Vampires in Their Own Words: An Anthology of Vampire Voices, edited by Michelle Belanger
Llewellyn Worldwide, 9780738712208, 245 pp., pp.
Michelle Belanger, perhaps best known for her first book, The Psychic Vampire Codex, serves as editor for this unique anthology. Vampires In Their Own Words is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of essays by various vampires, some identify as psychic or energy vampires, whereas others identify as sanguinarians (vampires who drink blood), and others who fall somewhere between the two.
In her introduction Belanger gives an overview of the myth of the vampire and details her “Awakening” (a term used to denote the starting point of one’s conscious awareness of hir vampiric condition) and process of acceptance. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who’s read her earlier works or listened to Shadowdance, the podcast she co-hosts with Chris Miller.
The rest of the anthology is divided into loose sections written by an impressive cross-section of vampires covering everything from vampire culture, feeding and the ethics surrounding various practices, codes of behaviour and traditions, followed by a section written by those with close ties to the vampire community but who do not consider themselves vampires.
Many of the essays open with explanations on how each individual arrived at their identification with vampirism and their “Awakening” process. The majority of the essays are followed with a definition section, explaining the vampire culture-specific terms used, such as “donor”, “therian”, “kitra”, and numerous others. There is some overlap, but it’s nice to see the range and variety in the answers, which points are emphasized, as it gives a feel for how individual vampires relate to the terms they use.
Naturally, taken as a whole, some of the essays are contradictory, and they’re far from equal in calibre, but such is the nature of anthologies. There are also quite a few that shine, and others which give pause for thought, such as Sylvere ap Leanan’s “American Vampires” where the author rants against the caste- and court-based vampire community structures. She writes, “…we’re Americans. Our nation was founded on the principle that all are equal in the eyes of our Creator and should be acknowledged as such by those around us…Yet, in clubs and on the Internet, we revert to the very societal structure from which our countrymen struggled to free us.” She raises many valid points.
In “Vampire Lifestyle and Culture” Sanguinarius makes a legitimate case for the appropriation of vampire myths in weaving an identity as a vampire lifestyler, writing: “Since we have no culture of our own, historically speaking, we are inventing it for ourselves…In our case, the only “existing cultural heritage” or knowledge base that could be said to exist are the social/cultural aspects of vampiric fiction…”
Though for this occultist, perhaps the most intriguing essay was that written by Alexzandria and James Baker, “The Serpent’s Kiss”, which explored Aleister Crowley’s use of the term “vampire” and explored his relationship with the vampire myth in modern occult views and through his published works.
Vampires In Their Own Words provides a fair range of opinions on what it means to be a vampire, how vampire behaviour ought to be conducted, what the community should look like, and would serve well as a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the subculture.
Not In Kansas Anymore: Dark Arts, Sex Spells, Money Magic, and Other Things Your Neighbors Aren’t Telling You, by Christine Wicker
HarperSanFrancisco, 0060726784, 275 pp. (incl. sources and bibliography), 2005
Wicker is a religious reporter, who, two years prior to writing the book, had no idea that people ‘still believe in magic’. She repeatedly makes it clear that she doesn’t believe any of this magick stuff in a way that is rather condescending, given this is the subject and subculture she decided to tackle. She claims an irreligious stance herself in the beginning of the book, yet ends up in church by the end. Irreligious in practice initially, perhaps, but it becomes clear that her Christian upbringing heavily informs her prejudices throughout the book. This need not necessarily be a detracting factor, yet Wicker makes it so.
She frequently references a traumatizing event with a banana in her childhood, where she took the larger of the two offered and found it rotten. She interprets this as ‘bad magic’, which doesn’t quite follow with any sensible occult teaching. It could be interpreted in light of Wiccan karma perhaps, but this is not a widely accepted magickal law, and the subject is not approached from that perspective. Further, she claims paranoid fantasies, constantly visualizing death for herself and imagining the destruction of all she holds dear. She also interprets this as ‘bad magic’, though it is unclear how such bizarre fantasies, which have no tangible effects, relate to magick in any way. She acknowledges not everyone views good and evil (or ‘good magic’ and ‘bad magic’) in such black and white terms, yet she can’t seem to step outside this box herself, and enters every exploration with many prejudices she seems reluctant to depart from, and in most cases, fails to do so.
The subtitle and dustjacket description may lead one to believe that this book intends to illustrate the recent cultural effects of magick and occultism in America today, but unfortunately that is not what this book delivers. Briefly, Wicker touches upon America’s occult history, with Puritanism and Christian magic, and moves on to the new age movement of the sixties and then to the “positive thinking” of the eighties, swiftly and without evaluation, failing to note their influence in modern society in general.
The book opens with the author attending a vampire ball, and it becomes clear she assumes a direct association between vampire, Otherkin and magickal communities, but while there are some overlaps, no direct correlation exists. To her, vampires are “magic people”, Wiccans are “magic people”, hoodoo practitioners are “magic people”, and she often refers to “non-magic people” as “muggles”.
The words Pagan and Paganism always appear in lowercase, which is highly disrespectful. It is worth noting that the same treatment is not given to Christianity, Buddhism, and other religious traditions presented here. Further, she states that “witches are often called Wiccans”, when in actuality a distinction is usually made between a practitioner of witchcraft and a member of the Wiccan religion. She also confuses Drawing Down the Moon, a Wiccan rite which calls the Goddess into oneself, with the Great Rite, a ritual involving sexual intercourse, often symbolically.
She was horrified by the practices of Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner and makes a number of disapproving comments regarding each (the former, especially), but her information seems entirely second- or even third-hand as she does not appear to have read any works by either author (no works are mentioned in the seven page bibliography). As a result, her opinions seem uninformed and heavily influenced by fear and repression.
Rather than the cultural history implied in the subtitle, Wicker offers us a chatty and highly judgemental view of her personal experiences with several distinctly fringe occult communities and personalities. Unfortunately, she limits herself to selectively picking and choosing whoever appears oddest to her, rather than exploring the full range of occult practice and belief. As a result, she often finds herself extremely uncomfortable with the situations she puts herself in, and often comments that she can’t handle her brushes with expanding consciousness, and so retreats the moment she encounters a belief which contradicts her current worldview, head spinning, fearful of change.
Wicker seems to feel she was enriched by her experiences, but alas, she comes off as nothing more than a blundering, ignorant tourist for failing to engage, and the caricatures she portrays of the people she encountered insult more than illuminate. Not recommended.