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But I Play One On TVby Michelle Belanger (Offical Website of Michelle Belanger)
As a pivotal member of the real vampire community, I am of course keeping a close eye on SciFi Channel's new reality TV show, Mad, Mad House. Featuring, among its collection of alternative lifestyle practitioners, the vampire Don Henrie (article), this series has most of the community both frightened and intrigued.
We're intrigued, of course, because we want to see how our community is going to be portrayed through this individual whom none of us seem to know. Frightened because we know, regardless of how accurately or inaccurately he presents us, Don Henrie is now our representative to the world. His behavior and practices will establish how the vast majority of real vampires are perceived.
I would be a little less leery of the whole thing if I had any idea who Don Henrie was. For the witches and neo-Pagans, their Mad, Mad House representative is someone most can recognize, even if they may not all agree with her brand of witchcraft. Fiona Horne is a published author and relatively well-known figure in the magickal community. But the vampire Don Henrie? I have the sinking feeling that Sci-Fi was going for shock and awe when they chose him, because not only are we in the community ignorant as to his identity, he also seems largely ignorant to some specific details about our community.
Of course, the real vampire community is vast and in no ways homogenized. Most vampires are rampant individualists who fiercely guard their right to do things their own way. Yet there are a few key documents that everyone involved in the community is at least conversant with -- even if they do not specifically follow them or agree with what they say.
The most significant of these which is mentioned on Don Henrie's bio on the Mad, Mad House site is a code of ethics known as the Black Veil. The Mad, Mad House site employs some understandably melodramatic language in Don Henrie's bio (he is, after all, a vampire, and the vampire is such a Byronic figure, there is no escaping some amount of melodrama). And yet it still seemed excessively superlative to describe the Black Veil as a 'sacred document'.
I wrote the Black Veil. I thought a document could only become sacred once its original author was long dead and had faded into anonymity. I, on the other hand, am very much alive and still quite active in the international vampire community.
Of course, this provides me a golden opportunity: I can educate anyone who is curious about the real truth of the Black Veil -- how it developed, who is behind it, and how it has influenced the community.
History of the Black Veil
The widespread version of the Black Veil, hosted on literally thousands of real vampire sites across the Internet, was penned by me, Michelle Belanger. I have been an active member of the vampire community since 1991, and am additionally the author of the Vampire Codex, a document that most real vampire groups use to instruct those new to the community. The Codex and the group I founded, House Kheperu, have played a large role in influencing the Sanguinarium, the largest network of groups within the vampire community. The Black Veil was a product of my long-standing association with Father Sebastian Todd, founder of the Sanguinarium.
The original concept for the Black Veil was developed by Todd in the early nineties. It was strongly influenced by a widespread code of conduct honored in the New York fetish scene with overtones of chivalry borrowed from the Renaissance circuit. The first printed mention of the Black Veil appeared in the 1998 Vampyre Almanac. Here, the Black Veil was not specificly laid out as a document unto itself but instead was referred to in loose and general terms which stressed both secrecy and chivalry.
Todd's later version, published online in 1999, had seven rules of behavior which perpetuated the focus on secrecy and a chivalric attitude toward fellow vampires. A combination of the flowery wording, points which stressed respect toward elders and hospitality, and the fact that there are specifically seven rules reminded too many people in the online vampire community of the Traditions of Vampire: the Masquerade -- a popular vampire-themed role playing game. While many in the worldwide vampire community saw the need for an ethical code of conduct and embraced the Black Veil in spite of its possible connection to the game, the document still received some criticism because it could confuse real vampires with vampires from an RPG.
I got involved with the Black Veil because I liked the idea of a code of ethics that could serve as a guideline of behavior within the real vampire community. But, like many others familiar with V:tM, the version Todd had online in the late 90s was a little too reminiscent of the Traditions for my taste. Originally, I asked permission to update it and offered that my name be left off -- I had no problem with the revision being passed off as Todd's own work, so long as the changes I considered so crucial were made.
In the end, my name got associated with the rewrite anyway. This first revision also became known as the Thirteen Rules of Community, for I'd expanded on the original seven rules specifically to draw comparisons away from the Traditions of the Masquerade. While this revised version of the Black Veil still received some amount of criticism for its sometimes melodramatic turn of phrase (as I said, there's no getting away from that in the vampire community), it was a good compromise between the original spirit of Todd's work and an ideology more specific to the evolving real vampire community.
Whether the original version was influenced directly by the role playing game is irrelevant (especially since there has been so much reflexive cross-pollination between the real vampire community and White Wolf's RPG over the years). My main concern with the original Black Veil was to develop wording that retained the spirit of the code without calling to mind an RPG. If it were to fly as a code of conduct, as many people as possible had to take it seriously.
Apparently I did something right, because after the first rewrite, the Black Veil became the most widespread code of conduct in use within the international community, and it clearly inspired numerous factional groups to develop similar codes with their own wording.
Guidelines vs. Doctrine
In 2002, another revision was released, stream-lining the wording, clarifying meaning, and trimming the total rules from thirteen back to seven. At this point, the document had established itself as an entity in its own right, and the fact that there were seven rules no longer automatically classed it as derivative of Vampire: the Masquerade.
While the Black Veil has been promoted to the real vampire community (and I hope is an expression of such common sense rules of conduct that most people already adhere to its ideals anyway), it has never been enforced as the only valid set of ethics within that community. While individuals who wished to join the vampire network known as the Sanguinarium were expected to be conversant with the Black Veil and uphold its ideals in their personal and public affairs, numerous groups existed outside of the Sanguinarium that had their own way of doing things. "Sacred document" it was not.
In general, we've presented the Black Veil as a guideline of behavior only. It is neither Gospel nor law. Logistically, it is impossible to enforce its tenets or really punish anyone who breaks them. But the hope was to establish something that could provide useful guidelines of conduct to newcomers just becoming acquainted with our community. There are aspects that can be dangerous, especially if you're naive, and the Black Veil is designed to mitigate these dangers.
Additionally, we hoped by expressing rules that are, for the most part, tacitly followed in the majority of vampire groups, we could demonstrate to those outside of our community that we do indeed adhere to a code of ethics.
The final reason for the Black Veil, at least as far as my goals were concerned, was to provide a failsafe in case someone associating themselves with our community did anything egregiously illegal (it's happened: Rodney Farrell and the Susan Walsh case attest to that). If a document such as the Black Veil could be established as the general code our community adhered to, we would have a set precedent to refer outsiders to in order to distance our community as a whole from the poor choices of one individual. Despite some darker proclivities, most real vampires exceptionally honorable, ethical people. Unfortunately, just identifying with the word "vampire" immediately blinds most people to any of our good qualities.
It's too early in the viewing season for me to pass final judgement on Don Henrie. And perhaps my current suspicions that he's not really a member of our community are being fed by the fact that I was tapped for the show and then passed over with little explanation as to why I didn't make the grade.
However, if Don Henrie is a legitimate member of the real vampire community, he has an unusual take on our language and terminology. This is hardly exceptional -- as I've said before, most vampires are mavericks, and each tends to stubbornly do things his or her own way. And yet Don Henrie's depiction of vampires as 'Chosen Ones' sets him apart from the vast majority of the community not only in sentiment but also in jargon. In short, he may be a legitimate representative, but he represents a very fractional aspect of a vast and diverse international community.
As I and the other elders continue to watch and hold our collective breath, it is our sincere hope that at the very least Don Henrie will inspire people to look into the community. Hopefully, the curiosity, and even the controversy he inspires will encourage people to seek the sources for what he purports to practice, and perhaps -- miracle of miracles -- go directly to those sources to see what they have to say.
This article is copyright © its original owner and author, Michelle Belanger. Please do not redistribute or reproduce without the expressed permission of the author..