Why Vampires?

A recent discussion with a friend about relationships revealed he was a shameless cad until he met his current wife. Prior to meeting her, he had made plots to sleep with every girl in his department – and he had made good efforts to do so.

Why the change from shameless playboy to monogamous husband?

LOVE. He fell in love. She tamed him, he was willing to settle down. She was enough for him.

Such a discussion illuminates an interesting psychology that complicates the game of love. Of course, novels and stories such as the Twilight Saga, gain traction from the vampire motif to embody this tension.

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It seems exciting and energising to a woman to be the maddening object of desire to an otherwise animalian appetite. Despite protestations of being lusted after, cat called or stared at, women love to be desired. The more powerful the pursuer, the more energising the feeling of being desired.

However, what peaks the romantic tension for her is that his LOVE for her transcends his lust for her flesh but forever, their liaison is one of slight danger in which her “being enough” is the means to hold the full brute force of his animal self at bay. Of course erotica spin offs such as 50 Shades take the danger, violence and sexualisation of Twilight in more explicit direction. But nevertheless the motifs remain.

This is alarming because of course the upshot of discussions around violence against women can tend to slide to female fault. She no longer was enough for him and so he strayed. OR she placed herself in danger of an otherwise untameable force. Protective voices warn women and girls, without addressing the perpetrators, who are after all seemingly acting out of their nature

The prevalence of partner and sexually related violence shows the dark side of these fantasies. The transformative power of attraction and desire can soon wear thin, leaving an unfettered animal instinct and two hungry souls to tear at each others flesh and emotions.

 

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Danger occurs when anyone believes they deserve negligence, violence or exploitation in ANY context.

Love narratives are powerful at showing how redemption can channel and transform unfettered forces into life giving dedication, self giving and sacrifice. However, the converse is not true. The belief that anyone be motivated to maintain the welfare of the other purely by the value or allure of that person holds,  is sorely misguided.

Indeed to be a fully actualised human, male or female, is to realise the power we have over others. This coupled with a full understanding of  the intrinsic value of all others despite our perception of this value should inform our default inter-relationships.

The true supernatural power of being human, is to build and sustain life giving relationships with a range of people despite their utility. Whether we be vampire or not, the role others is not to transform or redeem our baser desires. This transformation must occur first and from which all relationships can flow.

That transformation comes from a greater love story.

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The Wicked Step Mother

Have you ever wondered why fairy stories feature so many wicked step mothers?

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The recurring feature of a widower with children,  bereft of a mother, springs up in children’s tales with alarming frequency  and proceeds to unfurl a nightmare of a new wife and her murderous schemes on the children.

Snow White who faces murder at the hands of the woodsman commanded to bring her heart in a box.

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Hansel and Gretel who are led into the woods to be abandoned and trapped by a cannibalistic witch.

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Rapunzel who is locked in a tower by a jealous stepmother to live in solitary confinement.

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Cinderella who is locked in a dungeon by her stepmother to serve the family as a slave ………

Other stories feature children alone in the world facing murderous grown ups wishing to exploit, imprison or eliminate them.

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In 2015 I am marrying a man with four children and face the duty of step-parent. What does this mean for me and my relationship with them? Are we doomed?

I don’t believe so.  In true form, fairy stories speak of  a reality more spiritual in nature.  Reading between the lines, a mother represents to children true unconditional love. When she dies they are left with a loving father who is  helpless to care for them in the same motherly way. His choice to remarry exposes the children to one who does not have their best interests in mind, one who does not love unconditionally.

The relationship of children to adults, especially parents is an interesting one. In a sense, children are a motif of one’s mortality. As they grow and learn, the adult ages and declines. Their ascendancy signals the adults descent from beauty, health and vigour. This very motif is shown in Cinderella,  the wicked step mother’s vanity emphasised  in her magic mirror’s declaration she is no longer the “fairest in the land”. What greater threat to a woman to no longer be beautiful and desired?  What greater threat than the younger and more beautiful youth ready to take her place.

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This motif is shown in more ways that simply fairy stories but plays out in power plays between humans of all ages and genders. The Mean Girls of high school bully those younger to establish primacy and control of the alpha males and jocks at school.  The “queen bees” belittle and control their own flock of followers to keep a pecking order and establish dominance.  Almost a carnivorous cannibalistic dynamic is created, in which the younger threatens to take the seat of power and the older seeks to exploit and maintain control at all costs.

Indeed, parenting is one of continual death to self and sacrifice of self for children. It’s a dynamic that is directly contradictory to the above dynamic. A parent willingly gives up their own place in the world to make way for the children – they give time, money and care to make sure the children have the best start in the world. For the biological parent this is both selfishly motivated – it is a sign of one’s genes continuing in the world, one’s seed flourishing. But it is also a signal of true love.

Parenting gone wrong is then the purest symbol of evil. And it’s not limited to wicked mothers or step mothers……..

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Look at Darth Vader !

So what can I learn about being a good step parent [or parent for that matter] from these stories? I’m reminded of the following account from Matthew 20: 20-28.  Jesus describes his own death and this conversation proceeds.

A Mother’s Request

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”“We can,” they answered.23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

 

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Understanding Jesus to be a king, the mother has asked what every mother wants for her children – to have the best. She wants them to be favoured and preferred. But what she asks she does not understand.  In seeking favour in her terms, she seeks dominance, control, primacy and power. A seat of influence for her two boys.

Jesus asks the men if they can drink his cup. Having just described his death – he speaks of the nature of his love for humanity. As a true lover, he lays down his life that the children will grow in life. Will they do that? Can they do that?

25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus talks of the rulers of the Gentiles who “lord it over” the people and who “exercise authority” over them. His command to his followers is to become a servant, become a slave to others. To follow this king and to sit at his side equals laying down your life for others.

And this is the true love story

Casablanca and the ‘second chance’.

Shakespeare writes in ‘Much Ado About Nothing”, speaking of the music and it’s power, “Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?” One could say the same thing about language and story. “Is it not strange that the wind of the lungs and the vibrations of  throat can move us to tears, to anger, to love ?” Or “is it not strange that the combination of sounds into sentences, can move us to hate, to war, to sacrifice or obedience?”

I’m forever awed by the way that narrative can enable us to embody the protagonist’s consciousness , to travel in their shoes, to make us feel their feelings. Their love is our love, their struggle is our struggle, their sacrifice is our sacrifice and their redemption is our redemption.

A story that teaches me a lot about redemption is the 1940s film “Casablanca”.  The story goes like this:

Early in World War II, Rick and Elsa met and fell in love in Paris. Upon the invasion of Paris by the Germans, they planned to run away together, but the night of the rendezvous at the train station, Elsa didn’t turn up, leaving Rick heart broken.

A year later, in a bar in Morocco, Rick has money and influence, but he cannot forget Elsa. Casablanca is an outpost city through which fugitives of war, wealthy Europeans, political players, Jews, can seek visas to escape to the USA.  One day a Czech freedom fighter and political activist, Victor Laslo and his wife come to Casablanca. He is wanted by the Nazi party and desperately needs papers to escape.  When the couple arrive, Rick and Elsa meet again.

When it becomes clear that Rick can help Victor, Elsa declares her love for Rick and tells him the story of how, on the night of their rendezvous, she heard that Victor was alive. He had been arrested and put in a concentration camp but had escaped.  Not knowing how to tell Rick of her husbands’s existence, she decided that disappearing was the kindest act. She bargains with Rick that if she will stay with him in Casablanca, will he set Victor free and send him to the USA.

Rick has two visas – one for him and Elsa. The night of the flight, he takes them both to the airport, and puts both Victor and Elsa on the flight together to the USA.

This story tells me of redemption. In one case, the decision to let Elsa be with her husband is taken from Rick and he is left abandoned. This is a grief he cannot overcome. In the second instance, it is he himself, full with the knowledge of Elsa’s love, that puts them together on the flight to escape. This willing self sacrifice is the way that he can be free of the burden he has carried all the years of her decision to leave. He can show love in the most profound way possible, by sacrificing himself. In giving, he finds healing.

What is “Bear Skin”?

Bearskin is in fact number 101 of the Brother’s Grimm collection of fairy tales. It is more commonly retold as “Beauty and the Beast.”

The tale begins after a bitter war, and of a soldier, who finds himself homeless as his parents have died and his brothers have no place for him. Lost one night in the woods, he encounters a green-coated man with a cloven hooves who offers to make him rich beyond his wildest dreams if he wlll engage in a wager.  For seven years he can not cut his hair, clip his nails, bathe, or pray. In addition he must wear a Bearskin cloak without removing it once. He cannot be free of the Bearskin cloak until a woman falls in love with him, with only the truest of loves. At the end of the seven years,  if he has not found anyone to love him, the devil will take his soul.

The desperate soldier, with little other option,  agrees  and the devil gives him the Bearskin cloak. The devil departs, telling the young man that he would find in its pockets a limitless supply of money. He renames the young man Bearskin and disappears.

Bearskin sets out on his way, finding many good friends upon his travels. He has limitless wealth in his pockets and can find companions easily. However, soon, because he cannot remove the cloak, nor cut his hair, clip his nails, nor bathe, he grows so revolting that he has to pay heavily in order to get any place to shelter. It becomes harder and harder for him to find friends and companions and people occassionally absue him and fear him because of his appearance.

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After four years, Bearskin hears an an old man lamenting and persuades him to tell his tale. The man recounts to Bearskin how he has lost all his money and does not know how to provide for his daughters. He cannot pay his debts and so he will be sent to jail. Bearskin, taking pity on the poor man, gives him two bags of gold, one for his debts and one for his family.

The old man is so grateful that he invites Bearskin to his home, saying that he will surely give one of his daughters as a wife to him.  However, when Bearskin and the man arrive home and the daughters are called, all is not well. When the set eyes on Bearskin, his hair matted, his nails long like claws, his body smelling without a bath in four years, the oldest runs away, screaming. The second daughter does not run, but she begins to ridicule Bearskin, saying she will never marry such a beastly man as he. It is only the youngest daughter, a soft sweet girl who loved her father dearly who consents to marry him.  Bearskin gives her half a ring and promises to return in three years. When he leaves, her sisters chastise their father and ridicule their sister at length.

At the end of the seven years, the devil reappears to Bearskin and demands that he be free of his curse. The devil asks whether Bearskin has found a woman to love him truly. Bearskin tells the devil of the farmers daughter who has agreed to marry him and the devil only chuckles.  The devil bathes Bearskin, clips his nails and cuts his hair until he a handsome fresh young man again. He then accompanies Bearskin to the farmers house dressed as a fine gentleman. Here the older sisters serve the two men not recognising Bearskin.  The youngest daughter, his fiance shows no reaction to him. The devil then announces to the old man that this young Prince would like marry one of his daughters. The two older sisters run off to dress splendidly, but the youngest sits mournfully in the corner. The devil challenges Bearskin saying “these girls do not love you, but they love the prince they imagine you to be.”

Bearskin calls to the youngest girl, asking whether she does not wish to marry him after all ? She answers, “oh no, I’m pledged to a man quite different to you, sir! His name is Bearskin and he will return for me this very year.” Bearskin drops his half of the ring into a wine cup and gives it to his fiance. She drinks it and realizes that he is her bridegroom. Upon seeing this woman’s true loyalty and love for Bearskin, the devil curses and disappears.

The young man and farmers daughter are soon married. Upon realizing who he was and what they gave up, one older sister hangs herself in rage and the other drowns herself. At the close of the story, the devil knocks on the young man’s door to tell Bearskin that he had gotten two souls for the price of one.

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To me “Bear Skin” captures much of what is powerful about the nexus between theology, philosophy and narrative. Embodied within the story is not only a “message” per se but a picture of a truth through fiction.  A man, desititute, encounters an offer of untold wealth in exchange for slavery to a beastly form. He agrees and faces social exclusion, lacking true human love despite his gold. It is only upon the encounter with true love that the curse can be liftted.

In one version of the tale,  the devil refuses to belive the girl’s love is genuine to Bear Skin based on his incredible wealth. It is only when she surrenders her life, and the devil gets his wager of a “soul”, that her love is proven and Bear Skin is returned to human form.  This tragic ending, while unsatisfactory, rings true.  Love is sacrificial.  Wealth and power often bestow a beastly form upon humanity.

As a Christian, I see in this tale, not unlike the Narnia tales, the embodiment of a message of the human condition.  In exchange for power, humanity has gained a beastliness that bars us from true intimacy and love to and from others.  Our animal nature can only be restored through true and sacrificial love, this by the innocent death of one who loves us without condition.

What I understand from this narrative, that is lacking from the Grimm’s version, is that this death is in fact the genesis of new life, not the end but the beginning. The fairytale ends with a wedding and so does the biblical narrative. Weddings signify the beginning of something new, a new creation and new life.