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bogwitch

‘Dem Bones: Ritual Magic and the Physiology of the Jossverse Vampire

My muse likes to play the odd joke on me.

Take yesterday. Minding my own business one minute, the next I was just a conduit for my muse to brain dump this onto me. And it's something I bet you thought you'd never see. I an essay!

I haven't written one for ten years since uni, and never intended to again, but this one came out of the blue. And see? I even gave it a nice academic title (and it's still less poncy than 'Science fiction's representation of the extension and violation of the human body by cybernetics and cyberspace', which was my degree proposition essay).


I am a bit worried that it's pointing out the obvious, but I'll share. maybe we can all have a nice chat about it.





‘Dem Bones: Ritual Magic and the Physiology of the Jossverse Vampire by Bogwitch


While hacking my way through a mineshaft of unholy creatures on the PS2 game Baldur’s Gate, it occurred to me why fighting skeletons bothers me so much (my childhood fear of them not withstanding).

With no or little flesh to speak of, the integrity of a fighting skeleton must be held together by a spell, right? A spell that has been necromanced by some outside force. So why are they always among the weakest of creatures in RPG’s? One whack with a +2 Flaming Sword of Destruction and they’re a pile of bones ready for the Charnel House.

That doesn’t make any sense though, does it? Short of crushing them to powder, nothing physical should stop them. The spell holding them together couldn’t be very good, could it? Unless they were meant to be destructible; a cheap spell for cheap troops. Hmm.

Which brings me to the vampire.

We actually know very little about the physiology of the vampires of the Jossverse, beyond the fact that they don’t breathe, their heart doesn’t beat and that a demon inhabits the body of a freshly dead victim. They become a vampire through a simple ritual of bloodletting; the vampire bites and drinks the victim’s blood, in return, the victim drinks the vampire’s blood. This, of course, is a spell, of a sort, with an exchange of lifeforce between the living and the dead. (You’ll notice that I’m avoiding the soul issue here. As a devout atheist I have no theological background to drawn on as a basis for a theory, and I don’t know the scientific standpoint).

So where am I going with this?

Over the years I have asked myself a series of questions about these vampires, such as:
Where does all Spike’s food go when he eats it?
If the vampire’s body is dead, how does its brain still function?
Where does the demon reside?
Why does Jossverse vampire turn to dust?
Why do they appear to breathe when it isn’t necessary to keep the brain alive?
How does a vampire bleed? (There can only be a certain amount of blood in the victim to start with. Assuming the vampire drinks it all (which I’m not convinced they do, it doesn’t seem to take them long to gulp 8 or so pints down), the vampire that rises should have no blood in it (which explains why it’s ravenous with bloodlust). So how does the blood they drink, enter the blood stream through the inactive digestive system to enable them to bleed at all?

The sample answer to all of these questions is magic. The Jossverse is a magical universe, and it can be argued that all demons are magical creatures (although not all magical creatures are demons. Nor are all demons automatically Evil, Doyle for example). They are all imbued with some kind of magic.

I postulate then that the body of the vampire is kept animate by a magical spell, which is cast during the death of their host by the vampire that killed them, thus ‘summoning’ the new vampire into the body. The spell maintains the ‘whole’ vampire, body and demon, through the drinking of blood. As we all know, blood is heavy with magical symbolism, as Spike pointed out in The Gift, ‘blood is life’. They need it, as it maintains the ‘spell’ of the vampire (I’d also argue it is also ‘warmth’, the only warmth they’ll ever feel, but there is no actual evidence for that, it is just a bit of whimsy on my part). Therefore, the heart of the vampire does not beat. The organs do not function. There is no need to intake oxygen through breath. Food disappears into a digestive system that cannot digest and is erased by the spell in time. Blood seeps into the body through magical osmosis, not through an anatomical process as it would in a living being. The demon thinks, the brain does not, or the brain is kept functioning by the demon’s presence (I suppose only The Initiative would know that). The body does not return to its former state, it crumbles to dust as the demon is driven out. Which all leads on to another question; why would a stake through the heart kill a creature whose heart does not beat?

Ritual is the powerhouse of Jossverse magic. Even Willow, a tremendously powerful witch perfectly capable of performing magic off the cuff, tends to resort to ritualistic magical practices. I’d guess this is for stability and greater predictability of results. In the hands of the inexperienced, a spell could blow up in the caster’s face, do something entirely different to the purpose of the spell or not work at all. For vampires to survive and reproduce, the spell would need to be foolproof, and therefore bound into a ritual.

So to answer my previous question, the stake through the heart doesn’t dust the vampire due to physical damage, it’s the conclusion of the ritual that created the vampire, the completion of the magical circuit. The body is consumed as the spell breaks and the whole is gone.

Like the skeletons of Baldur’s Gate, they return to the dead.



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Hurrah! You posted! :)

Re. Whistler, this is what Buffy said in Becoming pt.2:

What are you, just some immortal demon sent down to even the score between good and evil?

To which he grins and says: "Good guess." So he would appear that he is a demon - or maybe half-demon like Doyle. And it would seem that most demons are born or hatched rather than 'created magically' like vampires. The Ghora Demon had eggs, there's talk of 'eating their young' many times on Angel. So your argument definitely holds.

Actually - where do the vampire-demons come from that end up inhabiting dead people? Darla said that after she died she ceased to exist. No heaven or hell, she just stopped. Are they created/brought into existence by the magic - and then turned back to non-existence when staked?

Thank you for making me think! :)

You could have told me this earlier! I might have afjusted some wording.

Actually - where do the vampire-demons come from that end up inhabiting dead people?

I'll get back on that one.




where do the vampire-demons come from that end up inhabiting dead people?

I once had a theory about that.

Not sure if it holds water at all, but to save trying to run through it all again and making my brain bleed, you could take a look at this


Good points. I especially liked the idea that blood isn't sustenence to vampires, but something used to continue the spell.

I think it is a bit of both. A staving vampire doesn't dust, after all. The spell drives the craving for blood (which would also serve the hunger metaphor).

Vampires couldn't get drunk unless they can metabolise alcohol, and we've seen that they do get drunk - so the digestive system has to work. It might not work well, and is almost certainly modified to focus on metabolising blood - which expalins why vampires need to drink more to get the same effect as a human.

They can feel pain and pleasure, to the nervous system also works - and that's tied to the brain. Biologically, the vamp would benefit from the pain of starvation and the pleasure of feeding encouraging them to chow down.

I've always thought of the blood transmission being a close analogy to a blood borne infection that needs a nearly drained body to root in.

Yeah, but...

My original theory was that the demon/spell/whatever kept the body alive, but in a rudimentary way. But then the heart doesn't beat which it would need to do to carry alcohol to the brain (and as calove pointed out) to the sexual organs to produce erections. It seems odd to have some organs working and not others, unless there is magical invovlement.

The Jossverse is different from the real world due to the existence of magic. I thought it reasonable that the presence of demons is interlinked.

Can I add to your list of questions 'where, if the heart doesn't beat ergo the vampire has no blood pressure, does Spike get his implied very impressive and long-sustainable... erm... stiffie from?'

Now I've lowered the tone to my level, I'll go away. But I'll be back, because I want to comment sensibly and the little horrors won't bugger off.

I am also working with a very iffy Biology GCSE, I'm expecting to fall over on this.

I have an ology! Biology I can do. I have an A level in it and an MSc in something vagely biological. So, if you need any help...


Heh. This was actually one of the questions at the Halloween Con (in London), and David and James said that vampires just had permanent hard-ons! Go figure! ;)

That's a nice way of not answering at all.

Vampire blood does seem to circulate - if you punch them, do they not bleed? - so my assumption is that vampires have a lot of human physiological functions, they're just powered by magic rather than biochemical processes. Or, more acurately, some biochemical processes do take place (eg metabolising alcohol, digestion) but they're powered by magic rather than Life. And under extreme conditions, they can find a little biological help useful, hence the fact that they pant during a big fight - they don't actually *need* oxygen, but using it frees up some of the magical energy for healing or hitting or whatever.

Additional question: If the digestive system does not function, how can a vampire become drunk or drugged through drink (as once happened to Angel)?

We know the heart isn't beating, so it isn't getting to brain.

Magic as a flat answer for everything is a bit annoying, but this ia a universe where magic exists.


I have another question. Vampires don't breathe. According to "Prophecy Girl," they can't even inhale/exhale oxygen if they want to. Yet, Spike and Angelus smoke. How are they able to do this?

Also, this is more philosophical than physiological, but if a demon really comes in and replaces the soul in the body, then where does the soul go? When it is returned to the body, why does it have no memories of being in heaven, if that's indeed where it was? Where does that demon come from in the first place, is it like a demon baby of the sire who made it? Lastly, how does anyone (Watchers, Council, whoever) actually know that's what happens? What proof could they have that a demon takes over and expels the soul? Because, in that case, what would be the point in the demon retaining the soul's memories? (Which would suggest that the brain, at least, is still a functioning organ.)

Sorry, that's a lot of questions. ^^

We've seen both Spike and Angel breathe. And Spike does a great deal of heavy breathing at certain times! There's the argument that it helps with the power needed for the spell. There's also an argument that i read somewhere about the fact that they can breathe, they just don't need to breathe. So, they can draw air into their lungs (to smoke for example). As to why the panting (with excitment/ exertion/ whatever) I think it's been argued that it's a sort of reflex by the body, and one that is emphasised in certain circumstances to the point it actually takes place - maybe when the demon (and/or it's magic are distracted by something else).

The soul argument is kind of beyond me, but I have no problem with the soul and the brain being different things. Memories are hard-wired into the brain, that's how they work, and the demon could easily have access to them. The soul is... something else... probably.

Where does the soul of the vamped person go is interesting. Maybe your mortal remains have to be all gone before your soul can move on the wherever it's headed.

According to "Prophecy Girl," they can't even inhale/exhale oxygen if they want to. Yet, Spike and Angelus smoke. How are they able to do this?

As the body still moves and is intact (with internal organs), they would still retain the ability and would need it for speech.

Also, this is more philosophical than physiological, but if a demon really comes in and replaces the soul in the body, then where does the soul go? When it is returned to the body, why does it have no memories of being in heaven, if that's indeed where it was?

It's a good question and one I can't (and dare not answer).

Where does that demon come from in the first place, is it like a demon baby of the sire who made it?

Lastly, how does anyone (Watchers, Council, whoever) actually know that's what happens? What proof could they have that a demon takes over and expels the soul?

Experiment or divination? I imagine any evidence they have/had is millenia old.

Because, in that case, what would be the point in the demon retaining the soul's memories? (Which would suggest that the brain, at least, is still a functioning organ.)

I suppose it's to aid with the impersonation of the human being.




OOooh, interesting stuff. Followed you here from su_herald.

I've always thought that the demon comes to the host's body because the exchange of blood sets up a 'domino' effect. The vampire blood starts the process of altering the human body so that the demon can actually live in it.

Then somehow - magic? spell? - the demon is drawn to the body, and modifies it more. I think the demon is a sensual thing - it wants pleasures - and so it makes the host body 'work' well enough to experience the pleasures of alcohol, drugs, sex... It has its own innate magic that can mimic 'living' *drunk, bleeding, orgasm* for it's own pleasure. I think the bleeding thing comes from the demons' bloodlust - dru cuts spikes cheek and tastes his blood - she likes that, and it wouldn't work if spike's demon didn't make/let/enable the body to bleed.

I think that it's mostly the VERY powerful innate magic of the demon that keeps the human host body perfectly preserved and working for howerver long.

And since the Jossverse says that older vampires start to get cloven hooves and stuff, maybe it's simply that it takes a really long time for the demon to 'grow' into the host body and take it over completely - change it on a cellular level.

I dunno - it's fun to speculate, though! Neat topic and arguments - very cool!
:)

I can't say that I put an enormous amount of thought into the subject, it was more a statement of ideas I'd had, but there's nothing like debate to consolidate ideas and to find out what you've forgotten.

A lot of the argument hinges on what exactly is the demon element. I have trouble with the parasite idea because how exactly does it control the host body physically? Especially if it starts off small enough to be transmitted in blood. It would mean that vampire blood is full of parasites, and why then would it require the host to be near death for it to take hold. The growth rate over hours/days would have to be very quick for proper control. It also implies a more conscious control of the body, that isn't there. I think it;s better to believe that the demon is incorporeal and is 'summoned' in by the ritual of the blood exchange.

And since the Jossverse says that older vampires start to get cloven hooves and stuff, maybe it's simply that it takes a really long time for the demon to 'grow' into the host body and take it over completely - change it on a cellular level.

I don't see a reason why that cannot work with a magic theory, as the body is slowly corrupted by the demon.

I think the demon is a sensual thing - it wants pleasures - and so it makes the host body 'work' well enough to experience the pleasures of alcohol, drugs, sex... It has its own innate magic that can mimic 'living' *drunk, bleeding, orgasm* for it's own pleasure.

Hmmm. Yeah. There's a lot of time to pass.




Which all leads on to another question; why would a stake through the heart kill a creature whose heart does not beat?

Maybe it's symbolic magic. It has to be a wooden stake; nothing else works. And what is wood but something that was once alive, and is now dead? If the heart symbolizes the 'life force'(or 'animus') of a vampire in the same way it does for a human, maybe this once-alive now-dead thing thrust into it breaks the magic by reestablishing that this body was once alive, and now should be dead just as the wood is.

That's the idea that's been kicking around my head, anyway.

Excellent points that I agrees with. Where would beheading and sunlight come in? (two points I completely forgot to try to address).

Um, hi. I read this yesterday so 'cuse me replying a bit too late (and ignore me if I repeat anything).
Really, really interesting points - so many things we take for granted when we suspend our disbelief and think of them as vampires...
I was struck re-watching Smashed the other day, how much Spike breathes after the fight with Buffy when he first discovers his chip doesn't fire. It's like the breathing is extreme, heightened emotion, and much more than a human would do.
(Actually Drew Z Greenberg said in the commentary that JM does a great job of reacting with joy when he gets hit - most of the time you have to look hurt - but, er, that's an aside)...
The demon thinks, the brain does not, or the brain is kept functioning by the demon's presence
I would think it's the demon animating the brain to think. Otherwise Spike wouldn't love so hard or still read poetry, Angel wouldn't care so deeply for Connor and Harmony wouldn't accessorize etc. We see that aspects of the human character carry over into the vamp.
I really, really, really, like the idea of the staking completing a cycle or circuit of magic - because that's an idea prevalent in just about every tradition out there.

Not late. The comments are still coming in.

It's been an interesting debate.

I think you're right. After wringing ideas through the mangle of arguement, there does seem to a least be some physical aspect to the way the demon controls the host body. I still believe in a large magical component. The ritual of killing a vampire with a stake seems to be a symbolic gesture, rather than a realistic way of killing a creature that is already dead.

Ah Smashed. I love Smashed, all of it. I liked the idea that someone else had, that the panting wasn't necessary exactly, but that it agmented physical energy. Did Angel ever pant? I don't remember, and somehow I think I'd find that a little distrubing!

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