Inside the world of real-life vampires in New Orleans and Atlanta

By Scottie Andrew, CNNUpdated: Sat, 29 Oct 2022 12:28:56 GMTSource: CNNWhen Maven Lore was being fitted for his first set of fangs, a switch within him flipped on. "Something just came to the surface

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

Updated: Sat, 29 Oct 2022 12:28:56 GMT

Source: CNN

When Maven Lore was being fitted for his first set of fangs, a switch within him flipped on.

"Something just came to the surface and everything felt right for once in my life," he said. "I had this notion that there was more to it than just pointy teeth."

He didn't know what to call the feeling at the time, or that it would lead him from New York to New Orleans, but he knows now that it was an "awakening": His first taste of life as a vampire.

Lore found belonging in New Orleans and never left. Now a crafter of bespoke acrylic fangs himself, he's risen up to the (reluctantly accepted) role of king of the Big Easy's vampire court.

"Being a part of the vampire court of New Orleans is about all of us coming up together -- a victory for one person is a victory for all of us," he said. "We're all just kind of 'sink or swim' together."

Human vampires live, and they're fairly far from the fictional creatures we recognize. Their interpretations of vampirism vary widely -- many of them feed off of energy or sexual encounters -- but feeding habits and fangs are just the trappings of a community that is as diverse as it is misunderstood by non-vampires. You may not even know they're a vampire at all, at least not if you're searching for the stereotypical tip-offs. There are no restrictions for self-identifying vampires -- they're not bound to nocturnal life or required to worship fictional vampires.

The vampires (sometimes spelled "vampyres") of today are, in essence, people from different backgrounds with a common goal -- belonging -- who've found community with their fellow vampires. Living as a vampire is a subversive choice, a proud rejection of social norms. And in that way, it's an empowering way to live, said John Edgar Browning, a professor of liberal arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design who's spent years studying vampire communities in New Orleans and Buffalo, New York.

"Human vampires make accessible the infinite potential that exists for exposing and unfixing the repressive and oppressive categories out of which marginalization is born," he told CNN. "So, in a way, these vampires are therapeutic for us."

CNN spoke to two giants of their respective communities, Lore of New Orleans and Merticus, the co-founder of the Atlanta Vampire Alliance, about their lives, their joys and the misconceptions about vampirism they'd like to permanently put to rest.

Searching for family, finding vampires

Firstly: Yes, a few modern-day vampires consume blood, often from consenting donors -- typically loved ones or partners -- in small amounts. But many abstain from or condemn that practice and instead find sustenance in sexual encounters or other experiences from which they can derive energy (Lore and Merticus among them). When strangers feign fear and ask Lore if he'll drink their blood, he quips, "No, that's called murder."

While the uninitiated are usually most interested in feeding habits, Lore said that's hardly what matters to vampires. (He compared asking a vampire about their feeding habits to asking a non-vampire whether they eat cold cuts.)

Many vampires don't fit the archetypes Bram Stoker et al. popularized. These are people who often work day jobs -- Lore is also a graphic designer, DJ and jeweler; Merticus is an expert in antique furnishings.

And most human vampires weren't even drawn to the community because they idolized Dracula. In his ethnographic studies of human vampires, Browning said he found that members of vampire communities were mostly drawn to each other for the social elements, not their affinity for vampire media.

"I wouldn't even call them vampire fans at all, merely people with a shared history from their adolescence, an innate need for blood or energy, and a shared need to find others like themselves who are accepting," Browning said.

Merticus was seeking answers from others like him when he joined vampire chatrooms in 1996 after noticing for years that he could "draw strength from charged situations," which he came to realize later was psychic feeding.

"I've never felt as though my body or even this time period aligns with my spirit or soul," he told CNN. "Or more simply... I've always felt something was different about me that I couldn't quite put my finger on."

He made friends in those chatrooms that are still in his life today, and offline, those connections have grown even stronger.

Lore found those connections when he first visited New Orleans 24 years ago, days before Halloween. He's lived there ever since.

"I didn't even know there was a community," he said. "But they were family."

And now, they're his family, too. He's eked out a significant role in the NOLA vampire scene: Aside from his fangsmith business, he's also a mentor to young vampires, a role he stumbled into by accident but accepts nonetheless. He resists being called a "keeper of the peace" between vampires in the area, although he's known to regularly counsel and resolve arguments among members.

"We all just wanna get along and be loved -- that's why I love the vampire community," Lore said. "It doesn't f**king matter what race ... what gender you are. You're accepted."

What people get wrong about vampires

The enduring popularity of fictional vampires means that Merticus and others must constantly clarify that they're not like the nocturnal bloodsuckers that continue to entertain and terrify us. In fact, Merticus said, many human vampires "remain out of the public eye" due to the many misconceptions of what it means to be vampires and fear or reprisal from the people they know.

Now Merticus said he works to educate people that vampirism is an "amalgamation of physical, mental ... and spiritual attributes," and vampires are largely productive members of society.

Vampirism is often associated with the occult -- and fictional vampires are known for engaging in human sacrifice among other grisly acts. The idea that the vampire subculture "encourages and condones such behavior" is untrue, Merticus said. For another -- human vampire communities welcome members of all religious backgrounds.

Both vampires said they resist being recognized solely for the fact that they identify as vampires. And they certainly resist aesthetic stereotypes of vampirism: Merticus said he doesn't wear fangs or Goth clothes, and Lore describes his nighttime style as a cross between snazzy suit wearer and '80s rock-and-roll. (When he's crafting fangs, he prefers to keep it casual in athleisure.)

Luckily, though, Merticus said, the direction in which the depiction of fictional vampires is heading is a positive, multifaceted one -- gone are the days of one-dimensional, blanch-skinned bloodsuckers.

"Hollywood's interpretation of the vampire has slowly begun transforming the vampire into something more human than monster," he said, referencing Barnabas Collins, the protagonist of the Gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows," the David Bowie-starring "The Hunger" and adaptations of the Anne Rice classic, "Interview with the Vampire."

"The humanity of the vampire has struck a chord with audiences," Merticus said.

But those and more popular vampire properties only intensify media attention on human vampires offscreen. Merticus said he prefers to keep in the "shadows" -- plenty of vampire houses, clans, organizations and individuals have "carried on quite well" without all the hubbub.

"This is what makes the tapestry of our collective experiences so richly rewarding and personally bonding as we grow older together," he said.

But so long as there's interest in human vampires, Merticus said he'll be a somewhat reluctant spokesperson for them. He's even carried out surveys of fellow vampires to learn more about their backgrounds, feeding habits and social lives.

There's more to life than vampirism

Both Lore and Merticus said that vampirism doesn't occupy their entire lives. Both are in committed relationships with non-vampires, they said, and being a vampire is just one facet of who they are, not their defining quality.

Merticus' vampire alliance of Atlanta has mostly evolved into a relatively small, tight-knit crew of "aging vampires," he said. The Georgia vampire's life is relatively quieter than Lore's -- he prefers to slink around restaurants, bars and cultural events rather than work and play in New Orleans' sleepless downtown.

Just as some vampire groups in New York are highly influential, almost political organizations, and Ohio's vampire community are mostly psychic feeders, according to Merticus, every vampire house, coven or court has its own traditions and nuances.

"Most of us communicate with one another even if we approach the path of vampirism from different avenues of belief and practice," Merticus said.

Vampires of all kinds, from all over the US, want to support and protect the people who have become their family. Like family, they squabble and disagree (that's where Lore steps in, to mediate). But the goal, Lore and Merticus said, is always unity.

"Unity to me doesn't mean we're all the same," Lore said. "It means oneness of purpose. We are all family despite our differences; we love each other sometimes because of our differences."