In the French quarter of New Orleans, John Edgar Browning is about to take part in a “feeding”. It begins as clinically as a medical procedure. His acquaintance first swabs a small patch on Browning’s upper back with alcohol. He then punctures it with a disposable hobby scalpel, and squeezes until the blood starts flowing. Lowering his lips to the wound, Browning’s associate now starts lapping up the wine-dark liquid. “He drank it a few times, then cleaned and bandaged me,” Browning says today.
To Browning’s bemusement, he was not quite to his host’s taste. “He said my blood was not as metallic as it should have been – so he was a little disappointed,” he recalls; apparently, diet, hydration and blood group can all make a subtle difference to the flavour. After they had cleaned up, the pair went to a charity dinner in aid of the homeless.
A self-confessed “needle-phobe”, Browning had not been looking forward to the feeding. “I’m actually pretty fearful of anything sharp approaching my skin,” he says. But as a researcher at Louisiana State University, he was willing to go through with it for his latest project: an ethnographic study of the New Orleans “real vampire” community.
Was the blood-feeding a religious ritual, a delusion, or a fetish? Before he had met any vampires, Browning suspected they had just blurred the line between fact and fiction. “I’d assumed that these people were bonkers and had just read too many Anne Rice novels.”
By the time he had offered himself as a donor, however, his opinions had taken a U-turn. Many real-life vampires have no belief in the paranormal and have little more than a passing knowledge of True Blood or Dracula; nor do they appear to have any psychiatric issues. Instead, they claim to suffer from a strange medical condition – fatigue, headaches, and excruciating stomach pain – which, they believe, can only be treated by feeding on another human’s blood.
“There are thousands of people doing this in just the US alone, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence, and I don’t think it’s a fad,” says Browning. Their symptoms and behaviour are a genuine mystery.
Read More: Here