The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

For the mathematically inclined Buffy fan

I'm so ignorant about vampires that I once publicly asked Kim Newman (who is the opposite of ignorant on the subject) where the theology of vampires came from: did the Catholic or the Orthodox churches, I wondered, have a position on the souls of the undead? On the efficacy of garlic and crucifixes and stakes through the heart?

Newman had to politely explain that the traditional view of vampires, in so far as it isn't simply made up by the writers, is based on nothing more than peasant superstition.

Science, however, has stepped in where even theology recoils, and given us the ecology of vampires. (Via.)

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The thing with vampirism is that it's not primarily a predator-prey relationship, though superficially it looks like one. It's a contagious disease, spread by exchanging body fluids. I think it needs an epidemiological analysis.

In a small community, I would expect vampirism to spread fairly rapidly, until effectively everyone has been infected with vampirism. At that point you have a bunch of hungry vampires and no blood supply. In a larger community, you might have endemic vampirism.

Of course, over time, the more virulent forms of vampirism would tend to die off, as the condition became better adapted to its hosts. You would get cases where the vampiric condition just failed to establish itself at all, and cases where onset took a long time. And the hosts might coevolve resistance mechanisms, either behavioral (crosses, garlic, and so on) or actually biological or biothaumatological. Perhaps there could be a vampiric analog of sickle cell anemia that made human blood un-nourishing and unappetizing to vampires, or even a substance in the blood that was toxic to vampires.

I think a productive research agenda could be developed from thinking about this sort of thing. In fact, I'd rather like to see some published results; I could find uses for them.

At least according to some accounts, example below, the belief system was actually in part acquired through dualist religions like Bogomilism.

The stakes are to separate body and soul, et cetera. There is definitely a theology attached to vampirism, but it's pretty firmly pre-Christian.

Check out Peter Watts' Blindsight for a very good modern vampire.

Tony, BLINDSIGHT is quite wonderful, and not only about vampires. It's one of the SF books that best INTEGRATES the science with the story (I don't know how to describe that more precisely). it works. I read it twice and have been telling many friends and contacts about it. Most importantly, it spurred me on to learn more about neuroscience than I knew one year ago.

I had this conversation with a very conservative Muslim once who, when asked whether vampirism was halal (permissible in Islam), insisted it certainly was not and that any Muslim who became a vampire automatically lost their status as a Muslim so it was okay to go slay them.

I told him that sounded pretty harsh, but I could hear the piling of stones in the background so I left it at that.

"vampirism was halal (permissible in Islam"

I'm glad you clarified that - at first, I thought you were you asking him if vampires are edible. :)


This is interesting because I just watched "Let The Right One In" a recent Swedish foreign film about Vampires but done in an realistic and original way.

It reminded me of another peculiar theme of Vampires that one must invite them in, they can not enter on their own. I see some Christian theology in that, not sure why though.

I thought I remembered. Jerry Pournelle heard about all this way back in December, 2002, via this (now dead) link.

Anonymous -
It's probably that classic children's picture of Jesus knocking at the door that you're thinking of... and the whole idea (especially popular among the conservative evangelical folks) of "asking Jesus into your heart" in order to be "born again" and receive the "gift of eternal life". Hmmm... that does sound a bit like some of the vampire lore.

Back to the "science" of it however. A couple questions that might impact a reliable model of vampire ecology come to mind:
1) What is the fate of a starving vampire? Can a vampire ever starve to death? It seems that much of the mythology that I've seen implies that they go into a dormant state if starved of blood and that they can be revived if provided with a source of blood.
2) Can vampires survive on non-human blood? I haven't read any of Rice's books, but at least in the movie adaptation of Interview With The Vampire, they could do quite well on the blood of rats (or even aligators?).

OK. Back to work.

I'm just guessing here, but I assume that vampirism isn't Halal for a similar reason that it isn't Kosher, which is that in Judaism (at least) the consumption of blood is forbidden in the Torah (Lev. 7:26, is just the first mention).

Which I'm also guessing is why you don't see stories about Jewish Vampires. Maybe there are that I don't know of, I thought of writing one once, but got tired of vampire stories.

It's also why the Blood Libel stories have never made sense to me.

"Which I'm also guessing is why you don't see stories about Jewish Vampires."

The "alternative Willow" counts?

I'm not a 'Buffy' fan, so I had no idea about Willow Rosenberg (thanks to Wikipedia). I suspect the character is Jewish more for the sake of diversity on the show.

For Jewish Vampires see Yoine Shagal (Alfie Bass) in "The Fearless Vampire Killers" by Polanski.

Willow was a witch, rather than a vampire, is that permissible? She was also a lesbian (after a difficult relationship with Seth Green, him being a werewolf), so diversity was efficiently covered.

And the HBO series True Blood is highly recommended for a dirty southern blues sort of take on the genre.

There were the two season 3 episodes that featured the vampire Willow of an alternative timeline where Buffy never came to Sunnydale. She's famous as the originator of the line "Bored now."

What about the vampire Miriam in The Hunger by Whitley Streiber? She gives her human companions / lovers transfusions of her own blood to keep them alive ("undead") for 200 or so years. But eventually they succumb to a rapid decrepitude.

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