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 have become addicted to drinking blood. have appeared in the psychiatric literature at least since 1892 with 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 syndrome is named after Dracula's human zoophagous follower, R. M. Renfield, in the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker. According to an interview conducted by psychology professor Katherine Ramsland with clinical psychologist Richard Noll, who coined the eponymous term in a 1992 book,[5] he invented the term and its purported diagnostic criteria as a whimsical parody of the "new DSM-speak" of the psychiatry of the 1980s.[6] 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.[7][8]

After Noll's book appeared in the year 1992 clinical vampirism has usually been referred to as Renfield's syndrome. 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 34:11 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.[9][10]

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).[11][12] It was also mentioned in 2009 in episode 7, season 5 of Criminal Minds entitled "The Performer".[13]

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.[14]

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.[15][16]

In addition to references to Renfield's syndrome in the psychiatric literature and mass media, the 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.[17] It is also the title of a novel by J.A. Saare.[18]

The twenty-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." 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.[19][20]

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.[12]

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 do exist refer to what has been proposed as Renfield's syndrome through the use of official psychiatric diagnostic categories such as schizophrenia or as a variety of paraphilia.

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: 278–281.
  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.
  4. ^ Ramsland, Katharine. "The Vampire Killers". Crime Library. Archived from the original on 10 December 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  5. ^ Richard Noll (1992). Vampires, Werewolves and Demons: twentieth century reports in the psychiatric literature. Brunner/Mazel Publications. ISBN 0-87630-632-6.,
  6. ^ Ramsland, Katharine. "Vampire Personality Disorder". Psychology Today (21 November 2012). Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Richard Noll (October 2013). "Renfield's Syndrome, or, How I (Unintentionally) Created a Monster". ResearchGate. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2017-08-22.
  9. ^ "The Unexplained: Witches, Werewolves and Demons". You Tube. Archived from the original on 9 June 2013. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  10. ^ Elias, Thomas D. (22 October 1994). "Television: "The Unexplained" Just the Latest Chapter in Peter Graves' Career". Chicago Tribune, 22 October 1994. Archived from the original on 10 June 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ CBS. "Criminal Minds show homepage". Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  14. ^ "The Renfield Syndrome (2010)". Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Olry, Regis; Duane E. Haines (2011). "Renfield's Syndrome: A Psychiatric Illness Drawn from Bram Stoker's Dracula". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 20: 368–371. doi:10.1080/0964704x.2011.595655. PMID 22003862.
  17. ^ Yarbro, chelsea Quinn (2003). Apprehensions and Other Delusions. Waterville, Maine: Five Star.
  18. ^ Saare, J.A. "The Renfield Syndrome". Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
  19. ^ Hacking, Ian. "Making Up People". London Review of Books, 28 (16): 23-26, 17 August 2006. Archived from the original on 9 June 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  20. ^ Hacking, Ian. "Making Up People (full text)". Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 3 March 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.
  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.
  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.

Further reading[edit]

  • Prins, H (1985). "Vampirism — A clinical condition". British Journal of Psychiatry. 146: 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]