Monday, 10 March 2014

Seriously Staked: How vampires out-evolve ghosts

Seriously StakedVampires out-evolve ghosts! That's the main conclusion I drew from the fascinating day that was ASSAP's Seriously Staked vampire symposium. It was clear from the various lectures that vampires have changed radically down the centuries and particularly in recent years. The aspects that most people think of as defining features of vampire behaviour and physiology have only appeared relatively recently in their long history. They have come a long way from simple revenants to the stylish vampires seen in modern TV and movie series. What is more, their characteristics, like whether they cast a reflection or are susceptible to daylight or are immortal or have psychic abilities, vary hugely depending on what source you consult (see here, for instance).

Contrast this with apparently unaltered attributes of ghosts. They basically appear as a human figure which can vanish and has the ability to walk through walls. And it has been that way for a very long time. So why have vampires evolved so spectacularly while the humble ghost remains stuck in an evolutionary cul de sac?

I think, in essence, it is because many people regard vampires as purely mythical while ghosts are widely held to be real. Also, there are many more cases of ghost sightings compared to vampires. The very small number of vampire cases tend to old and poorly documented. And whether these case actually concern vampires depends on what definition you choose! Further, as John Fraser observed in his talk at the symposium, the incidents in many such cases sound more like poltergeist activity than the work of vampires. In contrast, ghost cases are appearing all the time and some are very well documented. And their characteristics remain remarkably consistent over time.

My idea, then, is that vampires can 'evolve', in popular culture at least, because there are is no large body of evidence from real cases to restrict the imagination of those who depict them in books and films. Of course, ghosts in books and films DO differ from those in real life cases. For instance, fictional ghosts frequently talk to witnesses whereas this seldom, if ever, happens in real life. Also, fictional ghosts are almost always seen as spirits whereas in real cares there is no compelling evidence to support that idea. Nevertheless, the ghosts of popular culture never stray too far in their characteristics from those of real cases. Most people appear to like their fiction to be based largely on fact.

If you missed Seriously Staked there are reviews here and here. And there are more symposiums coming up. They are: Seriously Spooked. On 27 September 2014 at Aston University, Birmingham. A day about ghosts, poltergeists and paranormal investigation. Seriously Possessed. On 7 March 2015, Goldsmiths College, London. Exorcisms, stigmata, possession, demons and more. There is also a new series of monthly talks in London: see here.

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