This month's interview is with Author, Editor and Vampire Michelle Belanger. We talked with them about her new book, The Psychic Vampire Codex - A Manual of Magick and Energy Work.
Psychic Vampires are often ostracized by the pagan community, in much the same way pagans are often treated by mainstream religions. The reasons, in both cases, are a knowledge vacuum and the resulting fear of the unknown. That unknown is filled with spurious tales, half-truths and guesswork.
The Psychic Vampire Codex explodes all myths and misconceptions about who and what psychic vampires really are, and reveals a vital and profound spiritual tradition based on balance, rebirth and an integral relationship with the spirit world.
We talked to Michelle Belanger about the Codex, and its effect on the Vampire and pagan communities.
[PNN] What prompted you to write this book?
[MB] There were two things that inspired me to write this book, although they're somewhat interconnected. First, of course, was my own journey of self-discovery with regards to my psychic vampirism. The years that it took me to fully comprehend this capacity I had, what it meant for me, and what its misuse could do to those around me were very hard years. As I learned how to harness and transform my vampirism into something positive and empowering, I resolved that I would do everything in my power to save others like myself from the mistakes, the misunderstanding, and the self-doubt that I had to go through to get where I am now.
The second thing that prompted me to write the book was the plain and simple lack of resources on the subject -- this paucity of information was a significant factor in how long it actually took me to wrestle with my nature and ultimately accept it as something that did not have to be a curse or a handicap. And again, I wanted to share what I had learned so others would have an easier path to the same place of self-acceptance.
[PNN] Do you think this book would be beneficial to others outside the Vampire community?
[MB] I sincerely hope so. I wrote the book with a mind to addressing a very different audience than just psychic vampires. Of course, because of the ethical pointers throughout the work, I hope most psi-vamps will read the book and learn that they do have a choice in how they exercise their abilities. The book's message to psychic vampires is one of positive empowerment -- that they can harness what may seem like a very negative capacity and use it not to prey upon others but instead to heal, renew, and transform. But as much as the book was intended to offer a fresh view on an already familiar phenomenon to psychic vampires themselves, the "Psychic Vampire Codex" is targetted mainly to non-vampires. This expanded version of the book is meant to dispel the myths and misconceptions about us to anyone and everyone who has ever heard of the term "psychic vampire" -- and even those completely new to the concept of psychic vampirism.
Even above and beyond the material on psychic vampirism, there is a wealth of information on energy work and other magickal techniques that can be of use to anyone in the metaphysical community. Techniques for meditation, past life regression, working with spirits, healing with energy -- these are all covered in detail within the book and they are hardly the exclusive territory of psychic vampires. Although the techniques are necessarily colored by the tradition from which they are derived, this may make them even more interesting to non-vampires as it offers a different perspective on old stand-bys -- a perspective that has almost never been shared until now.
[PNN]When and how did you discover you were a Vampire?
[MB] That question gets harder and harder to answer the more I think about it. The easy answer is some time in high school. That's when I started to actively identify myself as a real vampire. I hadn't quite run across the concept of psychic vampirism at the time, so I was struggling to reconcile those parts of the vampire archetype that fit me with all the myth and popular imagery that certainly did not. I knew at that time that I had this need to take something from other people around me. It wasn't blood, but it was intimately connected with the vital force, and when deprived of this, my health would suffer. I'd experiment with abstaining from the acts that I knew allowed me to take this energy from others -- backrubs, mostly -- just to prove to myself that there was a legitimate need. So I'd say my understanding of the metaphysics of my vampirism started to really solidify from my freshman year of high school onward.
But it's never as simple as that. As early as first and second grade, I remember organizing a game of my own design that I called "Vampire Tag". The person who was "it" was the vampire, and he or she would run around after the other players trying to feed off of them. Whoever got tagged this way became another vampire who then chased after everyone else -- it was a pretty involved version of tag, with time-outs where all the vampires had to "sleep" in a specific location where the non-vampire players could then "hunt" them. It sounds cute, even a little campy, until I realized that when I grabbed and "fed" from the other kids to tag them I was going through almost all the same motions of a legitimate energy feeding. So how far back does it go, really? As far back as I can remember.
[PNN] How well was the original Codex received?
[MB] When I first put the Codex out there, I was mostly expecting ridicule. Don't get me wrong -- I had absolute conviction in what I wrote in that book. I had lived it, experimented with it, tested techniques and revised my theories on why things worked the way they did for years before compiling all of that material into a working manuscript. And yet I knew how hard it was to believe some of the things in there because it had taken me years of repeated and undeniable experience to accept all of them. But still, I figured that the material would be of interest only to a select few individuals.
I never dreamed that the book would change the shape of pretty much the entire vampire community, and yet that's exactly what it did. So many people devoured the work, many others came to look upon it as something of a vampire Bible. I know of versions that were translated into Spanish, German, French -- even Russian and Japanese. What finally convinced me of the work's impact, appeal, and general success were the stories that started getting back to me about it. At some point after its release upon the Internet, the Codex attained this almost mythic existence. I watched people speculate about its origins on newsgroups and elists, and friends would forward me these amazing emails on just who and what the mysterious author of the work was. That sort of response just floored me.
[PNN] The Wiccan community is often demonized by the the more conservative sects of the Christian Church, yet it seems at times that the Wiccans in turn treat the Vampire community the same way. Why do you think this is, and how might that change?
[MB] Well, I'm glad you said it and not me. This is of course something I've observed first hand myself, and for the longest time it was something that deeply confused me. When I first started interacting with the metaphysical community, I rather naively would declare myself a psychic vampire to anyone and everyone who asked the question, "So what are you?" Given a typical Wiccan response to the very notion of psychic vampires, you can imagine how the rest of those conversations went. I actually had covens bar me from interacting with them in ritual -- when they deigned to talk to me at all after that initial disclosure. One group went so far as to get my word that I would shut down any connection I had to one of their members when he participated in their rites for fear that I would just be hovering in spirit over his shoulder, lapping up the energy they raised. In some respects, I've found myself bitterly amused that the Wiccans and the Fundalmentalist Christians often agree on at least one thing -- they don't like vampires.
Because one of my goals from the start of this wild ride with the Codex was to build bridges and dispell misconceptions, I've spent a good deal of time studying the reactions other groups have to us, trying to see things from their point of view. And it's not just the Wiccans. For most Pagans, occultists, and New Agers, "psychic vampire" might as well be synonymous with "predator." Like a lot of negative stereotypes, I can see where the bias started -- there is a grain of truth to it.
An unawakened psychic vampire -- someone who does not realize what they are -- still takes energy from others, and because this often happens unconsciously, there are rarely any ethics involved. How do you ask permission to do something you have no idea that you're doing? But even if the "predator" is ignorant of his or her actions, to most practitioners of magick, the act of vampirizing energy is a psychic attack. You take a few bad experiences with those who don't know what they're doing, add in that small portion of the magickal community who learn how to vampirize energy just for kicks, and combine these things with the fact that most psi-vamps who actually know what they're doing are very, very quiet about it, and there is a perfect recipe for misunderstanding.
This is fixable on our end of things. The answer is to educate people -- psychic vampires and non-vampires alike -- about what this phenomenon really is and what choices can be made when exercising it. However, on the Wiccan end of things, full understanding and acceptance can only happen if traditional "white lighters" can accept that something that has a destructive capacity can still also have a positive side. That would be my only significant criticism of what I've observed among the Wiccans that I know -- I don't often see a sense of balance between darkness and light. If it's not white light, then it's bad, and there's no compromise. While psychic vampirism is more a state of being and less a religious perspective, I will say that the vast majority of psi-vamps that I know acknowledge some sense of a balance of forces -- mainly because we experience that in a very visceral way through our everyday experiences with energy. If we and the Wiccans can come to agree that acknowledging the role of darker forces does not necessarily make an individual evil, then there can be a workable dialogue between our traditions.
[PNN] Do you think writers like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton have helped or hindered the acceptance of vampires?
[MB] Within the community, people usually fall into one of two diametrically opposed camps on this issue. There are those who love the vampire fiction that's out there. They're avid fans of Buffy and Lestat, and they love the romance of the vampire as an archetype. These are usually the people who also love integrating the vampire aesthetic into their fashion and lifestyle. Then there are those who feel that the portrayal of the vampire in fiction and pop culture trivializes or obscures what it means to be a real vampire. From my observations, I have to say it's a little bit of both. There are a lot of people who come to their original understanding of vampirism as a real and personal phenomenon after being exposed to the concept of vampirism in fiction or film. Quite a bit of the vampire archetype has nothing at all in common with psychic vampirism, but the key notion that vampires feed upon life holds true. So long as people who come to the reality of vampirism through fiction or fantasy do not confuse the symbol with what it symbollizes, I see no problem. Problems arise when people try to take every aspect of the fictional vampire literally, assuming that somehow all of these fantastical elements apply to psychic vampires.
In many ways, having all the vampire literature out there is good for the subculture. First of all, it introduces people to the concept, it gets fundamental ideas out there. In the years since Buffy became such a smash-hit on television, vampires have become very interesting to some of the most ordinary people in the world, and their exposure to things like Buffy tends to make these people more open to the notion of vampires in real life.
Then there's the fact that art can and often does imitate life. With Laurell K. Hamilton's work in particular, I noticed that there came a point in her Anita Blake novels where she started making an effort to be more metaphysically accurate across the board. Obviously a couple of her Wiccan friends stood up and tried explaining to her the real rules on magick, and she began integrating some of these concepts into her stories -- while never sacrificing the fantastical elements that make them gripping tales. At about the same time, you'll notice that a lot of her vampire interactions start having more to do with energy -- and I can attest that she writes fairly accurately about how some of the energetic aspects of a vampiric exchange feel for both partners.
It's not unheard of for writers, even writers of supernatural fiction, to base much of their material on real life. As H.P. Lovecraft proved without a doubt in his own work, a strong grounding in actual metaphysical techniques helps readers suspend their disbelief in that moment where the story departs from reality in the interest of telling a good tale. Certainly I acknowledge that there is a slippery slope with metaphyiscally-grounded fiction -- if you don't know what's what, it may be hard to differentiate the fact from the fiction. And yet how many people in the neo-Pagan community got their first taste of magick by reading J.R.R. Tolkien or playing Dungeons & Dragons? Fiction and fantasy make us wonder "what if?" Once the seed has been planted and someone starts wondering if there actual could be magick or vampires or whatever out there, then they can start looking to the non-fiction resources that actually address the reality of things. The key to having a metaphysical revelation through a fictional medium is knowing how to discern the grain of truth underneath all the flash and story.
[PNN] Is there a common spirituality or belief structure concerning deity and the afterlife amongst Vampires?
[MB] Vampirism, as I mentioned earlier, is more a state of being and less a specific religious tradition. If I had to get down to brass tacks, I would have to admit that it's a condition if it's anything. However, be it a condition, a trait, or a state of mind, because vampirism has some distinctly metaphysical elements to it, individuals who share this thing called psychic vampirism are often drawn to certain conclusions about the nature of reality from the sheer testament of their daily experiences.
Almost universally you will hear from psychic vampires that they were born what they are. To most, this implies a source of the vampiric condition that predates this particular incarnation, which in its own turn implies both the existence of the soul and the possibility that that soul can carry qualities from previous incarnations. The fact that psychic vampires feed upon some subtle quality connected to the life-force but not specifically attached to any physical part of the body tends also to imply that the physical body is just one aspect of our existence. So the fundamental experiences of being a psychic vampire make it hard to escape the notion of the soul, of spiritual immortality, and of the dual nature of body and spirit. Beyond this point, individual interpretations can (and do) vary radically.
Most psychic vampires that I know have a sense of deity, but typically this is not expressed through a worship of specific gods or goddesses so much as it manifests as a general and somewhat ambiguous sense that there is something bigger than all of us that lies at the heart of this mystery we call the Universe. I suppose it would be best expressed as a sense of the Tao. It's hard to be as sensitive to energy as a typical psi-vamp and not see that there is something more than mere physical existence, that there are patterns and flows to things and that sometimes we can harness these things to enact change while at other times they reach down and harness us, using us as tools in some greater pattern or plan.
But is there a common belief structure to this? Have we bothered to formulate it, standardize it, give it a name? Yes and no. Some groups have, most notably the Ordo Strigoi Vii. Many individuals have developed their own set of beliefs. But being a psychic vampire does not exlude a person from belonging to any other belief system -- from Fundamentalist Christian to atheist to Moonie. Practically every belief system known to man seems to be represented within our subculture. The one thing that seems standard -- and sometimes the only thing -- is that psychic vampires are all rampant individualists who don't like to be told what to think or to believe. Each person comes to his or her own conclusions based upon his or her own background and experiences. To me, the fact that there is even a modicum of homogeny to these conclusions argues that they are derived from a real, knowable, measurable phenomenon that functions upon universal laws.
[PNN] Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
[MB] I'm currently finishing a book that's intended to be a post-modern "Book of the Dead." I cover a lot of material from shamanism and the Tibetan Bardo in there with an eye toward de-mystifying the spirits of the dead and reclaiming the idea of death as transformation. A related topic, reincarnation, is the focus of another book that's about two-thirds of the way completed. I'm also planning a companion work to the "Psychic Vampire Codex." I intend for that to be more of a workbook, expanding greatly on the hands-on exercises for a variety of the techniques touched upon in the Codex itself. For my musical side, I continue to collaborate with the Chicago dark metal band URN (www.urncentral.com), and I'm in negotiations with a couple of artists for two separate Tarot projects. I do get time to sleep in there somewhere, I swear it!
[PNN] What would you say has been your greatest achievement to date?
[MB] Stopping to think about it, I'd have to say it's the Black Veil. This is a set of ethical guidelines that is essentially the Wiccan Rede of the vampire subculture. I cannot take credit for the name of the document nor for its original concept. The title and the idea came from Father Sebastian, founder of the Sanguinarium. But the version that is known around the globe is my work, my writing. It's so well-known that it's been mentioned on SciFi and on an episode of CSI: Vegas. But more than the renown the Black Veil has achieved, what makes it a great accomplishment to me is the impact it's had on the vampire culture and the people within it. I'm very big on ethics, on mutual respect. That the values and ideals I prefer to uphold have become a mainstay within the worldwide vampire community -- this is something that makes me proud.
[PNN] If you could go back in your life and change one thing, what would it be?
[MB] I generally feel that no experience is a bad experience if you can learn from it. So I rarely have any regrets, once an event has been viewed in the proper perspective. That being said, I would still like to go back and whisper a few revelations about gender identity into the ear of my younger self. It would circumvent a lot of stress and heartache between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine.
[PNN] How would you want to be remembered?
[MB] I want to be the person who dared to delve into the dark places of the imagination in order to retrieve those things of value that got lost in the shadows. I want to be the person who shows that there is light even in the deepest shadow and that even our attributions of light and darkness are really just perspectives and states of mind.
[PNN] Do you have a favorite group/musician?
[MB] I often say that I listen to everything from Bach to Rob Zombie, so my musical tastes are eclectic, to say the least. If I had to choose just one group, the one that gets the most play time on my computer or in my car is Dead Can Dance. I love the variety of instruments they use, the integration of old and new. I'm also a fan of the female voice, and Lisa Gerard has an amazing one. Also, the music tends to be very soothing to me, and with a life as busy as mine is, anything that gets me to relax becomes a favorite in my book. VNV Nation comes in a close second, more for their lyrics than anything else.
[PNN] Do you have a favorite bumper sticker?
[MB] If I had to pick just one of the many bumper stickers that have caught my eye, it would be "Celebrate Diversity." It covers just about everything I need to say.
[PNN] If you drew a picture to represent your mind, body and spirit, what would you draw?
[MB] Darkness, and at the center, a shining star. Within the star, just visible as it would be one with the light, a being of flame, winged like an angel, androgyne, who is both the darkness and the light, the star and the person it incarnates in.
The Psychic Vampire Codex is available at better bookstores everywhere; from the link above, or by contacting Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press at: (800) 423-7087 or