Clinical vampirism

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Other namesRenfield's syndrome, Renfield syndrome

Clinical vampirism, more commonly known as Renfield's syndrome or Renfield syndrome, is an obsession with drinking blood. The earliest formal presentation of clinical vampirism to appear in the psychiatric literature, with the psychoanalytic interpretation of two cases, was contributed by Richard L. Vanden Bergh and John F. Kelley.[1] As the authors point out, in 2010, over 50,000 people addicted to drinking blood have appeared in the psychiatric literature at least since 1892, documented in the work of Austrian forensic psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Many medical publications concerning clinical vampirism can be found in the literature of forensic psychiatry, with the unusual behavior reported as one of many aspects of extraordinary violent crimes.[2][3][4]


The term Renfield's syndrome began unintentionally: Richard Noll intended its first use to be a parody of the psychiatry of the 1980s. The joke was taken seriously in popular culture.[5] The original term, clinical vampirism which has effectively been replaced, appears to have doubtful utility (making it a suitable subject for satire), and neither clinical vampirism nor Renfield's syndrome has ever been listed as a valid diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). However, some writers have philosophically pointed out that it does serve as a useful demonstration of the bad effects of creating unfounded names for psychological illnesses.[6][7]

Clinical vampirism before Renfield's syndrome[edit]

The prior diagnosis clinical vampirism is somewhat different from Renfield's syndrome: Clinical vampirism usually connotated an erotic obsession with blood; Renfield's syndrome is more of a form of eating disorder involving living animals (like the bugs and rats eaten by Renfield in Bram Stoker's fictional story, described in the following section(s)).

According to the case history reports in the older psychiatric literature – that formed the basis of Noll's parody – the condition starts with a key event in childhood that causes the experience of blood injury or the ingestion of blood to be exciting. After puberty, the excitement is experienced as sexual arousal. Throughout adolescence and adulthood, blood, its presence, and its consumption can also stimulate a sense of power and control. Noll speculated that Renfield's syndrome begins with autovampirism and then progresses to the consumption of the blood of other creatures.[8]

The usefulness of this diagnostic label remains in question.[citation needed] Very few cases of the syndrome have been described, and the published reports that what have been proposed as examples, refer to clinical vampirism or Renfield's syndrome, but describe the case using official psychiatric diagnostic categories such as schizophrenia, or one of the varieties of paraphilia. This diagnosis is not recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV.

Origin of Renfield's syndrome[edit]

The syndrome is named after R. M. Renfield, Dracula's human zoophagous follower in the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker. Clinical psychologist Richard Noll coined the eponymous term in a 1992 book.[9] In a web interview with psychology professor Katherine Ramsland, Noll explains how he invented the term and its purported diagnostic criteria as a whimsical parody of 1980s' psychiatry and "new DSM-speak".[5]

In a public lecture hosted by Penn State University's Institute for the Arts and Humanities on 7 October 2013, Noll traced the 20 year trajectory of his unintentionally created "monster" from the moment of its creation as a parody of DSM mental disorders to the cultural popularity of Renfield's syndrome today.[10][11]

Television and internet video[edit]

In an NBC pre-Halloween special hosted by actor Peter Graves entitled "The Unexplained: Witches, Werewolves and Vampires" that aired on 23 October 1994 (and is available on YouTube, with the 34m11s mark beginning the segment), pages from Noll's book were shown on camera as Canadian psychologist Leonard George summarized Renfield's syndrome for a wide television audience.[12][13]

Characters suffering from Renfield's Syndrome have appeared on television.

  • The first appeared in a 2005 episode of CSI titled "Committed" (Season 5, Episode 21).[14][8]
  • It was also mentioned in 2009 in episode 7, season 5 of Criminal Minds entitled "The Performer".[15]
  • In 2010 an 11-episode Canadian television series, The Renfield Syndrome, was filmed in Vancouver, B.C., but does not seem to have been aired.[16]
  • On 15 August 2012 Renfield's syndrome was the subject of a video segment on The Huffington Post by Cara Santa Maria which again relied heavily on Noll's work and a recent scholarly article on the (pseudo-)syndrome published in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences.[17][18]


In addition to references to Renfield's syndrome in psychiatric literature and mass media, it has also appeared popular literature.

  • Horror writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro published a story entitled "Renfield's Syndrome" in July 2002, which was then reprinted in an anthology that appeared the following year.[19]
  • It is also the title of a novel by J.A. Saare.[20]
  • Jo Nesbo’s The Thirst refers also to Reinfield syndrome.

Back-diffusion into academic literature[edit]

Once it was adopted in popular culture, clinical vampirism has been referred to as Renfield's syndrome in academic literature as well. The 20 year evolution of a farcical 3 page book section that shot through the mass media and then – uncritically – into the pages of a peer-reviewed scholarly journal should serve as a cautionary tale about the purported validity of other "mental disorders."[6][7]

Philosopher of science Ian Hacking refers to this process as "making up people" and critiques medical and psychiatric elites for the untoward effects of their "dynamic nominalism" on individual lives. Such arbitrary categories create new natural "kinds" of people (e.g., perverts, multiple personalities and so on) that serve larger political, cultural and moral purposes and change with historical contingencies.[6][7]

Psychiatric and forensic contexts[edit]

Very few cases of the syndrome have been described, and the published reports that do exist describe clinical vampirism as behaviors that are subsumed under more conventional psychiatric diagnostic categories such as schizophrenia or paraphilia.[21] A case of vampirism in Turkey reported in 2012 was discussed as an unusual feature of a patient diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.[22] While not referencing the literature on Renfield's syndrome, two Irish psychiatrists surveyed the psychiatric literature on vampirism as evidence of a changing discourse in psychiatry from the narrative of case studies to the depersonalized discourse of checklist diagnostic criteria.[23]

A number of murderers have performed seemingly vampiric rituals upon their victims. Serial killers Peter Kürten and Richard Trenton Chase were both called "vampires" in the tabloids after they were discovered drinking the blood of the people they murdered. Similarly, in 1932, an unsolved murder case in Stockholm, Sweden was nicknamed the "Vampire murder", due to the circumstances of the victim's death.[24] Clinical vampirism in the context of criminal acts of violence, as well as "consensual" vampirism as a social ritual, have been extensively documented in the many works of Katharine Ramsland.[25][26] Others have commented upon the psychiatric implications of "vampire cults" among adolescents.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vanden Bergh, Richard L.; Kelley, John F. (1964). "Vampirism -- A review with new observations". Archives of General Psychiatry. 11: 543–547. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1964.01720290085012. PMID 14208658.
  2. ^ Hemphill, R.E.; Zabow, T. (1983). "Clinical vampirism: A presentation of 3 cases and a reevaluation of Haigh, the "Acid-Bath Murderer"". South African Medical Journal. 63 (8): 278–281. PMID 6823646.
  3. ^ Jaffe, PD; DiCataldo, F. (1994). "Clinical vampirism: blending myth and reality". Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 22 (4): 533–544. PMID 7718926.
  4. ^ Ramsland, Katharine. "The Vampire Killers". Crime Library. Archived from the original on 10 December 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b Ramsland, Katharine (21 November 2012). "Vampire Personality Disorder". Psychology Today (web video). Shadow boxing. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Hacking, Ian (17 August 2006). "Making Up People". London Review of Books (book review). Vol. 28 no. 16. pp. 23–26. Archived from the original on 9 June 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Hacking, Ian. Making Up People (archived full text). Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013 – via[full citation needed]
  8. ^ a b Ramsland, Katherine. "Renfield's Syndrome". Crime Library. Archived from the original on 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2007-12-18. Psychiatrists are aware that there exists a behavior known as "clinical vampirism," which is a syndrome involving the delusion of actually being a vampire and feeling the need for blood. This arises not from fiction and film but from the erotic attraction to blood, and the idea that it conveys certain powers, although the actual manifestation of the fantasy may be influenced by fiction. It develops through fantasies involving sexual excitement.
  9. ^ Noll, Richard (1992). Vampires, Werewolves, and Demons: Twentieth century reports in the psychiatric literature. Brunner / Mazel Publications. ISBN 0-87630-632-6 – via Google Books. "Vampires, Werewolves, and Demons". (alternate online source). 6793535.
  10. ^ Penn State University Institute for the Arts and Humanities. "Events Schedule, October 2013". Archived from the original on 14 September 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  11. ^ Noll, Richard (October 2013). "Renfield's Syndrome, or, How I (unintentionally) created a monster". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2017-08-22 – via ResearchGate.
  12. ^ "The Unexplained: Witches, Werewolves and Demons". Archived from the original on 9 June 2013. Retrieved 2 March 2013 – via You Tube.
  13. ^ Elias, Thomas D. (22 October 1994). "Television: The Unexplained [is] just the latest chapter in Peter Graves' career". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 10 June 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  14. ^ "CSI:Committed". CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Archived from the original on 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2007-12-18. Kenny Valdez is in the Seclusion Room, strapped to a bed in a five-point restraint system, claiming he can "smell it!" Kenny suffers from Renfield's syndrome, a self-mutilator. The CSIs notice that even though Kenny has blood on his clothes, there is no spatter pattern.
  15. ^ CBS. "Criminal Minds show homepage". Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  16. ^ "The Renfield Syndrome (2010)". Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  17. ^ Santa Maria, Cara (15 August 2012). "Renfield's Syndrome: A mysterious case of real-life vampirism". The Huffington Post (15 August 2012). Archived from the original on 25 March 2013. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  18. ^ Olry, Regis; Haines, Duane E. (2011). "Renfield's Syndrome: A psychiatric illness drawn from Bram Stoker's Dracula". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 20 (4): 368–371. doi:10.1080/0964704x.2011.595655. PMID 22003862. S2CID 44505744.
  19. ^ Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn (2003). Apprehensions and Other Delusions. Waterville, Maine: Five Star.
  20. ^ Saare, J.A. "The Renfield Syndrome". Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  21. ^ Jensen, HM; Poulsen, HD (2002). "Auto-vampirism in schizophrenia". Nordic Journal of Psychiatry. 56 (1): 47–48. doi:10.1080/08039480252803918. PMID 11869465. S2CID 39289025.
  22. ^ Sakarya, Direne; et al. (2012). ""Vampirism" in a case of dissociative identity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder". Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 81 (5): 322–323. doi:10.1159/000335930. PMID 22854285. S2CID 41105860.
  23. ^ MacSuibhne, Seamus, Seamus; Kelly, Brendan d. (2010). "Vampirism as Mental Illness: Myth, Madness and the Loss of Meaning in Psychiatry". Social History of Medicine. 24 (2): 445–460. doi:10.1093/shm/hkq055.
  24. ^ Linnell, Stig (1993) [1968]. Stockholms spökhus och andra ruskiga ställen (in Swedish). Raben Prisma. ISBN 91-518-2738-7.
  25. ^ Ramsland, Katharine (2002). The Science of Vampires. New York: Berkley.
  26. ^ Ramsland, Katharine (1999). Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today. New York: HarperTorch.
  27. ^ White, M; Omar, H (2010). "Vampirism, vampire cults and the teenager of today". International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health. 22 (2): 189–195. PMID 21061919.

Further reading[edit]

  • Prins, H (1985). "Vampirism — A clinical condition". British Journal of Psychiatry. 146 (6): 666–668. doi:10.1192/bjp.146.6.666. PMID 4016482.
  • Vanden Bergh, R. L.; Kelly, J. F. (1964). "Vampirism: A review with new observations". Archives of General Psychiatry. 11: 543–547. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1964.01720290085012. PMID 14208658.
  • Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn. Apprehensions and Other Delusions. (Waterville, Maine: Five Star, 2003)[ISBN missing]
  • Richard Noll: Vampires, Werewolves and Demons: Twentieth century reports in the psychiatric literature. Brunner/ Mazel, New York 1992, ISBN 0-87630-632-6.

External links[edit]