If you’ve read Bram Stoker’s Dracula (or seen the movie, of which I am not a fan) you will be familiar with the character of Renfield. For the few who may not be, Renfield was a mental patient whose aid was enlisted by Count Dracula on his arrival to England. He was promised eternal life in exchange for the completion of certain tasks. Believing that he had been given the ability to gain power through the consumption of lesser creatures, he started off by eating flies and then ultimately graduated to birds. The condition of Clinical Vampirism is often referred to as Renfield’s Syndrome because of the belief in transferred power/energy by the affected persons.
Clinical Vampirism is thought to be a form of schizophrenia in which the patient feels a compulsion to drink blood. Hand in hand with this are other characteristics such as the delusion of being a vampire and a fixation with death. It was first termed Renfieldâ€™s Syndrome in 1992 by clinical psychologist Richard Noll as a parody of what he saw as flawed naming conventions. The name stuck but Clinical Vampirism continues to be the accepted medical terminology.
Evidence of Clinical Vampirism in medical literature goes as far back as 1892 though in the writings of Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a prominent Austrian forensic psychiatrist. The vast majority of sufferers are male and most identify a particular event in childhood which triggered their attraction to the taste of blood. It could be something as simple as accidentally biting one’s tongue to the point of bleeding. This typically progresses to sexual arousal in puberty. There are usually three stages to Clinical Vampirism:
Autovampirism: The sufferer consumes his own blood. This often goes hand in hand with cutting and those afflicted typically become quite skilled at inflicting wounds on themselves.
Zoophagia: The patient will ingest the blood of animals. While some may obtain this through an intermediate source such as a butcher’s shop, this stage is generally characterized by killing and draining an animal for the blood, or even eating the live animal.
True Vampirism: The affected person actively consumes human blood. While criminal behavior at this stage is not uncommon, it is by no means a feature of each case. There is an underground culture through which willing donors can be found. However, if an adequate supply cannot be found through such means, some may resort to stealing from hospitals or even violence.
Clinical Vampirism is often cited as an alternative explanation for the present day vampire sub-culture of which blood play is a significant part. Many practitioners though insist that there is a very real need for blood or else physical illness will occur. They also tend to distance themselves from the condition since it is suspected in the case of murderers such as Peter Kurten and Richard Trenton Chase. In fact, there have been very few cases of Clinical Vampirism actually described and it is usually seen as being a part of a more recognized condition.