Friggin vampires.

Bela Lugosi in the 1931 film Dracula, courtesy of Creative Commons licence

I should have known. Maybe I did know, and I just decided to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. I mean, he did identify himself as a predator by calling himself a vampire.

But it never ceases to amaze me, the lengths people will go in order to exploit other people.

Story time.

The backstory

Helping to run a Pagan community means dealing with a wide range of different people. There are a lot of folks I wouldn’t exactly call Pagan, but rather Pagan-adjacent. This includes LARP-ers, New-Agers, reiki practitioners, rock-hounds, naturopaths – you get the idea.

Normally I am totally fine with this. When building a community, it’s important to be as inclusive as possible. Our values are to be inclusive regardless of class, and selectively exclusive of individuals based on poor behavior. (You don’t have control over your class. You do have control over your behavior.)

In order to start building connections and community between different Pagan and Pagan-adjacent groups, we’re setting up a Pagan Leadership group. For our first meeting, we got a request from a guy who lives about two hours away. He brings his girlfriend to the first meeting, and they seem really excited about bridging the gap and finding common ground between Pagans (and Witches) and Vampires.

Now – this guy was a bit of a weirdo. Like, he wore fangs to a professional leadership meeting. Wears his hair in a skullet. Dresses in black. (Not weird.) With lots of ornate, video-game-like jewelry. (Sorta weird.)

But I’ve seen weirder. Plus he had some experience as a leader, and he wasn’t behaving too inappropriately, so we let things slide.

The ethics

Vampire guy had a very strict, authoritarian model for managing his group. Totally not our style, but we figured maybe it was necessary for keeping the Darque Vampire people in line.

For example – at social functions, his charges were only allowed two drinks. (Which I think is bullshit. Either they drink responsibly, or they aren’t invited.) He defended it, claiming it was necessary.

Whatev’s.

He also has a tiered system for infractions, and the consequences include things like “ghosting” (pretending the person isn’t there), temporary banning, and permabanning. They had a point system. Some infractions are one point, some are two. When your point total reaches a threshold, a scaling punishment is applied.

That’s some pretty complicated tracking for someone who isn’t an employee. But again, it’s their group, so whatev’s.

During the meeting, Vampire Dude was very clear about consent. He said that in order to “feed” – whether energetically or on actual blood – a vampire must get consent from their “donor” first.

So we thought, again – not for us, but it sounds like this guy is at least respecting our cornerstone of Informed Enthusiastic Consent.

So we flagged it as Wait And See.

The red flags

Vampire dude likes attention. He likes to talk over the top of people. He wants to get the group to use the rules he’s using. He doesn’t like having to adapt to other people’s ethics or values. He also likes to brag, and call attention to his myriad accomplishments and titles.

Vampire dude loves to talk about his lineage. He’s one of those guys who can’t introduce himself without rattling off his 6 Impressive Titles, 3 Magical Names, and Really Important Lineage.

When other values were brought up, he sort of ignored them to talk about how he does it in his group. He does that thing where he seems to talk without breathing, and you have to start looking for a pause in his monologue for a chance to say something.

But, so far, not a total deal-breaker. We’ve had this kind of guy around before, but we figured it might be nerves. We figured we’d at least let things play out.

Oh yeah – one other red flag. I asked him, point-blank – what did he make of identifying as a predator, in the context of being a healthy participant in a group? In other words – vampires, in all the literature and movies – are depicted as predators. They eat people, and those people either die or are harmed by the feeding. So anyone who wants to identify as a vampire is doing so knowing full well the predatory nature of vampires.

So – if we don’t let sexual predators in our group, and if we boot people who exhibit other predatory behavior, how does he reconcile pro-social requirements with being a predator?

The solution, apparently, is consenting “donors.” And punishments for people who break the rules

OK then.

A bit about vampires

There are some common themes among vampires that I’ve met:

  • They want to appear “otherworldly”
  • They want people to be impressed by them
  • They “feed” on people
  • Their identity is largely based on modern fictional narrative
  • Many of them claim a specific lineage for “authenticity”
  • They incorporate heavy elements of sexuality

Most of these tropes come from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Some are from Dracula derivatives, such as Interview with the Vampire, or Blade, or What We Do in the Shadows. But the themes of ancient, undead, predatory, and sexual are all pretty much straight from Stoker.

That means that most people who call themselves vampires are rooting their identity in narrative fiction.

With that said, most cultures have stories of the dead rising from the grave. Unlike Dracula clones, this is never a good thing. The “undead” are horrific monsters. There is nothing redeeming about them. They eat people, and they are scary. They are irredeemable. Whether or not the culture is Christian, the undead are always from a dark and evil place.

That means that the Darque and Mysterious Vampires of today aren’t rooting their identity in actual cultural beliefs.

As a narrative device, vampires represent hidden, animalistic desires that are inappropriate to act upon in a particular culture. For instance, sex was a taboo subject in the Victorian period when Dracula was written. The Count’s character was a representation of mankind’s hunger for sex, which had to be concealed because of the monstrous effect it would have on society.

You could make a similar case for vampires as meat-eaters (predators), or even as payday loan companies (predatory lending, sucking the life force out of its victims, and the victims getting hooked and having to come back for more).

The point is, vampires as we understand them are a cultural construct, and are easily traced back to Bram Stoker. Vampires that aren’t working under those assumptions generally have nothing to do with sexuality.

Which is a long-winded way to say: Most people who identify as vampires are LARPing.

A note on LARPing

If you’ve never heard of it, LARP stands for Live Action Role Play. It’s like those guys who dress up in medieval costumes and beat each other with sticks in your local park.

There are lots of different LARP groups. I am familiar with a vampire LARP, a Dungeons and Dragons LARP, the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA, which I’ve also been told stands unofficially for Society of Consenting Adults), Belagarth, and a few other small ones.

It goes like this. You take on a persona, like you’re an actor in a play. Then you pretend to be that person in a variety of situations. Maybe you get together with other LARPers on a camp-out, where you’re cooking and sewing and swordfighting as if you were in medieval Europe.

Or maybe you and some friends meet in the park on Saturdays to whack each other with foam weapons.

But here’s the thing with LARPing: It’s fantasy. Some people take it a bit too far and have trouble separating the fantasy from reality, but at the root, it’s all just play-pretend.

(Personal side note: That’s why I do karate from an authentic Okinawan lineage. No one cares if I am proficient in hitting people with a foam sword. But someone who tries to hit me will definitely care if I’ve spent the last ten years maximizing the power of my punches.)

Now, there are some crossovers between LARPing and Paganism. (Even between D&D and Paganism.) So LARP is something I might categorize as Pagan-adjacent. And I have nothing against LARPers – there is nothing inherently wrong with their hobby.

But Paganism is rooted in authentic spiritual experiences. When Pagans cast a circle, we’re creating a personal experience that’s as real as yoga and meditation in an Ashram, or as real as Catholic Mass, or as real as a Buddhist empowerment.

There are certainly Pagans who put on faerie wings, or who dress up in medieval-style clothing. But generally, most Pagans are at least a little skeptical about fantastic elements that have no material evidence for their existence. Such as fireball spells, actual faeries, actual unicorns (which aren’t rhinoceroses), and actual bite-you-and-drain-your-blood vampires.

There are people who believe they are actual faeries. There are people who believe they must consume human blood to survive. There are people who believe that eating the heart of a wolf will turn you into a werewolf. I have not seen any proof to support these claims. While I remain open to the possibility, my threshold for belief requires more than simply claiming to be the thing.

So, LARPing – while adjacent to Paganism – is really about enacting a fantasy, where actual Paganism is about seeking an authentic spiritual experience.

Oh. And of the men we’ve kicked out of our group, the three most recent ones were heavily into LARPing or gaming.

Psychic vampires

You might be thinking, “Well what about psychic vampires?”

That can actually be a thing.

In fact, Vampire Dude basically admitted that many of the “feeding” behaviors of vampires happen on the energetic level.

There are some people who suck energy out of other people. Sometimes they draw excitement and enthusiasm out of a social situation. Sometimes they actually draw subtle magical energy from another person or group.

Often it’s just a pscyhological thing. For example, say there’s a member of the group who’s depressed and can’t pull out of it. When they’re around, other people’s mirror neurons will kick in, and the mood will shift to match the depressed person. This looks a lot like the depressed person is “sucking the energy” out of the situation. Really, it’s just that humans are hard-wired to mimic the emotions of other humans.

Psychic vampirisim can also be someone attempting to dominate and control a social group. If you leave a social event feeling drained, you may have been struggling to be heard over an attention-seeker. Or you may have experienced someone using dominating tactics to take over the group. These can include talking over people, coming back to the same topic over and over, and refusing to listen to new points or other perspectives. Some especially toxic habits include looming over people, or invading their personal space, or touching them without permission.

So – yes, psychic vampirisim is a thing. But like most magic, it can be subtle, and a lot of the time there’s a compelling real-world explanation.

Our vampire’s problematic behavior

Vampire dude came to our Witches’ Ball. We had a great crowd this year – about 70 people, and everyone had a ball. (Hehe, get it?) We taught some dances, did a few short classes that were a hit, and overall everything was pretty awesome.

But there were some things happening that we weren’t aware of.

There was a second vampire guy attending as a Pagan girl’s plus-one. Apparently, there is a protocol for interactions between vampires and their plus-ones. Vampire Dude was not following these protocols. This created tension.

Vampire Dude and his “Faerie” girlfriend were getting in the face of the other vampire and his girlfriend, bad-mouthing their Queen, and sticking phones in their faces to record/take photos.

Vampire Dude claimed to attend the Witches’ Ball every year (false), and that he was going to become a member of our coven (also false).

Vampire Dude went around telling everyone that we (the organizers) needed him for “protection.” (We’re experienced witches who handle our own “protection.”)

Vampire Dude said that activities with witches were the best ones to go to, because witches are always raising a lot of energy on which vampires can “feed.” (We did not grant permission to be fed upon.)

The victim tried to come talk to us, but Vampire Dude physically blocked her path to come talk to us.

Vampire Dude kept trying to make eye contact with or physically touch the victim, in order to “feed” on her, without her permission.

At the end of the night, Vampire Dude spent a half-hour showing us pictures of the stuff he makes, wanting to sell it in our shop. Nothing said about the altercations. Nothing said about membership in the coven, or anything else. It was curiously pro-social, as if to cover the tracks of his misbehavior.

Why it was wrong

In the first place, Vampire Dude was exploiting another person without getting Informed Enthusiastic Consent. Big no-no.

When the victim tried to get help, he physically prevented her from doing so.

Vampire Dude made false claims to impress people he thought were his subordinates. However, he presented a completely different story to the organizers, whom he believed were his superiors.

Vampire Dude’s actions were not consistent with his words.

Vampire dude is participating in a fictional fantasy narrative, in which his relations with other people are defined by a predator-prey relationship. This causes him to behave in a way that exploits members of the community. Further, he demonstrated that his goals are selfish, designed only to benefit only himself. This is fundamentally incompatible with the purpose of the group, which is to build community and participate in meaningful ritual.

Appropriate response

Our head organizer sent Vampire Dude an email, letting him know that he was no longer a member of our Leadership Group, and that he was deemed not in good standing. As such, he was no longer welcome to attend any of our events. Further, this decision was final, and we would not reply to any further communication from him.

I mean, this guy was doing the exact same thing that disintegrated our whole community a couple years ago. That was a hard lesson, but well-learned. If you can’t behave, you get the boot.

We received a follow-up from him, asking if there was anything he could do to change our mind. We ignored it.

I felt a slight energetic twinge from his direction. Someone who knows him said later that he was threatening us with some kind of Darque and Skerry Magical Attack. I don’t know if it was that, or just my anxiety.

But I did a quick little Hekate spell to lock him out, and that was the end of that.

The Aftermath

None. We had another leadership meeting since we booted him, and we didn’t hear a peep. I think we kicked him out before he could have much influence on anyone in the group.

My takeaways

How do we get better at managing our groups? And how do we prevent people from violating consent, and preventing a victim from seeking help at our events?

First, actions speak louder than words. Listen to them.

By that I mean, if you’re running a group, and you have someone come in who’s really excited and interested to be there, but you hear conflicting stories from other people, pay attention. If a person says they’re one thing, but they are behaving differently, pay attention.

Second, your decision on whether to include bad actors in your group is a vote for the quality of your group. If you kick toxic people out, you’re voting to have a better group (even if it feels like it’ll be smaller). If you allow toxic people to remain, you’re voting to have a toxic group.

Toxic people will come up with all sorts of tactics to stay in the group. They’ll promise to be better. They’ll lie to you to throw you off the track. They’ll spread (and start) rumors to discredit you. You can avoid all these things by kicking them out of your group.

(Side note: Weirdly, I don’t think toxic people always realize they’re being toxic. I think they are often motivated purely by emotion. Toxic behaviors are how they learned to get what they want. They may play the victim – they may even feel like the victim! – but you are not obligated to correct or teach them.)

Third, I’m on the fence about helping people get better. I really want to believe that people can change for the better. I would love to create a space where people can make mistakes on their path to growth.

But the reality is, most people are comfortable where they are at. And most people are not willing to face the discomfort of change – even when that change is for the better.

Fourth, consider how connected a person is to reality. If a new member is making claims that seem a little too far outside the realm of possibility, listen to them.

It is totally fine to work with Faeries. It is totally fine to work with Monsters. It is totally cool to play with energy, cast spells, whatever. If someone says they are a Faerie, or a Monster, it’s totally OK to want evidence.

Fifth, watch how people respond when you set boundaries. If they respect them, chances are they’re a healthy person for your group. If they get angry, or if they push against or creep past boundaries, they’re going to be a problem.

Final thoughts

Like, what’s the actual deal with men, fantasy, and toxicity? Is it just that they are unhappy with reality, so they cultivate this alter-ego that takes over? Do they find that playing pretend gets them laid more often?

I mean, I can’t imagine that any of these toxic dudes we’ve kicked out have fulfilling relationships. Or even super long-term ones. At some point, the friction between fantasy and reality is too much for most people – and any reasonable partner is going to bail.

If a fantasy dude* is especially toxic, he might try to use violence, coercion, or manipulation to try to keep a partner. Which never ends well.

Guys – if you’re reading this, remember. Informed, enthusiastic consent every time. Be real. Be authentic. You don’t need to pretend. If you do need to pretend because you’re boring or offensive, see a counselor and find a hobby.

*Or dude-ette. Women can be just as toxic as men. This post refers specifically to my experiences, which have been with toxic pagan and pagan-adjacent men. I’ve heard stories about equally toxic pagan and pagan-adjacent women. Same goes for non-binary or any other class definitions around gender. (Obviously.)

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