The best books on vampire lore

Joseph Laycock Author Of Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism
By Joseph Laycock

Who am I?

In 2009 I published a book on the real vampire community. I didn’t know that Twilight was about to sweep America and I inadvertently became a “vampire guy” for a few years. I appeared on Geraldo and NPR. I was interviewed by the Colbert Report (but it never aired). I even talked to MTV about hosting a show where I interview teenage vampires. Then we all got into zombies instead and my fifteen minutes of fame were over! I learned a great deal researching my book and giving talks on vampires. In 2010 I taught a special class at Tufts University on vampires where I assigned selections from these books.

I wrote...

Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism

By Joseph Laycock,

Book cover of Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism

What is my book about?

There exists a community of people who identify as “real vampires.” Some of them actually consume human blood (usually small amounts, with the consent of their donor). The vampire community has its own subculture, traditions, and specialized vocabulary. Some people have interpreted the vampire community as a “religious cult” while others have dismissed them as mentally ill. I spent time with the vampire community and found that their identity is neither “religious” in the traditional sense, nor inherently a sign of mental illness. But they do feel they are different from other people and the word “vampire” has become a kind of shorthand for talking about this difference. I found vampires so interesting because they demonstrate the ways in which culture presents increasingly new ways of talking about and understanding ourselves.  

The books I picked & why

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The Psychic Vampire Codex: A Manual of Magick and Energy Work

By Michelle Belanger,

Book cover of The Psychic Vampire Codex: A Manual of Magick and Energy Work

Why this book?

Michelle Belanger is a psychic vampire and an intellectual leader of the real vampire community. This book draws on her experiences of coming to self-identify as a psychic vampire and she actually began writing it in notebooks while in college. The Psychic Vampire Codex provided vocabulary for people in this community to talk about their experiences and a metaphysical theory of what exactly psychic vampires are and why they are different from other people.

I have had the opportunity to meet Belanger and she is a really fascinating person. She founded a metaphysical community called House Kheperu and offers workshops on magick and psychic energy.  She is also a fiction author, musician, activist, and many other things.

The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead

By J Gordon Melton,

Book cover of The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead

Why this book?

This is a really thorough, fascinating encyclopedia of all things vampire––from folklore to nineteenth-century literature to obscure religious movements to comic books and movies to true crime. Whatever you want to know about vampires, this book will have it or tell you where you can find it. J. Gordon Melton is a total fanatic when it comes to vampire lore and he encouraged me early on when I first began researching the vampire community. Besides vampires, Melton loves to collect obscure information and data on all manner of religious groups. He once described himself to me as “a very greedy scholar” because there are so many topics that he tracks and researches. He can also tell you the best used bookstores in any city in America.  

Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead

By Bruce McClelland,

Book cover of Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead

Why this book?

No one knows exactly where the idea of vampires comes from and there is a lot of bad information out there. To get accurate information about the origins of vampire folklore, you ideally need to know Slavic languages. McClelland has a PhD in Slavic studies and his observations are incredibly illuminating for understanding how the idea of vampires (and vampire-like creatures) makes sense within a larger cultural context of Slavic folklore. In particular, McClelland describes traditional vampire slayers—the folklore around them, the techniques they would use, and the circumstances in which a community might decide to exhume a corpse, conclude it’s responsible for the community’s problems, and then ritualistically mutilate it.

Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

By Paul T. Barber,

Book cover of Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality

Why this book?

This is an important book of vampire lore for several reasons. First, it goes in-depth into early modern texts about vampires and vampire hunting as well as vampire “panics” that were once common in communities in Eastern Europe. Second, it applies forensics to theorize why normal aspects of the decomposition process could have been interpreted as evidence of vampirism. The book is informative but also written in a way that is witty and humorous.

The Vampire, His Kith and Kin

By Montague Summers,

Book cover of The Vampire, His Kith and Kin

Why this book?

Montague Summers was a really unusual fellow for the early twentieth century. He was a closeted gay man (closeted because homosexuality was brutally repressed at the time) who was obsessed with the occult and liked to present himself as a religious witch hunter/demonologist. Reportedly he was often seen leaving libraries with a big black file that read “Vampires” across the front where everyone could see it.

Despite being a colorful character, Summers is one of the best early scholars of vampire lore. His work is even more interesting because it reflects the occult revival underway at the end of the nineteenth century. Occult groups such as the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Golden Dawn were reimagining what vampires could be. They hypothesized that vampires could be real but are perhaps more akin to invisible ghosts that feed on human life force. Summers also discusses things like ectoplasm, psychic vampirism, and other metaphysical ideas that helped pave the way for the real vampire community that emerged after his death.

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