it’s one example of a group of people redefining normal for themselves. Studying real vampires is also "the study of self-empowerment."