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Small fringe jumps from hobby to cult

The Globe and Mail, Canada
Feb. 17, 2005
Margaret Philp • Thursday February 17, 2005

There are teenage vampires stalking the high-school corridors and the city streets, but their fangs are store-bought and few have cultivated a taste for human blood.

For almost all of those wannabe vampires with their chalk-white faces, black-lined eyes, blood-red lips and dark Victorian-era clothes, vampirism is more a fashion statement and a harmless way to thumb their noses at the establishment and their straight-laced parents than the murderous fascination with death, pain and the drinking of blood that arose in testimony during the Johnathan trial over the past several weeks.

Some are fans of the bottle-blonde version of the vampire showcased in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show. But most are fixated on the life’s darker side, a subset of the Gothic cultish following who wear the same black clothes and dyed hair and listen to the same bleak music and poetry. But they are obsessed with vampire novels and attend parties at downtown clubs wearing 19th-century clothes and imitation vampire teeth.

“It’s kind of the ideal of living forever and being immortal and stuff like that,” says Sarah Khokhar, the manager of Siren, a boutique on Toronto’s trendy Queen Street West that sells clothing, makeup and jewellery to Goths and would-be vampires, mostly in their teens and 20s.

“I wouldn’t say it’s drinking blood or anything like that. That’s pretty rare. I know there are people like that, but I don’t know anyone, and nobody comes in here like that, pretty much. It’s more music, fashion, poetry, literature, stuff like that.”

If most are recreational vampires, a small fringe cross the line from bizarre hobby to dangerous cult.

During the trial, one of the boys facing charges in Johnathan’s death — a friend of the brother also in the defendants’ box — confessed in his testimony to a fascination with vampires and a proclivity for drinking human blood.

But this week, while the jurors were in their second day of deliberations, a mistrial was declared when it was discovered that the boy’s former girlfriend — a teenager who was the prosecution’s key witness — had posted her profile on a popular website for vampire aficionados, where she claimed a fondness for blood, pain, cemeteries and knives, after denying in the witness box that she shared the boy’s interests in blood.

Police in Canada have stumbled upon cases of obsessive people in vampire cults who indulge in rituals of drinking cow’s blood, swallowing human blood they draw from one another, torturing animals and even murder. But these are exceptionally rare crimes.

“It’s very unusual, but not unheard of,” says Grant Charles, a social work professor at the University of British Columbia. As a children’s mental-health worker years ago, he worked with teenagers involved in a vampire cult where members consumed their own blood.

“Most therapists working in the field would not come across this, and wouldn’t even be aware of it. Maybe they’ve heard of it in a case study at school, and even then it would be unusual. It’s not something we would teach at my school.”

He knows of no other cases of teenage vampire cults in Canada.

Stephen Kent, a sociologist at the University of Alberta who studies cults, says he “didn’t blink an eye” when he read about the bloody vampire tendencies of the teenagers involved in the Johnathan trial.

“It’s highly plausible for a number of reasons,” he says. “Some people can feel tremendous eroticism through drawing blood and pain and death.”

While people of all ages are seduced by cults, he says, teenagers are especially vulnerable because of loneliness, a need to belong, sexual confusion and family tensions.

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