Traditionally, vampires have been evil demons, not sympathetic creatures of the night. So what's changed?
Characteristics of the traditional vampire in fiction and folklore:
Drinks blood to survive
Can’t go out in the Sun
Allergic to crosses, holy water, and other religious relics
Obviously, traditional vampires have been seen as demons, messengers of Satan, and other evil beings. While I may not support all of Christiangoth’s beliefs, he explains the relationship between your classic vampire and religion it quite well:
"It is also important to note that while the vampire legend is nearly universal, it reached its most epidemic proportions in heavily Catholic (or Orthodox) eastern Europe. Most cultures have taboos against drinking blood. This can doubtless be traced back to the command the Lord gave Noah after the flood forbidding the drinking of blood (Gen. 9:4). It is ironic that both the Catholic and Orthodox religions feature as their central superstition the idea of drinking blood and eating flesh (under the sacramental appearance of wine and bread) against the specific commands of God. That these religions are dominant in cultures where vampirism (both in legend and in practice) runs deep is significant.”
These vampires were said to drink your blood… your life essence, your being. Leviticus 17:11 says "the life of a creature is in the blood." This goes with the above mentioned Levitical law forbidden the consumption of blood. If something drinks your blood and you die, it is a death worse them murder, they have literally consumed your life.
Darkness is synonymous with evil. The sun brings life. The sun helps crops to grow and makes living and working possible. The sun represents life. Light is often used to describe God or goodness. It is no wonder an evil being cannot bear to live in the sunshine.
A vampires weakness to religious items helps to illustrate how the church is able to defeat evil. Even though the creature may seem powerful and dangerous, it can be defeated with the use of a cross or holy-water. This gives power to the religion, it’s doctrine, and faith.
Another common way to kill a vampire would be fire. Fire is also used as a symbol for life and protection. People are able to cook and warm themselves with it, and many ceremonies used fire. Fire is also said to cleanse someone, to make them pure. Fire represents something good; good again, defeats evil.
Omnibus Sanctis discusses the symbol of the vampire as well, saying
"Vampires are us, what we become (monsters) when we turn our backs to God and give ourselves over to unbridled passions, our lusts and selfishness, our nihilism. In this way vampire stories are at their core Catholic. Built into the conventions of the genre is Catholic theology; light/darkness, blood/life, life/sacrifice, undeath/damnation, soul/immortality, instinct/vice, sin/slavery, the sacramentals (holy water, crucifixes, rosaries, etc…).”
Most vampires of the evil vampires are similar to the anti-christ. They are evil beings, but promise eternal life, often eternal riches and beauty as well, by drinking blood.
Today’s vampire, the same principles cannot be used. Not all vampires are seen as evil, more like they are “misunderstood.” There might be some evil vampires, but there can be good ones that exist as well. Experimental Theology touches on the differences between vampires now and the evil vampires of old, suggesting that vampires use to be more about sin, and now they are explained by biology.
In most modern works of fiction the vampire:
Usually has inhuman strength
Many times handsome/beautiful
Not always weakened by religious objects
Sometimes allergic to silver
Sometimes can mind read or exert mind control.
Today’s popular vampire is dark and mysterious, dangerous, yet able to love and protect. These vampires could be argued as a symbol for sin or temptation, but mostly they have been made into romantic characters. The vampire now represents eternal beauty, love, wealth, and sometimes wisdom. It is rarely associated with eternal damnation.
The romantic vampires are handsome (not too many ugly vamps out there), fall in love at first site of the heroine, loyal, smart, rich, great in bed, protectors, but they are also the attractive “bad boy” that women love. They are everything a woman could want… eternally.
Do vampires have souls? Could vampires be devoted to a God, or a faith? Anne Rice, who is now Christian, says she will not a write a Christian Vampire novel because she thinks it cannot be done, but Tanya Huff’s Blood Ties vampire is a devout catholic who believes he still has a soul, no matter what the church says. Edward of the Twilight Series is afraid that vampires do not have souls, The vampires in ----- go into a sort of limbo when they die because of their lack of souls, but if they are made into humans can enter heaven or hell if they are killed. Buffy’s vampires are soulless… until the handsome ones (Angel) are “cursed” and possess one once more.
Omnibus Sanctis makes a good point:
"Since vampires represent human nature how is redemption possible? Within the conventions of the genre it is not. Once you are a vampire you are always a vampire, there is no cure, no redemption. But this can lead to fairly one dimensional characters (pure evil, however witty). [This is why Milton gave Satan the best lines.] And why Mrs. Rice let Lestat suffer guilt. Others have tried in different ways to overcome this problem. Take the characters of Angel and Spike. But both characters suffer from what amounts to emasculation or an identity crisis. They are vampires but either can’t be a vampire (Spike’s chip) or do not want to be (Angel’s soul), except when convenient."
Today's popular vampire still promises eternal life, wealth, and beauty, but it is often mixed with guild, longing for death, and burden of time. If today's popular vampire isn't a symbol for sin or death, what do think it is a symbol of? Or does the vampires still hold a significant symbolic value?